The Phenomenon of Perception

Screen shot 2013-11-16 at 4.08.53 PMLast October, when I received my long-awaited invitation from the Peace Corps, I had no idea what to expect. Jamaica. I knew very little about the country, except that it was too close to home to be called an adventure. Regardless, I googled as much as I could about the island, scoured my Welcome Packet for clues and attended PC events to talk to returned volunteers, all in attempt to learn more about what the next two years would hold for me.

Finally, I found a Facebook group. It was created by one of our own, and designed so that Group 84 could connect with one another prior to departure. It was reassuring to know that I was filled with the same sense of wonder as everyone else.

The Facebook group also allowed us to connect with PCV’s already on island. At last, we were able to get answers to some of those burning questions:

What is your life like?
What do you do?
How do you live and work?
What should I pack!?!?

We took their words as gospel, and personally speaking, I idolized them for their insight. After all, these were seasoned volunteers, accustomed to their lives as PCVs, and I was just a newbie.

Months later, in training, I mentioned this to one of them, and he replied, “Nah, you’re just looking at me with freshman goggles. You’ll be where I am in no time.”

Fast-forward a few more months, and a new Facebook group has surfaced. The incoming Group 85, back in America, receiving their invitations, and looking to us for help. Suddenly, we’re the experts! I was a freshman one morning, and a senior by the end of the day. Within a week, I answered questions about packing lists, my daily school schedule, shopping in the market, and church going (or my lack thereof). I also assured one concerned PCT that she can find peanut butter in Jamaica!

Talking to the new group has me thinking about Shadowing – a three-day segment of training where PCT’s visit a currently serving volunteer at site. My days in shadowing were spent in doubt, unsure whether I wanted to stay. My PCV was understanding, and played Devil’s Advocate as she posed questions to help me see things from all angles. Even though my turn to host a PCT is months away, I find myself examining my life in Jamaica and wondering what questions or comments she’ll have. Will my deep bushy lifestyle excite her, or turn her off? How will she feel about my frigid showers? Will she greet it with enthusiasm, or shiver afterward and hope hers are a bit warmer? Will she be ready to dive head first into her service, or will be she testing the waters, like I was?

I’ve come a long way since my own Shadowing experience, and everyday I thank myself for sticking it out and staying in Jamaica. Needless to say, my attitude has dramatically improved! And now that I’ve taken my off freshman goggles, I see my world through a new light. My morning commute to work – which takes about 45 minutes – has allowed me to better integrate. I know exactly which drivers come and go, at what time, and in what order. I pass the same mothers as they walk their little ones to school, and their children, who at first were very shy, now eagerly wave hello. Community members greet me with, “mornin’ teach!” and a few people have gone out of their way to let me know they have respect for me, which, in a small rural community, and for an outsider like me, is a pretty big deal. And let’s not forget that I can finally speak Patwa.

Recognizing these things also makes me think of a topic we discussed at ESC. There are four stages of cultural awareness that each volunteer passes through during their service.

1. unconscious incompetence
2. conscious incompetence
3. conscious competence
4. unconscious competence
.

Simply put, a volunteer might not even realize there is a difference in their behavior, versus that of their local counterparts. Then, they realize the difference, but are not sure how to emulate it. Next, they make small attempts to adapt and fit in, until finally, they are so well integrated, they don’t even recognize the ways in which are one with their community.

When I first arrived in Jamaica, I was at stage one, and understandably so. I was in stage two by ESC, and now I am moving slowly into stage three. I’ve discovered that there are multiple strains of pumpkin and yam, and I have my preference for both, and that I enjoy eating chicken neck over chicken back any day. I’ll declare myself in stage four the day I fail to realize I’ve eaten a chicken foot.

Cultural awareness aside, there are many other ways in which my perspective is changing. Although the last few years have left with me a heightened sense of maturity, I catch myself making small changes in my personal life everyday. Call it growth, if you will. The obvious is a set of new skills; a confident approach when killing cockroaches and $(KGrHqR,!qIFEj6ehwQEBRvjJs,ZO!~~60_35spiders, the ability to French braid my hair, and an acquired resourcefulness in the kitchen. More subtly, I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff. Acceptance and patience are also new friends of mine. You see, from the day I landed in Jamaica, I feel as though I lost a great deal of control in my life. From being unfamiliar with everything around me, to recognizing the ways in which I am different, and stepping far outside my comfort zone, I eventually learned to throw my hands in the air and just go with it. Everything seems to works out in the end.

