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May 26, 2005

Community Commute

One of my most cherished times of the day when I was living in Denver was my morning commute. Strange, I know, but my school started so early that I usually left home around 6:15am, beating most of the morning traffic. As a result, that 20 minutes in the morning was a quiet, isolated time for me. It was just me and my car with limited interactions only with the lady at the coffee shop I occasionally patronized and Bob Edwards on NPR. I didn't have to interact with anyone if I didn't want to and could just retreat into my own thoughts and needs. I was also completely unaware of the patterns of others as they started their day. The morning commute in Denver is very isolatory and many people find comfort in that. People get in their cars by themselves, stop at a drive-in coffee shop, play whatever music they want in their private vehicle and independently fan out all over the city and surrounding areas.

Yesterday morning I was on an early bus to St. George's, observing the morning commute and it struck me what a drastic difference there is between the Denver and Grenada commute. There is nothing isolatory about the morning activities here. There are far fewer private vehicles on the roads and all public busses are in activation at that hour. Even the people driving cars, rarely get to their intended destination without picking up a couple people they know along the road. Trucks going to construction sites are packed with 15-20 men in the back. Sometimes trucks with loads even have men perched atop--sitting on the tarp covered contents as if resting in Lazy Boy chairs. The destinations of busses, trucks and cars is shared as well, as most people in the mornings are heading to St. George's or Grenville, two of the commercial headquarters. It feels so different than the divergent destinations in Denver--as if we're all in this morning journey together.

The busses have a communal feel as we pack in as many people as possible. A newcomer usually greets his/her busmates with a "Good Morning". And on we go--the driver safely delivering us to our shared destination. As we go, we stop to drop a child at pre-school. The conductor taking the child by the hand and carefully walking him across the road. The bus occupants glance over and watch him run up to the school with his little backpack bouncing behind. We pass packs of children in school uniform walking to school. We silently urge them to move faster as we can judge by their uniforms how far they are from their school. We pass a man doing wash in a bucket near a standpipe on the side of the road and think he better hurry before the sun rises too far in the sky. Someone knocks on the bus, signalling a stop and as we drop him, we pick up a new busmate--a woman dressed in her neat suit--purse and lunchbox in hand, packed with the food she prepared for her and her family hours earlier. As we rearrange to fit her in, we watch an older man walking by in a tattered shirt, dirty pants and water boots. The cutlass in his hand lets us know he's heading to the field and we silently thank him for helping to keep the country fed. We continue on and pass a young school boy walking his goats to the pasture. Alas, we get to the city. People start to drop off at their destinations. I arrive at my stop and get off with three others. Although it's nice to have some "elbow room", I silently wish my fellow commuters a good day and I find that I don't mind replacing my isolated commutes for these communal ones.

The last month or two have been busy but great. I find myself increasingly anxious to get "home" and as a result working harder and harder to stay in the moment and appreciate my last weeks here. At time same time, the reality that I will be leaving people and a country that I've grown to love gets more and more real for me. I will be leaving Grenada on July 1st to head back to Michigan. It's amazing to believe that my Peace Corps service is coming to a close in only 5 weeks. I have had a lot to keep me busy these last couple months. My two friends, Carrie and Kari, came down to Grenada for a 2 week visit. Carrie lives in Telluride and Kari in Denver. They claim they had a great time and I thoroughly enjoyed their visit...especially since they brought me a 6 pack of Fat Tire, which sadly finally exhausted itself last night! We visited a lot of Grenada while they were here and also got to meet JP before he left Grenada on April 21. He returned to Buffalo for a time before moving to NYC to attend Columbia. (He actually just moved yesterdday!) It was really hard to have him go as he's been a wonderful part of my life here, but I must say that the best way to get over a boyfriend leaving the country is to leave yourself. Kristin, another PCV, got use of a condo in St. Kitts (Thanks to her uncle!) and we planned to leave, as it turned out, on the same morning that JP left. Our flights were 10 minutes apart so after a teary good-bye, I walked onto a plane with 5 good friends (Kari, Carrie, Kristin and Kate and Kelly (also PCVs) and flew to, what turned out to be, a FATTY condo in St. Kitt's. Kristin's uncle has business contacts in St. Kitt's and since he never makes it down, they treated us like some honored clients. Imagine the screams and looks of unbelief when 4 PCV's + 2 friends walk into a beautiful 3 bedrooom condo overlooking the ocean with a huge kitchen (fully stocked fridge!), big screen TV, PRIVATE POOL!, computer with DSL and a phone with a 1-800 number for our friends and family to call. I think we managed to hold down the screams 'til they actually left the condo, but I know that they still heard them 2 blocks away. How embarassing! The whole weekend was wonderful and took incredible strength to actually get back on that plane to Grenada.

