Friday, January 27, 2012

The Fighter

By S.E. Kiser

I FIGHT a battle everyday
            Against discouragement and fear;
Some foe stands always in my way,
            The path ahead is never clear!

I must forever be on guard
            Against the doubts that skulk along;
I get ahead by fighting hard,
            But fighting keeps my spirit strong.

I hear the croakings of Despair,
            The dark predictions of the weak;
I find myself pursued by Care,
            No matter what the end I seek;
My victories are small and few,
            It matters not how hard I strive;
Each day the fight begins anew,
            But fighting keeps my hopes alive.

My dreams are spoiled by circumstance,
            My plans are wrecked by Fate or Luck;
Some hour, perhaps, will bring my chance,
            But that great hour has never struck;
My progress has been slow and hard,
            I’ve had to climb and crawl and swim,
Fighting for every stubborn yard;
            But I have kept in fighting trim.

I have to fight my doubts away
            And be on guard against my fears;
The feeble croaking of Dismay
            Has been familiar through the years;
My dearest plans keep going wrong,
            Events combine to thwart my will;
But fighting keeps my spirit strong,
            And I am undefeated still!

To commemorate the 1 year anniversary of officially embarking on this crazy (and I really do mean crazy) adventure known as the Peace Corps, I wanted to share this truly motivational poem. A very dear friend who served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Jamaica shared this poem with me when I first began the process to start my Peace Corps adventure over 2.5 years ago.  It hangs where I can see it everyday, to serve as a reminder that perseverance will get me thru the day. I find this to be very timely, given this past week of school.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Highs and Lows

As of the second term, I am now the Maths teacher for two Form 3 classes.  This poses plenty challenges.  For one, that is 80+ more names I need to learn.  It also means trying to control 40 15-17 year old students, most of which are male, at any given time.  That’s just the beginning of the challenges. But I love math. Math is what I know and love.  It should be easier, right? I also really love these kids, even though they trouble me and vex me.
Last week I had given the two classes an Ex. There really is no excuse why they should have done poorly.  I taught the lesson and then retaught the lesson. I offered to hold a review session after school. I gave examples. I gave more examples.  I brought in demonstrations. Turns out, I failed them; and they failed the Ex.  Most did pretty poorly, and I don’t know if it was something I did, or didn’t do.  I wanted to go over the Ex questions in class before moving on so I had carried home 80 books to mark instead of waiting to mark them during school. When I showed up to class with their Ex books and ready to give them answers no one would listen, everyone was out of their seat, being very rude and very disrespectful to me. I was so upset. I was there ready to help them and they seemingly didn’t want my help. They didn’t care whatsoever. I was so disappointed in their behavior I actually walked out of class.  This same scenario happened in both classes.  The whole rest of the day and that night, I felt so terrible. Terrible that they didn’t even care that they failed. Terrible that they didn’t care that I was there to help them, that I want them to understand maths. Terrible for letting them down, by giving up on them and walking out. 
I knew I had to do something. Their behavior was so disappointing; I decided to have a motivational talk with them.  I first explained that they really upset me and how they upset me.  I also explained to them that I did not have to come to school every morning and that I only do so because I want to. I told them that I do not get paid like other teachers, that I do this because I want to, not for the money, not because I have to.  I want them to do well.  I want them to succeed.  I know they have so much potential. I am not giving them homework to punish them.  I am there to help them. I am there for them.
I decided to give each student a piece of colored paper; on which they were to write one way that I show them respect, one way they show me respect and a short term and long term goal. These are some of the responses I got :-) :

