(Maddy and I goofing at the pool)
Well we’re done with our physical involvement with the project. As we’ve said, this is by no means an end to Maddy and Tim’s Project for Peace, and as such is by no means an end to this blog – we’ve still got signs to finish, fundraise for, and send over. We’ll be (soon) turning the signs into an online program for students across the island. Jem will be using our lesson plans in his classes. And of course, we’ll share with you how the actual building progresses as the progress is shared with us.
Also as we’ve said… this is awesome. The project was designed first and foremost to last long past these two months, and we have every reason to believe, now, that it will!
In the meantime, Maddy and I are living it up – me sitting with my gangly 13-year-old ghost and revisiting the (now-altered) geography of a seminal and beautiful past. This is where Goldie would leave iguana carcasses! There used to be so many potholes here! Wait… they put a roof over the playground?? Oh my goodness you could never get this product when we lived on island. Etc etc etc. It’s enlightening in a way I never expected – having spent 2 years of college throwing around the word ‘development’ like it was something I understood, I’m only for the first time seeing its many facets in action.
One of the major takeaways for me is that the best way to learn is to listen, not just to the wikipedia pages you find on google or when asking questions, but sitting down and fading into the surrounding foliage and letting people talk about what they want to talk about. And after doing a lot of listening the most striking pattern I’ve noticed is that Development (which happens everywhere but is especially noticeable on a tiny island-nation with a strikingly active political culture) is never linear. Development is listening to five different opinions and realizing that they’re all ‘right’. One man tells you about the ever-increasing corruption of Parliament, and the next tells you how much more honest everything is nowadays, and the woman next door tells you about how nice it is that Dominica has decent roads now and the woman down the street is furious that the Chinese built the roads and not Dominicans and her sister tells you that the roads are a terrible curse for family life on island.
Another lesson I’ll probably never stop learning is that you cannot characterize a foreign country. I lived on this relatively miniscule island for two years as a child and came away “knowing” Dominica. Then I returned this summer and spent two months on the other side of the nation, and decided that Now, Now I Understand This Place. And for our final few days I’ve come somewhat full-circle, living momentarily where I lived long ago – and again am forced to revisit any concrete notions of Dominica. I could spend my whole life on the island, moving from village to village and job to job and friends to friends, and still have no cohesive understanding of the place.
It’s an important realization. People all around the world have Positions, Opinions, they know Right from Wrong and This from That. And we must! To live is to decide, to differentiate, to build a world-view. But those world-views are not exclusionary, and certainly not objective. There’re 7.5 billion world-views and each of them holds a grain of truth.
Today Maddy and I trailed our feet on the tile of a pool, snorkeled in the ocean over a sea of silver fish (easily millions of them), and ate a dinner of lionfish and caribbean lobster at a beautiful restaurant with some of my family’s dearest Dominican friends. Everything felt like a dream, but also more real than much of my quotidian life.
There’s a quote that’s haunted me since I read it in mid-June. Travel and international work is, as I said at the very beginning, so very much affecting for the traveler, and not always in a narrow, tourist-of-the-world or project-worker kind of way. And one of my broader and more significant take-aways is this:
“Upon waking in the morning, think to yourself, ‘I am awake and in a dream.’ When you enter the kitchen, recognize it as a dream kitchen. Pour dream milk into dream coffee. ‘It’s all a dream,’ you think to yourself, ‘this is a dream.’ Remind yourself of this constantly throughout the day.”
- Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, “Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep”
Wow, is it really day 62? Counting the days makes me feel like Tom Hanks in “Castaway” only my companion is Tim instead of Wilson the beach ball.
Alas, it is our last week here, and plans, always fickle, have changed again, I think for the better. Yesterday we were contacted by some family friends of Tim’s, the Hawley’s, who have graciously invited us to spend our remaining days on the Nature Island at their home in Portsmouth. After a long day of work tying grass, nothing sounded quite so nice as the promise of clean sheets, a week of decent food, and a little time for ourselves to unwind and reflect on these wonderful yet hectic last two months.
(Tim and I cook a dinner of quinoa, vegetable, and chicken stir fry in the Hawley’s kitchen. Their apartment is right above the one Tim’s family lived in seven years ago, and it was so fun to see his reaction to his old home: “The hibiscus tree is gone!” “That house is NEW!” “This is where Goldy killed a bird one time!”)
Too many words about the project need spilled to include them all here, in this more personal post, so many of the grittier details will come later in a more developed project post. I will say that we walked away from 3 Rivers this morning knowing that we had accomplished all we possibly could in two months. The frame is up, the wood and bamboo cut, the grass tied, the stones for the floor collected, and all that remains is to band the pieces together. We have every faith that Jem will see the project through, and are so excited for the many wonderful classes and field trips our building will facilitate. The building, the wind turbine, the solar batteries, and our lesson plans and signs are all part of an important foundation for renewable energy and sustainability education in Dominica.
