Friday, May 17, 2013

The Fishbowl Effect

I feel it's appropriate that my 100th blog post is about the one phenomenon that has been such a cornerstone of my Peace Corps experience.

The Fishbowl Effect: n, a feeling of (or reality) where your every move is watched, carefully observed, scrutinized, and judged. 

This is something that you are warned about prior to Peace Corps and something you will experience throughout the duration of your service.  It will never cease.  And after more than two years living in my community I am always surprised at the level of fishbowlery going on around me.
For example, there are people who shout my name from near and far, whom I am pretty sure I have never met, and if I have, I’ve never actually held a legitimate conversation with them.  But alas, they know me. Will I ever know the amount of people that know me?  Probably not.  I have been approached by people from and in communities other than my own who ask if am such and such person.  9 times out of 10 I am that person.  Only rarely am I confused for another Peace Corps Volunteer.
As one of the only “Whiteys” in my community, I stick out, I get it.  My movements are easily spotted.  I may or may not walk the same road every day at almost the same time, fine.  But boy does word travel fast. My every coming and going is noted. If I travel to some event in another community, when I reach home, I am asked how that event was?  Someone always sees me at said event and tells everyone. If neighbors have not seen me for a few days (a weekend), they automatically assume I went back home. Why would I go home and not tell any one?  Why would I go back home and leave all my laundry on the clothesline? “Strangers” offer me rides, and know exactly which gap to drop me, without me having to tell them.  Any time I go to the local club, come home late (or early), it does not go unnoticed. Every guest is questioned. God forbid I wear short pants (which judging by most standards here, are really not that short!); they are always pointed out to me. If I am seen with a “black man”, questions arise.
Sometimes it can be quite frustrating.  Actually at first it was really annoying. No matter what I did or didn’t do, it was discussed and scrutinized.  I generally do not care what people think of me, but as a representative of the United States and all that Peace Corps embodies, reputation is exceedingly important. This was drilled into our brains from day one of training. We are at work 24/7. We never stop representing our country and our program. It is important for many reasons in addition to being an ambassador, but also for safety.  Our reputation determines the level of acceptance and willingness to work with us from our community and its members.
         For the most part I welcome it.  It means I always have some one looking out for me.  Unlike the U.S. where you can rot in your house for days before someone notices the smell or cares enough to make a call, my neighbors question my whereabouts every time I come or go. They run shady characters from my yard. They give me fruits. It makes me feel cared for; makes me feel important. I feel like a celebrity when I walk down the road.  School children, from schools that I have never taught at, know me and come running to give me hugs, pet my skin or feel my “doll baby” hair. People who don’t know me, want to get to know me.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