Dun’ worry. Be happy.

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100 Ways To Use A Scandal Bag

IMG_04621What is a scandal bag?
A scandal bag is a simple thing; it’s a plastic bag, much like the bags you would pick up at a grocery store in America. It gets the “scandal” part of its name because the bag is black, which helps ensure some privacy. Since you can’t see what’s in the bag from the outside, people never know what you might be carrying inside, and so, it became known as the scandal bag.

Where can you get them?
Like in America, you can find these plastic bags just about everywhere. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and every shop or store I’ve ever been to will give you one with which to carry out your goods. In America, think of how easy it is to obtain a plastic shopping bag and maintain a growing collection of them; it’s the same thing here.

Why are they important?
Scandal bags are inexpensive (some stores will charge you $5J for one, which is about 5¢ in American currency) and they are easy to use. Scandal bags are also great because there about 100 different ways you can use them. In Jamaica, with limited resources, limited transportation and limited funds, Jamaicans and PCVs alike have come up with some pretty creative ways to use this bag.

How do you use them?
This weekend, I polled volunteers on the island to help me compile a list of non-traditional ways they like to use their scandal bags. Below, I’ve included some of the most creative answers. Though we could only come up with 33 different uses, I’m sure there are plenty more we just haven’t thought of yet.

Arts & Crafts

Amigurumi is a  Japanese crochet trend to small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures. The word is derived from a combination of the Japanese words ami, meaning crocheted or knitted, and nuigurumi, meaning stuffed doll.
Amigurumi is a Japanese crochet trend, used to make small stuffed animals and anthropomorphic creatures. The word is derived from a combination of the Japanese words ami, meaning crocheted or knitted, and nuigurumi, meaning stuffed doll.

1. Stuffing for amigurumi
2. Crochet thread/yarn
3. String for beading
4. Make a kite
5. Fill with sand for a bean bag
6. Football
7. Makeshift rope
8. Ribbon for presents


Dry Bags

9. Keep your shoes dry when walking in the rain
10. Rain hat
11. Back flap for catching dirt while riding your bicycle after the rain
12. Keep your laptop or books dry
13. Plug a leak/sink
14. Rubber gloves
15. Shower cap
16. For wet bathing suits and towels


Food Purposes

17. Attach it to your belt loop while climbing a tree to collect ackee, mango, berries, or coffee beans
18. Lunch bag
19. Cover for steaming rice
20. Store food to keep ants away
21. Does your screw-top bottle or jar leak? Use a scandal bag under the lid to prevent this.
22. Easy-to-clean-up nonstick surface for rolling out dough (for the bakers!)
23. Make-it-yourself colander for pasta


Keeping Clean

Crocheted out of scandal bags, this is an efficient way to store my over-sized scandal bag collection. Another PCV crocheted a purse from her scandal bags!
Crocheted out of scandal bags, this is an efficient way to store my over-sized scandal bag collection. Another PCV crocheted a purse from her scandal bags!

24. The ever popular, trash bag
25. Litter box liner
26. Pre-soak your whites before doing your laundry


On The Go

27. Carry a change of clothes
28. Protect bottles or creams that might explode while travelling
29. Mobile bathroom


Everything Else

30. Seedling bag for planting
31. Other storage purposes
32. Fire kindling (in desperate circumstances only, like this one)
33. Condom

Bowser

imagesIn Jamaica, cats and dogs are treated with considerable difference compared to what we are used to in America. Instead of loving and adoring these pets, they’re feared or ignored completely. But the blame lies in years and years of cultural upbringing, dating back to the days of Jamaican Slavery. Dogs, you see, were used to keep slaves in line, and cats are the source of a large number of superstitions. Today, most Jamaicans pay little mind to our four-legged friends, but if you were to ask them for their thoughts, they’d tell you that they are afraid of them.

Lately, however, small changes in attitude have been made, and Jamaicans are slowly beginning to appreciate these animals for what they have to offer. Dogs are kept in the yard to protect the house and eat the scraps, and cats are kept around for mouse-ing purposes. Most surprisingly, there are a few Jamaicans who DO love their pets and spoil them like we do.

Understanding this cultural apprehension is important when considering the next part of my story.

