I liked Tim Duncan when he played basketball, but I found I really connected with him and his love of the Caribbean with his recent post in The Players’ Tribune “Don’t Forget About the Islands”about living through Hurricane Hugo when he was growing up on St. Croix. He personalized his home for his readers–St. Croix wasn’t just some random place on the map that got hit by a nasty hurricane in need of help. While I didn’t grow up in the Caribbean, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Eastern Caribbean on the island of Antigua from 1992-94 and have stayed connected to the island, as well as this beautiful region of the world. While also not a millionaire basketball player, I do want to encourage people to remember this region of the world and to help out in the aftermaths of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, helping to rebuild islands and countries that have been devastated. If I can write a couple of posts that help with this goal, it is a win. This post is to set the stage for my service, revising a post written in 2015, Peace Corps Reflections.
While I was going through the Peace Corps application process during 1991-early 1992, it was assumed I would head to a newer post in Eastern Europe. I was open to wherever, but I was graduating with a degree in secondary education with certification to teach English and countries like Ukraine, Poland and the Stans (Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, etc.) were requesting business and English teachers. However, when Peace Corps Medical found out that I had asthma, plans changed drastically. A number of the newly serving volunteers in Eastern European countries were experiencing respiratory issues with the pollution and cold weather and so they were sending those with known asthma elsewhere, including me. I graduated from Northern Michigan University (where there was a lot of cold weather!) in December 1991, and during the winter of 1992, while I was ski bumming and working as a ski check girl at Keystone Mountain in Colorado, I was offered assignments in Thailand (leaving in September), Kenya (leaving in October) and Antigua in the Eastern Caribbean (leaving in July). I chose Antigua mainly because of the departure date. I was truly concerned that other things would come up in my life if I waited to join the Peace Corps until fall.
And We Are Off!
We were called EC58 and there were around 60 of us in our group, heading ultimately to different islands including Antigua, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, Union Island, St. Vincent and St. Lucia. We started our service on July 12, 1992, meeting in Miami for what is called Staging, spending two days making introductions, getting shots and preparing to leave the country. Such an interesting, diverse mix of people in our group, from all over the US.
We flew from Miami to St. Lucia for 6 weeks of what is called Pre-Service Training and I remember sitting next to a Cuban businessman who gave me his version of Castro and the Cuban Revolution during our direct flight. I sure didn’t know Fidel Castro had attended Harvard and played decent baseball.
When we arrived at the Hewanorra International Airport, Peace Corps Volunteers and Staff welcomed us with signs.
We loaded onto large buses with all of our 80 pounds of luggage (each) and drove into the capital city of Castries to meet our homestay families.
We stayed with Homestay Families during our 6 weeks on St. Lucia and mine were spent with the wonderful couple, Mr. and Mrs. Steele, and two members of their extended family. I had a bedroom to myself and was included in many of the family’s activities.
We had training sessions Monday thru Friday, giving us not only a chance to train for our programs, get a start on learning local dialects or patois, and learn about the ins and outs of local culture, but also bond with the rest of the volunteers in EC 58. This meant we would have new friends to visit and stay with when we island hopped on vacations and for workshops during our service. Great times, but it sure was hot!
After 6 weeks of Pre-Service Training, we headed off to our separate islands for another couple of weeks of more island specific training, meeting the ‘seasoned’ volunteers who had already served a year, living with another family of homestays, meeting our counterparts, exploring the island and finding living situations for ourselves.
We wrapped up this period with a formal swearing in ceremony.
And there we were, officially Peace Corps Volunteers!!!!!