St. Lucia

Parigüayo

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”

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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…

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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…

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Friends, Confirmation & Love is Love

Eighty-five percent of Lucians are Catholic and and only 5.9% say they have no religion (Sources 1 & 2). The rest are mostly other Christian denominations and a small number are Rastafarian.

I went to a United Church & Sunday School until age eleven and later in my life consciously decided on atheism.  While I always had difficulty believing the stories in both Testaments, the final decision resulted from the homophobia and neoconservatism of the Christian-right in USA and Canada (there’s also matters of evolution and of earth being several billion years older than 6,000 years of age, etc.).

A few weeks ago, we had friends over for dinner and even my non-religious self was enraptured when our friends sang Grace before we ate our meal (Click the box below for a sample of the sound).

I have come to know several community-engaged, accepting, non-judgmental nuns on the island who and have become good friends with one, Sister Anthonia.

When Sister asked if Amanda and I would speak to a group of youth last Sunday, we jumped at the opportunity – I love seeing new places and communities on the island. The youth had anonymously provided questions for us to answer. My questions pertained to parenthood: Why are parents strict? Why do they limit phone use? What are the roles of parents in the lives of their children?

Click for PDF of slides.

Click for PDF of slides.

Sister Anthonia picked us up and then we picked up Sister Elizabeth. We were ready for the hour-plus drive to Laborie with much friendly and informative conversation. Country music was playing on the radio – Sunday’s in St. Lucia are country music days. Every radio station plays country and roadside pubs and restaurants play country – it was everywhere.

We passed the Hewanorra airport  and stopped in a shanty town area where one of the Sisters used to live. She spoke with several people for a while and then drove on to see some sights.

After sightseeing, we went to Sister’s family home where her mom fed us a delicious homemade lunch complete with coconut water (fresh coconut water is nothing like the kind we get in Canada – it is very tasty in St. Lucia).

Afterwards, we headed to the Catholic church in Laborie. We could immediately hear children singing and clapping from the building we were about to enter. When we entered the building some of the young people changed to a song with the line, “Hello Sisters”. For me, it was all very cool and very welcoming.

When I learned then that our presentations were part of Confirmation lessons for this group of young people, I recall thinking of the irony that I was taking part in this process. As a community worker (and as a fellow human), I knew this day was important and that I needed to respect the Church community AND my own values. I also remembered my own Confirmation as a young boy while actively partaking in Scouts in Manitoba circa 1979-ish.

One of the Sisters started off speaking about careers, career development and how she became a Sister. She spoke of a boyfriend when she was younger (before becoming a nun) that brought about some laughter and a series of questions about a nun with a boyfriend. She welcomed all questions even if they were a bit embarrassing for the adult-aged youth leaders in the room.

I learned that nuns and priests take the vow of celibacy so they can better focus on the community. They are not distracted by their own spouses and children and I thought this was commendable – I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

The next Sister spoke about topics like sexuality in relation to the Church. Of course, it was expected that people wait until marriage to have sex but she did mention that God made humans as sexual beings and stated that we all have urges.

When she got to the part about “Homosexuality and the Catholic Church”, I began listening even more intently. This was when she stated that God makes some people homosexual and that all people should be loved. She paraphrased Pope Francis when stating that homosexual people should not be discriminated against and that they should be accepted as members of the Church community (On homosexuality, the Pope once asked, “Who am I to judge?“).

In my outsider’s view of the Church and its stance on non-procreative-sex, it appears that sexual acts between same-sex couples are no greater a sin than those of heterosexual couples engaging in sex outside of marriage.

While I do not subscribe to specifically religious values of right and wrong, I was enlightened (and impressed) with the progressive stance taken by the Catholic Church on lesbian, gay and bisexual rights. On the way home, I even heard the Sister speak the phrase, “love is love” while conversing in the seats behind me.

Once home, I listened to a Blur song from years before “love is love” became used as phrase to defend LGBTQ* rights.

