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August 14, 2003

Whew! It's a little hard to believe I flew out of Grand Rapids a little over a week ago. So much has changed and happened since then! I spent last Wednesday and Thursday in Miami where I met the other 40 trainees that make up our Peace Corps "class". In the last week, I have gotten to know them quite well and yet there's still this feeling that I only met these people about a week ago. The group seems to be quite supportive of each other and getting along really well. There's a little more variety of ages, backgrounds and career paths than I had imagined. I've really enjoyed getting a chance to ask people what they were doing prior to this and what their life circumstances were that enabled them to pick up and leave for two years. As you would expect, the specifics are as varied as the people telling the story, but there is a theme that runs through the vast majority of them. Most were at a point in life where they're ready for a change, ready to make changes, get some answers, and assist others in doing the same for their lives. It's been great so far to get to know some super people and start to build a support system of "PCV's" while I'm here. (I've learned that Peace Corps LOVES using initials for things, PCV=Peace Corps Volunteers). As in any group of 40 people there are some who I connect with more than others, but I'm really trying to get to know everyone, because I don't know who will end up being placed ont he same island as me.

The "staging" time in Miami was mostly spent learning about Peace Corps' approach to safety and security (it's VERY comprehensive, Dad!), learning rules and policies, and beginning discussions about cross-cultural integration. On Monday of this week, we started Phase 1 of our training in Babonneau. Our classes right now are 8:30-5:00 at the secondary school. We have had a number of speakers from the island come to talk about things like economic development, history of the caribbean, hurrican and disaster preparedness (!), etc. We also break up into our "technical sector" groups once or twice a day for a while. There are 3 sectors in my trainee group--special education, information technology and small business development. There are 12 of us in the special education group. The experience and background is much more varied than I would have guessed. Experience ranges from teaching the visually impaired, to working as a speech/language pathologist in a clinic, from being an interpreter for the deaf, to working as a para-professional in schools or working in group homes. I thought that this training would kind of be an "equalizer" for us, but I'm beginning to think that won't be as true and am feeling quite grateful for the experience and knowledge that I have. (We'll see how grateful I feel in six months!) Today we took a trip to a rastafarian commune about 45 minutes south of Babonneau. The people in this community maintain an organic commune for its members and we were able to tour it and speak with some members of the community. I learned quite a bit about rastafarianism as a religion and way of being and was able to dispel many of the stereotypes and myths that I held about them. I have some pictures, but have not mastered the downloading images piece yet--I'll get to that sometime soon hopefully! The next two weeks of training will be a lot of the same types of activities and training. On Saturday, the 23rd, we will have interviews with the 5 island director (they are all natives of the countries they serve). They will use these interviews along with our resumes to determine where it is we will be placed and in what capacity we will be working. We will find out our placements on Thursday, the 28th and depart for our islands that Saturday. I anticipate that it will be difficult to leave the majority of the other trainees, although I am already getting anxious to find out where I will be living and have a slight idea of what kind of work I'll be doing. The following two weeks of training will be more community-based, meaning that we will be given activities to complete individually in the community. We will be meeting with the other trainees 2 times a week, but most of our time will be spent really beginning to integrate into our community.

But for now, here I am in Bobabbeau. It is a town in the hills of St. Lucia about 20 minutes east of Castries. The town has had Peace Corps trainees on and off for about 20 years and so they are quite used to seeing a bunch of Americans on their streets. The town iself is quite hilly and varies quite a bit in the types of housing that is here. Most of the homes are very small compared to American standards and at least partly built on stilts or poles of some sort. The answers I've gotten as to "why" have varied from "less bugs" to "people will add on underneath later". The other obvious reason seems to be that you must have your front elevated at some level if you're building on a 45 degree pitched hill... I am living with Kinglsey and Louise Florentville. They are a fairly young couple--29 or so and have a 3 year old son named Linsley and another baby due in November. They are very kind and welcoming and it did not take me long at all to feel at home here. Kingsley's parents live a few houses away and scattered all around the neighborhood are some of his brothers and their families. They did most of the construction on the house and it is nice, but quite simple. We do have running water--most of the time. Our area of town tends to lose water pressure (that's the explanation they've given me!) in the early afternoon. Hot water doesn't seem to really be an option unless you purchase a costly solar water heater. I've learned quite well how to do a "military style" shower in the morning. We do have electricity, although lightbulbs coming out of the wall are about the extent of the lighting. I finally got a mosquito net yesterday from Peace Corps (most everyone here on the island uses them) and that made my evening much more restful. Today, Louise went into town and got me a fan to put in my room, so I should be sleeping like a baby tonight! It has been quite hot and terribly humid here. I'm hoping I get used to this constant "sticky" feeling...we'll see. My short time here has made it painfully obvious why they still have Peace Corps volunteers working here. There is extreme poverty here and a high need for developing their resources and getting the large youth generation invested in making change here...the journey begins!

I have been starting to explore some things around here both with my host family and with other PCV's. I had my first "sea bath" at the beach...ahhhh! and caught a "football" game today for a while. I'm absolutely loving the fresh fruits that grow in our backyard--literally! Mangoes, guava, "five fingers" (starfruit), papaya, bananas (lots of bananas), golden apples (not really apples) and many more. The food is wonderful too and Louise has been great about cooking for a vegetarian! I do not have a reliable internet connection yet, but if you are reading this, I must have figured something out. My goal is to try to post a journal every week and access my e-mail about that often as well (at least for the next few weeks). I'm hoping on Saturday to go to town with another volunteer or two and visit an internet cafe as well as explore the sights. On Sunday, we have a picnic at the beach with all the families and volunteers. Next Saturday, Louise and Kinglsey have invited me to go to a wedding with them. Lots to look forward to and yet, it is so necessary to take life one day at a time!