May 2015

First Week of Practicum

Before I get into a reflection of my first week at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (“OECS”), I wanted to share a fun beach story.  Other than going for espresso Saturday and Sunday mornings, I don’t take money to the beach (nothing, nada, zip).  This weekend, we were laying in the sand when a friendly gentleman stopped to chat.  He had three large leaves of aloe vera in his hand and explained that he helps people with their sunburns and their livers after drinking too much rum.

He wanted to help me because, apparently, I had sunburned my forehead and shoulders.  He started to peel the aloe vera and I stopped him to say that we had no money with us. “That’s okay, health is more important than money”, he said several times. Then he rubbed what felt like a half-centimetre thick layer of aloe vera juice (thick and gunky juice) on my face, into my hairline and on my shoulders.

When finished, he mentioned that he just needs to make enough money to get back home (another city on the island) and that any amount would do.  I explained again that, “I meant it when I had no money”.

“Even small money is okay”, he said.

I told him again that I didn’t have any money at all with me and that I hope he earns what he needs.  And with that, we tapped fists and he was off with a friendly jester.  I liked that guy, he was fun – but I really had no money at all with me on the beach (nothing, nada, zip).

Okay, onto stories of work.  On my first day of work at the OECS, I went to the main building to meet with a woman from Human Resources.  She did a fantastic job of orienting me along with another person who was starting her new job.  Later, I was shown my office – an office with a desk a phone, wonderful tropical view, air-conditioning and a door.  The office isn’t in the same building as the small team in the Education Development Management Unit (“EDMU”).  In a couple weeks, there should be room for me in the EDMU building.

After lunch, I sat down in my new office.  It felt a little like one of those Seinfeld episodes of George Costanza pretending to work.

Instead of pretending though, I read. I read revised legislation of the Act creating the OECS; I read two years worth of education programming and policy; and I started reading books of statistics.

The next days, I was able to connect my laptop to their network for internet access. I noticed that ,for years, the member countries had been improving education initiatives in many, many ways.  One thing that kept coming to my mind though was that I did not know exactly why kids (especially boys) were dropping out of school. I could not find any academic literature on the subject and my social work education kicked in: we need to ask kids why they are not in school; and we need to ask students why they stayed in school.

I brought this up with the head of EDMU (also my practicum supervisor) and he confirmed the need for research.  He provided steps for me to take leading up to a research proposal – if funding is granted, the OECS and a Caribbean University will conduct the research.  This felt amazing and exciting (and still does) – that I can start something that will hopefully lead to participatory research that would find answers from youth.  This could give voice to the experiences and knowledge of at-risk youth.  This could help The Commission (OECS is also known as ‘The Commission’) set policy that makes it easier for youth to stay in school in ten Caribbean countries.

Sometimes self-doubt kicks in and I wonder, “What the hell am I doing here?”, “I’m so under-qualified”, “I don’t even know about education – I’ve never been a teacher”.  It is at these moments when I try to remember that I am a life-long learner, I’ve experienced a lot of education, I co-founded Helping Youth Through Educational Scholarships (“HYTES”) so kids could attend secondary school in four countries.

Lately, I am also reminded of something an old friend (we recently reconnected on Facebook) said a couple days ago, “you’re living what people dream of”.  I am living one of my dreams and even in times of self-doubt and minor culture shock, I am happy.


Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day to my wife.  We married at a time when fun, experience and motivation were huge. Life and joy seemed effortless. We traveled to amazing countries for experiences that will continue to shape our futures.   I was self-employed and building my business, you became self-employed and grew into an accomplished and wonderfully talented photographer.  We had a beautiful daughter and then a most wondrous son.

Life became painful.  You stood by when it must have been immensely difficult.

I went to school in a rather massive career shift.  And now I am away for the first Mother’s Day since our children were born.  Thank you for allowing this important experience as I finish school.  I so look forward to being with you and the kids when you’re here and when I’m home later this summer.

I look forward to meaningful work – for me, and also so you can take a well-deserved a break.

Happy Mother’s Day to my mom.  You worked hard to raise us. Instead of trying to control me, you let me learn from my mistakes (and I made some doosies) and I am forever grateful.  And our kids love visiting with you – you’re knitting and sewing abilities and more importantly, your laughter, are magical to them.

Happy Mother’s Day to the step-moms. Our kids are so lucky to have you in their lives and I’m pleased that they call you ‘Grandma’.

And to my mother-in-law, you were one of the most accepting people I’ve met.  You accepted a vegan into your cattle-ranching family and you cooked amazing meals that included my way-of-life.  We think of you all the time in our family and I’m so happy you were there to teach our daughter her first set of animal sounds.  Our daughter also happily proclaims that you taught her how to bake cookies (before she was even two-years-old).


17 1/2

One day, I wore a new shirt to work and was feeling all ‘fine’.  Rode the public bus to Castries, rode the OECS bus up the hill to Morne Fortune and was on my way back into town for lunch when the woman seated behind me said, “Harold, I’m going to touch your shirt and you’ll know why soon.”

She showed me the sticker from the back of my collar that had my neck size (17 1/2) and arm length.  They all laughed and said they could tell my wife wasn’t with me.

That was funny at the time.

All week I kept going to Derek Wolcott Square at lunch hoping to catch free performances for Jazz on the Square. They were setting up for free jazz Monday, Tuesday & Wednesday and I got to hear it Thursday and Friday.

There was also two days of Jazz on the Strip in Rodney Bay. I’d check it out on the walk home from the bus and then we walked into town later in the evenings for a bit more fun.