(Clambering onto the top beam of our nearly finished building was a surprisingly terrifying and rewarding moment. We really built this!)
One fond memory from our last weekend in Rosalie was volunteering to help clean Rosalie Beach. We connected with Judy, a local veteran of the Peace Corps, and together we slapped on our gloves and cleansed the sundry beach debris of bottle caps, straws, bits of string, myriad chunks of shattered plastic, and a couple other very odd items including a few knife handles and a small strainer. The day was hot but the ocean breeze provided a welcome respite from several days of our hackneyed grass cutting ritual (carried out from within the armor of our rain jackets that unfortunately doubled as sweatsuits). It was also a wonderfully simple way of connecting with community members outside of 3 Rivers.
(Tim sporting his gloves and trash collection bag on Rosalie beach. We volunteered to help clean the beach after connecting with Judy, a veteran of the Peace Corps who now avidly participates in Sea Turtle conservation and environmental efforts in the Rosalie area. Myriad bits of plastic and other non-degradable refuse wash up on the beach each day as part of the human ecological footprint).
It is getting late and I am tired so I will leave off reiterating that I am SO excited to relax and enjoy the island for the last week. Tim and I feel so connected to this beautiful place and know that a few days in a more modern setting will ease the transition back to life outside the jungle.
(The truly splendid view of the sun setting over the ocean from the Hawley’s porch. I only wish I could snag a few pictures of the stars!)
That is all for now! I’m hoping to do a few more updates over the coming days, preferably with an emphasis on the project and pictures we have yet to share.
Much love to all of our readers and supporters,
Finally, a chance to update the blog!
(Waiting for the ferry to Guadeloupe! He was more excited than he looks.)
I think Tim has covered many of the things we have discussed over the past week or so (Alas, chances to share these thoughts on the blog have been few and far between!), so I will try and keep things fresh!
One of the things we have discussed at length has been our desire to convey that our experience here is in no way limited to simply learning how to build a Kalinago style building! Yes, the gathering of materials and construction of the educational hut has been a huge part of our focus and we have inevitably dedicated most of our daytime working hours to its construction. Still, I think it would be travesty to exclude from this blog the myriad other learning that has taken place in the larger classroom of Rosalie forest, the streets and busses of Roseau, and in the wild and wonderful depths of Dominica’s pristine nature.
For the sake of time, I too shall include a list! A short account of the unique opportunities and learning experiences we have had during our stay:
- Loads of cooking: we have had the joy of digging our fingers into Dominica’s rich assortment of delicious fruits, vegetables, roots, and spices. Jem’s property alone harbors pineapples, star fruit, guava, guava berries, a local vegetable called dasheen, water apples, bananas, and coconuts. We have also experimented with fresh ginger, cinnamon, Dominican sweet potatoes (amazing!), and sweet local plantain.
- Introduction to Eco-tourism: It’s sometimes easy to forget that 3 Rivers is a functional hotel, partially because summer here is actually the off-season, and partially because we are usually very preoccupied with our building. Still, we have had a number of opportunities to engage in typical hotel management routines, including cleaning rooms, checking in guests, and giving tours. In fact, one of our firsts introductions to 3 Rivers was a crash course in sustainable hotel management, including an introduction to 3 Rivers’ blackwater waste management system, rainwater collection tanks, solar and wind generated electricity, food composting system, and a variety of other sustainable construction features.
- Introduction to conservation on the island: Since coming to Dominica we have consciously sought out and/or serendipitously encountered opportunities to learn about Dominica’s unique wilderness. Known as the nature island of the caribbean, Dominica has one of the most diverse arrays of flora, bird, and insect life in the world. By exploring Dominica’s Trois Pitons National Park, familiarizing ourselves with Rosalie Beach’s Sea Turtle conservation initiative, and talking at length with knowledgeable individuals like Jem, Isaac (a friend with nearly exclusive expertise on Dominica’s anthropological history), Simon (the local turtle expert), Lincoln and the boys, and various Peace Corps and fellow volunteers serving on island, we have gained an invaluable, though likely incomplete, understanding of the Dominican people’s commitment to the preservation of its unique wilderness. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to check Out Dominica’s Sea Turtle Conservation Organization here.
- Amateur bar tending experience: this almost never resulted in the customer getting what they actually wanted.
- Amateur photography experience: We’re working on it!
- Amateur blogging and social media outreach experience: Hey, some people read this blog right?
- Self-initiated reading challenge: Between the two of us we have read over 14 full length books (plus some poetry anthologies and one really ridiculous and purportedly non-fiction book we found about aliens).
