Thursday, August 7, 2014

Detours, Diversions, Disturbances

              Nearly a year ago (holy crap, that went fast!), there was a massive landslide on the main road to/from Town to my community. The landslide washed away part of the road.  Since then the road has been closed and there has been a diversion through surrounding communities.  In the village, where the road washed away, there is another road; lets call it a shortcut, which eventually connects to the main road.  However, this road is incredibly steep and narrow, and has numerous right angle bends.  Only one vehicle can fit at a time.  Technically, legally, this road is a one way, in the direction coming FROM town. But it’s a shortcut, so every one wants to take it both ways. It makes for some interesting maneuvering, and can some times take a while, as vehicles often have to back up, down or around to let traffic coming down pass. Yet, its still faster than the directed diversion. However, to get TO town, traffic is to continue on the diversion road, past the shortcut road, through various other communities, and loop back to the village where the road washed out.  This adds about 15 minutes to the trip to Town. 
            Then just before the roundabout where the main road to my village connects to the Windward Highway, there was construction work to rebuild the gutters, sidewalk and repair the mashed up road.  This created another diversion, through yet more various other communities.  Of course this diversion was a one way, and was actually strictly enforced. See Diagram 1. 
Diagram 1: Map of route To/From Town.  If you add all the Purple and Red sections, you get the actual route.  Diversions are green and the short cut is blue.  Obviously this is not drawn to scale, and neither are the curves. Anyways, you can see that the green diversions are quite lengthy and add significant amounts of time to the trip.

         So, to get back home, instead of turning left at the roundabout to go up to Mespo, we needed to continue past through many more villages, just to loop back to the main road just before where the other diversion was circuited.  This is all best explained via diagram 2. It is a nightmare.
 Diagram 2: Map showing diversion coming FROM Town.  Again, not drawn to scale.  If you add the purple section coming from the right up until the roundabout and the red section and subsequent red and purple sections, you will get the actual route.  However, construction, road work and road closures has resulted in lengthy diversions.  The new route is: coming from the right on the purple section, continue around the roundabout on purple, take left on green.  This green section is the diversion to bring you back to purple after the red.  It add about 15 minutes to the trip.

Shortly after the landslide and subsequent road closure and further diversions along the route, van drivers started taking a “short cut” through a different village along the way to Town. This prompted me to just start taking different van routes altogether. If the original van route I was taking, was going through this new route, why not just take that one. So that’s what I have been doing ever since. Besides, Van Route B drops me much closer to my house, and it’s a downhill walk, as opposed to Van Route A which drops me at the bottom of a massive hill.  See Diagram 3.                                                                         Diagram 3: The orange section is the actual route (condensed) of my original Van Route (A).  After the landslide, Van Route A drivers would turn off of orange and connect onto the purple route (about half way up the pay on the very left side).  Van Route B is the purple  It is in fact, a bit longer, but with all the diversions it ends up being about the same or 10 minutes longer.  It is still better to walk 5 minutes downhill than 15 minutes uphill though. Van Route A takes approximately 40 or more minutes depending on the time of day and whether the shortcut (in diagram 1) is used.  Van Route B takes approximately 45 or more minutes depending on the time of day and other factors.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

If You Walk the Footsteps of a Stranger, You'll Learn Things You Never Knew You Never Knew

I don’t know where I got the idea to blog my experiences throughout this Peace Corps adventure but I’m glad that I did. I was never really one to keep a journal (though I have tried) and to be honest I wasn’t too sure what I would write on my blog. I was apprehensive about sharing my thoughts with the whole world to see.  I also didn’t think many people aside from my small family and friend circle would follow it. At the very least, though, I thought it would be a good place to showcase all the pictures I take.
It turns out that not only do my family and friends follow my life updates, but so too have many strangers.  People have stumbled upon my blog, others have found it by searching for something related (Caribbean vacations perhaps?), and prospective volunteers have sited it.  I know this, for one, because BlogSpot records data pertaining to number of site visits and ip locations, and referring sites, etc., but also because the number of people who have left me comments, or who have contacted me directly.
This blog has served its purpose, but has also gone above and beyond my wildest hopes for its purpose and expectations. Of course I am happy that I have had a platform to keep my family and friends in the loop, in a fashion that they can follow on their own schedule (sometimes skyping and email can be too cumbersome).  But what I am most happy about is the fact that this blog has brought so many good things into my life and my Peace Corps experience.   The president of a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing literacy rates in the Caribbean contacted me asking how to donate books, all because she saw my blog. Countless times, at this point there’s too many to count, I have been contacted by prospective or future volunteers that will be serving in the EC, or who are interested to learn more about it.  I guess ultimately, it was these unforeseen reasons that my blog was really supposed to serve.
I never would have imagined that people all across the globe (literally!-people in over 90 countries have viewed my blog!) would be interested in my small life.  I am thrilled that I could shed insight into my experience as a volunteer serving in the Eastern Caribbean and what life is like here.
I also have to thank many people who have shown support and comfort (both strangers, as well as coworkers, and of course family and friends).  My blog, unexpectedly and kinda ironically, actually ended up providing an easier outlet to vent/share some very difficult and dark times.  I never imagined that a space for all to see and judge, would actually end up being one of the places I found it easiest to share some of my deepest darkest moments with for the first time. But it has. It was like walking into a field, and screaming at the top of your lungs for help and hoping some one would hear you.  People (strangers, old friends and new friends) did hear me, and shouted back their support and for that I am ever grateful.
As I wrap up my Peace Corps service after almost 4 years, I don’t know what the future holds. But I have learned that everything will work out as it’s supposed to. Maybe I will continue to blog (under a different blog title), so check back soon!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Christmas Eve Floods

Christmas time in St. Vincent is one of the best times of the year.  There is Nine Mornings festival, Light Ups, there are the holiday foods (black cake, ham) and drinks (eggnog punch, ginger beer, etc.) and time with family and friends. Christmas time is also usually dry.  It usually signifies the end of the Hurricane Season and the start of the dry season.

