Sunday, September 07, 2008

Black Bird in Paradise

(written by my lovely former co-worker at the Orphan Foundation of America who visited Saint Lucia)

Black Bird in Paradise

          By Laura Adkins

It is the last full day of my vacation in St. Lucia. It is August near the equator, and I make my way in the 100% heat to the tiny crescent shaped beach just beneath the breakfast veranda. The white beach is cupped south and north by the lush, stunning juts of mountains, called the Grand Pitons.

I find the same small almond tree in the sand, overlooking the turquoise water. A breeze blows and captures me for the afternoon. It is the third day under “my” tree, where I watch animal commerce and stealth. A black bird cases leftovers for booty and tugs hard to pick up more than one French fry at a time. He jumps to escape perceived danger, and starts again. He drops one fry while trying to pick up the next, and repeats the effort 3 more times. He does not succeed at eating. What I learn from him is that greed doesn’t work, and doesn’t feed you in the long run.

As I throw my blue work shirt over the back of the lounge chair, an old man with a large green coconut approaches my tree. He is smiling, tan, lean, shirtless, and missing many teeth. He explains that he needs to go to the doctor and must make money.

“Would you like a coconut?” he asks. I ask the price. He says, “$3.00?”

I say, “Yes, I would like a coconut, please.” He lays down a cloth wrapped set of machetes and uses one to lop off the top of the coconut. He makes a nifty drink bowl with the smaller knife in a matter of seconds and inserts a straw for drinking. “It’s a cherry coconut,” he explains proudly, as if they are rare. Perhaps they are.

While cleaning his machete, he continues to tell me about his right ear. “I cannot hear. I need to see the doctor on Monday. It is $350.” I tell him I only have a $20 for the coconut drink, and ask if he can get change? Apparently, a familiar request, he walks to the restaurant bar perhaps 100 ft. from my tree. He returns explaining that the restaurant is not open yet. He hands me back my $20. I tell him to go sell more coconuts and come back with the change when he has it. I closed my eyes, leaning back on the lounge. The water laps, the bird makes war on the plastic dish of French fries, and I wonder how close I am to the equator.

The man returns in 15 minutes, grinning as he pulls two $5.00 bills out of his pants pocket. “A lady over there gave me $10.00 for my operation on Monday.” He hands them to me, outshining the sun in his honor and pristine character. I look him in the eye and hand them back to him. I am thinking that I cannot fly away with that many French fries, and push them back into his hand. Even if there is no ear operation, I must survive the moment with something more valuable than the $20. I now know that every moment is the most important one.

This paradise of aqua water, poverty, hunger, honesty, greed, and animal commerce, crowds under my tree and into my soul, as my physical eyes shut out the brightness. Chiaroscuro pushes these competing forces of nature into the open, letting light fall on our dance together. All elements and intention converge tail to head, ying to yang. Can one be charitable or honorable, unless these words become verbs? There is no use for my charity without his poverty; and he cannot be honorable without the opportunity.

I sit up and face the water with my realization. “Who is helping whom?” I ponder. The man turns around and walks back toward me. He is noble in his voice and carriage as he asks, “Are you alright?”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A few Wedding Photos

Hey Mon,

The lovely bride and I have just arrived in Seattle, just getting settled in after a blitzkrieg of meetings with dear friends and family. I know people are eagerly awaiting wedding photos so I thought I would put a few up; once things calm down I will put a full blog entry on the wedding. Marcella and I would like to thank all the people who made it special; the generosity people showed in both their time, love and gifts. I would like to especially send a quick shout out to Michael Ward, we are absolutely delighted at how the wedding photos turned out!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

The Triumph of Climbing Mount Gimie, Saint Lucia

Base of Mount Gimie

Mount Gimie, Peter preparing some coconut.

Mount Gimie, Peter John Baptist

Mount Gimie, Big Dog talking about the climb ahead.

Mount Gimie, Brutal hike, halfway there.

