June 2015


During my first month in St. Lucia, I read, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” by Junot Díaz about a boy-turned-young-man and his family living in both the Dominican Republic and New York, USA.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

One word that often comes to mind is ‘parigüayo’. Díaz states that the term came to use during the first US occupation of the Dominican Republic to describe US military personnel who would attend parties and just watch – they didn’t dance, they stood their and watched. The paragüayo is the “the kid who don’t dance, who ain’t got game, who lets people clown him” (Diaz, 2007, p. 21).

Urban Dictionary is much less kind towards the parigüayo where synonyms include chump, punk, loser, bull-shitter, and bad with the ladies.

The word, parigüayo, comes to mind when I am at a party or when I’m with a group of people in St. Lucia (and sometimes back home in Canada). I am often comfortable just watching and soaking in the sites, the sounds, the moves, the smells.  I enjoy talking with people and immersing myself in cultures but I often also like to survey the situation before making my move. And sometimes the music is just too loud to talk and listen.

That’s as far as it goes though, I’m not going to accept the ‘loser’ parts of the definition. I am ‘good with the ladies’ in a platonic sense (I am married you know) and had pretty ‘good game’ when I was younger.  I do like to think that I was always respectful though and consent was always important.

On Friday, we went to a cricket match, Saturday I spent a lot of time with my housemate and on Facetime with Janet and the kids back home. Today when the opportunity arose to meet some new people, I chose to stay back – I needed some alone time.  I went to the beach, swam, sunned, read news, went to the grocery store and am now writing this blog post.

I am also what I consider to be an outgoing-introvert.  I enjoy people and also need consistent alone time. Vincent and Ross (2001) stated that,

“Introverts focus on the inner world of ideas and impressions. Introverts find energy in the inner world of ideas, concepts, and abstractions. They can be sociable but need quiet to recharge their energies.”

I may have identified more with “18 Struggles Only Socially Outgoing Introverts Understand” and I was not outgoing at all when I was depressed. Now that I am healthy and confident, the outgoing part is back and I enjoy being with people – just not all the time.

According to Danielle Durand, “The quality of being outgoing has less to do with an individual’s energy orientation than their self-esteem and confidence. Whether extravert or introvert, as long as an individual feels comfortable and confident in themselves, they will have no trouble being outgoing.”

In preparation for this article, I took a Psychology Today test and was told I am a “The Chameleon”:

Chameleons can adapt to almost any social situation, whether they’re among a throng of partygoers or in reflective solitude. Known to be fairly friendly and gregarious people, Chameleons aren’t hard to like or connect with; they’re good conversationalists, good listeners, and great company. Although they’re more than happy to join a boisterous get-together, they do enjoy some quiet time on their own as well. They’re approachable and relatively unreserved individuals whose presence is neither obtrusive nor inconspicuous.

The test showed that I was close to the middle on scales of disclosure, cognitive orientation, and self-disclosure. On ‘need for space’, I scored an 80 which isn’t surprising in the least – I need alone time, I need space.

While I can relate to the above terms and definitions, I don’t hold a lot too much stock in the above because I didn’t dig too much in the science.  Still, I know who I am in ways that took 40-plus years to figure out.

All that said, while I am atheist and evidence-based, I still enjoy a horoscope now-and-then (just for fun). I have felt much affinity for what is often said about Sagittarius.

Actually, after reading, a couple descriptions, I no longer identify as much as I did decades ago.  I do relate to the following (even with unscientific conclusions) though:

  • From Sagittarius.com
    • “very positive person and a great listener”
    • “always in search for truth and knowledge”
    • “They can go crazy trying to understand different cultures and tradition but enjoy how it keeps them on the toes.”
  • From zodiac-signs-astrology.com
    • “the philosopher and the explorer…in their ever eternal search for wisdom”
    • “Freedom is…important”
    • “‘live and let live’ policy”
    • “has problems finishing some projects”


Canadian Nationalism & Racism

Captain Canuck and -isms

Canada Day

Canada Day

As a child, I felt some patriotism – I was a big fan of Captain Canuck and I liked attending Canada Day fireworks in Portage la Prairie. I remember a time when a box of fireworks caught fire and created a spectacular flurry explosions in the air.  This also meant that Island Park bridge might catch fire. If memory serves (and sometimes it doesn’t), my father, a volunteer firefighter at the time, helped put that fire out before the bridge was damaged.

As with many Canadians, I tended to define Canada in opposition to the United States. My affinity to Captain Canuck was possibly a result of Captain America.

I was too young and unaware during the Reagan years to understand the damaging aspects of Reaganomics and Thatcherism. During the second Bush years (GW years), it was easy to feel superior as a Canadian. While our government was still neoliberal, Bush was more neoconservative and quite imperialistic (note: in my view, neoliberalism favours small government and fosters economic – & social – inequality while neoconservatism adds big prisons and big military combined with imperialistic intentions of spreading neoliberalism under the guise of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’).