However, this Christmas was neither dry nor happy.  This Christmas we were all taken by surprise when there was a freak storm that resulted in severe flash flooding, causing damage to homes, crops, infrastructure and most unfortunately a number of confirmed deaths and missing persons.

It was a very somber time, and a time to do some serious reflecting on ones own life.

The day started out normal enough, a bit over cast but like any other typical Christmas Eve.  I spent the day by my boyfriend’s family’s house. We went out for a bit in the evening but came back relatively early as it started raining. It didn’t take long for it to really start raining hard.

Once it started raining, it never let up until the next morning. It sounded like there were golf balls hitting the galvanized roof.  I was secretly convinced that it was hail. It wasn’t until later that I heard other people talking that they saw/believed it was hailing as well, that I started to feel a little less crazy. 

Then came the lightning and thunder.  The lightning lit up the sky like blinking Christmas Lights. Non-stop for upwards of 5 hours. It was unlike anything I have ever seen in my life.

Close to midnight after close to 4 hours of heavy torrential rains, we were in bed when we heard a loud crash.  We stepped outside to find that the entire bank 3 feet adjacent to the corner of the house had washed away, leaving a 20+ft landslide.  We also stepped out into 6 inches of water, which was almost approaching the threshold.

We decided to move to a family member’s house a little ways away.  For hours, the rain and lightning continued relentlessly battering the roof and lighting up the sky like someone flickering a light bulb.

The next morning we woke early, having got little to no sleep.  Honestly, I was terrified. I thought this was the apocalypse.

We woke in a very somber mood and not really realizing the full extent of the damage yet.  It was still dark and overcast. However, we had heard news from friends in the States that there had already been a number of deaths.

We woke to find no water, extensive debris (trees, bushes, etc.) strewn about. We took a walk through the village to see what was going on.  Many people were out and about, but it was not the typical jovial Christmas morning.  We found the bridge was washed away (only later to realize that it was completely buried by sand and boulders brought down the river by the floods). We noticed entire crops washed away, landslides, houses washed away or broken in half where the river carried part of it away.  We saw roads and buildings washed away or covered and flooded in mud/sand. This was just in one village.

Later, we learned that the main bridge connecting Georgetown to the north windward region had been sunken, another bridge was covered in debris, there were extensive landslides blocking roads.  This was just the beginning of the infrastructural damage.

Entire houses were flooded, washed away. The floodwaters also carried away cows, goats, pigs and people.  There were landslides that buried entire families.  People were living in emergency shelters for weeks, water supplies were damaged, contaminated or destroyed and were not restored for more than three weeks. Schools were closed for an extra week, as some were serving as shelters and others still had no water.

Supplies were brought in.  Trucks distributed bottled water and provided water tanks to communities to collect for bathing and washing.  I was fortunate to be by my boyfriend and his family. They took excellent care of me. Fetching water so I could bathe and wash my laundry or by doing my laundry in the river for me.  We did have to bathe in the river a few times. That was an experience; bathing in the open and walking down the main road in only a towel….

I was so worried about my house. But with no water, no transportation, blocked roads, damaged/missing bridges there was no way I could get back home. Living in the valley brings extra rain. I remembered I left some windows open.  I thought for sure that my house would be flooded or washed away.  After about a week, I made it home only to find absolutely no damage to my house or the valley.  It didn’t even look like there was a storm in my village.  After speaking with community members and neighbors it was evident that perhaps the valley protected us from the worst.  I was expecting massive landslides, blocked roads and major flooding where the 3 rivers combine. This is the normal damage after only moderate rains in the valley. To my surprise, the only evidence to suggest a storm/flood had occurred was a gathering of sand by the bridge.  The current never cut out, the water never cut out (a true Christmas miracle, because its always going out or muddy).

The normal cheerful and exciting energy of Christmas was definitely hampered. Instead it was a day to really reflect on all that we have and all that we should be grateful for.  It put everything into perspective and reminded us that nothing in life is guaranteed and can be stripped from our slight grasp at any time. 

It surely will be a Christmas I will never forget. I think it also served as a reminder that we all need to stop and reflect on all that we have to be thankful for on a regular basis. Nothing is certain, not even life. Life may suck sometimes, we may not get the things we want, things may not go the way we want but we still have our health, we have food in our bellies, a roof over our head and our life. For that we must be thankful.  Let us not be too lickerish.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

In Case You Missed It...I'm [Never] Coming Home...

Some of you may/may not have heard, but I'm Extending (again…)

Yes it is true.  I have extended my service for maybe the 4th time, honestly I’ve lost track at this point. The point is, I feel like my projects are just starting to take off and the work I am doing is finally meaningful. Leaving now would be detrimental to all the effort I have put into to see these projects take off.  Since the projects are in their early stages, leaving now would possibly forfeit the successful completion of these endeavors.  If there is one thing that is certain, its that I'm not a quitter.
            In addition to extending for my projects, I have realized I am just not ready to return home to the States to begin a career in engineering in a typical 9-5 setting.  Judging by my friends, I don’t think I would be happy.  I have fallen in love with this place, its sheer beauty of the landscape and the people.
         In case you missed the subtly of that, I am applying for jobs in St. Vincent so that I can remain here after I finish my PC service.
         So, this obviously means you should come visit me ;-) because I’m not coming back Stateside for a while….