DSCN1310Sometime during the summer, I was having a conversation with a Jamaican friend and I mentioned that I wanted a kitten. To my utmost delight, he declared that his cat recently had kittens and he’d be happy to give me one. They were born about a month ago, he explained, so in another month, they’ll ready to leave their mom.

I was elated. I’d found myself a kitten, and six weeks later, he calls me to tell me he’s ready to find them good homes. But first he had to catch them. It took a few more days, but I finally got the phone call I’d been waiting for. “Mi catch di puss, finally! Mi a bring ‘im now.”

When at last his car pulled up in front of my house, I hurried outside to greet him. He was standing at the trunk of his car, untying something, then quickly thrust the kitten into my arms. Tiny, wet (it had been raining for days), and terrified, this little kitten was handed to me with claws bared, fur on end, and hissing. It also had a shoelace tied around its neck. I knew this was to keep the cat from running, but it wasn’t until I tried to hug my friend, who quickly backed away, that I realized what was really happening. The poor man was just as scared as the kitten, and the kitten was feral.

————————————————————————
Feral is a word used to describe a cat who has never had human interaction. After a certain age, this is irreversible, and feral cats who are forced into human contact will become aggressive and vicious.
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The first four days with Kitty were a nightmare. He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t come out from hiding, and cried all night, keeping me awake. At one point, he ended up behind my dresser, climbed into a drawer, and got stuck there until 5:30am, which is when I finally found him. I also realized that he hadn’t been properly weaned from his mother, which was why he wouldn’t eat, and was probably starving. This required fishing him out, suffering tiny claws, and making him eat some canned tuna. It only took me one try before he learned that he enjoyed eating, and everything went uphill from there.

On Friday, I had the house to myself, and in the quiet, Kitty came out from hiding. Skittish though he was, he wanted to remain in my sight, cried when I left the room, and would periodically wake up from his much needed nap to make sure I was still there. That night, as I fell asleep, Kitty settled in on top of a large pillow against my headboard, scant inches above mine. He stayed there all night, and it is now one of his favorite spots to doze.

Super_Smash_Bros_Brawl_Bowser_01
Bowser, from Super Mario Brothers

Within the next week, much happened. Kitty rolled over enough times, allowing me to finally determine his sex and name him Bowser. And if you’re at all familiar with this fella (pictured left), then you’d understand when I tell you that Bowser is an incredibly fitting name.

Having a kitten is like having a toddler, and this little furball is exceptionally troublesome. He gets into everything, plays in his litterbox rather than use it for its intended purpose, and continuously tries to climb the curtains. I have to make sure to secure all my electrical cords before I leave the room and hide anything he might break.

But he’s just so cute!! The day he discovered his tail was particularly entertaining to observe, and when I’m not paying attention, my toes are victim to pounces. Naturally curious, he likes to watch me in the mornings and evenings as I move about my room getting dressed or undressed, and he’ll sleep curled up with me at night.

Unfortunately, I’m still not allowed to touch him. If my hand comes anywhere near him, he’ll back away or hiss. He’s territorial about his food and likes to pee on my bed.

After three days of using his litterbox properly, I decided it was safe to leave my jeans on the bed. I was mistaken.
After three days of using his litterbox properly, I decided it was safe to leave my jeans on the bed. I was mistaken.

Everyday, however, Bowser improves. In the mornings, he’ll pounce my fingers as he would my toes, and he’s taken to exploring beyond the confines of my room. A loud bang will still send him into hiding, but he’s not as timid as he used to be. Luckily, pooping in the litterbox isn’t an issue, but burying it is, so air fresheners have become my new best friend.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be picking him up whether he likes it or not, and petting him and scratching behind his ears until he figures out that he likes it. I’m not okay with having a cat that I can’t hold or pet.

And if you’re wondering if this cat will be coming home with me in two years, that has yet to be decided. When Bowser gets a little bigger (and a little more normal with me and my host mother), I’ll begin letting him outside to explore, like most other Jamaican cats. If he loves the outdoors and never wants to come in, then I’ll consider letting him stay. There would be nowhere in America I could bring him that would compare to the wild outdoors that is Jamaica. If, however, he prefers to stay inside and becomes the lovebug I hope he’ll be, then we’ll have another option to consider.

For now, I am experiencing a brief taste of motherhood, as I watch him destroy my room, pee on my jeans, and keep me awake at night because he thinks it’s playtime. When I’m at school, I’m fretting over what kind of mess I’ll come home to find. No, he can’t draw on my walls with crayons, but sooner or later, I’m convinced I’ll come home to find something broken, or spilled, or knocked over and peed on.

