Tuesday, September 30, 2014

So This Is It?

            It has been so incredibly long since I last updated you all.  I am sure by now most of you have forgotten that I am still in the Peace Corps. Firstly, that is because I extended my service, yet again/so many times. And secondly, because during that time I was so incredibly busy with my project of starting a youth rugby programme, in addition to teaching/librarian at the secondary school, and traveling, that I barely had time for myself let alone to update my blog or send emails! But today, I write to you all only mere days from my COS (close of service).  The end is imminent.
            After nearly 4 years, it is finally coming to an end (and its surreal).  It has been an incredible journey in many regards.  It most definitely started out pretty rough, from having my original assignment canceled one week prior to leaving, to being in limbo for 3 months and then being sent to a completely different region teaching literacy (I'm an engineer after all!). Honestly I cannot believe that I extended my service so many times, nearly doubling the required 2 years.  But I have fallen in love with my life in St. Vincent.  My entire Peace Corps experience has been life changing and eye opening.
            Since the last update there have been many accomplishments and things happening. I organized and directed two successful month long summer youth rugby camps (2013, 2014); I developed and implemented a grassroots youth rugby programme, introducing tag rugby into primary school students during PE classes and starting Nov 2014 secondary school students too; I traveled to Grenada, Dominica, St. Lucia, and Tortola; some for work, some for rugby and some for play J.  I’ve spent a total of 11 weeks (October 2013, June/July 2014) in the States trying to catch up with friends and family. I have seen many of my Peace Corps friends finish their service and start careers and have welcomed that many more new Peace Corps Volunteers to St. Vincent. I have also worked with the SVGRUFC executive to hire a new coach to replace me and continue the youth rugby programme.  I am so incredibly happy/proud to know that the project that I poured my heart and soul into will continue (and grow) in my absence.
            Overall, my Peace Corps experience has been just that, an experience and an adventure. And one that I would never take back or change.  If nothing else, at all times it has been a roller coaster. I have seen challenge after challenge, both personally and professionally, but I have seen an equal number of triumphs, albeit some small. I have risen to the occasion(s), surprising even myself with creativity, resourcefulness, patience, perseverance and resilience; so far as overcoming a period of major depression. I have made so many deep meaning friendships and have had to say goodbye to a few of those.  Some have passed on, for others the distance was too great. No matter I am grateful to have had them in the first place. I may have missed many new chapters beginning in the States, but I have started a number of my own or shared in others’ here in SVG. While I was assigned to SVG to serve as a literacy teacher, I actually learned more than I taught. I have experienced a number of severe natural disasters (most recently, the Christmas Eve Floods which resulted in 12 deaths), while ironically missing two major hurricanes that affected the North East US, and have also been fortunate to explore such a beautiful and environmentally rich island nation, hiking volcanoes, swimming in rivers, the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, and many waterfalls, just to name a few of the amazing eco adventures available. Although I am a vegetarian, I have had the opportunity to try iguana, sting ray, blackfish (a type of dolphin), shark, lionfish, conch, armadillo, tripe, goat balls and goat head, cattle skin, chicken backs, necks and feet, pork (that was reared in a friends back yard), manicou (opossum), and yard fowl.  I have eaten more fruits than I can even list. Unfortunately, I have had numerous health incidents/injuries; ranging from mysterious rashes and fevers (dengue?), to infections, and the worst of them all: a root canal and crown on my front tooth.  Luckily I have learned some new rather interesting remedies, consisting of many different leaves, bushes, fruits, herbs, etc. Whatever the ailment, there is a remedy and probably a superstition to go along with it. Also can’t forget the local rum (84.5%, that’s percent not proof!), which is said to cure basically everything.
Prior to Peace Corps, Never Have I Ever: really known how to cook; how to wash clothes by hand; been a contortionist (van rides will test your flexibility); bathed in a river; bathed out of a bucket; swam with sea turtles; hitchhiked; eaten so many different foods; been warmly invited into stranger’s homes and offered a meal, or even a place to stay (I was stuck in another island!), but more importantly I have learned to see things as they are and to never take anything for granted. I have a much more positive outlook on life, eternally grateful for the things I do have: health, love and support from family and friends; a roof over my head and food in my belly, and to a much greater extent than those whom I live around, choices. I have a totally new perspective; I can and will adapt, I can and will change and grow, I can and do go without, things that were “necessities”, no longer seem so important. Many people think that Peace Corps is so difficult because of the lack of amenities, but it’s actually quite easy to adjust.  It’s the emotional and psychological side of things that makes Peace Corps difficult: the isolation and loneliness, but at the same time, being surrounded by people and constantly being on display (the fish bowl effect). Alternatively, many people think the Caribbean is some paradise.  While it has stunningly beautiful scenery, what they don’t show you in the travel guides is the high rates of unemployment and poverty, the poor education system and health care and the social impacts as a result of these shortcomings. All of these factors have contributed to my evolved outlook and perspective on life. I have also learned to live in the moment, because you really don’t know what could happen tomorrow. Nothing is guaranteed.
         At this point, no doubt, you are wondering what my next move will be. I will be staying in St. Vincent looking for a job. Preferably something more engineering related, or at the very least science and math focused.  We will see what the future holds.
      Please note that my address will change as will my phone number.  If you are interested in sending me mail, please ask me for my new address!

         Lastly, thank you for your support, encouragement, love and friendship throughout my entire journey of pursuing the Peace Corps.  I could not have gotten here were it not for your support and encouragement, and I could not have continued without you sharing in my joys, nor without your words of encouragement and advice so help me through the rough patches. Thank you.

        Please check back soon though, as I will be posting LONG OVER DUE posts, since I will have more time to finally catch up with my blog.


  1. So glad to find your blog!
    Thank you for your comment on my old PCV blog from my service in Macedonia. I have enjoyed going back and reading so much in your blog. I have been scouring the Internet for information on PCV experiences in the Eastern Caribbean and have not found much that is current. I am currently a RPCV, but about to become a PCRV (my departure for a PC Response position St. Lucia is in less than two weeks). I hope I can get some pointers from you and other currently serving PCVs in your region regarding packing, etc. I know it will be drastically different from what I had to contend with in Eastern Europe. The application process for PCRVs is quite different from that for PCVs. I applied in July, received and accepted my Invitation in the end of August, am scheduled to depart for St. Lucia on October 13th and I have not yet received any information other than the online Welcome Book for PC-EC. Is there a Facebook group site I might gain access to, or could you please see which PCVs in addition to yourself might be willing to communicate via email? My email address is - lew.hemmer@gmail.com.

  2. Hi, I am from St. Vincent and living in Canada. I noticed a photo you posted that said it was taken from your veranda. It was of the Marriaqua Primary school. I grew up in a house adjacent to that school and know the people living in the area. Were you by any chance staying at the Bennetts? Were you close to the Methodist church?

    1. Hi P'Tani Boy. Yes I was staying at the Bennetts. Such a small world sometimes isnt it?!