You show us respect by (I show respect to students):
  • ·      Coming to class everyday
  • ·      Saying good morning/afternoon
  • ·      Taking your time and teaching us
  • ·      Trying to help us
  • ·      Staying in class when we are making noise
  • ·      Speaking good to us
  • ·      Using kind words to us
  • ·      You understand me
  • ·      You help me when I call you
  • ·      Answering my questions when I ask
  • ·      Helping me understand my work
  • ·      Talking to students in a proper way
  • ·      Telling students to be quiet instead of saying shut up
  • ·      You always listen to us
  • ·      You don’t tell me to shut up
  • ·      Show kindness to us
  • ·      Coming to class even when no one listens
  • ·      Going over the exercises more than one time so that we can get it
  • ·      Teach slow
  • ·      Being nice
  • ·      The way you teach us all
  • ·      “I should show you respect”
  • ·      Smiling
  • ·      You teach slow and explain
  • ·      By not shouting
  • ·      You make sure we understand
  • ·      You want us to learn and be the best person
  • ·      “You always respect us”
I show you respect by (students show respect to me):
(This list is shorter because most students had similar responses)
  • ·      Listening
  • ·      Raising my hand and waiting until you come to me
  • ·      Being ready for class
  • ·      Doing my work
  • ·      Speaking properly to you
  • ·      Not disrupting class
  • ·      Paying attention
  • ·      Sitting and listening to you teaching
  • ·      Being friendly
  • ·      By having [good] behavior
  • ·      Doing your homework
  • ·      Doing your classwork
  • ·      Doing what you say
  • ·      “I will stop talking plenty and listen more”
  • ·      “Because I have respect for myself and I want to learn because it not for you it is for me”
  • ·      Plan my career
  • ·      Be something good in life
  • ·      Become a sailor
  • ·      Meet Justin Bieber
  • ·      Start my own business
  • ·      I want to be an engineer (this may have been after I said I am an engineer)
  • ·      Become a lawyer
  • ·      Do better in my school work
  • ·      Go to college and come out something good in life
  • ·      Read books to increase knowledge
  • ·      Live happily ever after
  • ·      Be independent and creative
  • ·      Become educated
  • ·      Get a diploma
  • ·      “Get a job to take care of my family and let the rest of my life lead my way"
  • ·      "I want to be my own independent woman so that no one can show their self on me”
  • ·      Become a chef
  • ·      I want to have a hospital for animals
  • ·      Become a medical doctor
  • ·      Travel the world
  • ·      Go to college to be an artist
  • ·      Finish school and become something good in life
  • ·      Travel the word and pick all different fruits
  • ·      Become a nurse
  • ·      Strive for excellence every time
  • ·      Become a pilot
  • ·      Achieve good education and work for my own money to be independent
  • ·      Be the greatest engineer and architect
  • ·      Get a job
  • ·      Go to school
  • ·      Become a coast guard
  • ·      Own my own business and be rich and help poor people
      These are all actual responses.  I only edited the grammar a little bit, but not content.

      I also got this response:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Vincy Christmas Traditions

         In the last post, I mostly talked about what I did to celebrate the Christmas Season.  However, I should point out the very distinct Vincy Christmas Traditions.
In addition to the Nine Mornings Festival, which I briefly covered in the last post, there are many other celebrations that are unique to SVG. First off, Christmas is an important season.  It’s a time when family and friends come over to visit.  That means, the house must be in tip top shape. Many people repaint the exterior of their homes and redecorate the interiors. Women often hang new curtains, buy new “carpet” (more like wall paper, but for the floor).  Remember in the last post when I said Town was crazy from every one shopping.  This mostly included people selling carpet on the street; it comes in a giant roll and you just cut how much you want, similar to buying fabric at a craft store. Other big-ticket items being sold in Town were dolls, and other toys, curtains, and other housewares.
Food is a critical part of Caribbean Culture.  Christmastime is no exception. Christmas is NOT Christmas without the Ham.  That’s all there is to that.  Furthermore there are other unique foods that are prepared for Christmas lunch.  These include: ginger beer, sorrel juice, black cake, and fruitcake. Before you gawk at the fruitcake, believe me, its nothing like American fruitcake.  This has no chunks of candied jellied artificially colored “fruit” bits.  Ginger beer is an interesting experience, depending on how strong it’s made. It is made from grating fresh ginger and mixing it with water and sugar and some whole cloves and other spices and letting it ferment? in the sun for a few days, then straining out the grated ginger and serving over ice. Depending on how much ginger is added, it may have a strong bite.  The ginger beer my neighbor made nearly killed me it was so hot. When I went by my school’s counselor’s house, she served me some ginger beer that was much more mild.  In fact it was more sweet than hot. Another Christmas drink is sorrel juice.  This is made from sorrel or hibiscus flowers that are boiled and or by pouring boiling water over them.  It’s then mixed with sugar and cloves.  I do not entirely know how to describe the taste of this juice other than very fruity and sweet.  Sometimes fresh ginger is added to this as well.  The first time I made this, I made the mistake of adding too much ginger.  Who knew you only needed a tiny bit.  Well, I added about half of a whole root.  Needless to say, I nearly died from the intensity of the ginger and lack of sugar I added.  I should have known there was something wrong with my juice when it was the color of a deep red rose, and everyone else’s is a pretty light fuchsia color.  Black cake is made from black wine.  I don’t know much else about it other than that, but it tastes delicious.  It’s not sweet, but it’s pretty dense and moist. The fruitcake was nice because all the fruit (raisins, currants, and mixed peel) is blended up first, so it’s like regular cake with a hint of fruit flavor.  Very tasty!
            Boxing day is celebrated in SVG.  In my opinion it is just a continuation of Christmas; a time to visit everyone you did not have time to pass by on Christmas Day.  You eat, you drink and you are merry. 
Between Nine Mornings (9 days of street parties), CanFest (carnival type fetes), Food, Drink, Boxing Day (more Food and More Drink), what’s not to love about Christmas time in SVG?