When he's not busy getting into trouble, he's snoozing in his favorite spot
When he’s not busy getting into trouble, he’s snoozing in his favorite spot

What I Came Here To Do

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 6.06.57 PM
Finally, I can begin!

After seven months in Jamaica, and five of them as a volunteer, it is only now that I am able to begin what I came here to do. And because I spent the first three weeks planning, I was able to jump straight into my lessons after ESC.

Regardless of my preparations, I was still swamped under a ridiculous workload. My week consists of meeting with each group twice, taking into account planning between sessions, school-wide schedule changes (like an unexpected early dismissal), and reminding teachers of which students to send and at what times. To top it off, even though I’d made a decent set of activity sheets for each lesson, I didn’t remember to label them properly, and returned to school with a mess of my own making to sort out.

Screen shot 2013-10-09 at 5.59.00 PMMy first week was exhausting. And because every class did the same thing for the first lesson, I felt like a broken record by Thursday. Luckily, my schedule allowed for a Friday without students, so I was able to get some more planning work done, and then spend the weekend on hiatus.

Meanwhile, week two (the week we are currently in) picked up at a great start. Most of my students behave well enough, and lessons, for the most part, are going as planned.

But adjustments always need to be made, so flexibility is a major part of the job. I’ve already scouted out some potential changes to my groups and have had to make some alterations in lesson plans. Additionally, I’ve been able to iron out a couple of small details to help make my life easier, like giving each child a post-it with their days and class times on them, and asking them to help remind their teachers that they need to come see me. This, at least, eliminates my need to constantly remind or come fetch my students, and it provides them with a feeling of responsibility.

kids

This week also marks the beginning of my Reading Club, which is held after school on Thursdays. Due to limited resources, and because asking children to read additional pages might pose as a challenge, the Reading Club consists primarily of games to help reinforce the fundamentals. Some of the materials I’ve made for my students turned out to be perfect for this. Things like Sounding-Out Dominoes or Rhyming Bingo, Matching (or Memory) with uppercase and lowercase letters, and even introducing Hangman was a great success. I’ll continue with this club for a few weeks, and then try something new. I have an idea for a Writing Club, and another idea for a Study Hall, which, if all goes well, has potential to evolve into something bigger and more permanent.

DSCN1272One of the teachers at school has also noticed some of the materials I’ve made, and has requested help with some materials of her own to help her struggling students. She understands the importance of reinforcement through repetition, and hopes that these students (I have six from her class) can continue to improve on their reading even outside my classroom. This teacher and I have partnered together for our Reading Club, and she will lend a tremendous hand with my Library Improvement Project.

Speaking of projects, the school has voiced its desire for a computer lab, and since ESC was partially about secondary projects, I will begin the plans for that as well. I’ll be working with the teachers, ancillary staff, and other members of the community to help establish a functioning computer lab with Internet, as well as incorporating a computer class into the curriculum. Of course, all these things take time, so when there is an update on my projects, I’ll be sure to include it.

All in all, despite how much I am already accomplishing, there still seems to be an endless to-do list, both at school and in my personal life. My bedroom floor is in desperate need of a good sweeping, I’m overdue for a load of laundry, and busy tracking down missing care packages or arranging for those that have arrived to be picked up or delivered. I’m keeping up with friends back at home through Skype, email, Facebook and my blog, and making Halloween plans with PCV friends around the island. Let’s not forget my dedication to lose the weight I put on during the summer. That includes a regular workout routine, and the necessity to stop being lazy and actually cook myself a decent dinner. Which, if we’re being honest, hasn’t happened yet this week.

The Sixth Grade girls drew this for me
The Sixth Grade girls drew this for me
(left) Letter Tiles, (right) Sounding Out Dominoes
(left) Letter Tiles, (right) Sounding Out Dominoes

“These children will never forget you.”

