Friday, December 4, 2015

Clemson World Five Minutes of Fame!

To counterbalance the fact I missed this Clemson regular football season...well it isn't over yet- ACC Championship tommorrow...I had the honor of Clemson's alumni magazine, Clemson World, asking me for an interview! I don't know what they're going to do with the interview but here's hoping I make the cover haha.
This is how I picture Dabo giving me free season tickets for life after I return:

Here's a sneak peek of what I typed up in response to the editor's interview questions:

Q1: You’re working in the Peace Corps. How long have you been serving and where are you located?

I've been serving in the Peace Corps for almost seven months in the Eastern Caribbean, one of the original posts since the Peace Corps' inception in 1961. My post is unique because it is spread out across four individual nations, with the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic making it difficult to visit newly made PC friends. When I first arrived for staging in Miami this past June I did not know which island I would actually serve on until I completed seven weeks of training on St Lucia. Overall, I spent two months of intensive training on St Lucia with my entire Peace Corps Trainee group (the 87th to serve in the Eastern Caribbean) where we lived individually with local families. During week seven, we were divided up, Harry Potter style, for our specific islands. I jumped out of my seat when I found out “the sorting hat” had placed me in Grenada. Eight of us from the original 32 flew to Grenada. There, minus one piece of missing luggage, I lived with another local family and commuted by bus to the picturesque capital, St. George's, for one more month of Peace Corps training. After being sworn in as an official volunteer and passing training, I have been living in my community on my own and working in our primary school as a primary English literacy co-teacher. There are three goals of my assignment: Goal 1: Increase Student Success Primary school students in the Eastern Caribbean will improve literacy, personal development skills and/or raise academic success through classroom and extracurricular activities. Goal 2: Improve Teaching Skills Primary school teachers in the Eastern Caribbean will implement more effective and responsive literacy instructional techniques in the classroom. Goal 3: Improve School, Family, and Community Partnerships Members of Eastern Caribbean communities will support students through increased participation in literacy-focused initiatives at school and at home.

Q2: What was your motivation for applying and how did your Clemson education play into that?

Before joining the Peace Corps, I was a sixth-grade social studies teacher for two years and I absolutely loved it. Yet a part of me longed to see and travel to the places I taught about in my world history classroom at Greer Middle School. Plus it seemed like an amazing adventure, a now or never opportunity. Although I will say we have a seventy-seven-year-old in my cohort who inspires me to realize my twenties aren't the only time I'll hopefully have to go exploring.

My time spent as a graduate and undergraduate student at Clemson University played a major role in my decision to become a Peace Corps volunteer. As a history major, I was required to take a Non-Western world history course and I registered for Dr. James Burns' Sub-Saharan Africa course. Dr. Burns shared stories of his Fulbright experience in Africa and had us complete a final assignment where I to had to fill out an actual Fulbright application to live and study in Botswana. This was my first exposure to the Fulbright program and seeing opportunities out there to travel study, and work in places in had only dreamed of. Also as an undergrad, I was able to take advantage of Clemson University's study abroad programs and studied abroad at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland where I tried to play golf, I went to class too, at the Old Course each week. It was one of the best experiences of my life and I have the Clemson study abroad office to thank for it. Last but not least by any measure, I was inspired to join the Peace Corps because of the coursework and professors I had while obtaining my Master of Arts in Teaching at The University Center of Greenville. I was especially inspired by Dr. Lienne Medford and Dr. Joyce Beckett who taught me how to be a capable, caring, and connected teacher. Those three core expectations from Clemson's College of Education guided and molded me to be the best teacher for my students both domestically and abroad. My professors taught me to make a wholehearted effort to never stop learning, to stayed up-to-date on the best teaching practices, to genuinely care about the well-being of each and every one of my students, and to foster relationships with community members, colleagues, and parents.

Q3: What are your responsibilities there? What are you proudest of? What’s been the biggest challenge?

I'm an education volunteer in the Peace Corps so my primary assignment is to work at my community's school.

There have been three examples so far that stand out to me as my proudest moments my Peace Corps experience, one even just happen less than 24 hours prior to this interview. The first would be the renovation efforts of my school's library in the first month of being an official volunteer. My school's original building was destroyed by Hurricane Ivan in 2004. Like many buildings on the island, the roof was completely torn off and blown away. The devastated structure still sits waiting to be rebuilt. Ever resourceful, though, my school still uses the fields next door for gym classes and cricket matches. Currently, my school is housed temporarily down the road in a building meant for church related events so we often have to take down our classroom materials and move student's desks out of the way throughout the school year if the church is hosting a function or celebration. With the help of my fellow teachers, we were able to make a huge change to the library in only two weeks. We sorted through piles of books damaged by termites, water, and I was even greeted by a rat hiding in a box. I'm really proud that I didn't scream or even flinch. We donated books that were not appropriate for primary aged students, if anyone would like a copy of “Don't Sweat the Small Stuff for Grandparents” I still have about a hundred or so, to local families and churches. We painted every inch of the library, cataloged every book, and created an inviting space for the students to read. I even hung my Peace Corps-issued mosquito net to create a reading tent. The library is now able to host classes, individuals, and a reading club after school.