- A truly concerted effort to improve our French and French-creole: While we have learned so much more than we could or would ever want to share on this blog, a few of our favorite (French) phrases have included: Sans blague! (no kidding), O la vache! (Oh my gosh! or, literally, O the cow!), and l’aventure continue! (the adventure continues).
Of course this is only a short list and, as Tim mentioned, we are learning far too much to ever practically convey on this blog, though we are certainly committed to sharing as much as possible! Some of these things clearly have a more personal value than others that may fall more neatly into the category of potentially marketable skills. More than anything, I think I am amazed at the variety of this experience and the seemingly endless, multifarious facets of learning I encounter every day. Whether or not I ever get to put those new bar tending skills into action, I am so grateful to be one of the leaders of a project that I believe is worthwhile and that will have a lasting positive impact.
(Enjoying fresh and delicious coconut ice cream with Pauline, Elene, and Maxime at a beach near Bouillante in Guadeloupe).
(A church in Roseau, Dominica’s capital. It had a beautiful exterior and stained glass windows).
(I spent nearly an hour last night playing with the zoom and exposure on my camera. The result: one stunning picture of the full moon on an unusually clear night.)
That is all for now! Fingers crossed that we will be able to include more updates over the coming two weeks, as I’m sure it will be filled with exciting progress. We are really down to the wire now and ready to give this project all of the energy we have left.
Hello to all!
Maddy and I have been doing a lot of retrospective thinking recently… how has the project gone, do we regret anything, what have we learned? etc.
The conversations have been really, really good ones to start having. Some decisions: we don’t regret much at all, really, because seeing Things We Could Have Done Differently requires hindsight, and we’re very proud of the work we’ve put in; the project, which was intentionally over-ambitious, has actually gone shockingly well; we’ve learned more than we could ever possibly say.
One thing we’ve also been examining is Stuff Gone Wrong. A huge part of international volunteering is adapting to unexpected change, and allowing plans to melt away in the face of reality. The world, it turns out, rarely adheres to any individual’s plans. Our project is no exception, and at this point we can really start to think about the specific challenges and changes we’ve faced.
AND NOW: THINGS THAT HAVE GONE WRONG FOR OUR PROJECT AND HOW WE HAVE ADAPTED TO THESE CHANGES, A LIST :
1. Jem has had way fewer guests, which = less money
- reason: this tourism slump is island-wide, and also apparently global
- result: fewer people = much more Construction Time needed
- result: fewer experts = more mistakes made
2. The building is bigger than originally planned
- reason: those who will actually use it decided that it would be more usefulif it were larger
- reason: those who will actually use it should have more say over what it will look like
- result: bigger structure = much more Construction Time needed
3. More Construction Time = less Volunteer Education Time
- reason: if Construction Time increases, then (a) less of the building can be made or (b) less volunteer education can happen
- since the building allows for years and years of education, we decided that finishing it was more important than a few lessons
- this is in line with our personal philosophy that creating lasting infrastructure and promoting long-term local development is more important than short-term community service
4. Less Volunteer Education Time = chance to do something better
- reason: an increase in Construction Time doesn’t mean we have to onlydo construction
- result: we decided that educational signs and educational material (to be used both in the structure and by teachers around the island) would be a great replacement for the now-defunct lessons we’d originally planned
5. Less funds = less power
- reason: less oil for the generator
- reason: the solar panels have been unexpectedly fritzy
- DON’T WORRY – the stuff we bought works great. some of the older parts just need to be tinkered with so that everything works together.
- result: our computer use has been unexpectedly limited
- result: work on educational signs has slowed accordingly, because it requires lots of computer use
- this is ok, though! there’s no deadline on the signs or the materials, because lessons won’t start until mid-fall, so Maddy and I can finish this part after we get back.
AND NOW: A SUMMARY OF THE LAST FEW DAYS
(our first morning in guadeloupe, drinking tea out of a bowl (genius!!) and eating Good Bread with Nutella Spread and generally lavishing)
Gah! After a few really rewarding and exciting days of roof thatching, we spent the weekend in Guadeloupe to visit Maxime, Pauline and Elene, friends we met when they came to 3 Rivers about a month ago.
It was a really nice change of pace… while Maddy and I are very happy with our living situation at 3 Rivers, it is a place of few creature comforts for volunteers. This was absolutely expected and has been in many ways hugely refreshing. Truly a magical and beautiful place, do not get me wrong. But a weekend in comparative luxury, after 6 weeks of damp uncleanliness and hard hard work, was exactly what we needed.
- French food (cheese! wine! bread! need I say more?)
- the unbelievable, overwhelming hospitality of our incredible hosts
- snorkeling with sea turtles
- seeing the Pointe du Chateau, a beautiful land formation with stunning white-sand beaches nearby and crystalline water
- being surrounded by people who generally spoke almost no English
(the easternmost tip of the Pointe du Chateau)
It was so nice to see another side of the Caribbean. Guadeloupe is very European (it is, of course, literally a part of France), and much more developed than Dominica. No sense in ranking the two islands… too different for fair comparison. And I cannot exaggerate how wonderful our hosts were – the hugest of thanks and love to Maxime, Elene and Pauline.
