Dear friends, family, and the Internet,
Hello from Saint Lucia! I write this post at the end of Pre-Service Training (Phase 1) for Peace Corps in the Eastern Caribbean. Seven weeks ago, thirty-four Volunteers-to-be arrived in Saint Lucia, fresh-faced, eager-eyed, and somewhat paler than they are now, ready to begin a two-year journey in one of the four Caribbean islands that make up our post. Just this past weekend, Trainees departed for their new homes in Dominica, Grenada, Saint Vincent, or elsewhere in Saint Lucia.
With the exception of me, that is. I have the good fortune to be assigned to our training community, Desruisseaux! While my fellow Trainees have spent the past few days packing and setting off in cars, planes, and ferries, I have found myself with ample spare time to reflect and see my community with new eyes. The school I walked by every day during training has become my workplace for the next two years. The community members I’ve passed on the street are now my neighbors, co-workers, students, and future friends. And, to my immense gratitude, the host family that has cared for me for the past seven weeks, and three more to come, will be right up the street for my entire service.
The weekend had its share of sadness as well. Though we’ve known each other less than two months, the intense nature of PST (Pre-Service Training) means that many in our group have formed close friendships with people who will now be living on different islands. The past week has been filled with great anxiety, many hugs, and more than a few tears, even though everyone seems to be happy with their assignments. For me, it was also a strange experience to be left behind, so to speak. Desruisseaux has gotten to know my entire group of Trainees, many of whom are kind, intelligent, motivated, and competent – I definitely have some big shoes to fill.
Monday morning marks the beginning of PST, Phase 2. For those of us remaining, this means learning more about Saint Lucia, additional lessons in Patwa (French Creole), and other island-specific training sessions. There are so many things to look forward to, including spending time with my fellow Saint Lucia Trainees , getting to know the Volunteers who are already here, and eventually, swearing in as Volunteers ourselves!
My most important reflection for the weekend, however, is about what it means to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, in particular our responsibility to convey what we learn about our countries of service to our families and friends back home. The Caribbean is not a region that comes up frequently in America’s national news. I’m embarrassed to say that, during the application process, I had to look at a map to clarify exactly where Saint Lucia was. And by far the most common response I got from people when I explained where I was going was, “So you’ll be on a beach/on vacation for two years?”
Though tourism represents a significant portion of Saint Lucia’s economy, there is so much more to this island than beaches and rum. Part of the flip side: its kind people, energetic music, tasty food (bakes are my new favorite thing), and unique language, a mixture of French vocabulary and African/Carib-based syntax. The other part of the flip side is, of course, the reason why Peace Corps is here. Since 1961, Peace Corps Volunteers have worked in Saint Lucia to support the areas of Youth/Community Development, Health, Agriculture, and Education. EC 89 (our group) is part of the current effort to boost literacy rates in primary school students.
In other words, there is a complexity to the culture of Saint Lucia that you won’t find on a travel brochure. I have only scratched the surface so far and certainly can’t hope to know everything there is to know at the end of two years. However, I look forward to sharing the experience with you!
Hugs from Saint Lucia,
P.S. I will admit that there are some really nice beaches.