Mount Gimie, Big Dog Summits

Mount Gimie, Big Country Summits

Mount Gimie, Keens Blowout

Mount Gimie, Summit, Praise to our guide Peter John Baptist

Mount Gimie, Big Dog Reflecting on the 10 hour hike.

Mount Gimie, Big Country Reflecting on the 10 hour climb.

The End of Posts for this Blog is coming...

Hello Folks,

Just a quick reminder, once I close my service August 15th, this blog will be finished, I will leave it up but their will be no new posts.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

"Share the Love!" Canaries Mango Festival July 4-5th, 2009

Well as you know me folks, I like to stretccccccchhhhhhh myself thin:)

Not only do I have to wrap up Canabelle Soap "let me just say we have an amazing trainer named Tim from the Soap Shed coming in from North Carolina to take the ladies to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL" find a job "check that one off!", wrap up the Creole Pot Street Party and the Rabbit Project to name a few.

So, back to the Mango Festival, over the past two years I have been mulling over the question of why doesn't gorgeous Saint Lucia have a mango festival? The mango is the sexiest fruit in the world "if you have not tasted a mango in the Caribbean..well you just cannot understand this" with its incredible sweet sensuous smell and taste as you bite into the perfect sweetness of its flesh-the Body Shop makes body butter out of mangoes, you get the idea.

It doesn't make sense that Saint Lucia does not celebrate this fruit. As I have watched the mangoes drop to the ground and rot I have been thinking about how to pull this off.

Well this has all changed after I met Chef Orlando "who is quite possibly the best Chef in Saint Lucia" with my Aunt Tina at Ladera restaurant.

Orlando talked to me and my Aunt about his desire to do something special in Saint Lucia, something that would demonstrate his incredible personality and talents and benefit the people. My brain-pan has been thinking about the mangoes and with Chef Orlando's reputation for gastronomical excellence and the newly finished Moon River Entertainment Grounds that have just been finished by the Edwards family I saw a connection and an opportunity.

From there I pedaled my idea to Orlando and Mrs Edwards organizing a meeting and coming up with a draft idea of how to have this festival. After that I spent the next few weeks developing the logo "learning how to use Adobe Photoshop", materials and marketing for this festival. With that the The Share the Love, Canaries Mango Festival was born. We are now working closely with the Distillery as I write this. I would like to take a moment to wish the Saint Lucia Distillery a special thank you for their close relationship and financial support of developing Canaries. I would like to especially thank Bernard Thomas who has time and time again displayed his passion for development in Canaries.

I have also received tremendous assistance from Clifford a fellow PCV in Antigua who assisted me in designing the "Share the Love" logo and provided some form templates that saved me two weeks of work at the very least.

The Mango festival is set for next year July, 4-5th 2009 at the peak of the mango season.

It will certainly put Canaries firmly on the mental and social map of Saint Lucia.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Politically Correct

(Canaries Village directly behind me)
Politically Correct

First, I must admit that when I look back at my blog it makes the "Peace Corps experience" seem like a bed of roses. Yes, it is an accurate representation of the work and experience of being a Peace Corps volunteer in Saint Lucia but with this blog being available to the public I have to be careful what I say.

Sadly this leaves out the crazy stories of that have happened during this whole incredible experience. The cultural differences alone that have led to misunderstanding could be story. The different pace of accomplishing tasks and projects in Saint Lucia vs the more aggressive American timetable is another adjustment.

Leaving out the incredibly painful, boring and tedious meetings that go on for 2-3-4 hours can be misleading. Meetings where the same issues are discussed again and again seemingly without resolution. Meetings where you often ask yourself, "What did we accomplish", remember folks I am in one of the more dynamic forward moving villages. Even more interesting is how you can be two hours into a meeting and have someone shows up and you have to recap the entire meeting debating and re-making all the decisions again. Lastly, in regards to community development meetings. It is a Caribbean fact that if a meeting is set for 7:00pm you do not want to waste your precious time by arriving early or on time. The meeting will start 10 minutes late at the minimum, 20 min most likely.