The second thing I'm proudest of thus far is being able to bring back three suitcases full of Christmas presents for my students, including one suitcase of new books, after I returned home unexpectedly in order to attend my Grandfather's funeral. My Grandfather always served others and made everyone around him feel special so it made perfect sense for my family and hometown to honor his memory by donating Christmas presents and books for my small school in Grenada. Thanks to Jet Blue too for overlooking the weight of my suitcase full of books.

The last thing I'm most proud of and something I call my “George Bailey” moment in recognition of one of my favorite movies “It's a Wonderful Life,” happen less than 24 hours prior to Clemson World Magazine's interview. I always walk about three miles home with a few of my students along the way. It's honestly my favorite part of the day. My students help teach me about Grenada by pointing out all the different things to see on our walk. From where the shortcut to the waterfall is located to how a pineapple can grow on a power-line or on the side of a palm tree. Plus they often pick fruit or give me a cookie to eat on our way to our homes. On this particular walk home from school, I decided to ask their parents if I could buy my students some cokes and visit the waterfalls. I didn't bring my bathing suit along, but I was happy to supervise on the sidelines and take pictures. My students changed out of their school uniforms to play in the water and I jokingly said to them don't worry I used to be a lifeguard as they climbed on the rocks in front of the falls. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, one of my third graders slipped into a pool at the base of the falls that was too deep and he did not know how to swim. I was using my cellphone to film the beauty of our backyard and instantly realized I needed to jump in to get him out. In less than ten seconds, I threw my phone and got him out as quickly as possible. The phone was still filming and another third grader in our group picked it up and filmed Miss Lyons now swimming in her wet school clothes. It was the most terrifying ten seconds of my life but in that moment I realized that I was exactly where I was meant to be. At waterfall in Grenada on a Monday afternoon. Now all my students are begging me to take them to the waterfalls this week and a few tourists from the UK got a funny photo of me swimming in my clothes carrying two kindergartners in my arms.

The most challenging part of my Peace Corps experience is missing my family and friends back in the United States. I also absolutely hate that I missed this Clemson football season, of all seasons to miss. Luckily, I have a local friend who helped me host a party, or fete as it is called here, for the Clemson-Notre Dame game. With modern technology, I've been able to watch almost every game including ESPN's College Gameday. In the Eastern Caribbean, cricket, and football (soccer) is king but slowly I'm trying to share how great American football can be with my new friends in Grenada. Although I do get homesick, I probably should mention that it has been challenging trying to communicate with people back home that I'm not serving in the so-called “Beach Corps.” Although Grenada has a natural beauty that cannot be ignored and scenery that looks like a postcard at every turn, we as Peace Corps volunteers work tirelessly as ambassadors of the American spirit of hard work and ingenuity in our new communities. For example, I spent this Thanksgiving not eating turkey with my family but in my school making a Christmas tree out of encyclopedias for my students and teaching phonics lessons. This is definitely not a vacation!

Q4: Who are the other Clemson alumni in the area that you have met? Where are they stationed? Do you all get together regularly?

One of the things that helps me feel less homesick is seeing how far the Clemson Family travels. I've become involved with a hiking group in Grenada and proudly wore a Clemson shirt since it was a college football Saturday to my first hash, when I was stopped by not one but three alumni of Clemson University as we ran along Grand Anse beach. It was one of my first weekends in Grenada and I instantly felt welcomed. All three Clemson alumni are current veterinary medicine students at Saint George's University on the island. During my first few weeks on island, at the Grenada National Museum I met another Clemson alumnus and also Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who is a local author and historian, he came to our swearing in ceremony and I was ecstatic to have another Clemson family member present for such an important day in my life.

I've also had the pleasure of finding out from someone in my Peace Corps cohort, we all keep in touch although we are spread out over hundreds of miles, who is stationed in Dominica thatClemson University has a presence in his community. I had no idea until I came to the Eastern Caribbean that Clemson has the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center in Dominica. He contacted Dr. John Hains and is looking forward to combining Peace Corps efforts with Clemson's by connecting Clemson students with local schools through Clemson's 'Service Learning Alliance'. I'm also looking forward to visiting Dominica and hopefully visiting the Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center too!

One of my favorite volunteers in my training group is also a South Carolinian, from Sumter. Although she would look better in orange she roots for the other team but I let that slide.

Q5: What have you learned about yourself and the world through this experience?

