September 6, 2003
Week 1 in Grenada has come and gone and it's amazing to me how much more comfortable I feel already in this short time span. I feel like I have learned so much this week and yet am very aware that I have just seen the tip of the iceberg (Oh, what I would give for an iceberg right now in this heat!). On Wednesday and Thursday of this week I went up to Mt. Saint Ervans to spend two days in training with the other trainees and our director, Franka. It was really good to see familiar faces and hear how their last few days had been. The place is an old convent that now functions as a retreat center, it is small but beautiful. The best part is this path that leads up a hill to a small pavillion with incredible views of the island and ocean. Lining the path are 160 year old palm trees on both sides, they're probably 50 feet tall each and there's about 20 on either side. Quite a sight. The two days were packed full of information, sharing and learning and I left there exhausted, but refreshed. In addition, I had acquired an insane number of bug bites. I've gotten the mosquitos under control with my 3x daily regimen of Back Woods Off, but there's these other little bugs called sand flies. They look innocent. Honestly, they're only about 1 mm, but they bite like crazy and have developed a special liking for my blood. The bites are small, but itch. They got the bottom of my legs pretty bad (I was wearing a skirt) on Wed. and Thurs. I got home and started counting the bottom inside of my right leg. I got to 50 (yes! for real) and stopped counting... My host dad keeps telling me not to itch them and last night taught me the Grenadian trick--give the itchy spot a good slap instead of itching. It actually works pretty well, if I can remember to slap my already scabby legs. Give it a try next time you have an itch--not bad, huh?
On Friday, I ventured on my first solo bus trip to St. George's. It's about a 35 km trip and takes about 50 minutes to get there. I met up with the other trainees at the Peace Corps office because we needed to open bank accounts and also get our 2nd of 3 rabies immunizations. Evidently the dogs on Grenada carry rabies, but no Grenadians get immunized--only those nutty "Peace Corps" Yet another of Peace Corps crazy medical policies.
In my adventures out and about this week, I've been surprised by how diverse the Grenadian population is. It is still largely black, but there's definitely a mix of all different kinds of blood. You can see african, east indian, middle eastern, hispanic and anglo. There's very few white people here, the ones that I've seen are largely British (or tourists in St. George's). Last week I saw a couple white women and it was quite a wierd experience to hear a Grenadian accent coming out of their mouth. Something I just didn't expect. But then, that's the name of the game--having my expectations blown away. It's much easier just to not have them in the first place I think. From what I understand about Grenada, there is not much "racism" persay. Instead, the discrimination is largely based on class. It is absolutely acceptable to have inter-racial marraiges and relationships, etc. but to have a marraige that crosses over class lines is very difficult here.
I've also been struck by how dependent Grenada is on other nations and therefore susceptible to their input, resources, etc. For example, Japan is in the process of building a large new fish market here in the harbor in Grenville. The project is to support the fishermen as well as possibly attracting more tourists. In talking to my host dad about it though, he said that Japan really wants Grenada's support in opposing an international ban on whaling. It goes way back to the uprising in 1983. Grenada evidently was asking for support for whomever would help them with establish their new government and programs after the revolution. Cuba was the one who responded and offered tremendous support (including and entire new airport), but along with that came socialism. The people here seem very committed to change and community development but there is also an understanding that Grenada itself cannot provide everything it needs for development. For example, there are 3 Grenadian papers that come out weekly. They need to be sent to Trinidad each week to be printed and then sent back for circulation. It is cheaper to do it that way than to have it printed here on island. Today I was talking to a woman who has been instrumental in St. Andrew's development organization over the years. She was telling me about an old catholic church in the are that they are working on restoring to make it into a tourist sight, with a gallery, museum and artisan display area as a way to generate revenue for the area. In addition, they would like to make it into a community center. The originally started on this project back in the early 90's and have gotten funding from places such as American Express and the European Union in addition to the Grenadian Board of Tourism. They've had Americans, Peace Corps Volunteers, Iranian ex-pats, British ex-pats, etc. all working on the project over the years. Currently the project is stalled because they're waiting for funding to clear from the EU. I think one of their major struggles has been (and continues to be) finding a balance in utilizing Grenada's wonderful natural and human resources and the assistance from other nations and organizations--Peace Corps included.
On a completely different subject--I found out about something potentially exciting about 1 mile north of Grenada. Kickemjenny (not sure of the spelling) is a submarine volcano and is the largest active one. Evidently kickemjenny (isn't that a great name!) has been making some noise lately and is being monitored constantly at a station on the north of the island as well as by the university in Trinidad. Some experts say that she is expected to erupt sometime within the next 1-10 years. They are unsure about exactly what the effects will be, but they estimate that there could be waves coming from that area anywhere from 50-100 feet! Within hours, the entire Caribbean could be feeling effects of the explosion. Apparently after the initial waves, there believe there will be a vacuum from the water clearing out and that that vacuum could then create more waves that are even bigger. They say that Grenada is mostly out of the hurricane zone down here, but I think that sounds a whole lot scarier (in some sickly exciting--but only until it actually happens--way). Of course, Peace Corps is quite well informed on this and our country director will be one of the first called if they're sensing the eruption at which time we'd clear out to high areas and safe houses. The two guys who are living up in Sauters on kickemjenny's doorstep disagree with this and believe that in fact THEY should be the first ones called.
On Monday, I will have my first meeting with the principal of the special education school. I'm excited to meet her and start to get a sense of what their needs area as a school and how I can help fulfill those. In addition, Franka also told me that the ministry of education has just started waking up to the fact that there’s a need for special education in schools. There has been a task force in place with 2 other peace corps volunteers working with the ministry to get trained special ed teachers working. Evidently there’s a group of teachers in Grenada who are trained in spec. ed but are not working because there are no programs. The task force did 30 hours of training with this group this summer and are now ready to start some pilot programs in a couple schools. I think I will be involved in these pilot programs as well as the task force. One of the volunteers on the task force just finished, so the other volunteer and I will sit on that this year and when she’s done next year, I might head it up…we’ll see. Sounds like there’s some exciting stuff going on. Also, the ministry of education is in the process of appointing their first education officer specifically for special education. It sounds like I’ve arrived on the cusp of some cool things happening!
Alright, that's plenty of news for today! I hope you are all well and love hearing from you when you can!