This blog post was written by another Jamaica PCV, about our Education Sector Supervisor, whose life was touched at a young age by, not one, but two Peace Corps Volunteers. I found this entry to be beautiful, inspirational, and motivating. It was imperative that I share it with you. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Thanks, Michelle, for supplying us with this gem. =)

Simply Intentional

Introducing: Sue W.
A gifted child, Sue grew up in a community where she and her mother were taught by- and interacted with- a number of Peace Corps Volunteers over the years. If I remember correctly, she later befriended a Volunteer who, now returned to the States, is her best friend. Sue is a trained Jamaican teacher but she also started working part-time with Peace Corps as a community liaison or a Language & Culture Facilitator when volunteer training groups came to her town. Eventually she was promoted and is now in charge of PCJ’s Education sector, which makes her my supervisor.

Sue’s Story (transcribed from a video)
Where I come from, we’ve always had Peace Corps Volunteers. So, my mother was taught to sew by a volunteer in the 60’s when volunteers were focusing on vocational work. And as a result of that, my mother was able to make…

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Hit The Ground Running

My calendar has been lying to me again. First it told me that August would never end, and now it claims it’s October. Apparently there was an entire month in between that flew by when I wasn’t paying attention.

But I’m not complaining. After the hot, lazy, fattening month of August, I was thrilled to jump head first into my intense workload. School began with a flurry of activity, changes in my daily routine, and a very long set of goals and deadlines to be met.

Here’s a shortened list of what I’ve accomplished this month:

  • Developed 20 lessons plans for five different reading levels
  • Made upwards of 15 activity sheets, three sets of letter tiles and two vowel wheels
  • Gave 25 students a Diagnostic Reading Test
  • Sorted them into groups by reading level
  • Made up a weekly schedule to meet with groups
  • Completed a 9 page paper, a 12 slide Powerpoint presentation and a five-day PC training conference

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I also changed my diet, resumed a regular workout routine, and suffered ten days without Internet.

I’m feeling rather accomplished.

In addition to crossing off a large majority of my to-do list, September heralded a milestone for me as a PCV. During the last week, I spent my time in Mandeville with Group 84 at our Early Service Conference (ESC).

ESC occurs at every Peace Corps post around the world, and it marks the completion of a volunteer’s first four months at site, during which our primary job is to integrate.

Lots of different things happen at this conference. The first (not all countries do this) is that we are expected to conduct a Community and Sector Inventory (CASI), which was given to us as a twenty-eight page manual prior to our Swearing In Ceremony. The booklet outlines the steps we should follow to properly integrate into our communities, conduct our survey, and write our report. We were also expected to present our CASIs to our sector at ESC.

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With many thanks to Facebook, I can safely say that, as a group, the CASI quickly became the bane of our existence. As summer came to a close, finishing it was our top priority. Personally speaking, I put myself on a 48-hour lockdown mode just to get it done.
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Another large portion of ESC was the Project Design and Management (PDM) segment, which comprised of two and a half days of training with our community counterparts. In case it hasn’t been mentioned before, my role as a teacher isn’t the only aspect of my service. Each volunteer has a secondary project, which usually involves some sort of development with the community. As we conduct our CASIs, we’re supposed to be identifying the needs and deficits of our community, selecting a project partner (or group of partners), and brainstorming ideas for development. Then at ESC, our training is broken down into sessions that will help us get our project rolling. This includes topics such as The Community Development Cycle, identifying resources and selecting priorities, assigning tasks, roles and timelines, action planning, monitoring and evaluations, budgeting, and applying for/writing grants.

The third aspect of ESC also includes processing our first four months at site. The word processing in PC terms generally means a discussion. We’ll get together as a group or in sectors and talk about what we experienced, whether it be good times or bad, and how we’ve managed to cope. We revisit techniques acquired during PST and evaluate whether or not they were helpful, all the while providing emotional support. It was enjoyable to talk about our experiences and to hear from others that dealt with similar challenges.

And if the expression, misery loves company, has ever been more relevant, I wonder how my non-PCV friends will find this video:

We found it hilarious.

Lastly, ESC came with a few extra goodies wrapped up in the package. It was great to get together with everyone from Group 84, and to see how everyone has been handling themselves out at site. We were also fed three delicious meals a day, coffee throughout, and were blessed with hot showers and an air-conditioned venue. The hotel staff was excited to host us and went out of their way to provide us with a friendly and comfortable atmosphere.

Here are my next three upcoming events:

  • A PCV Halloween
  • A PCV Thanksgiving
  • Two weeks visiting back home

Month Six

My six-month anniversary of being in Jamaica is just around the corner. A lot of things are happening at once. But before I break them down for you, it’s imperative that you understand the I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude.