In only a short amount of time this experience has humbled me beyond belief. I initially came into the Peace Corps with an ill-conceived “Beach Corps” mentality. I couldn't believe my luck that my invitation to serve said the Caribbean on it! My initial online research brought up pictures of white sand beaches, the beautiful Pitons, and coconut filled palm trees. It even seemed like half my high school went on their honeymoon to St Lucia or was planning one that same year. After digging below the surface here, or really anywhere for that matter, I now realize that there is always something or someone who you can offer a helping hand to. There are individuals working diligently in both the United States and here in the Eastern Caribbean to make the world just a tiny bit better by doing their part. My late Grandfather had a famous quote by Vince Lombardi hanging in his home and one part of the quote really jumped out at me after spending some time in the Peace Corps. It said, “We must help the poor but let us cheer for the doer, the achiever, let us recognize excellence more and dissidence less.” This quote epitomizes what my Peace Corps experience has taught me. That an individual, the doers in the world, do make a positive impact. This appreciation for volunteerism and achievement is something I've always recognized as part of ClemsonUniversity's spirit and I'm proud to be a small part of this legacy as I continue to serve in the Peace Corps.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My George Bailey Monday

Sophomore year of college I interned at Walt Disney World as a lifeguard for two hotels near the Magic Kingdom. The highlight of which was watching Shaq swim in the Grand Floridian pool, getting to wear crocs to work, and taking the little boats out on my lunch break. I loved this job and continued lifeguarding in Brookline and Boston after I returned to the Great White North to finish up my time at Northeastern U.

Although I've always said lifeguarding was the best job I ever had and encouraged my students to do it as a job in high school and college, I realized no one wants to see a 28-year old lifeguard unless they're watching "Baywatch" reruns. Little did I know a walk home from school Monday would result in me getting my lifeguard feet wet again. Pun intended.

Alright story time:
Recently, I moved to a new village due to a safety concern I had in my first PC crib which means I now have a three-mile walk home from school, something I love because the views are amazing and I have a new crop of kids to walk home with part of the way.

On Monday, after school, we decided to go to the Mt Carmel Waterfalls since my students are always pointing it out to me from an overlook on our walks home and I hadn't been since my host brother brought me in August.

The kids asked their parents, changed out of their school clothes, and although I didn't have my bathing suit I figured I'd stay dry and take pictures. After buying some snacks and cokes for the kids, payment for being great tour guides, we set out on the small hike to the upper part of the falls. Mt Carmel is the tallest waterfall in Grenada and we're so lucky to have it in our backyards, plus the lower part of the falls is like a waterslide too!

After years of babysitting, teaching, and lifeguarding I should have known that dry clothes and kids in water do not mix.

I decided after this that it is my goal for a secondary project to help promote water safety with my students. Although they live on an island, surrounded by water, many cannot swim. As diplomatically as I can put it...This scared me, BIG time. Since one of my favorite things to do is be in and on the water, I think it would be foolish for me not to share experiences and my knowledge with my students. So under the umbrella of an Environmental Club I hope to share not only water safety lessons but also conservancy- just basic do not throw the snack wrapper and can of coke Miss Lyons bought you on the ground next to the waterfall kind of stuff. I actually met a local teacher who works with another PCV on a kid's summer camp all about ocean conservancy and SEA TURTLE rescue. She had mistaken me for someone who works with the camp previously (we all look alike) but really I think my love of turtles and the ocean just comes across that strongly.

I decided to post the video footage of yesterday's after school excursion on here and not Facebook because I know only my family reads this blog. I can't watch it without getting shaken up at the last 10 seconds mainly because I'm embarrassed at how slow my reaction time really was. I didn't know if my student was joking and the other kids were laughing at him to make it seem like the whole event was orchestrated to pull my leg.

The look in his eyes let me know though that it was not a joke. I threw my phone and ran over the rocks to get my third grader out. It probably took between 10-20 seconds overall to see and get him out, but it was the scariest moment of my life so far. In those mere seconds I thought what if I don't remember CPR correctly, why didn't I jump in sooner, but mostly I thought of my third-grade student and how to get him out as fast as I could.

I feel like I should post a "Viewer Discretion is Advised" label on this video because I can't even watch it:

After I threw my phone to jump in, I've jumped in before with a cell phone and spent the rest of my lifeguard shift in the ladies room using the hand dryer on my old iPhone, one of the other third graders picked up my phone and took pictures and video of how funny it was to see Miss Lyons all wet in her school clothes...they definitely did not understand the severity of the situation that just happen...oh kids haha!

After I carried him out everything went back to normal and I decided to just keep swimming in my clothes. Which resulted in a bunch of UK tourists taking photos of the America PCV swimming in her clothes with a bunch of her students crawling all over her. I went home soaking wet after walking about a mile more to my new house. I made dinner and thought since I don't have WiFi installed yet that it was the perfect time to watch one of my favorite Christmas movies, "It's a Wonderful Life." Hence the title of this post. I tossed and turned with nightmares the rest of the night, really not able to get the image of my student's eyes begging me for help out of my head.

But now back at school the students are all begging me to take them to the waterfall after school...maybe tomorrow!

Monday, October 19, 2015

20 EC In My Pocket

I decided to remake a Macklemore song for this post "I'm gonna to eat potatoes. Only got 20 EC in my pocket. I-I-I'm broke, looking for more coins. This in not that awesome."

Epic weekend, lot's of ups and downs, but that's the PC life! Plus now I get to experience the opposite of a potato famine since that's all I can afford or stomach. My Irish roots are in heaven. At least, currently in the internet closet, I get to stare at this gigantic lizard out the window. When I asked what type of lizard it was, my teacher friend said, "Oh you know it's just a common every day lizard." Good enough explanation for me!

