May 2015

Gros Islet Street Party

Last night, Lucian friends we met a month ago took us to the weekly Friday night street party in Gros Islet.

Gros Islet Street Party

Gros Islet Street Party Image from

Every week, vendors set up BBQs, bakeries and bars along the streets and hundreds of people congregate to eat, drink & dance (not necessarily in that order).  Lucians know how to have a good time and tourists join in on the fun.  I will even admit to dancing to a Carly Rae Jepsen song. While my daughter would be pleased, I feel the need to point out that I listened to Rage Against the Machine during the bus ride home after work that same day. So yes, Fistful of Steel and Call Me Maybe on the same day ;-)

PitonMalta_Bottle280When we first arrived and before dancing (read the footnote) into the crowds, one of our friends recognized a pub owner. We had drinks – a zero-alcohol Piton Malta for me – and chatted while visiting with the owner’s 8-month-old granddaughter.  This place was not unlike many in that it is a small open-to-the-air one-room establishment. We had grown used to expecting large bills during our stay but four drinks only cost EC$13 at this place.

Alcohol rules don’t seem strict here and we noticed a bus driver stop in for a quick drink before heading back to his bus.  That would surely have raised scandal in Canada.

Next, we followed the music and danced. The DJs worked from a balcony across the street from large speakers. They played fun music from the 80s, the 60s and then onto Jepsen and then hip-hop and dancehall tunes.

We walked back to the car and drove to what our friend called, “Little Hollywood”. This was a part of the country I hadn’t really seen before. It’s a wealthy community with large homes, groomed yards and gated driveways. We stopped on a hill overlooking the ocean. It was dark but you could tell the ocean was out there past the palm trees and shrubbery because it was open and we could hear the waves.  The part that struck me most as we sat on the edge of the hills was the quietness. There was a rare absence of people and a stillness that was lovely.

After a stop at a bar in Rodney Bay, we headed back home from our first night out on the town.

Call me maybe. Even with a fistful of steel.


I wrote “dancing” because it has a better ring to it than saying, “I walked and then stood there for sometime tapping my toes until I could break past the Canadian-prairie-white-guy fear of people seeing me try to dance”.

And I did dance, and I had fun.  Certainly, I didn’t achieve the kind of movement of those who were dancing while somehow magically moving most every part of their bodies while maintaining a move-to-the-beat rhythm – but I danced :-)


Conference and Programming

This week, I attended a two-day conference consisting of chief education officers and teachers’ union leaders from Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis, and St. Vincent & The Grenadines. Also present was a management consultant from Jamaica and a Trinidadian woman from UNICEF.

There was a presentation from the consultant and then questions and comments from the audience. I knew I had issues I needed to raise concerning the way forward mentioned in the presentation and was just waiting for the right opportunity.  I have to say, it is interesting to contribute knowing I was the only person not of the Caribbean and that the education system still contains oppressive hold-overs from colonialism.  There were no outward displays of animosity though and I think many in the room agreed with my comments – phew.

After listening to the comments of others, they were getting increasingly passionate. Comments were on point and with the way they were presented, I would have wanted to clap even if they were speaking in a different language. I knew I couldn’t live up to the same level of passion and clarity of speech but I did it anyway – phew.

Today, Friday, I am back working in the office and focusing on the sexual exploitation awareness project I am working on with Amanda, a fellow student (& roommate).  The program will likely be called “Preventing Exploitation with Artistic Community Engagement” with the acronym of “PEACE” (I do still enjoy naming programs with cool acronyms).

Lessons of plays, videos, interactive lectures and one hour of art include:

PEACE - slide

PEACE lesson on Alcohol and Drugs

  1. Sexual Exploitation
  2. Drugs & Alcohol
  3. Gangs
  4. Media (masculinity/femininity)
  5. Social Change

Amanda and I will co-facilitate each lesson and I am focusing my planning on lessons 2 and 4 combined with their use in sexual exploitation.

The first program will occur over five weeks in a Castries secondary school starting next week.  Excitingly, there are a number of agencies wanting to continue the program in a variety of settings across the island of St. Lucia.  The Education Management Development Unit of OECS is also interested in expanding the program across its ten member countries (the ones from the conference plus Martinique).

It is also important to note that the project is based, in part, on Amanda’s work with Children of the Street Society in British Columbia, Canada.  While the content needed to be adapted to Eastern Caribbean realities, the concept and many of the plays are coming from their program.


Hitsville St. Lucia

Today marks the end of my third week of practicum in St. Lucia.  While I am still working on a research proposal to qualitatively study why young people are leaving school before finishing their secondary education, I have also provided input on teacher evaluations and youth engagement strategies and initiatives.

Sitting at my desk researching and writing is important but yesterday, might have been my favourite workday yet.  It began with a meeting on a youth social justice arts project focusing on preventing sexual exploitation that included a fellow MSW student, a police officer, a human services case manager, two probation workers, a school counselor, a drug rehabilitation facilitator.  We learned so much about St. Lucian issues surrounding exploitation, drug use, gang activity and general culture and it was heart-warming to see how they planned to continue the program after we are back in Canada.

Next, we grabbed a quick lunch and I hopped on a public bus to the office.  It took a more scenic route than the work bus and I needed to walk a ways to the next meeting.

I am not sure what I was expecting but when I entered the room complete with flags and photos of prime ministers of each OECS member country, podium, chairs and media, I was reminded that I am working at an important multilateral organisation.