Christmastime in St. Vincent

        Although it was weird to celebrate Christmas without 10F degree weather and snow (and my family and friends, of course), I had one of the absolute best Christmas’s in recent memory.  Before I detail my happenings on Christmas day let me rewind to the weeks leading up to Christmas, because those are just as important as Christmas day itself.
First, the school schedule in SVG follows a similar schedule as colleges in the States.  The first term ends in mid December after 2 weeks of final exams. About this time many villages have annual Light Up celebrations.  A lot of villages hang up tons of Christmas lights and decorations in the village center. About two weeks before Christmas they are Lit Up accompanied by a full street party with caroling, dancing, music, competitions and contests, and general family fun. The Christmas season officially commences with the village Light Up.  Shortly after all the villages have their Light Ups, the Nine Mornings Festival begins. For the 9 days leading up to Christmas day there are fetes, street concerts, caroling, music, steel pan, singing, competitions, beach limes, contests, and games beginning at 4am until dawn in many of the villages and in Town.  This festival is unique to St. Vincent and is akin to Carnival in many ways. My village held its own Nine Mornings Festival, and although I did not attend, the loud music, still going strong, woke me up every morning around 730am.
Lets jump now to 4 days before Christmas. I was spending Christmas by my next-door neighbor.  We had devised a menu and planned everything out. I spent the 3 days leading up to Christmas Eve in town, trying to run errands and buy food and supplies needed for Christmas. Town was totally chaotic with people such as myself doing last minute Christmas shopping.  The markets were totally insane, as food is a big part of Vincentian culture, not just as Christmas time. I had absolutely no food to cook in my house let alone stuff I needed to bake cookies for all my neighbors and food needed for Christmas lunch. The next day I spent liming in Town with my neighbor’s daughter and her friend. We got lunch, shopped, and limed. It was nice to go to Town and not be on a mission to get a zillion things done.  For once I walked around and actually took in all that was going on around me, rather than just running around like a typical New Yorker.  However, since my neighbor and I spent too much time liming, we didn’t have time to pick up the rest of the groceries needed for Christmas lunch.  That meant the next day we had to go back to Town to get food for Christmas Day Lunch.  This was an interesting trip to Town, as we got a ride with our other next-door neighbor. 
After coming home and preparing some of the food (cleaning the fish-descaling it, gutting it, and chopping it up), cleaning up a bit, and taking a nap, my neighbor’s daughter and I went to a Concert in the evening.  It was free with the donation of 3 cans of food and it was known as CanFest.  It was basically Carnival all over again.  Unfortunately my camera mash up, so I don’t have any pictures L.  Well, CanFest started at 9pmish.  Shortly after it started my host sister txted me to remind me about going to Nine Mornings on Christmas Eve and that she would pick me up at 330am.  Confusing the days because of the time, I thought we were going on Sunday morning, which would have actually been Christmas day.  This meant I would have to meet here in town, as there was no way to get home before 330am.  My neighbor’s daughter and I left CanFest around 230am and walked around Town and got some food at KFC (well she did, not me), of course it was open.  We hung out until 4am when my host sister came for Nine Mornings.  Needless to say I was exhausted, not expecting to be out until 8am the following day!  I spent all of Christmas Eve sleeping.  I think I woke up around 7pm to bake some cookies and brownies for Christmas lunch and then went back to sleep.
Christmas day finally arrived and we set up the dining table with my neighbor’s fine china, and I brought over the Christmas Tree my mom sent me.  IT was just lovely. My neighbor’s daughter and I spent the morning cooking and hanging out. On our menu: macaroni pie, potato salad, regular salad, fried fish, BBQ chicken, BBQ pork, callaloo soup, ground provisions, ginger beer, sorrel juice, beer, wine.  It was a splendid day filled with tons of food and love.
            St. Vincent also celebrates Boxing Day.  Although I’m still not entirely sure of the true purpose of Boxing Day, it is celebrated in SVG by going to all your friends, family, and neighbors to visit, eat and drink. I spent Boxing Day by my Landlord and his family having lunch.  I have eaten more food in those two days that the whole week prior combined.  More fish, lobster salad, potato salad, macaroni pie, salad, stew peas, beer.  My landlord has a son and a grandson who was visiting from Trinidad around my age so it was a lot of fun to hang out with people close to my age.  After lunch, I went by another neighbors for a beer, and then afterwards went to a salt pond for a sea bath with my Landlord’s son and grandson.  The season’s festivities did not end after Boxing Day.
            The following day I spent with the school counselor and her family.  Again I was fed and given drinks.  We had a great time and I was very thankful to be included in her family’s celebrations. 
            In addition to spending time with new family and friends and sharing in their traditions, my Christmas from home has yet to end.  I am still receiving Christmas cards and Christmas/birthday packages.
            I hope everyone felt even a fraction of the joy and happiness I felt this Christmas season.  No offense mom, but I was so busy and surrounded by so many great people filled with love I didn’t even miss home!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Quarter of a Century

Sounds old, doesnt it?
I found this and thought it pretty fitting:
Some say with age that our purpose becomes clear, I see the opposite happening here.
Maybe one day I'll figure it out, but until then I'm just going to enjoy this roller coaster that is Peace Corps life.