Travels in Bananaland
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Tales from Bananaland, December 2002


My past escapades for your entertainment/education/edification. Enjoy.

24 Dec., 2002
Merry Christmas

So here it is, Xmas eve. Alone in the PC office, mid-afternoon, no packages have arrived. Thankfully I resisted Jamie's pleas saturday by phone to open both packages with him there. So I have one thing to open, until the 6 packages I have alerted are on their way arrive. Maybe by Friday or Saturday? Thursday is a holiday here as well--Boxing Day. I may be at a horse race or on a 'round the island jaunt. Or at the beach--you never know. Especially these days. Today is definitely ONE OF THOSE DAYS.

Stage left, enter protagonist who leaves her house at 10 pm to meet the 5 Guyanese PCVs she has met who are vacationing in St. Lucia. She boards bus outside her apt, rides very self-consciously to Rodney Bay stop, as she has never gone out this late at night on her own. She knows she will be safe but is being super cautious to be sure. She pays driver, exits, walks to bar and spots girls, joins them. 5 minutes later, she spies Alvin, aforementioned waiter with more-than-friend intentions despite protagonists repeated insistence on conditions of platonic friendship. (Flashback to Friday, where he teased her with a rude comment, she flashed him the finger. He was furious, spent the whole night making sure she knew he was giving her the silent treatment, told her friends he was vexed and not speaking with her. Jealously began to dance with another PCV next to her when she danced with a Venezuelan guy she met. Acted very overly dramatic and childish, eventually spoke to her as she left. Stopped by earlier that (Monday) night, 7:30 pm, but wouldn't speak to her--still vexed and holding a grudge. wanting to be coddled with kindness, wouldn't fully accept apology. Comes to her house, watches tv, ignores her, barely talks, leaves at 8. Says he's staying home that night.) Suddenly, he comes over and is super flirty. Declares that he wants more than friendship, knows that she only wants friendship and is ok with that, but just wants to be flirtatious for the night. "Whatever," she replies, "just know that my wishes remain unchanged." He flirts, she laughs, he asks her to buy him a drink. She says no (he works, she's a volunteer.) He leaves and talks to others. This sort of thing continues, and then, as earlier, he starts to speak about Lauren, another volunteer, saying he is interested in her. Protagonist says ok, whatever-I told her that. She wasn't. He proceeds, trying to make her jealous, but denying he is doing so, saying he isn't her boyfriend so how could he make her jealous? Soon afterwards he declares he has a fiance in England. When prompted by the fact that he is either a liar (likely) or a really crappy fiance who comes onto other girls constantly, he finally admits he lied. Then a few minutes later, declares it again as true. gets a friend to corroborate story. Later flirts, pesters her till she buys him a beer, at which point she realizes she's lost her keys. Thinks she left them on the transport. She sends him to look for them, he comes back negative, then disappears. She freaks, decides she's got no choice but to stay on the floor of the Guyanese girls' hotel room, and they've already got more people than they're supposed to. They are flirting with/being flirted wtih by various local guys who they've either just met or previously met in their few days of adventures in st. lucia. she chats with several of them, eventually he returns. Proceeds (again) to try and kiss her, flirts again. Repeats insistence he does have a fiance. Repeats his interest in Lauren, and white girls in general. Whispers a bit with a friend, says to her that his friend likes to see her. She laughs, says tell him thank you. They whisper again for a few minutes, then switch seats. He disappears, leaving her with Arthur, his friend, also 22 and a bartender at the same bar. They chat, and Arthur is nice, intelligent, and very well-spoken. Much more respectful of her as a person, her wishes, her history, her motives in her decisions here as a new person. He is also on a persuasive mission/fact-finding mission for his buddy alvin, while simultaneously feeling her out for himself, he admits. He is, as she tells him, "guardedly flirtatious." When she tells him what she means by that, he agrees. Says he gives her six months till she's looking for a relationship, says he will check her then. Meanwhile reaffirms the goodness of his friend alvin, who returns. Dances by himself, singing. Ignores her, other than saying hello. They get up to leave, he only says, "Good night Deborah" without a hug, and without calling her Debs, both of which he has done since he met her. They walk off, girls get into cab. Protagonist sleeps on the floor on 2 balcony chair cushions and cocooned in a bedspread, as the AC was cranked and she (in her baldness) was freezing. Tossed and turned, had nightmares that Alvin really took the keys and was going to break in her place. Tossed and turned some more. Worried that she would have to move again, or evacuate. Switch islands or go home for personal safety reasons. Speculated about the sanity and personal safety of this guy whom she's let in her home several times, who is crazy yet simultaneously a sweet guy who runs errands for his mom and paints the house for her instead of sleeping after his long shift. Feels worried. Goes slowly crazy, a knot forming in her stomach. Sees the sun rise from her fetal position on floor, watches the clock. Gets up at 7 with the girls to head home. She turns the problematic logistics over in her head on the way home, nauseous and shaky from stress and no sleep. The spare keys, copied for the landlord and another volunteer but not yet given out, are in the kitchen drawer. There's a deadbolt and slide lock on the back door, and a padlock on the front gate for which the only key is on the lost keychain. All windows have burglar bars, and the landlord may or may not have keys at all. She is unlisted and the cell number is in her book, inside. Protagonist hopes the neighbors are home and can call her.