As I aged and learned more about my country and about world politics, I became less and less patriotic.  And then the Harper years began in Canada and Obama soon rose to power in the United States.  By Canadian standards, Obama is still right-wing but Harper and his team worked (and still work) to make Canada ‘unrecognizable.’ I used to think he intentionally echoed the Bush’s politics but maybe – with his peculiar affinity for Canada’s monarchist roots – it’s the Thatcher years he really admires.

Nowadays, I usually celebrate Canada Day with family and neighbours and I cheer for Canada in the Olympics and in women’s World Cup football.  Even then I feel unease though… While patriotism and exceptionalism can create global inequality, international tensions and war, communities and sports are, in many ways, peaceful and unifying.

While living in St. Lucia, it was even easy to cheer for their national team at a recent cricket match.  I enjoyed the fact that the audience included many passionate – albeit peaceful – fans of both teams.

Canada’s Flag

Canada's Flag

Canada’s Flag

Aesthetically, Canada’s flag is pretty – red, white and maple. The flag turned fifty in February which, on some levels, protects itself from the stigma of the Confederate flag of southern USA states.

The Confederate flag has recently taken additional heat for the echoes of the racist roots of USA. While slavery also existed under the current US flag, the Confederate flag has become a symbol for racism and many are justifiably wanting the flag taken down from public view.

When thinking of the Canadian flag and Canada’s extremely racist colonialist roots, in many ways, Canada’s flag escapes that symbol of racism because of its young age. Slavery, the brutal residential school system, segregation (aka, apartheid), dishonoured treaties and more were all created under the Union Jack (Britain’s flag).

The Canadian flag was first used in 1965. The Portage la Prairie residential school was not closed until 1975 and the last of Canada’s residential schools operated until 1996.  Systemic racism continues to oppress indigenous peoples living within Canada’s borders and our governments continue to ignore the need for an inquiry into missing and murdered indigenous women (info on MMIW at aptn.ca, CBC.ca, Amnesty.ca). It is for these reasons that, perhaps, Canada’s flag should not escape acting as a symbol of racism.


Residential School System

Against the Grain (click to view)

Against the Grain (click to view)


"Indian Horse" by Richard Wagamese

“Indian Horse” by Richard Wagamese

Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women on Twitter


Zouks vs Amazon Warriors

Last night, my roommate and I went to our first cricket match (thanks to Amanda’s family friends who hooked us up with tickets) at the Beauséjour Stadium. The St. Lucia Zouks hosted the Guyana Amazon Warriors in game six of the 2015 Caribbean Premier League.  The stadium holds 13,000 people and neither of us knew much about cricket – I knew there were players, a wicket, a ball and a bat but I didn’t know how it was played.

When we arrived, the seats were about a third full and all were wet from rain.  We found seats pretty close to the field and watched workers remove the gigantic tarps from the field to prepare it for the match.  Part of the tarps’ function are to keep the natural grass playing field from getting too wet in the rain.  I think the machine in the photo below is used to soak up water.

After the first few pitches, it rained again. And it rained hard. The game was stopped and the field was again covered with tarps so large that one could cover more than half of Calgary Folk Festival tarps at main stage (maybe). We took cover under the bleachers where fans continued the revelry of the social event that is cricket.

An hour or so later and we were back in our seats watching the game and most every seat was now taken. There were two young men in front of us and while they were both drinking whiskey from a plastic water bottle (commonly seen in the stands), one was more interested in hitting on women and the other helped teach us a little about “the greatest game of all” (cricket-rules.com). Listen to this clip as the pitcher runs and makes his throw to the batter in front of the wicket – feel the excitement.

We were also seated close to the Guyanese cheer-leading squad. To a white Canadian like myself, who spent the first half of his life in the Manitoba prairies, the things Caribbean/Latin American cheerleaders could do with their butts while dancing to loud music was entirely enthralling. The video below doesn’t display that particular talent but is still most impressive.

Okay back to the game.  We were enjoying the match and the excitement of the announcer and the fans. That enjoyment only increased as we started gaining an understanding of cricket.  I now understand why millions of people are so passionate for this game and watching it live is truly thrilling.

I was happy to see a work colleague from the OECS at the game and we visited for a bit. He moved here from Germany to work on renewable energy policy and initiatives for the area. St. Lucia only has about 170,000 people living on the island (not including tourists) but it still feels cool when I run into someone I know – makes me feel at home.

The game didn’t end until after midnight and we weren’t sure where to find a bus to make our way home so we considered ourselves lucky that my colleague offered to drive us home.  Turns out that he was a competitive volleyball player in Germany – he played at the national level.  I might just take him up on his offer and join him for pick-up beach volleyball that happens weekday afternoons after work and weekend mornings north of Castries. Then again, I haven’t played since the kids were born…


Research & Gender

Research on Education & a Workshop on Gender Awareness

I started my practicum at the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (“OECS“) seven weeks ago as part of the Education Management Development Unit (“EMDU“). In addition to providing input on policy, data for their upcoming educational digest and researching youth programming for member countries, I have been working on a research proposal.