Now to the main purpose of this post: I asked if I could share my friend Shelby's blog because I love her latest post, not loving that she's experiencing some of the same lows I feel. What I love is how well Shelby writes about what we all go through in the EC. Yeah you could say hey it could be worse or you could be squatting over a latrine in Rwanda but it's still a big challenge and adjustment for all Peace Corps Volunteers. Posh Corps or not!

Without further ado here's Shelby's blog: enjoy! Shell Shell

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

If Anna is April, Then I Guess I'm Ron

Shoutout to one of my favorite fellow volunteers (I like y'all but let's be real), Anna, and her post on how she's become more of an "April Ludgate" than the "Leslie Knope" since flying from Miami to the Caribbean over four months ago. Read it here: ANNA BANANA

Since Anna and I have the same sense of humor and get along so well, sidenote her style scores way more points than me, we decided it made perfect sense that I've become the "Ron Swanson" of the EC. This is a tangent, but I'm really happy that Anna and I have stayed friends (other volunteers too) even though we aren't in the same country anymore :( I didn't realize how tough it was going to be to have the uniqueness of our particular post. With four countries under one post, it makes it far more difficult to see your friends from PST so take that Africa. We here in the EC have it rough too!

As a Peace Corps Trainee, green to the reality of life as a PCV,  I identified with Mr. G from Summer Heights High. Now as a Volunteer things have taken a turn towards the Swanson.

Disclaimer this is meant to just be funny, I'm actually a good and nice teacher- watch me teach one day, kids think I'm like Miss Honey from Matilda... no lie

First thoughts upon waking:

Breakfast (lunch and dinner too):

How I look after handing out stickers to the kids at the end of a lesson:

How I feel when the kids don't listen to me:

When someone asks if I'm ready to teach a class:

When I say no a million times (another disclaimer: I would never hit anyone, ever):

After four months of insomnia and loose stools (TMI):

How I used to live in the US, sigh:

How I feel when we run out of cookies at a training session:

How I look when I treat myself to a rum raisin cone:

When I reminisce about my love of the USA:

I would kill for a QT fountain diet coke right now. 69 cents!

But on the plus side we have good + cheap rum:

When I think about SVG Volunteers coming to visit Grenada:

And finally my thoughts as I attempt to sleep at night:

Monday, October 12, 2015

Things I miss about the USofA

Preface: My life was pretty rad back in the States but I like adventure and travel so now I'm in Grenada. Plus I'm just kind of an idiot when it comes to making a life plan. Plus side it's gorgeous here, has supermarkets that play X-mas music in October, and an abundance of breadfruit.

Alas, I still miss my country for the following:

1. My rollerblades- the odds of me just walking in the streets and getting hit by a) a speeding van and b) a coconut are pretty high. Add in hairpin turns and volcanic hills to the mix and you're just asking for disaster. So Elise if you're reading this, my cat-loving friend, no I have not found a place to shred in Grenada. And yes my soul dies a little each day. 
Epitome of "cool"

2. GREENVILLE and the people in it! Blergh...Fall for Greenville was this past weekend and while I dove headfirst into my own personal Woody Harleson fantasy that is True Detective this weekend it still did not hold a candle to all the fun I've had in Fall (Down) Greenvilles of years past. Although, my liver thanks me this year.

3. CLEMSON- sure Clemson pick this year, the one year since 2010 that I'm out of the country for the whole season to make this the year we win the National Championship again. I'll just go to Court's and sit in the mock living room to view you while the sales associates continue to ask me to leave. I will not leave as long as you are providing free air conditioning #bestbuywannabe

4. Mis Amigos- I had some awesome people come into my life over the past four years of living in Greenville and man I miss them. COME VISIT!

5. Waffle House- In recent US news a customer just straight up shot a potential robber at a Waffle House. Enough said.

6. Swamp Donkeys and Swamp Rabbit Trail- one of these swampy creatures was good for my health and the other nearly caused every escapade of most of my Friday nights over the past year plus. I guess I just really miss being outside past 7 pm! Hiking, biking, shredding, walking, running, and who am I kidding pretty much just dining al fresco all the damn time. UJ patio :( I can go outside here and go snorkel before Clemson kickoff, but there's nothing like being outside in SC and NC all year round. Remember when I could watch movies in the park, go to beer festival, $1 beer nights, free yoga, and genuinely just live outdoors. Sigh. 

7. SOUTH CAROLINA- you win South. I'm converted, I love you, and I'm coming to stay in 2017.

It's rad here too, don't get me wrong, just a different type of rad I'm starting to get used to...Yeah I just used rad four, make it five, times in this post. Bringing it back!

