Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Passion for Reading

Recently, I have been working on a project at work which involves pairing struggling students with teachers. It is particularly important to do this for the Form 3 students, as due to the nature of the school, once students enter form 3 they move to the Main Building, away from the Literacy Department/Coordinator/Library. Once students enter form 3 they are mixed in with the mainstream and are kind of forgotten when it comes to remedial reading.
As I was going through the list of students that I have taught of the years in forms 1 and 2, it became apparent that, especially those in the remedial classes, most of the students were no longer enrolled in secondary school.  This kind of broke my heart.
About two weeks ago, a student I taught and who was an avid library book borrower, came to school dressed in her home clothes.  The library sits atop the stairs, and when she came up the stairs, she called to me in the Library. I had no idea what she wanted or why she would be in home clothes.  As far as I knew, she was still in school.  However, she asked me if people who didn’t go to school could borrow the library books.  At first I told her that they are only for students, at which point I prodded into why she wasn’t in school. She explained her situation, which nearly broke my heart.  It made me so sad that a girl of 15 years old has to work on a neighboring island to support herself and her family. It also made me extremely frustrated that there are students at school who could care less about their education or their future, and here is a student who would rather be in school learning but was not able to due to financial restrictions.  Whatever happened to universal access?

In the end, I let her borrow four books, with the expectation that I would never see the books again. I figured it was a small price to pay to help a young girl, one that came to the school library of her own volition.  Much to my surprise she returned the following week to borrow four more books.  After the long Independence holiday weekend, I returned to school to find a bag with the books she borrowed on my desk.  I was sad to know that she came and I was not here so she could not borrow any more books.

Kindness from Strangers

I have always maintained the belief that people in SVG are exceedingly welcoming and giving, friendly and just overall nice.  I was fortunate to experience an act of kindness that made my day. It was particularly noteworthy, as I had all but given up hope for dealing with people in general at this time.
About a week ago, I had a meeting in Town.  Naturally, I was running late.  Running late, coupled with the lack of vans running due to the road outage and subsequent detour, it takes much longer to reach Town now. When I got to the bus stop there were many school kids as school just let out. When a van came, all the school children rushed the van and filled it up before I could get on.  As they were determining how best to pack the van with so many people, there was an older woman already on the van who insisted to the conductor that they let “the white lady” on the van.  For a few minutes, the conductor ignored the woman’s commands, as the conductor moved people around somewhat unsuccessfully and tried to pack the van. Yet, the woman kept insisting that the “white lady” get on the van. After some time of the woman repeatedly telling the conductor to let me on, the conductor closed the door.  Just as the van was about to pull away, the woman again demanded that they let “the white lady” on the van.  The door opened and the conductor got out, and made a young man sitting in the second row get out and stand, in addition to the conductor, thereby letting me ride to Town.

I was so happy the woman kept insisting that they let me on the van, since I was already late and vans are so hard to come by now, and it takes much longer to reach Town with the detour.  Thank you, stranger, for your generous act of kindness.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Its Like the Sun Doesnt Shine for Me No More