Not so fun: the ferry ride both ways. Never before have I been seasick but boy did I get seasick. Even so, when it wasn’t rainy, standing on the breezy balcony and watching the ocean was thrilling.
(from left to right: Me, Pauline, Elene, Maxime, and Maddy, posin’ happy in the mist of a waterfall we technically weren’t allowed to hike to)
We were only in Guadeloupe for less than 48 hours, but spent most of 3 full days traveling to and from. On Sunday, when we got back, we found Roseau transformed into a complete ghost town. Nobody in the streets, no bustling traffic, no buses home.
Rather than take a hugely-overpriced taxi back to 3 Rivers, we found a cheap guesthouse in town and spent the night exploring this totally transformed city. It was a magical night, really – sunset over the empty oceanside, drifting through a labyrinth of softy lit streets, Chinese cuisine by the glow of a red lamp, hours of uninterrupted musings on our time in Dominica, French culture, and life.
Next morning we did some final Tourist Shopping, found a bus home, which turned into a strange 3.5 hour affair involving multiple confusing trips into nearby towns to pick up passengers from their homes and the slowest cross-island driving we’ve ever experienced. Then the normal hike from the main road back to 3 Rivers, an afternoon of planning our next 2 weeks (which promise to be filled with work! so excited!), a river hike, a simple rice dinner, and (finally!) some internet time.
Today we cut a bunch more grass (project update coming) and we have returned to being tired sliced-up sunburned calloused happy volunteers.
Hoping to keep you much more updated in our final two weeks, and really excited for a major final push.
Much, much love,
After a busy week (and another power outage) we are back with one of our more exciting updates. Over the past week or so, we have spent many hours tying grass, and we have finally begun assembling our roof! These past two days have been a balancing act of traversing the scaffolding of our grass tie wood with grass bundles and string in hand.
We have both enjoyed these two days tremendously (minus the fire ants that so love to swarm every exposed (and covered) inch of our bodies), and are so excited by the transformation this addition has brought about.
(Maddy piles grass bundles into a wheelbarrow for transport to the building site. The grass has been left to dry for the last few weeks until the scaffolding was in place to install the roof)
(Tim ties the first round of grass bundles. We do this using a thick and durable string that is wound around each bundle successively and pulled tight. This is much more efficient than tying a separate knot for each bundle).
(This picture was taken after our first full day of grass tying. The work went so fast and was surprisingly fun aside from the fire ants. We both made at least one emergency trip to the river nearby to rinse off!)
(The roof after Day 2 of continuous grass tying. We aim to have this side of the roof completed by the end of the week and are learning so much along the way! We tried (and failed) at hammering grass tie wood today and are finding new ways to increase our efficiency daily).
That is all for now! More pictures and personal updates to come soon. Much love to all of our readers.
Maddy and Tim
(we tied pretty much all o dat)
Having trouble typing this as the tips of most of my fingers are lacerated with tiny lemongrass cuts. Maddy and I spent the day tying bundles of lemongrass from our harvest almost a month ago - hard to believe it’s been so long! The work was easy and boring, and takes forever. It’d be really fun (listening to your ipod, mind wandering, a bathroom like 20 steps away, shelter for when it rains right nearby), if we weren’t getting bitten by fire ants the whole time (they have no shame when it comes to biting sensitive areas) and cut by those dumb, smelly, slightly-molding lemongrass stalks.
AH WELL. Not our favorite job but has to be done and we’re certainly doing it as fast as we can. Probably tied over half of what we’ve gathered so far.
(a photo which conveniently shows off maddy’s ringworm AND her timeless beauty)
On Friday we hiked to town to get checked up (Maddy for ringworm, me for my finally-gone ear infections), then took the day easy after realizing how unbelievably tired we were from the past two days of cutting and carrying trees.
Then on Saturday we went in to Roseau for another early-morning Market adventure, bought some medical stuff for Maddy and Nans and also new shoes for Maddy. Now both of us own plastic knock-off crocs! They’re the only thing that seems to hold up in the face of humid heat and constant jungle wear and always-damp-ness! Yay!
(on the freshwater lake hike)
After shopping we took the transport to the head of the Freshwater Lake hike, saw more of this unreal island, and then hiked the over-three-hour hike back to 3 Rivers from Freshwater. It was exhausting but really, really fun. Sunday we spent recovering and doing some much-needed stuff on the internet (figuring out college stuff, etc).
Tropical storm coming today and tomorrow, so it’s just Maddy and I working on the project for a while. But soon the boys will be back and we will all begin again in earnest on the house, which is really coming along.