Sunday, 2 November 2014

Reflections on month 2

It is hard to believe that two months ago we landed in Grenada, with eight suitcases and a lot of unknowns. September was full of just trying to get settled. Understanding school fees, school calendars, getting the right books, getting a car, figuring out the bus system, learning the different markets and grocery stores and having a few beers. Of course for me it also featured falling ill with Chikungunya.

October saw us settle into our home, our community and my work.

The house- We had some bumps, well a bunch of bumps with the apartment. Mainly around water. I believe we have had our bathrooms under construction no less than 4 times. On Halloween we woke up to find water gushing out of a faucet in the shower that we could not turn off. The challenge is that the homes are concrete so all the pipes need to be hacked out every time you want to fix something- and that has to be done by hand. It is such hard work for Dick our handyman from St. Vincent. But he always gets it done.

We also have a dog problem. There are numerous stray dogs in the community, well really every where, and during storms we have one that parks itself at the front door. Tail thumping against the door startling us into thinking someone is knocking on the door in the middle of the night. Apart from the irritation the dogs are riddled with fleas and ticks. One morning after chasing the dog away I noticed small bugs on the walls of our entry way. The dog had lost about 40 ticks and they had entered the house under the front door! These ticks were full of blood and about the size of your baby finger nail. We very carefully removed them from the house and the front of the house. Turns out the dog belongs to a neighbour and our friend Meena (who has two well cared for dogs) had strong words with the owners about chaining the dog and keeping it clean.

The furniture is what most of us had in college. Which I really tried to tolerate. Unfortunately I have what is called here “bad skin”. It means the mosquitos bite and leave marks. My legs look like I have the chicken pox, so sitting on scratchy furniture was just causing them to redden more. We were debating buying a sofa here and then selling it. Similar to the car, the actual cost becomes what you lose in the sale. At the end of October one of the furniture stores was having a sale. A sofa set had been repossessed and instead of the $5,999 ECD on the floor model- this set of sofa, love seat and chair was $2,300 ECD.  I loathe making snap decisions, but it was apparent two other people were going to buy it if we didn’t, so we bought it and paid $100ECD to have it delivered. The guy who delivered it has offered to buy it when we leave, so I am relieved that we made a good decision. Plus sinking into a comfortable couch after a busy day makes the day melt away.

Our kitchen also really lacked basic supplies. So we were very excited when we received a barrel from our family with a toaster, cutting boards, can opener, bodem, and other kitchen and bathroom essentials.  The boys also received gorgeous sheet sets from their aunt that really suit their personalities. There are now a few decorations up and it feels a little “homier” this month.

 The playing field nearby sponsored by the GoC!
The community- Brent was an instant hit and the ladies here call him “Brenty” I think because they call him sweetly when they need some help! But in Grenada everyone has a nickname so it seems this is Brent’s. One of the locals complained to me that I don’t come out anymore so I will have to make more of an effort to get to the bar.

Shopping- Find groceries is a hit and miss experience. We’ve learned that if you see something you want/need you should get it because it won’t be there when you get back. We’ve also learned that it pays to shop around and buy local when you can. As an example 2 oranges might be as much as $8 at the IGA but we were able to get 5 for $5 ECD from a fruit vendor. An avocado at the store was $3.5 but $2.00 at with a street vendor. The prices even differ between vendors so a bag of tomatoes at one place might be $15 but I have a friend at work who sells them for $5. With a total salary of $1200 ECD and $500 of that going to housing, you need to pay attention to how much you are spending.

Most people who know me know that I hate shopping. I try to avoid it whenever possible. I don’t do groceries and I don’t go shopping for clothes. Christmas and birthday shopping are done in one day in November so I can avoid the crowds. However in Grenada I love shopping. I want to go all the time. I love the tiny little stores found upstairs and downstairs and in little alleys. Every place is an adventure and you can find good deals on items if you have the time to look everywhere.


PAM PD session
I was able to do professional development sessions for both NEWLO and PAM, which both went really well. I will be doing the same session in Grenville this Friday for PAM.

At NEWLO I am making great strides in getting curriculum written but I’ll never get it all done. I really want to but there just isn’t enough time. At PAM I have come to realize that what they wanted was a volunteer to deliver an adolescent development program at Mt Parnassus and Grenville. When we refocused on capacity building the interest and commitment wasn’t really there. On Oct 31 I sent an email requesting to be reassigned to NEWLO only as they want and need the help, PAM wants something I can’t deliver.
Me, Sister Margaret & Roberta Ellis my Program Manager

My learning

Aiden and Owen listening to a political rally across the street!
My best learning is that kids are resilient. The school system here is challenged with a lack of resources and working conditions that most North American teachers would refuse to accept. Both Aiden and Owen have passed out in school from the heat and yet there are no cries of “I can’t do this”, they just carry on. There are lots of things we don’t have here and after a moment of frustration they move on to what we can do.

People are inherently good. I have three examples of where we (and my friend from Cuso , Linda) have left items behind and every time we have recovered them. In fact Linda left her purse in a stranger’s car (long story) and the woman tracked her down at the Ministry to return it! We also have many instances where people tracked us down to return fifty cents or fifty dollars that we had forgotten to collect.

I know this might be hard to swallow in Canada right now because of the attacks on our soldiers, but when you look at the two acts, versus the hundreds of thousands of acts of kindness and patriotism (poppies at the war memorial, reclaiming parliament hill as a public space, cleaning hateful graffiti, ect) you see that the good far out weighs the bad.

Friends and family are the glue that holds you together. I have always known who my real friends are, they are a small group of dedicated souls, who know that just because I don’t call or write doesn’t mean I don’t think of them. Since I have been here I have had lots of emails and Facebook messages from friends wishing me well and it really helps. I have also been able to connect with my family over Skype and that has been amazing. I have also made good friends here and that was not something I really expected. But Linda and I now have a standing date for whine and wine and I have staff at NEWLO who I consider friends and seek out after work to take the 30 minute ride back to the city.

Health is fragile. Chickungunya is not something you get and get over. I still ache. There are many days that I can’t do up my bra, get a dress over my head or turn on a tap. It is not just me, everyone who has had it is facing the same challenges.  I now realize  how hard it must be to live in chronic pain of any kind, and how debilitating it is to have joint pain.  Hopefully this makes me more sensitive to those who are experiencing pain or just losing mobility.

The world is a small place. Twice now we have met people who live within 50 km of home! It is pretty amazing. Skype and the internet also make the world a small place. So yes I know exactly what is going on with Jian and that one less Ford will be in council chambers.

What you see is not always what you get- and then sometimes it is. The weather here is a great example, you always bring an umbrella because no matter what it looks like it could rain. When we were at Fort Fredrick today it was raining on one side of the fort and sunny on the other! People who seemed unapproachable have been remarkably warm and there are little out of the way places that look like nothing but are magical.

Then there are times when your first impressions are bang on.  I have met two people here who made a really negative first impression on me. I met them very early on in our time here, I so thought I was tired or maybe they were stressed. Nope they just aren’t nice people. In the two months I have been here I have not seen either one smile or bring forward an emotion that did not have anger or frustration lurking behind it. Upon reflection that isn’t true, they both smile when they think they have made a point that makes them smarter than you. It is too bad because both of these people have jobs where they could be role models but their emotional state keeps them from being trust worthy.

Hard working vs hardly working- The notion that people are laid back in the Caribbean is mistaken. There are certainly people who aren’t working and living off of remittances from relatives abroad. There are many who are addicted to alcohol or drugs and are in need of treatment that doesn’t exist here. However the majority of the people I know work two and three jobs. My handy man Dick works every day of the week. Buck my neighbour always accepts jobs on the weekend when offered. Mr. Kingsley teaches from 7:30-2:00; drives a bus from 2:00-6:00 p.m.; and then takes on contract carpentry work. Meena will work every day of the week during the tourist season. So most able bodied people here are very hard workers.

Mostly I am learning that people are resilient and able to change, but organizations and institutions are very slow to adapt. Sometimes because of lack of resources, but sometimes because of a lack of leadership or opposition. Luckily I don’t need to worry about changing organizations I need to build the capacity of my colleagues so we are better off for our time together. I know I will be.

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