She arrives home, the neighbors are awake and the landlord is there!! Cleaning the apt (short term rental) next door. She has the key to the back deadbolt, but it takes the two of them plus the 9 year old neighbor boy, a hammer and a cutlas to peel off a bit of the doorjamb and unhook the latch inside. Eventually she is in, shaken and literally shaking from all that has gone on in the last 12 hours. Still feeling a bit unsafe. She had given her # to the am transport driver who said he would put the word out through the association, and get back to her. That has little chance of working. She showers, feeds the cat, vents to Caroline, agrees she needs to cut Alvin loose from her life. Gets ready to meet another visiting volunteer and Caroline for ice cream and go to the PC office. Gets emotional holiday call from mom and indulges in a short, slightly home/holidaysick cry before rushing out to catch the transport again, this time with the keys tucked safely in her backpack. Exit stage right.

So that was my last few days. Between Friday and Monday, all was calm. Beach 2 days, read all of the Shining and part of the Eggers book Jenn sent, cooled out by Jacinta, talked to Jamie on the phone. Spent a lot of time on the porch or couch with kitten. The week was already last minute and unplanned, making me slightly edgy. I had really hoped to just be enthusiastically adopted by someone's family who really wanted to spend it with me. Ideally one of my host families. No offers came, which was slightly upsetting. Plus dread for having to spend the afternoon/evening at my boss's house, and then maybe go to an all night party which I know nothing about with my friend Deborah. At least (highlight of my day) the tight red dress she loaned me today fits (she implied it wouldnt, thus becoming the 5th person in the last few weeks to say or imply that i'm fat) and even looks cute. So maybe the party will be good. Tomorrow's only plan is a beach picnic/drink up with the Guyanese and Canadian volunteers. No word from the irish, who are caught up in their lasses' visits.

Robin is coming Friday night but as we are planning to hopefully climb the Gros Piton on Friday and maybe go to Anse La Ray seafood festival on the way back, she and josh are getting picked up by her host family and spending the night in Babonneau. We'll hook up Saturday and I'm excited. The best part of my holiday so far, especially because New Years travel plans never panned out. We're staying.

I'm tired, still a bit stressed and feeling generally disgruntled. Grinchy. Sort of dreading this whole holiday thing and anxious for it to pass, except for the time off from work part. Very much enjoying that. I'm annoyed that I feel this way, because I very much wanted to enjoy my holiday. Hopefully I can shake this thing off and have fun. That scary behavior last night and the fear of absolute alone-ness and helplessness I felt when I lost my keys was really upsetting though. Terrifying, actually. Maybe it was made worse by my own tiredness and by the influence of freaky behavior by Alvin. I dont know what that was all about but I don't want to experience it ever again. Sort of ruins going to Shamrock's for a while...

Well, I hope to sound more cheerful in my next entry. Merry christmas everyone. And the happiest of New Years to all of us. I will let those of you who sent packages know when they finally arrive (thankfully mine made it to PA in time).

20 Dec., 2002
My cat's breath smells like geckos.

Yes, my cat eats geckos. Live. Feet dangling out the mouth, still kicking, which he bats about while chewing the poor victim. Maybe the reason his belly is so puffed out and swollen isnt worms after all, but live geckos, still kicking. He is feeling better now after a day of acting very strangely, and is up to his old hijinxs again.

Last night we were supposed to have our staff holiday partya bbq at Pigeon Island. Not suprprisingly, it didnt happen. First, it was supposed to be a casual affaireveryone brings a dish, we hang out at the park at night. It was a full moon, and would have been beautiful. Then, the staff at PI volunteered to cook, and Mr. Romulus volunteered some money toward the affair. Their planned menu was much more than the allotted budget, so the decision had to be made to scale it down to just a simple bbq or have staff pitch in more money. They chose option c: just dont bother at all. A very typical St. Lucian decision. As an American schooled in logic, Im trained to think that if someone gives you an amount of money towards a party, take it, be frugal and make the best party with it that you can. But the tendency here is to over plan, dream too big, and then do nothing when you realize your dreams cant be realized. This type of thinking is not limited to parties, unfortunately. Since Ive been sick, Mr. Romulus first told me not to come in today, our last day. Then he amended that and said to be sure to come in for the morning, at least until 10 for a big surprise that would make up for not having the party. Nothing happened. So here I am, feeling on the mend but still tired, and wondering why Im here, as its pointless to start anything and then leave for 2 weeks. A few minutes ago, a florist came and delivered us each a small arrangement of flowers. No card. A nice gesture, but pointless. Were broke. At least a party would have been a chance for staff to relax and bond together. A flower arrangement, especially one without any sort of personal note of thanks, does nothing to show appreciation or help celebrate the holiday. By the time I get it home in this heat, the lovely orchids will be toast. Again, so typical of this organization, and Giles in particular. He can find a way even to mess up the simplest gestures of staff appreciation. I dont know why this continues to amaze me.

Despite feeling tired, I really needed to get out of my apartment last night. A week of being sick has really begun to make me antsy, and I was disappointed in the party falling through, since I have little in the way of holiday plans thus far. Doris has a friend in town, and when I stopped by to drop off her t-shirt (we recently ordered tshirts with the US and St. Lucian flags and the PC logo), she told me they were going up to the marina for some sort of cultural event that was free. I agreed to meet them. Im glad I did. Theres a yacht racethe ARCthat started in the Canary Islands a few weeks ago and is in the process of ending here, so theres been lots of events as the racers come in. Last night it was a free steel pan concert at the Marina. I had never been there except to use the ATM (one of two in the N that takes my card), and it was really nice. The best ice cream shop here has opened a branch there with a café (espresso! A rare commodity here), and there is a nice, new bar upstairs that I can see myself spending time at. Denise and I met up first, and we took a walk around, and at the bar we ran into Mike, my soon-to-be guitar teacher. Weve been playing phone and email tag, so we finally met in person and arranged to get in touch this weekend. Originally he told me that lessons would be $50 per hour, which is quite steep. I was overwhelmed, but willing to find a way to afford it, but last night he told me hed work with me to find a more reasonable pricethat was just his way of seeing that I was serious. Whew! Thats a relief. So hopefully Ill be on the road to guitar virtuosity soon.