A funny cultural difference that took me a while to figure out; knowing when someones is agreeing to something because they do not want to embarrass themselves or lose face. The person in fact: has no intention of doing what you have asked and they will avoid you, putting you off afterward so they do not have to do it.

Another struggle is understanding the mentality of quite a few development groups across the island; in helping themselves to some of the monies as I have been told by a few volunteers. An attitude that would never be tolerated in the US but in the EC people look the other way and ignore it. How is that possible you ask? It goes back to the years of development money being brought in without proper accountability-this has created this climate of acceptable corruption. The other part of it, and this is difficult to really appreciate. Everyone is related to each other, if you accuse one person of corruption you are attacking the entire clan. Being in small village you will run into the family members every day where that bitterness can grow and cause serious conflict. When you look at it from their point of view you can see why a villager would let that slide by instead.

Some of this is traced to a lack of transparency in financing. My only recommendation is that you must have an outside accountant who does not live in the village that services are being rendered for reasons mentioned above. In addition, the group must have 3 signature minimum for all withdrawals.

I have gained an incredible amount of experience seeing these barriers to sustainable development played-out on the ground level stopping infrastructure and capacity development. But I also know that they can be worked through with patience... make that extreme patience:)

I can only imagine how much more difficult it must be in some of the developing nations in Africa where resources are extremely scare and the consequences of not having them sometimes means the difference between life and death. The fact that we even have access to banking institutions that are less then 20 minutes away puts development work in Saint Lucia in a whole new playing field.

I am thankful for the genuine appreciation that the people of Canaries have expressed to me for the work I have done. For the giving nature of many of the community leaders who would never say, "No!/Awa!" to giving 50-100EC to a small project I am working on. To the genuine helpfulness and friendliness of Saint Lucian's which is extraordinary compared to the other islands.

Every Peace Corps volunteers experience is unique and challenging, I feel that I need to talk about the some of the low points that happen in this daily community work so that anyone considering becoming a volunteer will have more realistic expectations.

That has been the entire goal of my blog, to give a chronology of 24 months of work and life in Saint Lucia for future volunteers. It has been amazing experience and again, I feel blessed and thankful to the US, to JFK, to the US tax payer and the Government of Saint Lucia for allowing me this opportunity to serve.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Accepting an Amazing Position.

Hello All,

I have wonderful news to announce, I have just accepted an amazing position with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle.

This is certainly a great comfort for me and Marcy as we are getting ready to tie the knot August 15th.

I feel privileged and honored to say the least in having this opportunity and I would like to thank my friends at the Orphan Foundation and Peace Corps staff and colleagues for the amazing professional development opportunities I had had through the years that have made this all possible.

Work has really picked up here in Saint Lucia with a few of my projects taking off, in particular Canabelle Soap and the Rabbit Project: Life is good.

All of our best to you,

Saint Luica PCV Resources

Here is the URL to our SkyDrive account where Peace Corps volunteers and others can find resources as they work and volunteer in Saint Lucia. Includes proposals, brochures, school lesson plans, and environmental education to name a few.

Only Saint Lucia PCV's and Peace Corps staff have the password to upload files.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Passing on the Rabbit Project to other Villages.

Three other Peace Corps volunteers in Saint Lucia are interested in starting Rabbit Projects in their villages. I invited them over along with a few other volunteers. We shot some videos covering the basics of rabbit raising (see previous post), we visited Sebastian's rabbit farm in Canaries where we had amazing demonstrations of his work. We reviewed the type of endemic plants that you can feed your rabbits in Saint Lucia and discussed effective hutch designs using Sebastian's as a template.

Sebastian showing us his prize rabbit breed that is extremely large, has a lovely dusky color and very soft fur.

One of his breeding females.

A few more rabbits:

He lets the rabbits out to get exercise.

The other Peace Corps volunteers and a visiting student at the rabbit farm:

Sebastian has an amazing farm by the Canaries river, him and his brothers grow everything from sweet potatoes and lettuce to sorrel the Christmas time drink for Saint Lucia. The land is lush and covered with avocados and mango trees.