Today I submitted the first 13-page draft to a supervisor for feedback. While I have written thousands of website and branding proposals and my last practicum included many stages of research, this is my first research proposal.  I used a paper by Hester Klopper as a basis for the structure of my proposal.  Klopper’s paper is on qualitative research and mine is for mixed-methods with open-ended interviews and surveys.

Caribbean countries have created many programs to improve the quality of education and there are still too many young people leaving school before graduating secondary school. The purpose of the research I am proposing is to discover the reasons why most students stay in school and the reasons others leave school early.  I believe many answers will be provided by asking students and teachers and that those answers can be used to create evidence-based policy for use in the ten OECS member countries.

The other thing that has me excited this week involves the five-week awareness program for preventing sexual exploitation. This week is on media, culture, gender and consent and I love discussing all those things.

Click to view slides in PDF format.

Click the image to view slides in PDF format.  Click here for the notes.

A big component of this workshop is a gender activity for femininity and masculinity based loosely on the “Act Like a Man Box” described by Paul Kivel’s book, “Men’s Work: How to Stop the Violence That Tears Our Lives Apart“, and from a Charlie Glickman workshop I attended a couple years ago.

As examples of people who do not conform to gender norms, I also used images of Eddie Izzard, Sinead O’Connor, Boy George, Grace Jones and Conchita Wurst.


Hey White Boy!

This morning, as I walked past a market area in Castries, from somewhere in a small crowd of people, I heard, “Hey white boy!”

I turned because – as is often the case – I was the only white person in the area. A man sporting dreadlocks somewhere between his mid-twenties and mid-thirties asked, “You okay?”

I gave him the universal thumbs-up symbol with my right hand and said something like, “Yes I am. Have a good day.”

I think it has to do with the island’s French history that it is common to ask, “You good?”, “You alright?”, “You okay?” where French speakers would ask, “Ça va?”

Okay, back to being the ‘white boy’. While that is the first time hearing that label since arriving seven weeks ago, I do recall being referred to as, “white man” or “white guy” once or twice. I also regularly get asked for money…

There’s a man I often see in town who always approaches me with a fun, friendly and somewhat loud, “Hey buddy you gonna’ sponsor me today?” and “Jesus will bless you”.

I head into downtown Castries about once-a-week for lunch (when there are no leftovers in the fridge and I run out of time to make a sandwich). I was sitting down eating a felafel (I love felafel) in front of the take-out window last week when a man approached me for money – he had approached me before.  I do not usually give money – I am not wealthy, I am here working for free as part of my schooling, and I have a family back home. This young man proceeded to tell me that I told him I would buy him lunch last time we spoke. I looked up at him and said, “I did not say that.”

The conversation was getting heated and he would not take, “No, sorry” for an answer. He said, “you’re not sorry, you come here from your country because you don’t like something back home and you act the same way here.”

I knew, even then, that this young man was hungry and that he was angry because of that hunger but I was also getting angry. I looked up at him again and quietly said, “You do not know me.” He said a number of things afterwards…

He suddenly started backing off into the alley and yelling to the shop owner and workers. He said something derogatory about Syrians and mentioned that they were weak and that he was strong while pushing his chest out and his arms spread wide, “I’m from Colombia and my father is Venezuelan, I’m strong!” .

Race, racism and oppression are often in my mind. I feel unease writing this posting because I am privileged – I am a white man from Canada. While I have experienced poverty and periods of hunger to the point of losing weight, I haven’t been forced to live that way for periods of time lasting more than a year. I haven’t left a country seeking refuge. I have a reasonable expectation of finding meaningful work when I am finished my practicum in St. Lucia. I have always had a home. I have never had to sleep outside, in the streets, or in the bush, or on the beach.

Play That Funky Music White Boy

Play That Funky Music White Boy

Being called “white boy” doesn’t feel like racism. Racism works differently in the Caribbean where white colonizers and slave owners left a long time ago. The vast majority of St. Lucians are of African descent and some are of Indian descent. The vast majority of white people are tourists – and tourists tend to like living in their own cultures even while traveling.

Like any country, there are systems of oppression that work against certain communities. And, as with Canada, that oppression creates long-term poverty and hunger. Oppression also creates anger and resentment among both the oppressed and oppressors.

I also want to point out that the vast majority of Lucians I meet do not make mention of my skin – except maybe to remind me of the importance of sunscreen. This country is warm and welcoming in so many ways.

I am fortunate to have this experience. It makes me think. And I am thinking…I know this posting became a bit disjointed and rambling…I am going to think about that too…