I also spoke yesterday with Shannon, one of the Canadian volunteers, about her volleyball team. They meet 3 times a week, and its $20/month to play. I can handle that. I could use the exercise and it would be nice to meet some new people. Ive never been that great at volleyball, and havent played in years, but apparently its all levels. So the New Year has potential for me getting out more and learning new things.

The concert last night at the marina is apparently just the start of a build-up for the remainder of the holiday period. More and more popular bands will be appearing, two at a time sometimes, and playing into the night and even morning as the holiday grows closer. Since its free, and on my bus route, I definitely intend to take part in that. Ive always enjoyed steel pan music, so I want to see as much of it as I can while here. Now I need to work on seeing more calypso. Tonight there is a possibility we will end up at the marina to see the show or at the Friday night jump-up (street party) at Gros Islet. I hope we dont have another crazy late night, because I really need to get better in time for the holidays. I do intend to leave work early today, though, so hopefully I can catch a nap. On the beach. Its another beautiful sunny day.


19 Dec., 2002
Almost Christmas

I've been quiet lately, partly because I've been sick. Some sort of mystery virus, I'm told. After close to two weeks of sore throat, raspy voice, coughing, chest tightness, and general tired crappy feeling, I'm on the mend--thanks to an international cocktail of inhalers (i brought from home from when i had bronchitis), cipro, cough syrup, bush tea (local herbs brought by alvin that i brewed), and hot water and lemon (recommended by noel). monday's visit to the doctor was a whole day extravaganza, followed by a trip to the airport to pick up Brian (a pcv from st. vincent). He stayed with me overnight and then his girlfriend came the next day, and they flew back to SVG--she couldnt get a flight there. Makes me glad, at least, that I'm here... Noel and Steven's lasses are coming in for the holidays as well. Anyway, Caroline, Brian and I had dinner by Jacinta Monday night. Tuesday I made veggie chile and Alvin, Caroline and Jacinta came over. I've been having a Jacinta overload because she decided recently to move back to the States (she's st. lucian but has lived in texas and florida for some years) in early January. And just when we've made all these plans... So we've been trading dinner parties, and this Sunday we're hopefully doing a bbq at the beach on the Atlantic side (Cas-en-bas, which you can see in the hike photos) with roasted breadfruits, saltfish, rum, and her boyfriend Quint's brother's horses, and their many children. I'll definitely take pictures. I hope it works out because if so, it will be the coolest thing I've done so far--I've been wanting to go riding.

Sebastian is acting weird since yesterday. I got some worm medicine from Pat's daughter and he seemed ok, but I don't know if it's something else, or that. Maybe he found some roach poison I had hidden in a corner. I was afraid of that, so this morning I took an eye dropper and forced him to drink some water. He was hyper, and then quiet, and shaky, and acting like he couldn't see properly--stepping in his food, not responding to me right away when i did things. But he can see some... I hope it passes, because I'm worried. Maybe it's from eating too many geckos--his recent favorite pastime. He eats them whole, and alive. A few days ago he got a big one, and was chewing the top half while the bottom legs dangled out of his mouth, and so he was batting the legs with his paw, playing with his food. Nasty. The Discover Channel right in my living room.

Caroline just got some kool aid sent from her mother's friend, so we're having a little fiesta here in the lounge. After a several week dry spell, we've just received 3 newsweeks at once. And I also got a letter from Carol and a package from Jamie. Yay--my first Christmas present. I mailed a small envelope home on Tuesday, and to get it there in time I had to fork out $50, so it better arrrive. (it would have been $30 which is still really steep, for 3 things!) I've been out sick from work all week, not so much because I feel so terrible during the day, but because I have been up coughing in the night, and until the antibiotics kicked in, I didnt want to get anyone else sick. Tuesday, though, I spent most of my sick day at Caroline's work--she works at the Skills Development Center, sort of a vocational skills training center. They had an open house, and I got a 10 minute massage and a manicure. They were both nice, but the nails are not quite my style. I asked for a french manicure, and she did it up all ghetto fabulous, with black and gold glitter nail art. oh yeah--just in time for the holidays. i made caroline take a picture with the digital camera at work, so hopefully i can get that added to the photos page soon.

This weekend Lauren is coming up Friday night and we're having dinner at Caroline's, then either going out with Milan, a ras guy she works with, or Donnel, from Digicell. Hopefully I'll be up for it by then. Both of them have cars, which is always exciting. One more thing to note: www.sluonestop.com is a portal site with a lot of info about st. lucia and links to the radio stations here, if you want to listen in to caribbean xmas music.

Anyway, my office is closed from tomorrow until the 6th -- I won't have regular internet access for a while but will try and check a few times in there. New Year's plans still in the works. Sarah is not coming, but now Robin and Josh are coming over from Grenada from the 27th to the 2nd, so that will be fun. Gives me something to look forward to. I'm not sending holiday cards this year, so Happy Holidays and an excellent New Year to everyone!

12 Dec., 2002
Long Weekend

Sa ka fet? Mwe la. (How are you? I'm there.) Irie. Limited time to write this morning, as I'm on a research mission for the ED, trying to find vital statistics online for a small town on the southwest coast, Belvedere. So far I'm not having much luck. There goes my career as a research assistant...