Friday, October 9, 2015

The toughest job you'll ever love

Happy 4 months EC87! Here are a few thoughts on the cycle of vulnerability & adjustment that is being a PCV:

The path that was ahead of us four months ago when we landed in St Lucia was an exciting one. One where every bus ride brought another new surprise and host mom brought a new way to cook a dasheen. Peace Corps likes to label this as the 'honeymoon' phase. And it was. I can't begin to tell you how many pictures of St Lucian and Grenadian sheep I took during the first two months. I came here, having idolized and idealized what this Peace Corps life would be like. I had these ideas of grandeur, of adventure, backpacking, being the 'cool' Peace Corps Volunteer who had been there, done that, and lived every awesome experience you could possibly imagine. Some of those ideas of grandeur have been fulfilled but looking back over the past four months has been a lot like the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities: " It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

In reality, as a PCV you willingly subject yourself to certain things, 'extremes,' on a daily basis. A lot of these will be physical. You will have insomnia. You will get sick. At first, a full night's sleep will seem impossible. This will change over time, but can (and will) revert to deprivation at the drop of a hat. You will sweat. LOTS of sweat. You will cry. You will gain weight. You will lose it. Your hair will reach new levels of frizziness. Your legs will always itch. You will bump your head getting off the bus, every damn time. And these are just the physical changes that will happen.

The mental effects for me have been the toughest part. For all intents and purposes, you will feel more alone than you have ever been, felt, or dreamt of being in your entire life. Sure, you will be a 'member of your community,' insofar as a 20-something foreigner with a very limited understanding of their cultural norms can integrate into a community which is physically and emotionally homogeneous. You Will Cry. A Lot. Especially if this Mango thing asks you to dance at the grocery store:
Do what the mango says.

Let me repeat it again: You will cry, you will want to curl up in your empty bed and dream for the 'American' things in life (Chipolte). You will want somebody to hold you, to just wrap their arms around you and pull you into them. There will be days when you feel like you are empty inside.
This is what dreams are made of.

Talking with friends and family in the States helps. But you'll get this nagging feeling in the back of your mind that, for as much as they can say they understand, and as much as you'd love them to be able to, they cannot. What I've found is that my students and teachers here have made me the happiest. You can build up fantastic relationships with your community members. You can get to know them pretty well, and you can confide in them and become really good friends with them. But in the end, they still cannot fully understand what you're going through 100%.  
Thanks for this one Kate.

In the end, the logical place to turn to aid your emotional well-being is your fellow Volunteer. But, just like everything, it is not that simple. Yes, these people understand what you deal with on a day-to-day basis. They were there during the 11-weeks of Pre-Service Training. However, they are obviously dealing with their own problems and establishing their new lives. Thank God for EC 86 and EC 87 though!!

Peace Corps service is all about these extremes. As dark as it is, perhaps even masochistic on many levels, this is why we signed up, right? We tell ourselves we are here for some noble purpose, that we are not here to find ourselves but to lose ourselves. To change who we are at the very core. Make no mistake; Peace Corps will change you, even in just four months, hopefully for the better. But this is not for the faint of heart or the weak-willed. What I've found is that you have to allow the bad things to either roll off your back or limit their expression to the privacy of your own home all while actively seeking the positive things (the reasons we came here in the first place) and allowing them to seep in. 

Peace Corps Service is a rollercoaster. There will be ups. There will be downs. But at least in the end you'll get to say, "Wow, what a ride!'

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Teaching: My Love/Hate Relationship

If anyone knows me they know I have a love/hate relationship with being a teacher.

99% of me loves teaching and the time I have with my "kids" in our classroom but the other 1% that has nothing to do with my students or the teaching side HATES teaching. My past two years in South Carolina were a rollercoaster ride in the classroom, with way more ups than downs, that ended rather abruptly with the packing up my life and move to the Caribbean with the Peace Corps.

I left Greenville Public Schools feeling disheartened about teaching and ready for a BIG career change. The dark side (aka interim Principals) of teaching had drained me. I was exhausted. I had often said I felt like Shel Silverstein's Giving Tree, always giving and never receiving. Little did I know that I wasn't allowing myself to be open to receive or be recognized. Or even realizing that I was receiving just as much back as I was giving. It was almost as if I had been going through the last months of school and life with blinders on.

Fast forward to today, four months after I said goodbye to Greer Middle and it turns out one of my "kids" from last year had been trying to contact me. By chance, I clicked on my "other" inbox on Facebook and saw a message from one of my students sent this past Monday. She wrote, "Hi Ms. Lyons, THANK U THANK U THANK U for nominating me for that junior leader conference thank u ur the best I'm glad I had u as a teacher." I had forgotten that I nominated several of my students, many who day in and day out do their best but often get ignored, for a leadership conference last spring and it was great to see that they were happy to be recognized! When I was employed at GCS I would have felt strange replying back to the student on Facebook due to concerns over crossing some arbitrary line between student and teacher but since I'm far away I felt like I could act as a human. Back in the day I probably would have corrected her punctuation and grammar too but instead I responded, "Anytime sweetheart! You're a great kid and smartie pants too! Keep up the good work in 7th grade, I'm proud of you!"

It's these small things that make all the hard work for both myself and my students over the past two years worth it. I miss you Greer Middle: my students and fellow teachers. I wish you nothing but the best :)

Lesson learned: Be open to receiving thanks and love. Sometimes we are blind to the love others are trying to show us or it gets stuck in our "other" inbox. Gratitude and showing others love/kindness/friendship is really what life is all about. So thanks kid for teaching me something today, I am REALLY REALLY REALLY proud of U!