Notes:

  1. Before (and quite likely now), neither Sister knew of my non-religious self – it never came up in conversation.
  2. If you are wondering what LGBTQ* means, here are a few resources:
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Playing Hooky & Social Justice

While I enjoy the important work of the OECS, I also get to ‘play hooky’ once-a-week for five weeks on a side project.  Amanda (my fellow MSW student & 3-month roommate) works at a children’s home and in the community with Human Services.  She and I are co-creating and co-facilitating an arts-based workshop for secondary-school-age youth to create awareness and ways to avoid or get out of of sexual exploitation.  It includes topics like predation, grooming, drugs, alcohol, gangs, social media, masculinity, femininity, and social justice.

While the program is loosely based on Amanda’s work with Children of the Street in Vancouver, we had to make significant changes to adjust to realities in St. Lucia. Through community meetings, we learned that drug use, gang involvement and prostitution work differently here than in Canada. There are also important cultural differences that I won’t get into for this article.

During the mornings of the lessons, we practice and refine strategies and try to get to the school on time.  Since we do not have our own vehicles here and since children from the home are involved in the lessons, we are dependent on  others for rides. It’s kind of a fun because instead of arriving with time to prepare the class, set up the projector, etc., we get there at the time it the lesson is supposed to begin. In Caribbean-time this does not appear to be a big deal.

Last week, Sister Anthonia explained to Amanda that, “It’s more important to be well-fed than to be on time.”

For me, I kind of thrive on lack-of-preparation but Amanda gets a bit more concerned – she is a diligent registered teacher after-all. I also like observing culture and seeing where the experience takes me – I like going along for the ride.

The lessons are going generally well and we are learning where the program will need adjusting when others take over.  Amanda is trained for acting and she has pushed me out of my comfort zone into acting in front of young people. I am definitely not as talented in this skill but it wasn’t so bad – even if I do end up playing the creepy old dude more-often-than-not.

lesson-photo

Remember when I said I liked going along for the ride? After the lesson, Sister Anthonia came to pick us up. She asked if we had somewhere we needed to be. When we said, “no”, she asked if we wanted to go for a drive to Dennery where she could drop off food at an seniors home.  Of course we were ready for another excursion.

Amanda took this photo on the way to Dennery.

Amanda took this photo on the way to Dennery, St. Lucia.

When we got to the seniors home, I helped carry boxes of food up the stairs from the van.  While inside, a woman reached out her hand and I sat down with her.  She pulled me close and gave me a kiss on the cheek. We sat there holding each other by the arm and watched cricket on the television.  She spoke to me in Patois so I didn’t understand anything except when she repeatedly said, “Jesus is love”.

This was a special moment for me because I was invited to her space and no longer felt like just another interloping white guy from another country where the weather is cold. Sister sat with a blind woman for a bit and we watched the game.

When it was time to go, I explained that we were leaving – she hugged me tighter and then let me go, I shook the spritely gentleman’s hand on her other side and we walked down the hall. There was a 97-year-old woman in bed that Sister talked to on the way out – she passed away a couple days later.

On the way home, we stopped for fruit on the side of the road. I was amazed at the price Sister was able to get for us.  Where I could not buy more than four passion fruit for less than EC$5.00 near our home, she got us a whole bag of about 15 for EC$5.00. In the end we had a shopping bag of passion fruit, mangoes and plantains for EC$20.00 (about $9 Canadian)!

Tomorrow, we have another excursion to another new location. Two sisters invited us to speak to a 50-person church youth group to answer questions they provided anonymously.  My piece is on parenting including reasons why parents are so strict. I don’t think of myself as strict but my kids do call me “mean” when they’re angry so I guess I do know something about the subject.

Other speakers will discuss sexuality from a Catholic perspective – which should be interesting for me (I’m a secularist and think of myself as sex-positive).

Notes on social work, community development and religion:

As a student of social work and a community developer, I think it is important to understand cultural diversity. For me, working and living in a country with strong religious beliefs involves a respect for those beliefs.

In six weeks I have met more nuns in St. Lucia than during my whole life in Canada, and every nun has been friendly, warm and welcoming.  Sister Anthonia has shown me more of this beautiful country than I would have seen on my own. I consider her to be a valued friend and we haven’t even discussed religion. She displays a non-judgmental quality that I strive to attain. The Sisters know and understand community development and St. Lucian culture in ways that I will never know and understand.  I am here to learn.

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