I don't have much in the way of Xmas requests--the usual still stands (books, music, crafts and things to entertain or make me laugh, photos), plus a few things remaining from my previous list: swim goggles, an inflatable raft, and some new ones: kitten things--food, treats, toys, dander shampoo, flea powder/collars (there aren't really a lot of kitten products here, as people don't really have pets the way Americans do), and of course, the Simpsons watches I've seen advertised at Burger King. My friend the TV tells me that they're very cool and I should collect them all. I'm a product of advertising and I want the fancy things people in developed countries can have and I can't. Basically, I'm feeling set as far as gifts, really. The best gift I could get from anyone I think would be a visit or a phone call, depending on your budget. There are lots of things here I would love to get everyone, but it will be a lean holiday for me, budgetwise. So I will just send you my love and good wishes.

Heading into a 3 day weekend, looking forward to it. No set plans at all, and I sort of like it that way. Been feeling really tired this week. Sebastian was really meow-y last night--probably disappointed not to be getting so much attention after two nights of Lauren staying over and spoiling him, and Alvin stopping by and vying for his attention. Spoiled cat. No visit from Alvin last night, which is good. He's a nice guy, friendly and cute, but I made it pretty clear that I only want friendship (I even defined for him what that means to me) so when I said previously he made me nervous, it's more because I'm not sure what to make of these visits, or the whole dynamic here. It's interesting, and I'm glad to have met someone new. Living alone, though, it's a bit unsettling to have some guy stopping by regularly at night.

I spoke to Robin on the phone last night--so exciting! Not as cheap as we thought it would be via computer, though so it was short. Phone rates in the Caribbean are just outrageous, even locally. She and Josh may be coming for a visit in the next few weeks for a long weekend. Now I really need an answer from Sarah and Ryan. I left a message last night at Sarah's. Also, now there's confusion about where I'll be going for New Year's. The party in St. Vincent is off, and those guys will be in the Grenadines, Bequia specifically, which is supposed to be gorgeous. It wouldn't cost much more, except maybe lodging, and we haven't gotten any more details on that. So we're exploring the option of maybe going to Antigua. We need to decide soon. A busy time for visiting right now--Brian Siegel, one of the volunteers from St. Vincent (who is also from the Seattle area), is flying in to Castries Monday afternoon and spending the night at my apartment, as his girlfriend flies in the next day. They're going off somewhere after that, but I'm not sure where. Doris is having some of the teachers she works with over that evening for a get-together, so I guess we'll stop by, but the plan is for Caroline, Brian and I to meet up with a Babonneau friend, Effe, and go somewhere.

As much as Christopher Columbus is overhyped, especially considering he didn't even land here when he "discovered" St. Lucia, I'm grateful to him for the day off tomorrow. I'm really ready for the holidays.

10 Dec., 2002
Countdown to Christmas

Bonjou! I'm working on my quarterly report at the PC office today, so not too much time for personal writing. Last week I actually had quite a short week, workwise, as I spent Thursday at home waiting for my phone to be hooked up. I spent the time writing a very lengthy description of my workplace and my place in it, which I will try to post today as well. (It took up 6 double-sided legal pad pages, and I'm not done typing it yet, as the laptop still doesnt have an adaptor, and thus is a nice paperweight). After an involved process, the phone was functional by Thursday late afternoon, and I got some laundry, errands and home improvements done. The chicken wire is on the front burglar gate now so I can have the breeze without the cat escaping. My landlord said she'd make me a curtain--I bought a rod that day.

I had planned to have a housewarming drink-up on friday night--a sort of last minute decision. I invited the Candian girls, the irish guys, my co-workers and nearby pcvs. Not many came. A few pcvs, then just caroline and i (as usual) and the kitten, and then a few of my co-workers and a Trust member who was volunteering on a project. Pretty mellow--a few drinks on the porch and inside, some snacks, and chatting, playing with Sebastian. Saturday I went to the beach with Caroline at about noon, and we stayed until 4ish, then went to her house for dinner. It was her landlord's birthday (they were a homestay family for Tom and Mary, down the street from my Corinth homestay, so we know them from before she moved in) and she had baked a banana cake, so we had a mini-party with them and dinner at her place with her troublesome (but adorable) orange kitten, cheeto. Then we went to see "8 Mile" at the Cinema, and when we stopped at my place along the way to get my forgotten glasses, my friend Jacinta was coming up the drive to visit (since she couldnt make it the night before). We invited her to the movie with us, so she came and we got a ride there (in an old BMW), and first saw her house, met her kids (she's 33, with 3 kids), boyfriend and saw the 6 puppies and 3 kittens there. I was loving that. The movie was good, and after that we headed to Castaways, a primarily ex-pat bar owned by an Englishman, to meet the Irish volunteers. Jacinta left us after a bit, and we were joined by Donnell, a bigwig at Digicell, the Irish telecom company who, along with at&t, is here to give cable and wireless a run for their money--applause, applause! Free drinks and another ride in a BMW to Shamrocks down the street, where we continued to drink and dance until the place closed down at 4:30. I didn't drink much there, but mainly danced--once again with Alvin the waiter. He wasn't working very hard, but claimed that dancing with me was "customer service." After we closed the place down, our rowdy crew of Caroline, Steven, Noel and I taxied to my place and hung out until the sun came up before we all eventually crashed. After about a 3 hour sleep, we all had to get up and head out--the guys to a lunch with the religious brothers that run the alternative schools where they teach, and us to a beach bbq fundraiser for one of the swim teams (my coworker diana's son Jayden swims for them) at Pigeon Point. We went, ate and swam, got some coconut water to offset the previous night's drinking, and played with a few of the kids. In the afternoon, Alvin showed up to my great surprise. He had said he wanted to come (and I told him he could if he wanted, but I didn't encourage it) but didnt' meet us in the morning, so I had written the idea off. We parted when he went to work, and left it that I'd stop by sometime to see him. I know he lives in my neighborhood, but as he works nights and I work days, didn't expect to see him anytime soon. However, he stopped by last night. My first male St. Lucian visitor (other than co-workers, who are a different category, and don't make me nervous.) Lauren was visiting from Laborie, since she had some work things to do in the City yesterday and today (she's staying tonight too). So the three of us hung out, goofed around on my guitar since we're all equally bad, and played Uno. A bizarre, but fun evening. This morning Lauren and I got up early and went for a "sea bath" before work. Cold, but really nice. I wish it was a more public beach so i could go more regularly by myself.