Justin selecting his breeding pair or rabbits from Sebastian. I would like to point out Sebastian's amazing giving spirit, each rabbit is worth at least $50EC=$18.66 US.

Sebastian explaining the best river grass to give the rabbits:

Saint Lucia River Plant that is very good for rabbits:

Sebastian's brother explaining organic fertilizer he uses.

Some awesome Rasta art on the side of their home that the brother "cool out" in when they want to leave the village.

Did you know cats eat coconut jellies?

Raising Rabbits Video Tutorials

Here is a training session of four videos presented to other Peace Corps volunteers in Saint Lucia to start Rabbit Projects in their villages.

The four videos cover:
1. Overview of rabbit raising.
2. Feeding
3. Rabbit Health
4. Breeding

1. Overview of rabbit raising.

2. Feeding

3. Rabbit Health

4. Breeding

You can find other videos on hutch design at and my blog on rabbit raising and my Peace Corps experience at

The rabbit project is a great project to boost a disadvantage families income or provide more food for the table, a few rabbits can be maintained with vegetable scraps and local vegetation, the biggest expense is rabbit feed which must be fed to your rabbits a minimum of every other day. A natural rabbit feed recipe can be found on my blog to reduce costs to minimal levels.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Getting ready to get Married, VISA fun and attempting to wrap up.

Hello All,

With the blog I have been leaning more towards providing less personal information. I have not really talked about the stress of planning a wedding as a completely broke Peace Corps volunteer who lives on $1700EC a month which is about $634US. That is supposed to cover all expenses including rent. I have also been suffering with my fiancee working on VISA issues even though she is dual citizenship with Saint Lucian and British Passports (immigration is scary, I feel for ANYONE who has tried to come to the US as a foreign national) while she is working in England. On top of that we have been struggling with where to live, England vs the US.

It has been a real challenge and I wish I could say more, but I really have to keep it general.

I have also found that ALL of my projects have rapidly accelerated towards the end of my service, I am thrilled but it has been difficult to juggle that with wedding planning, and job hunting.

It is no fun to plan a wedding when you have no idea where you are going to live and you are still not sure which job your going to have.

So take care everyone, once again the goal of this blog is to share this Peace Corps experience for future volunteers and the curious, if I have accomplished that I am thrilled.

All my best everyone,

Ps, trying to throw a wedding in Saint Lucia can be a challenge as a poor Peace Corps when the concept of a "pay bar" is completely foreign even if you are providing beer, in fact it would be considered a grave insult, Marcy and her family would be the talk of the village if we did so. Alcohol is a HUGE part of the culture. Were receiving an INCREDIBLE amount of help from Mrs. Edwards and our friends at the Distillery.

Thanks to the PCV's chipping in for the Steel Pan Band, to my ma ma Agatha, to my family, to Andy and Jenie, and Na Na and Aunty Bella and everyone else who is helping. Oh yes and thank you to BIG DOG Nick Klinger for his help and support and Christine Klinger and family.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Peace Corps Close of Service EC 76

Here is quick entry showing a few clips and pictures from our COS for the Eastern Caribbean EC 76 group.

It was a great conference, seeing old friends, meeting our new EC Country Director. PS Helen you did a great job with the conference.

For me it is easy to feel good about my COS with so many great projects being successful. But let us be honest, I came into a village that was ready to move forward with some highly capable and motivated community partners. No, I believe success should be measured mostly with your personal development and the relationships you have built with what was a completely alien culture that has become your own.

Pretty Rough Video of the Saint Lucia group singing the Saint Lucia National Anthem, as you can see I did not know the lyrics, shame on me. I was singing watermelon, watermelon. It also includes a partial video of us giving away awards.

Bloody Bunnies Skit:

Shaving Skit:

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dog attack kills 4 rabbits and damages hutch.

You certainly have set backs in development work, it would not be so rewarding if you did not. For those with sensitive constitutions I would recommend that you skip this blog entry since it contains a few graphic pictures.

