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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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.

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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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Father’s Day, Aboriginal Day & Solstice

June 21st, 2015 is: Father’s Day; National Aboriginal Day; and it’s also the first official day of summer for those of us in the northern hemisphere. I just checked online and it’s also United Nations International Day of Yoga.

Father’s Day

I am a father and I am not perfect, and neither was my father. Amongst that imperfection in my life, is the perfection of knowing that I love my kids and that my father loves me.  While I do not recall ever hearing my father say he loves me, my kids get annoyed because they think I tell them too often, in both relationships – there is love and (as far as I can tell) it is unconditional.

This year, I am half-way through a three-month absence. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity of completing my MSW with a practicum in St. Lucia and I am also feeling guilty for being away.  I know this time is difficult for my kids and for their mom and I look forward to when we are together again.  I look forward to being a dad who is more in-the-present with my wonderful young children.

I look forward to continuing a tradition of canoeing that started when my own father was young.  As a child, I canoed with my father in Delta Marsh, on lakes, and on a trip down the Assiniboine River. As an adult, I enjoy river tripping and whitewater canoeing. As a father – with my children – I enjoy safer paddles on the Glenmore Reservoir, lakes and slow rivers.

National Aboriginal Day

As written on a Government of Canada webpage, National Aboriginal Day “is a special day to celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures and outstanding achievements of First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples in Canada.” June solstice was chosen for this day because it holds significance to many indigenous cultures within and around Canada’s borders.

While celebration is important, I am also thinking of the 200+ years of oppressive colonialism that is too often ignored by way too many Canadians.  I am thinking of the horrible legacy of residential schools, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.

There are also issues pertaining to Canada’s ‘Fathers of Confederation‘. While they played important unifying roles for Canada as part of the British Commonwealth and they may have been excellent fathers for their own children, many (maybe all) were sexist racists who established a country that was intended to favour white men (not women and not the people who lived and thrived before European occupation).

Note: I write this with acknowledgement that I am a white male and that I am not merely an innocent  bystander in areas of oppression.

First Day of Summer

I won’t go into this too much, but for us in the northern hemisphere, June 21 is the longest day of the year and it is the first official day of summer. And summer is my favourite Canadian season.

While solstice holds much more significance to cultures and peoples all over the world, right now summer is on my mind.

 International Day of Yoga

I could pretend that I am an enlightened yoga enthusiast but my only experience with yoga is non-spiritual therapeutic yoga for those with back injuries. That experience and the experience of seeing so many lovely people in yoga pants while studying at Phil & Sebastian coffee shop in Marda Loop (sorry folks, I don’t have photos).

Yoga is much more than trendy recreation and here are some resources:

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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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