Work today through Thursday, and then Thursday night and Friday are the fetes for National Day. Apparently everyone stays out all night into the next day, which is called Jeuvet (Joo-vay). There's a yacht race, the ARC, which started a few weeks ago in the Canary Islands and ends here this week, so there are parties for that as well. Who knows what will happen. I need to get rested up for whatever it will be.

Still no word on if Sarah and Ryan are coming for the holidays, but it's not looking good for ticket prices. My advice to anyone coming: book early! Especially in the winter. Starting Thanksgiving weekend is the high tourist season, and even though it's a bit slow this year, things still book quickly. Still planning on going to St. Vincent for New Years, though we haven't gotten our tickets yet (about $65 US to fly there--a lot, since it's only about 18 miles away...). We officially have from the 20th to the 3rd off from work--the office is closed--but I don't yet know if we have off the 3rd and work the 6th or start that Friday. I hope Sarah comes because I'll already have off and then I can play tourist too. I've been invited to Xmas eve Mass with my supervisor (the ED) and his wife, and maybe a few other co-workers, and then back to his house for some food and drinks afterwards. That should be nice. He actually invited me to stay the night and spend the day with them too for Xmas, but I've thanked him graciously and accepted only for Mass, since Sarah is hopefully coming. Either way, I want to keep my options open. That's a lot of time with my supervisor.Speaking of that, I apologize in advance for the length of the post below regarding my job, but I feel like it's necessary both to give a clear picture of what exactly it is that I do (or attempt to do) here, and for therapy.

5 Dec., 2002
MPA Edition

Welcome to the MPA edition of my journal. If youre here for the entertainment portion, skim ahead. So far I havent spent a significant amount of time discussing my job here, so lest I sound like this whole experience is merely a vacation to me, Im using my time today to do just that.

The organization, as Ive mentioned before, is in a bad state: financially desperate, plagued by a recent scandal where an employee was arrested for allegedly stealing EC$27,000, with declining revenues from all sources including tourism and government, and no real plan for now to improve anything. (Its an NGO formed by government mandate 27 years ago, soon after independence, with 60% private funding, about 40% govt. subvention.) Or rather, a lot of plans, none of which are very well-thought out or part of a clear strategy.

The SLNT has, in recent years, tried its hand at many things, and done none of them well. Now, with a global recession decreasing available funding sources, it has many projects, none of which are complete and therefore none of which operate sustainably. That would be problematic enough, and could describe a lot of organizations everywhere, but thats only part of a complicated, multi-faceted picture. Ill try to describe the various layers.

First, staff. The executive director is the former director of programs, and has a lot of technical knowledge in the field of conservation. Hes been with the organization for many years, and many people think of him as the face/voice of the Trust. Trouble is, he does too. Hes become very egotistically tied to the organization and therefore has a vested interest in the status quo. But the organization is at a very crucial point in its life cycle where its a matter of life or death. If the organization doesnt change, and fairly dramatically, there could soon be no National Trust. So the ED was and is great at managing programs, but theres more to being ED than just technical knowledge, and hes not good at any of the rest of it. Hes got very little in the way of people skills (except in a politician sort of kissing babies, shaking hands way, and that can only get you so far) and no skills at HR, Managing people, sensitivity t personality conflicts, power struggles, unhappiness, stressall the things that can make a workplace toxic. And it is. Not only can he not sense it, but he causes some of it by manipulating people and information (this is his specialty) and by playing people against each other. As a new person, Ive been particularly prone to this. He also uses the if I ignore it, maybe it will go away strategy that has been time-tested as a failure. He does a lot of buck-passing as well. He wont delegate any sort of responsibility with power or prestige attached to it, such as conferences and travel (while simultaneously saying that he has to, because of the inexperience of the staff, who are never given the chance to learn or to prove themselves), but passes off all important decisions, so he wont have to take responsibility for the consequences. Simultaneously, he micromanages, and since he wont make decisions, nothing can be done without Councils approval (they meet monthly). This is bad for 3 reasons: first, decisions get bogged down in bureaucracy, which sucks the life out of staff initiative and enthusiasm, second, the organization can only accomplish as much as one man (and one overworked council) can touch personally, and third, the council is acting way beyond its capacity and scope of dutydeciding in the day-to-day operations of the Trust, rather than overseeing the ED and ensuring that the org is working within its mandate and mission. Meanwhile (and possibly partially because of this), theres been some mission driftcouncilors letting their own personal opinions, agendas and politics interfere with fulfilling the organizational mandate, and chasing projects with funding for the sake of funding, rather than writing appropriate programs and then seeking funding. He is also a workaholic, who assumes that everyone else should be too, despite no incentive system, no raises in 2 years (with uncertainty now as to how salaries will even be paid month-to-month), and the fact that he closes himself off in an air-conditioned office with a good computer while the rest of us sweat with barely-functioning fans and not enough computers. Along the way, this sort of behavior has caused many good peoplestaff, members and councillorsto leave disheartened and frustrated by the way things are done.