SVG Rugby

        Although the never-ending saga relating to my tooth, due to the rugby injury I sustained last July continues to suck, there are many positive events that have occurred recently!  First and foremost, the SVG RUFC has a new executive board.  Prior to the election of the new executive board, a committed group of players and non-players have been meeting regularly to re-direct SVGRUFC.  This group has certainly facilitated the election of the new EBoard, which is dedicated and focused on re-establishing rugby in St. Vincent as the force it once was.  This includes focusing on increasing awareness and interest in rugby and in particular, in the youth.  We have initiated a school and youth programme, whereby a coach goes into schools to teach rugby fundamentals during P.E. classes, as well as run after school rugby programmes.  So far, the coach along with myself and one other past-coach are coaching in 5 schools. In addition to these schools, there are number of other interested schools that are awaiting a schedule. There are other current rugby players that have initiated youth teams in their villages as well.
         The new EBoard has been particularly focused on increasing awareness of SVGRUFC through monthly community outreach events.  These events include beach cleans, donations and visits to the mental institute and the poor home. We have also been conducting fundraising events to raise funds for our youth programme and summer camp. These events have also led to a number of positive media publicity, including a video featuring our beach cleans. Check them out here and here!
       Just recently, the SVGRUFC was an invited guest on the Peace Corps Radio Show.  The radio show is conducted twice a month and showcases the various projects that Peace Corps Volunteers are involved in.   This was a very positive experience, despite the fact that I am terrified of public speaking.  With me, I brought the youth coach to highlight the school and youth programme.  Together, we covered topics ranging from the history of rugby in SVG, what we are up to now, the school programme, the summer camp, and our community outreach programme.
         Since the Annual General Meeting was held in April 2013, the new EBoard has been extremely busy.  First we amended our constitution to refocus our efforts and ensure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities.  Next, we have been very busy meeting with pertinent ministries and organizations to get our name back out there, to help us re-focus, and to gain support and guidance and possibly sponsorship. Specifically, we have had successful meetings with the National Sports Council and National Olympic Committee to help aid us in our pursuit of increasing interest in SVGRUFC through our various initiatives, most notably the school and youth programme and the summer camp. While, I haven’t been attending most of the meetings on account of my other job, school!, I have been writing most of the documents including the constitution, letters for meeting requests, sponsorship, grant applications, proposals, budgets, etc. 
         In conjunction with our school and youth programme, we are well underway in the planning stages of a summer youth rugby camp.  The camp will be a month long and will consist of four one-week long camps to be held in villages throughout the island, so as to ensure the opportunity reaches as many youth as possible.  It can be quite difficult (expensive) to send children to Kingstown, the capital, everyday to attend camps.  We, therefore, thought it was best to bring the camp to those children who might not be able to attend otherwise. We are also hoping to have a guest coach, whom I have worked with when I was in university, come and help out! The month-long camp will culminate in a tournament and fun day, where we hope to choose an U19 team.
         Aside from all the administrative work that has been taking place, the team itself has seen an increased turn out at training sessions.  When I first started training with the SVGRUFC, there would be approximately 5 people and each time it would be a different set of people.  Now we are consistently seeing approximately 20 people at training sessions.  Though, the attendance by the women’s team is still significantly lacking.
We recently traveled, by sailboat!, to St. Lucia for a friendly game.  Both the men’s and women’s 7 a-side teams played.  We had a lot of fun, and more importantly learned what we (especially the women’s team) need to work on.
          Next up, there is a men’s 10 a-side competition in St. Lucia in July.
         I think that about sums up what SVGRUFC is up to.  Please like our Facebook page at and check out our videos here and here! CHECK OUT OUR BRAND NEW WEBSITE (which I designed/created)! Also we could really use some equipment to help with our youth programme and summer camp.  If you would be willing to donate equipment or money please email us at! Thanks :-)
 The team after one of our most successful (dirtiest) beach cleans.  41 bags of garbage!
 Me just before our first match in St. Lucia (injury-(minus a few scrapes-their grass was awful) free)
 The Men's team in St. Lucia April 2013
 The Women's Team in St. Lucia April 2013
Members of the St. Lucia and St. Vincent Men's and Women's Teams
The Crew during our Fundraising Event-Sushi Night in Bequia

Vincy Traditions: Church and Funerals

             Disclaimer:  I do not have much experience with attending church in America to make a comprehensive comparison, but in America, church is an hour long.  At least all the churches I have ever been too (which again, is not many). I have also only ever been to about 3 different denominations of churches; catholic, protestant,….maybe that’s it? It does not go over an hour, and it is always the same.  Same procedure, same hymns, same repeat-after-me’s. Not much variation, and not much excitement or enthusiasm.  Very mundane and monotone. Its like people just go through the motions to say they went.
            Church in SVG is quite different. Even the catholic church runs over two hours, and is full of lively singing, praise, prayers and anecdotes. In SVG I have attended many different churches: Catholic, Pentecostal, Baptist, Gospel Hall, and many others that I'm not even sure which denomination they were.  But all were usually quite fun.  There is extensive singing, dancing, a band, presentations and special guests giving words of praise and encouragement; and the sermon, or whatever it is called, is always delivered with conviction, heart and soul, as well as quite animated. The audience is engaged and responsive. People are welcoming and friendly, and give special attention to new guests, usually by recognizing them with a special pin or flower in front of the entire congregation. Church is a joyous time to come together and celebrate life and thanksgiving.
            Funerals in SVG are also quite different.  Again, they are much more of a party than the depressing obligations we have in America.  For one thing, funerals in SVG seem to be more about praising and celebrating the life of the deceased and less about focusing on the fact that our loved one is here with us no longer and saying goodbye.  It is a joyous time to remember all the wonderful things about the person.  Family and friends come together and sing and rejoice. There is a great sense of community and support. For example, if a loved one of a member of staff passes away, then all the teachers come together to sing a song at the funeral ceremony. I have had the pleasure of attending three funerals.  All of which I have sung at.
However, what I always will never fully understand, is that there is usually never any crying, but instead there is laughter and smiling.  I get that it’s a celebration of the life the person lived and their contributions and what not, but my cultural upbringing cannot forget that the person is no longer here and how that must make their loved ones feel, and brings tears to my eyes even when I have never met the person we are burying.
            The other major differences between SVG funerals and funerals in America is that there is no wake before the funeral ceremony and immediately after the ceremony, the entire church marches to the cemetery where more singing takes place while the casket is lowered and covered (by gravediggers) into the ground.  The gravediggers are usually drenched in sweat (you try digging a 6 foot deep hole in the ground in the middle of the day under hot Caribbean sun), wearing big rubber boots, and often times there’s a bottle of rum near by. A rather stark contrast to the very formal attire worn by guests.  Guests normally wear all black, black and white, or purple. Singing at the gravesite does not cease until the casket is completely buried and flowers have been placed on top covering all the dirt.