In life, when too many things exist beyond a person’s control, they tend to adopt a sense of apathy toward the situation(s). It’s part of a coping mechanism that allows for small doses of acceptance.

Peace Corps Volunteers understand this well. From the moment we arrive in our host countries, almost every aspect of our lives spirals out of control. We don’t understand the language and customs of our new homes, people stare at us, and our perspective on the life we left behind begins to shift. We feel out of place everywhere we go and in everything we do. Additionally, our daily schedules change, we’re forced to adapt our diets, and slowly but surely, we’ll grow accustomed to living without certain creature comforts. Through all this, we quickly learn that the best way to cope is to say, “I don’t give a shit.”

Our apathy is derived from the concept of picking and choosing our battles. There are some things about this experience that we simply can’t control, and it isn’t worth getting upset over.

Example:
If a student at the school can’t remember my name and calls me, Ms. Whitey, it’s a battle that I don’t care enough about to fight anymore.

As the months pass, however, what a volunteer cares or doesn’t care about can frequently change. With the beginning of Month Six just around the corner, I’ve decided to include a short list of some things that I am choosing to care about once more.

  • Eating healthier
    Many minor adjustments were made to my diet when I arrived on island, and as is true with little things, they always add up. My I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude also allowed for an increase of junk comfort food. As a result, I’ve thickened a little around the middle. Month Six, and all other months to follow, will bring about the return of a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Exercising more
    It really doesn’t matter that I’m from Miami; living in Jamaica without A/C is HOT! I never realized until this summer how heavily I relied upon this modern convenience. Without it, I was able to excuse my desire to remain indoors, parked in front of my large, circulating fan. Living in a culture where women are preferred a little thick, and feeling as though I had no one special in my life to impress, made way for my I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude when it came to keeping in shape. However, when school started up again this past Monday, and I struggled to fit into my pants, I abruptly decided that it’s time to resume exercising. If I’m going to be hot and sweaty anyway, I need to stop letting it be an excuse for laziness.
  • Showering regularly
    Okay, okay, I confess; I let my personal hygiene fall to the wayside these past six months.  But in my defense, I loved showering! There was nothing better than to wash the day away with a hot shower. It’s also where did all my best thinking. But without hot water, showering became a tiresome chore that I quickly decided could be cut down to twice a week. Washing my hair? That could be done once. If a PCV is known for being dirty and smelly anyway, did it really matter how often I subjected myself to the torture of a cold shower? But I’m going to be living here for two years, and the thought of going that long and showering that little is beginning to turn me off. I’m sick of feeling grimy. I’m tired of my dirty hair. And if the Jamaicans can keep clean with a cold shower, then goddamn it, so can I.

An empathetic shift isn’t the only thing brought on by Month Six. According to the PC Cycle of Vulnerability, Month Six marks the end of emotional roller coaster, and the beginning of a gradual incline toward continual happiness. The idea is that after the first six months, you’ve had time to adapt, adjust, settle in and integrate. We’ve begun building relationships in our community and have identified projects and assignments we’d like to work on. That period of being stagnant is drawing to a close, and we’re now approaching a period of productivity.

For the Group 84 Education volunteers, Month Six also marks the beginning of the new school year. The summer was long, boring, hot, and in some ways, miserable. Too much time on one’s hands leads to dangerous thinking; thoughts about going home and forsaking one’s service, let’s say. But with the beginning of a new school year, we teachers are back to work, and I for one, feel much happier when I have a reason to get out of bed and dressed each day. Most importantly however, after six months of being on island, I can finally begin what I came here to do.

Lastly, Month Six heralds a milestone for PCV’s known as Early Service Conference. ESC is one of three major conferences held during a volunteer’s service, the other two existing at the middle of our term, and at the end. ESC marks the completion of a volunteer’s first four months at site, which are devoted primarily toward integration. At this conference, we process our time at site, make plans for the remainder of our first year of service, and bring community counterparts so we can begin rolling out the first phase of our secondary projects. And though many of us have kept in touch, ESC is also the first time we’ll return together as Group 84 since our Swearing In Ceremony.

Personally speaking, Month Six has also brought on a very special gift; one that I cherish dearly and certainly DO NOT take for granted. Does everyone remember the rooster? Good news, folks, my neighbor ate him! For three weeks, I’ve enjoyed undisturbed sleep and my earplugs have remained untouched.

It’s been wonderful.