As far as "work", I have continued to visit schools as well as doing advocacy/liason work in the Ministry of Education. Recently I started visiting a school in Vincennes (southern St. David's) that has a small school-initiated program for their learners with special needs. The principal and teacher who are running it are both wonderful dedicated educators and finally were able to work out a way to have both space and time to do this. It is a rarity to see a teacher at a school actually devoted only to remedial work and is very exciting for me. I visited 2 weeks ago to assist the teacher in doing some informal but analytical assessments in reading. I did a few with her watching and then we talked about the results afterwards. I asked her to try to do a couple in the next two weeks and told her I'd return to see how it went. I went back with low expectations, a lesson taught from 2 years here, only to find that she had not only done 2, but had finished about 20 assessments. She had spent the entire week doing them and the greatest part was that they were very well done and actually revealed some great information that she did not know previously about her students. As if that wasn't enough, I observed a lesson and she did a section at the end about using "initial sounds" when looking at words and later told me that she had noticed that as a weakness in many of her students based on the assessments. This may seem like basic educational practice, but to see a teacher actually change her instruction as a result of assessment information was positively wonderful for me and nearly brought me to tears. Way to go Ms. Victor! The great part is that it was not me, but entirely her who made the change and I feel honored for whatever part I was able to play in that change.

Yesterday, we also had a workshop for principal's of primary schools that have expressed interest in the past in creating a program for students with special needs at their school. The ministry seems to be supportive of school-based programmes in theory, but it seems that the only way these things will actually get going is purely by initiatives by principals, teachers and the community. Because of this we (we=Task Force on Special Education) wanted to organize a workshop to assist those principals. We started organizing this workshop about 2 months ago and it ended up being me who did about 95% of the work. I was feeling really frustrated with this, and in addition, I kept having one problem after another--our Peace Corps funding for the lunches fell through, one speaker bailed 2 weeks before, another bailed the morning of the workshop, another one could not be found, we got kicked out of the room I had signed up for 4 weeks prior for a workshop scheduled 1 week ago and then some of the principals had to attend that other workshop. The final straw for me came when someone high up in the Ministry (who shall go unnamed) who I had spoken to at least 5 times about this very workshop, asked me the morning of, what it was about and what the goals were. I had written numerous memos about it and had a few discussions in addition to general discussion about special education. His comments that morning made me feel like we had never even discussed this whole subject. He was there to speak, in place of the Minister, to give the Ministry's committment to these special needs programmes and his lack of information made me want to cry (this time, not with joy, but frustration). Another PCV was there to attend the workshop and I quickly vented to her about how it felt as if 2 years of service and we had gotten no where and what a crappy way to end my service. I collected myself and went into the workshop and we started. The Ministry official pulled off a decent speech pronouncing his support for programs for students with special needs and even said that he wanted one in every school in the future (to which the principals looked around in disbelief--for good reason). He thanked me for organizing the workshop and stayed for the 1st hour or so. As we worked through the morning, my spirits rose as I realized that the principals (10 of 16 invited schools attended) were really eager for the information we were presenting and engaged in some very practial discussion about how we can get programmes started. As the day ended, I had a few people tell me that it was a great workshop and they were really glad they came. I feel good about how it turned out in the end which made up for all the frustrations.

That is the last of my major projects that I have scheduled. For the next 5 weeks, I'll be assisting in plans for some Special Education workshops during the teacher's summer training (I'll plan but won't be there to assist). I also have some families I have connected with who have children with disabilities to follow up on. In addition, I have a few more schools to make visits to (including Vincennes) and a number of schools that have requested assessments on children. I feel good about the amount of things I want to accomplish before I leave and think I'll have some time to do some final things that I have been wanting to do in Grenada.

One more quick thing. Last week, the remaining members of EC 71 attended our COS (Close of Service) Conference in Antigua. We were treated to a few days of glory at an all-inclusive resort on that beautiful island. It was a nice conference and reality check that we are indeed the "seniors on campus". There was some administrative/medical procedures information as well as some sessions to review our time here and prepare us for the upcoming change. There was one activity the 25 of us participated in, in which we had a timeline for our service on the wall. Each PCV was given post-it notes and instructed to write down different accomplishments over the course of our service. As we all took turns to read our accomplishments and post them on the timeline, I felt very encouraged to see that I was a part of this greater project which, collectively did some incredible things and touched numerous lives. Even in the moments of frustration and feelings of uselessness that are inevitable in Peace Corps, it's nice to remember that I am part of a greater effort that is collectively making some great changes.

So, with that, I'll sign off. Thanks for sticking in this long!

Photos from JP's Camera

More Random (but fun!) Pictures