Meanwhile, PC plans call for each volunteer to work in an organization in a position with an established job description and to work in a role alongside another staff member or coordinating agency staff member as a counterpart. My job, on the other hand, is a staff position thats always been a dream, but never been filled, other than a PCV last year for about a month before family matters forced him to leave. Not only does it have no counterpart, there are no clear expectations for the role, and no no clear role within the organization. Hierarchically, there are 3 other Program Officers, and we should all report to the Director or Programs (who then reports to the ED), but that person resigned/was fired in early summer and the position is not filled due to financial problems. So instead the four of us, as well as the financial director, all report to the ED, and I have already described how he operates. Im new, I have no counterpart, no supervisor, and no footsteps to follow ina challenge for sure. But theres more. (The financial manager herself is a whole other drama: she was temping in accounts and discovered the misappropriation of funds by the assistant, reported it, and was simultaneously interviewing for the Fin. Mgr position alongside the acting manager. They chose her, as a new face they could claim in the media was turning things around, over him, which has caused a bit of a hubbub in the small staff.)

So enter me, 1 day before the employee was fired for embezellment, 1 month before the new council was to be elected. There was posturing and politicking by staff, councillors and particularly the ED, who is right now terrified for his job, and as a new face on staff, I was sucked into some of it despite my best efforts to stay out. I was used as somewhat of a pawn in a few peoples games, but luckily, I think, was fairly quick to catch on. But I was in my integration period, a 3-month block where were supposed to focus on integrating into the organization, the community and the fieldgetting known and figuring out how things work. Giles (the ED) paid lip service to the importance of this period (which PC has determined in 40 years here that works best), but used it at first to try and make me his personal intern and then when I resisted, to make me feel foolish for sticking to the concept and the time frame. He spoke to me about people I should meet and places I should go, but gave me very little assistance in arranging meetings or visits. In fact, when I was treated hostilely in several meetings, he made no effort to assist and merely told me I should be more thick-skinned. At first, I was frustrated and bored and the long hours passed slowly. The hours are 9-4:30 and I get a ride home so I dont leave early, even when theres nothing to do. Its the kind of place where a lot of people appear busy but little is done. Everything is last-minute and communication is poor at best, despite a small staff (8 besides me at Head Office), about 14 at Pigeon Island, 5 at Anse La Liberté and 1 in Vieux Fort). Then I began seeing sites and meeting some people with some assistance from a few staff members, and I also started putting out the newsletter (3 issues so far). I began speaking candidly with Giles about my feeling of negativity in the office and about my lack of purpose at the organization due to no clear vision of what I should be doing. I was pretty depressed about it all. He responded by including me in several planning sessions with mgmt regarding next years workplan (I am considered an officer, at mgmt level, though at first I was excluded from such sessions, and was given no clear reason why when I questioned it). The sessions and the resulting workplan helped to define my role. This is good. But what it also did was cement the impression that I am the Education Officer, rather than a PC vol here to help in the role of education. This is a battle I am still fighting, with little assistance from the APCD thus far (I went over his head and talked to someone else, who supported me, and agreed I should be getting more support. But that will wait a bit longer.) As a result of my suggestions, he also planned an all-staff meeting where we were all to have the opportunity to speak and address the negativity in the office and the recent stress (financial, council elections and a coworker being fired). There were snacks. Giles decided not to attend so people would feel more free to talk, and the meeting turned into a marathon 3+hour session where we filled 6 flip chart pages, which was eventually turned into a large document signed by everyone (I planned to but later decided not to, as this is not an advisably position for a volunteer to take) and presented to Giles. He took it personally, rather than seeing it as a chance to show his dedication to staff and to council (which would have been advisable leading up to elections--a politician the man is not) and ordered another meeting to discuss the ideas again. I wasnt there, but Im told everyone was annoyed that action wasnt being taken after the first one and it was just being delayed by more talk, as usual. My initial enthusiasm about the meeting and the great potential for change faded as he took absolutely the wrong approach yet again and failed to capitalize on staff enthusiasm and momentum.

The good news is that a new council was elected and it is composed largely of effective people whove previously been counsellors and left frustrated. From what I can gather, theyve come back to kick some ass and whip the organization back into shape, with the full support of the staff. Theyve been alerted to our problems and complaints.

Personally, I had a good long chat with the new Chair and he shares a lot of the vision that I have for the way forward. Its been and bad situation made more frustrating because I cant really get my work done, and Im fresh from school, chock-full of ideas and analyses, but in no position to implement any of my ideas. Because Im white, young and female, the ED treats me like Im a child and says what he thinks I want to hear but doesnt truly listen or take me seriously. So thankfully Andy (the new Chair), who does have power, shares my ideasparticularly that the Council has no business being involved in the day-to-day affairs of the organization.

At first I had hope that the staff meeting was really positive. I think it was, in a sense, because it unified that the staff in agreement that things are most definitely wrong--quite a lot of things--but i was naive to think that it alone would solve anything, though. In a way, it's just agitated everyone more and made morale worse because we're more unifed and poised for action and seeing no action, so there's lots of frustration and arguing. We're all beginning to see that if the former Council, who were allegedly the problem, is gone, and the staff is unified, and the problems remain, the problem must lie with the ED himself. And he steadfastly believes that he is not the problem, but fears his own removal in the current winds of change and is clinging tenuously to the status quo.

