- Posted February 16, 2011 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
50 years of the Peace Corps
When Life Gives You Guavas...
My decision to join the Peace Corps was not something that I had planned for my whole childhood. I had not aspired to be a Peace Corps Volunteer since I was young and frankly, didn't know much about it. The Peace Corps information booth was at all the career fairs in college, but I usually just passed it by. My first year out of college, I was teaching special education; I loved helping people, loved my students, but there was a travel bug I could not shake. I started researching overseas volunteer opportunities but would shy away at the 2-year commitment of Peace Corps. I finally decided to just learn more. After my first information session I was sold! Ideally, I would travel to rural sub-Saharan Africa to live in a mud hut and work on public health initiatives. I could see it now...in merely 2 years, I would revitalize global health and the new hospital (built by my community) would bear my name. And then I woke up.
I was invited to serve in the Eastern Caribbean for special education. I tested out my willingness to serve where I was most needed and accepted the invitation eagerly. When I left Chicago, I only knew I would be training in St. Lucia and that my final placement would be determined during my Pre-Service Training period. After almost a month in Babonneau, St. Lucia, I would embark to Grenada, a small dot of a country in the South Eastern Caribbean--only 100 miles off the coast of Venezuela. Vamanos! Nope. No Spanish spoken there...my wonderful Spanish skills from elementary school through college would just have to keep collecting dust.
Grenada soon became my home...or my home away from home as I told my family and friends. I dove in teaching special education to students with visual impairments and learning disabilities. I traded in my Spanish skills to learn Braille. I partnered with a local children's home to start an adolescent girls' empowerment group to teach life skills, I coordinated with the national disability organization to build on advocacy and like all Peace Corps Volunteers in the Caribbean, I taught HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. I worked with truly dedicated and motivated people. Their commitment inspires me regularly.
When I wasn't "working", I got involved in local singing and theater groups where I met some of my best friends. I learned how to cook West Indian delicacies. I perfected my "wining" and Caribbean dance skills and learned what it meant to be Grenadian. I learned that “liming” really just meant hanging out, and sometimes, that’s all you did. I became an expert at "switch-backs" on winding town roads, learned to "steeups" when I was irritated, perfected my ability to turn the other way when someone made kissing noises or asked for my hand in marriage. I learned to be laid back and that everything happened “just now”…which is another way of saying, “not anytime soon”. I embraced the carefree pace of life. Most importantly, though, I learned that it was really me that was given the gift to be able to live in Grenada for 2 years to volunteer and become part of an incredible and embracing culture. I was always met with open arms.
When we arrived in Grenada in August of 2005, it was a mere year after Hurricane Ivan, a Category 5 nightmare, devastated the island. Many of my neighbors lost almost everything...but the one thing no one could take from them was the very thing they shared proudly: their dignity. I would often meet people along the road smiling and singing...and when I would inquire, their reasoning was that they were happy to be alive.
I've been home for almost 3.5 years now. Too quickly I got scooped back up into the American dream of long work hours and materialism. I feel very fortunate for all the opportunities I have in the States and for an economic situation many of my Grenadian neighbors would only dream of. However, whenever the stresses of every day life creep up...I try and remember life in Perdmontemps, a town that literally translates to" wasting time". I remember the easy pace of life and appreciation for all things large and small. My physical home might be in Chicago...but Grenada is always in my heart.