I spent the night outside of the village visiting another Peace Corps and came home to find my front gate left open from the neighbor children coming into my yard while I was gone. As I went to my backyard for my rabbits morning feeding I was immediately confronted with carnage.

White clumps of rabbit fur lay everywhere as I came around the corner of the house. I found myself looking at one my rabbits head laying on the ground, pieces of legs and ears scattered around.

With shock I opened the first hutch door to find that the bottom of the screen had been ripped out. My rabbits had been attacked by a neighborhood dog. The dog had come in the night, ripped at the bottom of the cage until the wire was a wide enough gap so the dog could reach in grabbing one rabbit at a time devouring them until all 4 rabbits were consumed.

The rest of my remaining rabbits were okay with the exception of my oldest large female, I could see where the dog had yanked back some of the wire to try to get her, she has an injury on her foot.

Video of my first reaction of coming home to the carnage:

I know it was a dog because the next night I was awoken at 2am from strange noises in the backyard, I looked out my window to see a large pit bull mix dog underneath the hutch trying to rip out the wire again to kill my rabbits. The dog had slipped through a hole in the neighbors wall this time. I came our of my house at 3am with my machete and flashlight with murderous intentions for this dog. The dog must have sensed the brewing violence within me because he cleared out before I made it to the backyard.

The next day I had the neighbor seal up the hole with sheet metal and I have not had any trouble since.

All I can say is it was valuable lesson and it could have been worse with me losing all my rabbits.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Agriculture in Saint Lucia

My Buddy Donni a fellow Hoosier Peace Corps Volunteer gave me some straight talk info on Agriculture in Saint Lucia to help me prepare for my interview with the Gates Foundation. I hope you find it as interesting, open and frank as I did.


Sorry, I've been a bit unmindful of my offer to send you some briefing notes for your interview with the Gates Foundation. If I remember correctly, you flew out today, so hopefully this doesn't come entirely too late.

Recent history for St. Lucian agriculture has been the WTO ruling against preferential trading with the UK that occurred in 1997. Many livelihood were destroyed in St. Lucia as farmers were unfamiliar with planting other marketable crops (seeing as dasheen, breadfruit, and green figs don't sell at a high price). Many farmers moved to Martinique to work on banana farms their, which had maintain preferential trading with France, as it is a French territory. It also means that people can get paid in Euros. If I understand correctly, basically people can go and work for two weeks at a time and that's it, so it prevents massive migration, but it still common even now for people to go to Martinique to work.

In 2000, the National Fair Trade Organization started and has slowly incorporated almost all banana farmers into its auspices around the island. They export bananas to the UK (I believe exclusively, though that's not a requirement) as a fair trade brand. The premium that is paid by customers for the fair trade bananas from St. Lucia is then put into a fund for social projects, which in Dennery has included a computer lab for a primary school, support for the community centre I've worked on, an autoclave for the Dennery hospital to sterilize their medical tools, etc. Farmers are involved in making the decisions as to which projects to support. Additionally, farmers have to comply with some environmental restrictions like the reduction and limited use of pesticides, not planting next to rivers to prevent chemical runoff. And some health requirements, all farms now have pit toilets.

It's difficult to diversify crops in St. Lucia for two main reasons: first, it's expensive. To grow other crops profitably, farmers need the significant capital to pay for the sowing, harvesting, and distribution, while also daily living expenses before being able to recoup their money with successful sales (which is obviously no guarantee). Bananas provide regular income, every two weeks, while all other crops basically require waiting for several months for a payday. Also, because of the rainy and dry seasons having a greenhouse is a significant advantage in terms of avoiding some natural gluts and gaps in the market caused by weather. Setting up a greenhouse is relatively cheap, since it is pvc and plastic sheets, though the sheets ware out because of the intense sunshine and need to be replaced every few years and must be imported from Miami or somewhere else. Most farmers don't have enough saving to invest in a greenhouse. Which leads to the second reason: people are resistant to change. Much of this is clearly linked to a lack of education, whether it is in regard to farmer techniques, financial management, or understanding the market. If one farmer is successful in trying something new, others will follow. But their is significant personal financial requirements to going it alone and some social pressure to avoid any sort of public failure in small, rural communities. All of this contributes to slow changes.