When it came time for me to stand up, I explained why I was here and began asking questions from the audience.  I focused some questions to the students asking why they have stayed in school and why they think others left.  Then I asked about differences in the way teachers and principals treated boys and girls.  That was when the real conversation started. Wow, there are some amazing people with wonderful passion for education, culture and youth in this country.  We went overtime with heated, enjoyable and entirely respectful conversation and debate.

A grade one teacher explained how she had a student who showed up for school every day except for Fridays.  After discussing with the student on a Thursday how she would attend school the next day, she wasn’t there. The teacher had her students grab their spelling books and they walked to the other student’s home.  She made sure the students where safe and then knocked on the child’s door.  She asked why the student wasn’t ready for school and got her to wake up her parents.

The teacher waited while the student get ready and then all the kids walked back to class. That girl never missed school again that year.

Sandanista! by The Clash

Sandanista! by The Clash

After ten hours of work, I hopped on a bus in Castries.  It was later than usual and the city seemed more peaceful – less bustle and less traffic. The bus driver was playing a Christian sermon on the stereo and I played The Clash on my headphones.

I looked out the open window with “Hitsville U.K.” in my ears while watching the buildings – some run-down, some broken, some well-kept, all colourful – and lush greenery go by. Traveling along the road watching the beautiful grittiness of an island nation as the sun set, I felt like I was in a travel montage of a movie.


The Ground Shook

Yesterday for the first time, I experienced earth tremors (the ground didn’t really shake – it vibrated).   This event was nothing compared to the damage and horribly tragic losses experienced by Nepal and Haiti. This was a magnitude 4.7 earthquake that occurred 21 km below the surface to the east of St. Lucia.

Source: St. Lucia Times

Image Source: St. Lucia Times, May 14, 2015

At 10:16am, I was sitting at my desk when I felt vibrations in my feet.  By the time I realized that it might be an earthquake, a coworker was walking through the building letting us know we need to evacuate because of an earthquake.  We gathered in a open space outside and made sure everyone was accounted for.  When it was clear that nothing was damaged, we went back into our offices.

The cool part about this for me as a newcomer – other than not getting hurt – was that it provided a bit of a bonding experience.  I now had a shared experience to discuss with coworkers.

On the bus after work, I mentioned to the woman next to me that that was my first earthquake.  She asked about my home country and I mentioned that earthquakes do not tend to be felt in my part of Canada.  I did mention though that we had tornadoes where I grew up.  She thought that was way scarier than St. Lucian earthquakes – because they are not damaging like the recent ones in Nepal.

She then asked if the mosquitoes here bothered me.  I mentioned that they don’t really bother me but that I also don’t like them.  I started saying how the mosquitoes were horrible where I grew up and that the worst bugs I have experienced was during a visit to the Northwest Territories.  We were there during a particularly bad summer and I mentioned the black flies that take pieces of skin with them when they fly away.  She was shocked and then I realized I was painting a very unappealing picture of Canada – she had already mentioned that she wouldn’t be able to handle the cold.

We then discussed hurricanes – which she also didn’t like.  Hurricane season in St. Lucia is from June to November and my coworker mentioned something about July being common for storms.  When I mentioned that my family will be visiting in July, we smiled sort of a knowing smile of nervous excitement.

All is good here by the way, no damage reported from yesterday’s earthquake.  Let’s see if I experience my first hurricane here too ;-)

It has come to my attention that Alberta does experience earthquakes periodically:……


Laughing Mad


Canadians – or maybe just me – tend to be a bit reserved.  We hold back our emotions.

This morning I noticed a man actually bending over at the waist to a 90-degree angle with laughter while joking with friends.  Many times each day, I hear St. Lucian women laughing from deep in the belly.

The jokes are often in Patois and I don’t know what they’re about but sometimes when I catch on a little and let out a smile, women on the bus notice that even Harold is laughing.  Maybe I should laugh more.  Maybe we should all laugh more.

Yesterday, I heard (and then saw) two men yelling at each other from opposite sides of the street. I could hear it a block away and then walked through the heated discussion.  At one point I saw one guy walk across the street towards the other guy and I thought this could get ugly.  The other guy also crossed the street yelling all the while with no hint of physical aggression.

Other days, I hear bus drivers yelling at each other for the way they’ve parked – or drove – at the bus stop. Often one driver is mad and the other is entirely indifferent.  Sometimes, I can imagine them drinking Piton together in the same way hockey players can beat the crap out of each other on the ice and then go to the pub together for a drink.

One time a passenger (an off-duty driver) started yelling with the driver while I was on the bus.  It was the end of my first solo bus trip and I needed some directions to find my next bus.  They were yelling at each other even as one was walking away.  I said, “excuse me”, to the driver. His demeanor changed instantly and he was very helpful with directions.

Anger is a gift. That phrase often comes to my mind for a number of reasons.  I’ve heard it in the Rage Against the Machine song, “Freedom“, and I’ve read about it in social work books.  Anger doesn’t have to be threatening – it’s good to just let it out rather than bottling it in. Just don’t get mad at me though okay?!

I don’t know anyone here well enough yet to see their sadness and their grief but it must exist.  There are reasons for sadness to exist, there are always reasons.

Fortunately for me, I hear laughter in St. Lucia way more than I hear anger. I just don’t always know what people are laughing and yelling about.