Peace Corps has mash me up. You can ask any Peace Corps Volunteer and I think its safe to say that they will all agree that Peace Corps F’s you up. You go into this experience so fresh faced, overflowing with ideas and ambition, hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow, eager and willing to help.  And over time, after countless attempts to get projects off the ground, failure after failure, reality is realized and all those hopes and dreams appear not so attainable after all.  You don’t give up right away; you persevere, holding out hope that it just needs one more little extra push.  But eventually you come to the harsh conclusion that no matter what you do, there’s a good chance that what you have been working so hard for will not be sustainable and will eventually wither away once you leave, if you are successful at getting started at all in the first place. When you return, you arrive damaged goods. Your entire outlook on life has changed; things that mattered suddenly seem so immaterial. And things you were completely oblivious to are now on the forefront of your conscience.  
       I have reached my breaking point. I thought that I could deal with stress reasonably well and actually thought I worked better under pressure and stress.  Evidently there is a limit to the effectiveness of the stress. I can probably name two times in my whole life where I was caught crying in public. That all changed since the day I first applied for Peace Corps.  That’s right.  It starts breaking you down before you even set foot on a plane for another country. Amid all the uncertainty that the process entails, you’re on an emotional rollercoaster with little option but to break down and cry.
      Since coming to SVG, my experience has been nothing short of challenging, both personally and project-wise. While there are many exceedingly positive experiences as well as many examples of very positive personal growth, this experience has also slowly beaten me down. There are many instances in which I have behaved in a manner in which I would deem “uncharacteristically” and quite disgracefully. There have been times I have cried at school; times I have gotten extremely angry and frustrated at which point I have yelled and screamed at students/classes, one time even lashing a student with a book or grabbed or pushed a student.  These are things I am not proud of.
Yet, these reactions come about as a result of my perceived lack of control of my situation, my confusion and my inability to constructively deal with the challenges that working in another country present and the constant challenges that I am faced with every minute of my life now.  They are in response to my feelings of failure day in and day out.  It didn’t seem to matter what I did. I pride myself in being hard working and determined.  This experience was no different than any other endeavor; in fact I probably worked harder and persevered more than any other job or project. And yet, it didn’t matter. I tried to get creative, interactive, etc., but nothing seemed to work. It was failure after failure. There have been times students have told me to go back to America, called me racist, and threw objects at me, among other things. There have been times that projects did not move forward and even crashed and burned in flames once the proposal hit the desk, despite my every effort to acquire the necessary resources. There are many times that I was willing and able to do projects nearly entirely on my own, all I needed was a green light to go forward, and even that was denied. The constant struggles and subsequent failures are not limited to work. Returning to an empty house with no amenities, very few friends and no family wears on you. How do you deal with the work stress/struggles if you have no support system?
          Yet you eventually adapt to your new and challenging surroundings and somewhat lonely life.  You find new sources of happiness and comfort. Besides, these occurrences were usually isolated and ensued on a particularly difficult day.
      As of late, these occurrences and others have been becoming more frequent, although the focus of the “outbursts” or “meltdowns” is directed less at students and more internally.  There have been countless random uncontrollable crying/sobbing fits, days I just cant bring myself to get out of bed, and fights with loved ones over seemingly nothing at all.
         It all came to a head, after one project in particular. I had spent months preparing for the project, only to have it fail miserably. Approximately only half of the objectives were reached, if that. It was at the conclusion of this project that I realized something more was going on, and this wasn’t just normal feelings of disappointment. It was also at this time that I seriously considered quitting and returning home.  Home to a culture I knew, home to my family and friends who cared and loved me, home to familiarity, home to comfort. As things got worse, I began to realize I was in a deep depression and the latest project failure was the last straw.
       Things began to deteriorate shortly after my best friend finished her service and returned home about 6 months ago (the same time I was supposed to finish and return home; instead I decided to extend my service).  She had been my rock through the tumultuous experience we were sharing; she was my sounding board, my confidante; some one I could vent to about work and life and would listen and could understand. When she left, I essentially lost my only true friend. Shortly after she left, things got worse when a particular person I depended on wasn’t there for me. Trust was betrayed, confidence was shattered.
        Then the summer came and was full of rejection. One rejection after the next in terms of support or lack there of for the project I was undertaking. It wears on you when you only hear negative and discouraging news time and again. Then came the execution/implementation of the project, which went less than stellar.  Nothing went as planned, or even remotely close to “as planned” or as anticipated. I know that Peace Corps always tells us you must be flexible, but flexibility is dealing with a few hiccups, not entirely restructuring a project.  I suppose it’s my fault for having such high expectations.  This was the breaking point. I was not sure if I could continue. I went so far as to draft a pros/cons list for staying vs. going.
       I was utterly sick of working my butt off for some one else’s benefit, especially when they seemed like they couldn’t care less and could not be bothered to help me help them. I was sick of the lack of commitment, the lies, the lack of effort, and the disappointment. Everything.
        To make matters worse my backup camera broke, while my main camera was at the manufacturer for repair.  I know this sounds kind of trivial and materialistic, but photography is my outlet. Also add it to the ever-growing list of electronics to mash up.  To top things off, my computer charger broke (only three months after replacing the original). Now, not only did I have no one here that I could vent to and help me through this tough time, but I was essentially now completely isolated from friends and family back home that could give me some semblance of an ear to listen and a shoulder to cry on.  I feel so alone. I feel so out of control of myself, that all I can do is cry.  I have no other means of coping and dealing with the stress and feelings anymore.
            I became increasingly agitated and got easily frustrated. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t sleep, I wasn’t able to fall asleep and then I would wake up very early. I would wake up in the middle of the night with terrifying nightmares almost nightly. I wasn’t hungry, I stopped going to rugby, I would rarely leave my house or my bed. Nothing interested me and nothing seemed to matter any more.
            It wasn’t just one factor that brought me to this dark place that I am at now.  It was many factors over time.  The loneliness; lack of social and professional support; work stress; relationship problems; failure after failure, disappointment after disappointment. Yet it is a vicious cycle.  All the stress causes me to shutdown and further isolate myself, makes me irritable and causes more problems with loved ones, and prevents me from doing the things I used to love and prevents me from doing my job.  Only leading to more stress and more problems.
            At this point, I'm not sure what to do anymore.


Sunday, October 13, 2013


About a month ago there was a massive landslide in a village approximately 5 minutes drive from my house.  The landslide washed away a bus shed, water main pipes, and the road.
Landslides are pretty common here during the rainy season and especially in the region where I live.  I live in a valley, which sees significantly more rain than the surrounding areas.  These landslides usually affect the road, as the road is surrounded by steep hills on both sides.  Generally, the landslides are minor and just dump a bunch of mud and some debris into the road.  If it does cause the road to be closed, it is usually cleared in a matter of hours or a day or two.
However, the landslide that occurred in early September washed away nearly all the road, approximately 200 feet down a deep ravine.  This is the main road connecting the Marriaqua Valley to Kingstown.
Now, the road is diverted. The detour adds an extra 20 minutes to the trip to Town.  The detour road is extremely narrow, fitting only one car at a time, adding extra time to maneuver past oncoming cars. In addition, the road is in poor condition (as are most). The road has since been torn up to be repaved.  However, I don’t see the repaving taking place any time soon.  So now the road is all rocky and gravelly, slowing down traffic further.
In addition to the detour, it seems as though there are significantly fewer vans running.  It takes upwards of an hour to catch a van now.  I used to brag to all my other Peace Corps friends that Mespo had the most vans and it was so easy to catch a van.  Now I know how they feel when they have to wait forever for a van home, or have to leave a function early because vans stop running at 6pm, or they cant go anywhere on a Saturday because they wont be able to get home on a Sunday.  Mespo was never like that until now and it sucks.

According to officials, the main road will take “up to 8 months to be reconstructed”.  Though I highly suspect it will take much much longer, based on previous instances of road construction.

*All photos courtesy of CWSA and SVG TV