Singing while burying the casket
Placing flowers on the grave, as singing continues

Doing Laundry in SVG

         Laundry is quite the process.  Its time consuming and its exhausting, as you can well imagine without a washing machine.  There are two methods when it comes to hand washing laundry.  Method #1: Most people have outdoor sinks that they do their wash in.  Method #2: I do my laundry more akin to those that use the public pipe to wash their clothes—in buckets.
         Clothes first need to be soaked down in a bucket with soap.  If they are heavily soiled, like my rugby clothes, I usually let them soak for about a whole day.  I put them to soak at night, and wake up in the morning to wash.  Or I put them to soak in the morning and wash them at night then let them soak in fabric softener overnight.
Method 1: Clothes soaking in the back outdoor sink.
Method 1: Probably way too much soap...
Method #2: Clothes soaking in a bucket in my bathroom.  Picture on left is dirty clothes soaking.  Picture on right is clean clothes soaking in fabric softener. 
Sometimes, the dye from clothes bleeds.  In this case, it really does look like I murdered someone in my shower.  But it is in fact, brand new red sheets.  The dye bled for about 5 washes after the initial washing.  Quite annoying, because now I have a number of pink colored clothes.

          After the clothes have soaked sufficiently, its time to do the actual washing.  This involves rubbing the clothes together vigorously.  It takes a long time and a lot of energy to scrub all the clothes. Therefore, I try to do wash every day or every other day, so as to not let it build up.  It’s easier to do a little bit of wash every day, than to let it build up and have to spend hours doing it on the weekend.  For really stained clothes, sometimes a scrubbing brush is necessary.  I try to avoid this, as it ruins your clothes faster. Once all the clothes are washed/scrubbed its time to rinse. The absolute worst things to wash are towels and sheets.  They are so big and so heavy.  It takes some real strength to be able to wash and ring them.  Other articles of clothing that are not fun to wash include pants, jeans, and anything made of thick material.  The easiest things to wash are underwear, thin cotton/linen shirts, blouses, and usually work clothes.
           Rinsing usually takes a long time, because I always end up adding too much soap.  If you hang the clothes to dry with a lot of soap residue, they are usually really stiff and brittle. This is no fun.  Rinsing takes a long time, and a lot of effort to let it saturate with water and ring and squeeze out all the soap.  I typically have to repeat this about 5-10 times.
Clothes rinsing, waiting to be rung, and rinsed again.

           After all the clothes have been rinsed free of soap, I let them soak in fabric softener.  While, this means an extra step of re-ringing the clothes, it’s usually worth it to have semi-soft, better smelling laundry.  Sometimes I wash clothes at night, and let them soak overnight in fabric softener.  And other times I was in the morning, and put to soak in fabric softener for as little as 20 minutes.
           Once clothes have soaked in fabric softener for a while I re-ring them dry and hang to dry.  Regardless of when I wash the clothes, I always hang them first thing in the morning.  That way they are dry by the end of the day (if its not particularly hot, sunny, or windy), or by late morning to mid afternoon if it is windy and sunny.  I do not like to leave my clothes hanging on the clothesline over night, as I have had some problems recently with people “tiefin” things off the line.
Clothes hanging to dry, looks like a rainy day, so they will probably take a while :-/
Alternative methods to drying clothes.  I have also seen clothes drying on bushes and on the road to name a few.