Also shoutout to all the teachers I've been blessed to know as friends, neighbors, family, travel buddies, co-workers, and those I have yet to meet. Y'all are the BEST. I saw a post from one of my EC87 fellow volunteers about The Flat Stanley Project and it stirred up memories of when I did this as a kid in elementary school. I loved it then and thought it would be the best way to achieve the 2nd and 3rd goal of the Peace Corps while promoting literacy skills at my school. Within an hour my tiny school was connected to entire classrooms and schools in NJ, NC, SC, CT, and KY! Teachers I am also REALLY REALLY REALLY proud of U! THANK U THANK U THANK U!

My last day as 27 definitely ended on a high note. 

Saturday, September 19, 2015

29 things for year 28

Turning 28 this Thursday...eek! Never would I have thought I'd be 28 and in the Caribbean with the Peace Corps, but I'm glad I am. 

28 is the year by which I thought like my parents, who had me at 28, that I would a) be married b) have a dog (not a cat) c) own a house. I'm not too sure I'd have a kid by now but wow now I'm realizing how young my parents really were when they had me. I have had a few marriage proposals in Grenada though that I've finally realized I need to start saying yes to on the condition that they have ocean front property. I plan my future streetside proposals to go like this:

Grenadian Man: "Sunshine, you married," or "Sunshine, are you here on vacation with your husband"
Me: "no, I'm not married"
Grenadian Man: "are you looking for a husband"
Me: "yes, if you have a house steps from the water then I'm yours."

Since I and life had other things in store for me during my 28th year I'm going to take advantage of this year in the Caribbean and try 29 new things to make me healthier, shinier, and new...really things to make me look younger than 28 so I can act a fool a while longer when I return to the US of A in 2017!

Here's are 20 things in no particular order: It was originally 28 but that is just CRAZY

1: Drink More Water- I love diet coke or coca cola light as it is called here more than any other (non-alcoholic mind you) beverage. This is not only sending all of my money to Atlanta but it's probably rusting my internal organs too. Since I'm now surrounded by water, I will start by drinking more water. 

2. Get more ZZZs- Since I'm home and in bed around 7pm on weeknights and weekends, I want to try for the millionth time to get adequate sleep each night. Sorry late night WAHO, RIP buddy. 

3. Rewatch Lost- This is not a new thing but just something I really want to do. #smokemonster
To make it new let's add watch Game of Thrones to the list. Thank god for HBO Now and Netflix. FYI Best in Show my favorite movie is on HBO Now and I'm watching NOW! I just realized Cathouse is on HBO Now too, I thought I had forgotten about Airforce Amy. 

4. Ride in the Pan Mass Challenge and Raise $4, 800

5. Learn to Sail

6. Hike the Inca Trail and Visit Macchu Picchu 

7.Stay a Pescatarian- Sorry fish, I live on an island and you taste good. I've gone meatless- no bacon for over three weeks now and I don't miss it that much. I do miss how easy it is to order in a restaurant, my immediate reaction is really the cheeseburger is the same price as a salad but so far it's been easy. I want to keep this up. 

8. Start a Book Club at School- really this should say introduce the kids to the magic that is reading rainbow and books in general. Bring things I loved from elementary school that were focused around reading to my kids at Holy Cross RC. I think I'm going to call it the Levar Burton Fan Club.

9. Enjoy Time Alone

10. Yoga- in 2014 when I started this whole Eat, Pray, Love or Cheryl Strayed type journey of self-discovery bullsh*t after I no longer resembled Erin and _____, and just became Erin I dove into become a seasoned yogi. I took a 200-hour course and well looked awesome. I also dove into the downtown Greenville scene and drank/partied way too much.  I've always been a big drinker since I found myself in Boston at 17. But I think now not having the pressure to drink so much I can finally take this practice seriously and do it for more than aesthetic reasons.

11. Garden and Buy a Cutlass- really I want to have a plant not die on me. My old neighbor in Greenville used to call me "plant killer" and I want to try my hand at not being that in the Caribbean. Like any true Caribbean gardener that means I need a cutlass aka machete to a) open coconuts b) look badass c) hack 

12. No-Poo- alright I've transformed into a more crunchy hippie but I want to try to make my beauty regime green by using baking soda. Whitens teeth, cleans face, and hair- also makes your refrigerator smell nice. Don't worry I'm still going to use deodorant, still remnants of 2005 Erin and her allegiance to popping collars and young republicans.

13. Drink Noni Juice

14. Walk/Explore/Get Back to Nature- Hike Mt. Qua Qua

15. Apply to Nursing School- in the fall I'm hoping to apply for fall entry in 2017 to Emory, John Hopkins, and UVa. Losing my mom to cancer in 2007 made me think about becoming a nurse but I went into teaching instead. Now in the Peace Corps it is all I think about and sometimes the only thing that is keeping me here when I'm having a really low moment. This experience was meant to thrust me into a different career path and life post my 27 months in the Caribbean, it already has in 3+ months, and nursing is where I see myself going. 

16. Grow My Hair- No haircuts for the whole time I'm in the PC, considering the great chop off of winter 2014 made me fall into a hair disaster depression here's to getting my long hair back!