Next I had hope that the new Council would bring change, and I maintain that hope. They've only met twice, so I have to give it some time. In the meantime, my transition period is now over, and I've got sort of a plan and sort of a focus for the upcoming year. How effective I can be, though, depends on a lot of things, among them equipment and cooperation, both of which are problematic. An example: The newsletter can be sent by mail and email, and the goal is to do as much by email as possible, to save costs. However, to email it we have to convert the word document to a PDF. We use a program called WordtoPDF, and it worked for the October issue, but last month it didn't. We messed with it, re-downloaded it (a chore on such an old, slow computer) and eventually found it would do other documents ok, but not that one. By that time it was too late to bother with mailing it out, so only those who attended the Annual General Meeting got a copy. This month, it seemed to work when I made the PDF, but this time the computer with internet access was down. I brought it to the PC office on disk and discovered the file was bad. I tried again back at the office, to no avail. It would pretend to make one, but there's no document there. So we can't email it out again. This time, there were other things to be mailed to members so we made a mass 600+ mailing of four double-sided sheets, all of which must be copied and manually flipped to do the other side, 99 at a time. Only a few hundred can be done a day before the copier freaks out, so it took several days just to do the copying, let alone the collating, folding, stapling and hand-addressing of all 600+. There were three of us working on it, but only me in any sort of dedicated fashion. The second day, after we'd done more than a hundred, the Membership Officer (who works in the South Office by himself) told the membership secretary that he had something to include. Never mind the fact that he knew 2 days previously that we were doing this. She told him to send it right away as we were preparing (not all true, but she's good at that). By late afternoon it still hadn't come, and he told her we should stop (we had already done about 350) so he could add his thing. Which is just ridiculous! If it was that important, he could send it himself or remember it to start with. There's no way we were going to undo the ones we'd done, and to send something to only half the members (who are currently all mad because communication has been so poor) would only make a bad situation worse--what we need to show is true, consistent effort. But rather than saying this, of course, Dawnelle said ok, fumed and told us to stop. I did her trick--said ok, and kept working. I wasn't going to have my mailing delayed or its integrity destroyed because she's too cowardly to tell her supervisor the truth. Elinore agreed with me that we should keep working, but was tired, so they both stopped. I stayed late, and kept working. The next day I was home (writing this by hand), waiting for my phone to get hooked up, and they made some more progress, but as of yesterday, (as I type, Dec. 9) it still wasn't done. The copier is now out of toner due to all of our copying, and no one seem to be in a hurry to order it, or know when it will arrive. So who knows now if it will ever be mailed. So I make the thing every month, but distribution is a problem. That's just one example of why my job is so frustrating. A job that should take 2 days, max, takes six days plus, and the process never gets smoother--something ALWAYS goes wrong. Living here, and particularly working where I do, seems sometimes like living Murphy's Law. I realize it's just a newsletter, but it's important because it's all I've really got to do that's mostly mine and it's the only consistent communication the organization has with its members. The staff complain that no one understands the organization, knows what it's about, or volunteers or attends anything but it's because we don't tell them! There has been no newsletter for the past 1 1/2 years. There was just a survey of the members to get their opinions and attitudes about the Trust and its work, etc, and to update the database--for the first time in 27 years. A positive first step, but i wonder how long it will take to actually update or use that information, or if it will ever happen. There are lots of big ideas, but very little planning and even less follow-through. It's a problem here in general, but it's particularly pronounced in the Trust.

So the newsletter is a big mission of mine and I intend to do whatever is within my power to make sure it goes out. I have done other small things--a few small victories here and there. It's time for my quarterly PC report, so all of this is on my mind. I've also been feeling badly upstaged as I read my fellow PCMI-ers detailed Public Management-esque descriptions of their assignments and workplaces. I haven't done one because I keep thinking "It has to get better. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." I don't like to rush into snap judgements. But I realize now that things won't change quickly, if at all, and the process of how I see things is just as important. So here it is, with all its (and my own) warts and blemishes. Many stakeholders, many issues, some potential for improvement. Myself hopefully as a catalyst for positive change and an advocate for good policy, but also as an observer. Since my degree project will likely be a case study (or several), my dysfunctional organization and its struggle from the brink of failure is the stuff that DPs are made of. I only wish it was less stressful to live through it.

I've spoken with the training director here--one of two regional staff that are from the US, and a former volunteer himself--about my job problems. He agrees that some of it is problemmatic, particularly the lack of clarity with the ED on my role as a volunteer vs. unpaid staff position. We agreed it would be better to wait to pursue it after giving the Council a chance to do their analysis of the situation and hopefully make some changes. But writing all of this helped me feel more clear on what the problems really were and what to tell him.

My office is more formal in structure than that of many of the other PCVs here, partly because they don't get my role. I work long hours, and it can be frustrating to sit there and look busy, rather than just leave as other vols sometimes do. If I stray from the long hours, I feel myself being judged by some of the staff, who just don't get that life in another culture is work too, and it's just as important to my purpose for being here as my job. My co-workers just don't get that--they laugh at me if I take the day to look for a new apartment or whatnot, but I guess it's that sort of island blindness and narrow thinking that's so common here. If you've never left a 27 sq. mile landmass, your perspective can get pretty insular. Add that to the myths that come with having white skin, and it's more fun than a barrel of monkeys on some days.

So I still dread going to work each day. I hope that as the new year starts I can get involved in some projects that will keep me busy and out of the office more (which brings its own transportation headaches). But I remain hopeful that I can do something there, make it work, and make it last, even if it is something that has more to do with helping the organization itself than environmental ed.(which is not my field anyway).

My advice to future PCMI cohorts, based on my experience thus far is that everything you learn can help you, even things that seem the most insignificant, so be like a sponge. What you think you'll do, or even what you're good at may have little bearing on your assignement. You may be called upon to teach a workshop on a class you never felt you were very strong in. Save resources as you go along, keeping in mind that libraries are scare and internet access is slow and sometimes scarce as well. I'm sort of a closet environmentalist with a BA in Intl. Relations and English (journalism), now responsible for environmental ed. Personally, the org's mission suits me, which was pretty much sheer luck. But so far I've found myself drawing heavily on public management, managing NGO lifecycles (Marc's class, and I think about him often), budgeting, and even microfinance. So pay attention, take a diversity of classes, and don't box yourself in. What your assignment sounds like and what it may be in reality are likely to be different, and your secondary, tertiary etc project(s) may be something totally outside your realm of experience. Some volunteers are teaching swimming, and so far I haven't found a 2nd project yet, but I'm considering something with gender relations. So you never know.