Markets are available. Large luxury hotels continue to import many crops that could be grown locally, if a stable supply chain could be established. But the pushing and tugging and investment in teaching and explanation involved upfront is usually more than any one individual in the Ministry of Agriculture seems can accomplishing. As an example of group think, no risk mentality, is the regular glut of tomatoes on the market in St. Lucia. Everyone seems plant at the same time, driving down the prices of tomatoes, which is provided in a constant supply, would provide a better price to all sellers. But the coordination is extremely challenging. Even Fair Trade is often just tolerated by farmers because it's the only game in town. I've heard several farmers complain about the reduction in the use of chemicals and how that affects their yields, plus the sentiment that the leaders of fair trade are just their for themselves. It's rather astonishing.

I think you should also talk about the youth and how adverse they are to farm work, because it's seen as backwards and poor, even though if they worked wisely, one could make a very comfortable living farming.

Also, probably good to know, is that all of the major banana producing areas produced sugar cane into the 50s and 60s, when it shifted entirely to bananas. Land redistribution programs away from the large sugar estates has meant that most people have access to land, often around 3 acres. Few have more than that. In the 80s, bananas were sold very profitably and were referred to as green gold. This period is responsible for much of the deforestation that has dried up the east side of the island. People began squatting, buying, and farming on the hillsides, slashing much needed forest. The forest reserve in the center of St. Lucia was established in the 1940s, I believe, when the population of the island was only 50,000, less than one-third of what it is now. So, with the boom in population, the current forest reserve is insufficient for all of the various water needs, especially better irrigation to permit the growth of the agricultural sector.

alright bro, hope that can be of service. I'm traveling back to Goshen tomorrow, so I won't have email.

good luck!


"The ideals which have lighted my way, and time after time have given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been kindness, beauty, and truth." ~Albert Einstein

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Toshihara from Japan International Cooperation Agency Visits Canabelle Soap

I had the pleasure of meeting Toshihara-san at the Anse La Raye Fish Fry where I was introduced to him by "BIG DOG" Nick Klinger my compadre and fellow Peace Corps chum. Nick is working in that fishing village on some great projects which include a School Saving Cooperative and an organized Fish Fry Vendors Association. (props to Nick for getting 50 very independent women to work together to help each other).

The ladies demonstrating.

Toshihara is an experienced development and capacity builder in the development world, his specialty is Fish Marketing and Development. Currently the Japanese government has agreed to install a massive fishing complex in Anse La Raye that will dramatically change and improve the lives of its residents. With all of his experience I had to invite him down to visit Anse La Raye's sister village Canaries to see the soap making process and to advise in a few critical areas we are struggling in, mainly a distribution system.

Toshihara generously agreed to visit bringing down Mr Ferrai from from the fisheries who covers the Anse La Raye and Canaries area.

We demonstrated the soap making process to both of them, having them take a hands on approach as you can see below.

Toshihara taking a hands on approach to soap making.

Mr. Ferrari cutting the soap.

The soap being poured into the new molds.

Toshihara generously agreed to keep his eye out for us as we seek to develop the co-op I was not able to get a commitment from Mr. Ferrari, it was more a "This is great project, good luck." After some pushing he did agree to keep his eyes open for us. This is not unique, honestly, it has been the approach of many of the ministries in Saint Lucia. We still have yet to have a visit from our parliamentary representative who has been in office for over a year and a half nor has anyone visited from the Ministry of Agriculture despite our pushing and phone calls, sad or as it is said here. Salop! I think it is more of a matter of finding the right ministry person who takes on Canabelle as their personal mission recognizing the incredible employment opportunity and income generating potential it has. Until then our fund raising successes to build infrastructure and capacity will remain with the generous business community on the island which includes.

Cable and Wireless
Ladera Resort
The British High Commission in Saint Lucia
The Distillery

Me and the ladies.

Me and Deterville the President of Canabelle Soap.