17.  Collect Seaglass 

18. Snorkel- Today I went to the beach, brought my goggles and found within seconds 5 giant starfish and 91382948932748372849392849032894 sea urchins. Last week when I really went snorkeling, must find fins or order some, I was almost overwhelmed by the sea life I saw- it was beautiful.

19. Simplify My Look- I like navy, black, and white and I like the way I look in these colors. Red, pink, orange, and yellow are not my friends so I'm going to stop trying to make them work for me. Orange occasionally, Go Tigers! Honestly, as I approach 30 I want to define my style by not buying everything but rather have a capsule type wardrobe like Steve Jobs- Turtlenecks may not work here.

20. Complain Less

21. Meditate

22. Drink Less but More G & T- I mentioned to a friend recently that the peace corps had already changed me in three ways 1) it has made me like cats and their ability to kill bugs/lizards (Calypso likes to give me the dead lizards as gifts now) 2) it has made me a vegetarian/pescatarian (thanks to too many SPAM sandwiches in PST) 3) it has given me limes to make my new signature drink go from Bells Oberon to Gin and Tonics for now. So now that I have a drink I like here in the Caribbean, there are many, I'll hope to learn to drink it in moderation.

24. At one point order CHIPLOTE- I guess I'll actually have to try the sofritas now.

25. Reach out more to people I care about- Mainly my family in CT and my Dad. Being away for the past 10 years in Boston, Florida, Scotland, and South Carolina has made me lose touch with family and friends from my childhood and I need to work on asking them about their lives and staying in touch in more ways than just liking their Instagram and Facebook posts. The same goes for my friends from Greenville.

26. Read More- already  I think in the past month I have read more books than I have in my entire life and I love reading. I'm going to start keeping a list of what I've read and re-read.

27. Play Cricket- this only needs to happen once. Then I will retire.

28. Become a Better Cook- okay so the whole pescatarian thing is based on a taste aversion brought on by SPAM sandwiches, driving by a cow's head on the side of the road (twice), and seeing an alive cow just chilling in the meat market next to a bunch of you know dead cows but it is also because I can't cook. I go through wheat bread, crunchy peanut butter, and diabetic strawberry jam like crazy. I have only cooked popcorn on my stove and even that was burned. With all the spices here I hope to learn at least 2 traditional Caribbean meals to cook. Doubles and Roti are on my list.

29. Jump in Carnival: Hopefully in this Olaf costume-

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ode to WAHO

Warning: This post isn’t meant to read whiny or melancholy – it’s merely a reflection of my daily struggles as a volunteer. Peace Corps is a microcosm of life, encapsulating some of my highest highs and lowest lows in a relatively short timeframe.

For me, the greatest challenge of being a PCV has been the lack of anonymity and feeling of isolation. I feel like whatever I do I’m on full display. Constantly being on display, being in that proverbial fishbowl, can be mentally exhausting. I feel like I’m always being judged, observed, and viewed from inside and outside of my house. When I go to church I’m afraid of what everyone is thinking about me. Did I stand up at the right part, did they notice that I only know the Lord’s Prayer, are they thinking I shouldn’t participate in the act of communion, did they see that I skip the wine? At home, my neighbors come to my back door and the kids from school (one adult male too) smash their faces against my windows to see me inside. At school, I feel zero judgment due to the reason that I hit the jackpot with my school. I have an awesome counterpart teacher and principal. Honestly school in the first two weeks has become my refuge. There’s so much work to do and I find myself covered in sweat, paint, termite poop, and once even a rat, but at least I feel like I know what I’m doing. Thank God my dad made me help him paint, stain, and wallpaper every surface in our house and his office over the years so I could impress the teachers with my ability to use a paint brush.

On the flipside of being the new toy and “celebrity,” I feel isolated. I live two bus rides away from the capital and add in one more bus to get from the capital to Grand Anse- the beach of my dreams. This can take upwards of 2 hours to get to the beach and as I learned Monday the buses due to weather or demand can stop going to my site at 6:30-7 pm at night leaving me stranded with my groceries at 7:30 pm. I did have a nice bus ride down with one of my students though who invited me to play a thrilling game of I SPY and he surprisingly guessed right when I saw something green. Yes kid,you’re right I SPY leaves. Lots and lots of leaves. The invitations to play didn’t end, he asked me to come over to watch Cartoon Network and play Dinosaurs VS. Transformers. Dinosaurs aka me apparently die in this game so I’m not accepting the invitation right away as tempting as his offer might be.

In other news I’m a bonafide cat lady, with matching plastic covered couches- I’d hate to stain them with my sad lonely lady tears. Calypso is awesome and I take back any cat-centered hate I’ve harbored for 27 years. Initially quite conflicted about getting a cat, gifted to me from a fellow PCV, I now know it was the right decision. I'm still using my readjustment allowance to get a black lab when I return stateside FYI. I shall name him mango. There are days where I talk more to Calypso than another person and hours where I utter nothing at all. Living in isolation has been an interesting experience. Spending so much time alone can be bizarre. After a long week at work, I want nothing more than to grab a beer or two and catch up with my friends. But, I don’t drink in my village, there’s nowhere to drink and well sometimes, I just want another American. Having a cat eats up a lot of my down time, she jumps out the window a lot, and I’ve learned to occupy slow moments with random activities and tasks like rolling up the carpet and cleaning like crazy. Who am I kidding I just take snaps of Calypso and cook rice.