Today we spent lots of time at the beach and got in some swimming.

Rodney Bay Beach Panorama Shot

Rodney Bay Beach Panorama Shot


First Six Days in St. Lucia

We landed at Hewanorra International Airport in the afternoon of April 28, 2015.  While the ground looked a little dry from the air, I felt the warm humidity of St. Lucia as soon as the airplane doors opened (Calgary, Alberta is usually very dry).

After getting our bags and going through customs, we walked outside to a meeting place where many taxi drivers and shuttle-buses asked us if we needed a ride.  We were meeting a nun who runs the Children’s Home where my travel companion (Amanda) will be working for three months – we are both here to for practicums to complete our Master of Social Work degrees.

The nun and another worker from the home arrived and we hopped on board the smallish white van with three rows of seats.  Our welcoming and fun hosts drove us through the country-side out of Hewanorra, through Castries (where we both start working on Monday), and into Rodney Bay to find our apartment.

The kids sent these cute items so I would remember them.

The kids sent these cute items so I would remember them.

Sister A (her name starts with ‘A’) then took us to the grocery store. By that time my head hurt and I couldn’t think straight – dehydration, lack of sleep on over-night flight and need for food.  Once home, I drank lots of water and made some dinner and started feeling better.  I slept blissfully well that night.

The first full day in St. Lucia began as I awoke May 29 and ate cereal for breakfast on the ground-level patio.  I then walked to the beach with Amanda and were pleasantly surprised that the walk was only about two minutes.  On the way, we realized our neighbour adjacent and looking out our back yard is the Cuban embassy – while still tropical-rustic, our area in Rodney Bay is a little more upscale than I expected.

The view from our back deck.

The view from our back deck.

Sister A stopped by mid-morning to drop off a co-worker, Sharon, who rode the bus with us to Castries so we knew where to get on and get off to catch the next bus to work.  As with many smaller countries, buses are not like Calgary city buses but are vans – often smaller than many North American SUVs – that seat about eleven to twelve squished passengers.

When we arrived in Castries, we were instructed not to go down a particular street (danger-alert) but we did walk through a market full of delightful produce – I will get food there after work on Monday.  We hopped onto the next bus to go to the Children’s Home up a hill on a narrow winding road.

At the Home, we hung out for a few hours and met some of the kids.  Having worked in a homeless shelter and having never visited a group home or an actual orphanage, I was pleased that the place really felt like a home rather than a shelter or warehouse. The workers and the kids (ranging in age from 2-months to 18 years) clearly had respectful and fun relationships.

I played video games on a computer with two teenagers who were clearly much better and much faster drivers than I. We also just hung out and watched TV with the kids until Sister arrived and made sure everyone focused on more productive activities.

As we were leaving to head back to Rodney Bay, Sister got word that her 29-year-old sister-in-law had passed away – she had a short intense battle with cancer.  We offered to take the bus home but Sister drove us home anyway saying it was on the way.

On Thursday, I had my first coffee since landing. A tasty morning espresso alone at a beach-side restaurant across from a resort pool.  At home, I was used to drinking three double-espressos before leaving the house and then several coffees while at school or work so skipping a day was something of a big deal.

Food and coffee is expensive here so I bought some “Green Gold Mountain Coffee” made right here in St. Lucia.  Since I do not typically make drip-coffee, I needed to go back later for filters.  I have to say that this coffee is tasty – sweet and floral at the same time.  At $9.60 (Eastern Caribbean Dollars) an espresso is a bit pricey they will be infrequent treats.

When my nine-year-old daughter back home saw the photo I sent of my first on-island espresso of the trip, she wrote:

“This hailey are you having to much coffee again I mean first coffee of the day is okay but you have a lot of coffee besids that I love the perspective of your picture I really miss you”

Hailey has such a memory: I took her with me to a physical once and was honest about my caffeine consumption and, based on the doctor’s response, she feels coffee is dangerous and that I drink to much of the stuff.

Friday was Labour Day in St. Lucia and St. Lucians headed to the beaches – really cool beaches with trees and waves – sort of out-of-reach-beaches for tourists like us without vehicles.

Sister picked us up with her two young nephews (it was their mother who passed a couple days earlier) for sight-seeing.  I am so fortunate that I get to tag-along with them as they orient Amanda to the island.  We hop on board and never quite know what we are doing or where we are going but just sit back and enjoy the experience.

While driving out of Rodney Bay toward Castries, the youngest boy kept feeling my hair and whiskers from the seat behind.  It reminded me fondly of my kids because they sometimes do the same thing.  Amanda taught them “I-Spy” and, just as my kids did when they were younger, the youngest brother would, “I spy the orange sticker” instead of “something orange”.

We picked up Cory on the way and then stopped at The Home to pick up Angie and a couple more boys for a trip to Soufrière.  Cory is a mild-mannered and friendly St. Lucian man and we quickly noticed that the boys at The Home really liked him – he volunteers at The Home once-a-week.

On our way to Soufrière, we stopped along the road for delicious cassava bread. Mine was fruity and sweet, others were salty and most had chocolate bread.

We stopped before reaching Soufrière to get a good view of The Pitons (see below) and then moved on to a garden and the Sulpher Springs where blackened water boils to the surface from a volcano below.

Saturday we beached and Sunday we relaxed (I swam both days as part of my plan on regaining some form of fitness after two years of studying).

Monday I start working at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States and I am nervous. First job outside Canada and need to get there by two buses. I am sure it will be fine and that I will enjoy it – just takes time.

Until tomorrow…Or next time…