A year has passed by as quickly as the wind sweeps away leaves on a blustery, fall afternoon. In some aspects the last year has felt like decades. My experiences here have been plentiful and powerful. Each day in the Eastern Caribbean brings about a new lesson, a new friend, a new experience, or a new feeling. Overflowing with opportunity and generous with risk, St. Lucia has offered me the chance of reviving a fraction of my vitality that I had lost somewhere along the way in my long, tedious workdays back in the States.
It has been an ongoing battle with the nature of time in Gros Islet. One moment, I find myself gasping for air from the hectic work schedule of the day while the next afternoon may present itself with ample enough time to include all of the following: the beach, a painting session, reading half a book, and sitting out on the deck lost deep in thought for hours. More often than not, time presents itself in chunks according to weeks rather than segregated days, here and there, yet these segments are still very unpredictable in their rationales. Each opportunity that I have for some “down time” I welcome immediately, due to the continual threat of chaos in my schedule. Not knowing what to expect day to day is just another ingredient to being a volunteer for the Peace Corps.
One of the advantages, and disadvantages, of living in the north is the type of people that I meet. My life has been sufficiently stocked with friendships of all natures during the last year. I have been blessed to make a few meaningful, intimate relationships in such a short amount of time. Aside from the immediate, close-knit bonds that we as Peace Corps volunteers form with each other, the friendships that I have invested in are ones that have managed to influence my life in positive directions. Many of the people up north have a certain framework of mind. They are into travelling, education, and broadening their opportunities. A few of the close relationships that I have formed have been with people that have plans to travel outside of St. Lucia. Again, that is both an advantage and a disadvantage. Just when you start to feel comfortable with the friendship, and intrigued by what the bond can offer, new friends disappear just as quickly as they arrive. I have made friends from England, Norway, India, Africa, Ireland, all over the Caribbean, and the States while in St. Lucia. While I am greatly appreciative for these people’s presence in my life, however short-lived it may be, I have found myself saying goodbye over and over again throughout the year with only a hope in my mind that one day I will come in contact with them again. I have concluded by these farewells that this is just another guarantee of travelling; the hellos and goodbyes of attachment. In the south, you may find people travelling to England or the States here and there but the North of the island yields itself to a more concentrated group of travelers. This has made my life here both entertaining and challenging.
When I applied for the Peace Corps, I made a promise to myself that when I was in service I would be the “yes man”. Now before you get carried away in your thought process, there are limitations to this promise. Anything comprising my health, my safety, etc. (to the extreme) would be ruled out, of course. However, generally speaking I would make an effort to say “yes” to things that I might normally say “no” to. For instance, within the first month of living in my own apartment I was invited to a dinner with a church choir group. While I was attending church from time to time back in the States, my involvement in the churches in St. Lucia had been somewhat limited. Now, my initial reaction was to say “maybe another time, but thank you”. However, I did not say “no” but rather, “I will see you at 7”. My night with the choir group was pleasant and educational. I have no regret about attending. There are many more situations similar to this one that I have found myself in, and I have found my life expanding in ways that I have never thought possible because of it.
Despite my lack in musical proficiency, I found myself joining a steel pan band in Gros Islet at the beginning of this year. This was another response to being that “yes man” that I discussed previously. Because of the band, I have made a few valuable connections and intimate relationships. My “persuasive” nature brought three other volunteers into the band as well, and they have had similar rewards. Not only did I participate in my first ever musical performance (not including my STAR performance on the recorder back in the first grade), but now I have expanded my artistic hand to not only drawing and painting but music as well. My skill level may still be in need of a life’s worth of lessons; nevertheless, I have introduced a new curveball into my game. Opening myself up to new possibilities, despite the risk of falling flat on my face, has only strengthened my portfolio.
Now, some of the hardships about being a volunteer are invisible to our communities on the island and our friends back home. There are many rules and regulations that we, as PCVs, need to abide by in order to remain on the island. While we may not agree with every one of the policies and procedures, it is just another thing that we get used to during our stint. For example, some basic no-no’s: no drugs, no excessive partying or drinking, no abusive actions, no leaving the island without prior okay from the Peace Corps Director. Those are obvious. Then there are policies like: you have to take a vacation day for every week you have a visitor (and get it approved two weeks prior), if you change housing you have to find a new place on your own (and it has to be equal or less to what you were paying before), no riding on motorcycles, no driving cars, and my favorite, the easiest to overlook (because we are grown adults), is letting your APCD (associate PC director) know that you will be out of your site for the night. Adjusting to these “teeferies of freedom” may be tricky for some. It is difficult to adjust from your independent-can-do-anything lifestyle back in the States to the guideline-by-the-book way here, no doubt. Not having that freedom to just leave for vacation anytime you want to puts restraints on you. Regardless of the fact that most of us would never take that opportunity to travel “anytime we want to” back in the States, not having that freedom certainly is felt. Now, as much as I am explaining how these policies can take away, I also need to reinforce the idea that they are necessary. Without them, unsafe things might happen. So, despite the occasional feeling of containment in ways, I understand completely.
Going back to what I was referring to about “invisible” hardships, I was referring also to volunteers leaving. As a PCV, you form a special bond with other volunteers. That connection is one of understanding, compassion, and relevance to your work here. There are many things that you do not have to explain to a volunteer that you most likely would have to explain to friends back home or friends in your community. One of my favorites is the “five minute rule” when it comes to food. Most people would use the “five second rule” when they drop food on the ground. As a Peace Corps volunteer, we use the “five minute rule”. Even after the ants have sufficiently overtaken the reign of my pasta, I am still going to pick that pasta up and eat it for dinner. Often times it is stressful attempting to explain in detail what our life is like on the island (specifically as a PCV) and when talking to other volunteers, that stress is absent (except for maybe when someone from Gros Islet is trying to talk to someone from the Valley).