Hmmm what else is new, I read like a maniac and in lieu of care packages I would love amazon e-gift cards so I can buy more books (erinlyons924@gmail). I also can buy books to use in my phonics lessons that are termite proof to share with my kids. The school is really awesome and it’s so tiny. Looking at the first-day assembly I thought to myself wow this entire school is smaller than my first period at Greer Middle. Nonetheless, there's so much work to do and I’ve got the time to do it. I also became a vegetarian, the cat really made me love animals…yeah no. I just can’t figure out how to use my stove, meaning I need to just carry my propane ½ a mile up the hill to get it refilled at my landlord’s house. Really the meat (flesh as my host mom in St Lucia would say) just doesn’t appeal to me. I went into the meat and fish market in Grenville and this food aversion to meat just came over me. So now I eat rice, rice, and more rice. I have a guava tree to pick from, my neighbor who goes by “colorman” to get cucumbers from, and avocados. I just need to make sure I grocery shop and get to the bus before I get stranded at 7:30 pm. Remember the days in Greenville when I could walk to Publix or go to WAFFLE HOUSE!!! If you can get a care package of WAHO waffle mix and the waitress I liked from the S. Pleasantburg location because she reminded me of a character from Orange is the New Black in a box, I'd be forever thankful.

My blog has a new name now too... It's will forever be known as CALYPSO + erin. Notice the font. Calypso is the star! It's a cooking blog about all the yummy things Calypso and I make to eat. Stay tuned for how we made a three cakes in the rice cooker and only burned two of them and undercooked only one of them! It's thrilling!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Grenada or Bust!

The title of my blog is due for a change! I had originally researched the motto of St Lucia and made it the official unofficial title of my blog: "The Land, The People, The Light" but now that I've found out I'll be moving to my second St. Andrews (Scotland will always be number one) in GRENADA!
I campaigned hard for this Island for no other reason than I really loved the APCD, a fellow Northeastern Alumni! Really it was more than just my new boss... it was mainly because I wouldn't have to speak Kweyol and there was a microbrewery in Grenada!

I'm taking suggestions for my new title for this little blog... post them below in the comment section!
The motto of Grenada is "Ever Conscious of God We Aspire, Build and Advance as One People." Pretty positive that's a no go. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Mr. G is my spirit animal

Thanks to one of my favorite fellow PCVs, shoutout Casey, I have been exposed to the joys of Mr. G from the show Summer Heights High. I think the following inspirational quotes from Mr. G showcase what I've been experiencing in the Eastern Caribbean so far.

How HCNs drive when they see you walking on the side of the road:

How I'll feel on August 1st:

How I feel on Friday after a week of Literacy sessions:

How I feel after every Safety and Security session #redvelvet:

The main message of every Core Expectations session:

The feeling I have when I arrive at Rodney Bay and Baywalk Shopping Mall:
Really anytime I hear the Baywalk Shopping Mall jingle:

Me every morning before an instant coffee at PST:

Once again before I've had my cup of coffee or if my hill commute was muddy:

The perks of not having to cook any of my meals for two months:

How I felt planning the boat trip:

How HCNs try to teach you about the dangers of walking home by yourself in the Eastern Caribbean:

End results of planning the boat trip:

How I feel when I find a stray kitten and bring it into the training sessions:

What it will be like when and if I adopt a PC puppy:

How I felt climbing the Gros Piton:

How I feel when I walk into to PST late or if I haven't seen a fellow PCV friend for more than a day:

How I feel if a HCN of the opposite sex wants to a) talk to me b) sell me a straw hat/coconut/or jet ski ride or c) dance with me:

How I come across when I try to give advice from my heart:

What I say to most HCNs of the opposite sex on my walking commute:

 How I've interpreted the Peace Corps' Core Expectation of Flexibility:

How I looked when I saw myself on St Lucian National News:

What I'm thinking about wearing daily to keep the sunburn and mosquito bites at bay:

How I feel when I see any stray dog or any tourist from the UK:

How I really feel when there is conflict between PCVs:

How I dance at Street Jam or Carnival:

What I'm going to do with all my free time and my potential PC puppy at my site:

How I felt when I attempted to collect an extra 5EC for the boat trip:

The fridge at the MPC during PST, especially if you had a bake or vegetables:

Once again how I came across when I tried to give advice or speak my mind during PST:

When a HCN asks if I want anything from his plastic container on the beach:

Our emotions every 5 minutes:

How Shelby relates to everyone:

How everyone relates to Joe:

Every time the PCMO comes by training:

My thoughts on my romantic prospects for the next two years:

How I felt on stage during the closing ceremonies of model school:

How I sound when I try to talk to anyone back home in the states about pop culture or the news:

And finally the real reason why we are all here: