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!