Whew. So that's work. And that's why I often choose to describe the rest of my life. Which I will now return to doing. This morning I was rudely awoken, the one day I didnt have to use an alarm, to loud mewing that sounded next to my head. Sebastian sleeps in the guest room at night, and there is a hole in the wall between there and my bedroom that was previously used for a cord. I didnt think Sebastian would get to it, but I forgot how agile kittens are, and how devious. Two days this week I came home to find him waiting at the door, rather than in his room with his food and litter box. The door was closed (which meant there were mystery puddles to be discovered). At first I thought the door must have blown open and then closed again, but after I put him in there for bad behaviour when I was home and he escaped I caught on and taped it shut. He chewed the tape, and clawed the hole bigger. Then I covered it in tape and cardboard, and that's when he woke me up. Now (a week later, when I'm typing) I've gotten a board from the landlord, and it's no longer a problem. When he gets a little more reliable with the litterbox, I'll let him out more. My day off allowed me to hang chicken wire on the burglar gate to let breezes in and keep kitty in as well. Now I need a curtain of lace or mesh for privacy (i'm close to the road) and to keep bugs out. My phone saga took all day to fix--they showed up four times before they found me--they were knocking on the wrong door. At noon, I ran across the street to call customer service, who told me they had just been there. I was home all day with the windows open, door unlocked. So finally they came and did their thing, and said there was a second part that had to be done by different guys and they had called and left a message but those guys were on break, so to give it an hour. 3 hours later, people can leave me messages but i'm blocked from making calls. I had to go down to the office, wait in line for 45 minutes to get it sorted out. But it's best that I did because I also found out they had sent my bill to the wrong address and got that taken care of. One more beaurocratic headache taken care of. I can't imagine what it's like to live in a place where you have to wait in line after line to get things done. Just this much gives me headaches. Literally.

Jenn's package arrived late last week and rocked my world: mac and cheese, tastycakes, a latchhook pillow kit, books, crayons. I'm a happy girl who now has a hobby to do while I watch "Will and Grace" reruns every night. Yes, I have very little in the way of a life. No place to go but up, right? And no life is relaxing, and it doesnt cost much either. Here's to losers!

3 Dec., 2002
Another Short Week

I love the holidays. Last week we had Thanksgiving off, and then I moved so was only in the office a few hours on Friday. This weekend I was at a workshop Saturday (which was great!) and so took yesterday off to spend with Ann, Dave and Cameron when they came in for the day on their Celebrity Cruise. Then, December 13 is a holiday (National Day, when Columbus supposedly "discovered" St. Lucia without actually landing here) so it's another short one.

A good weekend, and a much needed one. The workshop was on making documentaries and news features, and really interesting! Nice to harken back to the college jounalism days. I realized how much I miss it. We got to work the camera and editing equipment, and studied the differences between the two styles. In the end, we wrote, perfomed and filmed out own two-minute news feature, which will be sent back to UNESCO (who funded the day). Afterwards, there was a closing ceremony--there were workshops all month, mostly for members of the media--and then a cocktail hour (things are formal here so it was a long, formal ceremony, almost like a graduation, just to get our completion certificates!) For the first time at one of these type of events, I felt relaxed and like myself. All day, really, maybe because enough time has passed that I'm starting to get the hang of it, maybe because I'm more relaxed now that my housing crisis is resolved, and maybe also because journalism is familiar turf for me no matter what country I'm in. Probably all three. Regardless, I was relaxed and participated and mingled all day, met some members of the media and the Secretary General of UNESCO (and even arranged an informational interview with her in the new year). A good evening, and free drinks and food! I had wanted to go to a reggae show Sat night, but that fell through at the last minute. Hard to arrange when I have no phone. Friday night I went to happy hour with Caroline, the Canadian volunteers (Shannon, Heather and Sam), Micheal and Spencer (from work) and Noel met us later. The girls left, Michael and Spencer left to go home and change, and Noel came with me to my place to wait for Michael to come get us and take us to the club, Gaity--my first time there. Turns out he fell asleep, and then couldnt call as I have no phone. So Noel and I chatted until about 12, and then he left and I went to bed. Probably better I got more sleep anyway before that workshop. Sunday I went to the beach with Caroline, and we met a French guy who is an optomotrist and will be here for a year. Hopefully we'll hang out in the future. A good replacement as Craig is now most likely out of the picture. Caroline ended their whirlwind "relationship" after 6 days, and he's pretty vexed. I've stayed away to let him cool off, which is easy to do when you don't have a phone. Eventually I'll see if we can still be friends.

My own personal avoided drama for the day: when i got on the transport this am, MY OLD LANDLORD WAS THERE! He said, Good morning Deborah, in a super cheerful voice, and folded the seat down next to him. I sat there, said "Oh, hello." and didn't say anything else. Looked straight ahead and sort of steeled myself for impending conversation. Luckily he got out at the next street (my old one). Ugh. Conflict avoided.

Stomach issues this morning, so I had to come in late. Of course my co-workers were freaked out, as no one remembered to pass on the information (typical) that I would be out yesterday, and then was late this morning. I'm feeling tired, but better. Maybe just a mild bug passing. Noel has some kind of food poisoning, so I'm grateful it's not as bad as all that.

Craig passed on nice photos from our hike last weekend that are on Caroline's site. I need to steal some of them, but havent gotten to it yet. You can look there if you like, it's linked to the background page. Hopefully soon Lauren will come stay and bring her camera so I can post pics of my new place and kitty.


If you would like to read my journal entries from November 2002, click here.