Friday, October 29, 2010

I am working here, I promise.

I am constantly reminded of this space I am filling between local and tourist, on an island primarily frequented by Western vacationers looking to have a good time. However, I am here to work, regardless of the frustrations that may accompany these efforts. While today was slow to say the least, I’ll take this time to talk a bit about my work life here in Barbados. Currently, other than supporting the Communications team – Lisa and Patrick – with anything they need, I am working on documenting best practices to write up a social media platform for this country office. Not too time consuming save trying to get in contact with other country offices to figure out what they’re up to. So, I am prone to taking regular tea breaks here, especially since the lunch room (read: closet) has milo as well. And I must say, though I find it odd that everyone drinks evaporated milk with their hot beverages, I am growing to love the taste!

The last two days I was working on a presentation for our rep Tom to make for high school students on UN Statistics Day (try making that interesting), but it got cancelled. Pretty much everything has been cancelled this past week since the Prime Minister died of cancer last Saturday. I think he was quite loved and fairly young. The funeral is next Wednesday. But it was a nice change to have the TACRO (UNICEF The Americas and Caribbean Regional Office) Representative visiting last week, and now you can virtually meet my colleagues:

Otherwise, a few of us have taken to having our lunch break on the beach – it really makes for a legit break from the office, even though I find it a little too hot outside. But how can I complain with the breeze, good company and the sound of waves breaking. Also, I should say that Julie and I share an “office” – it’s actually that we have desks in the library. No complaints since it has windows and a lot to read, but it turns out it also serves as the holding pen for children of staff when they are in the office. It doesn’t help that there is a big screen TV in here. Last week, when schools were on a break, I could swear we were running a glorified babysitting service. I do love kids, I promise, but I cannot be expected to work when they are listening to Scooby Doo on volume 10000 in Spanish. I’m trying to be “child-friendly” – and they are cute, Kayla made us a homage that is up for interpretation:

After work, usually we opt to walk most of the way home, past the smoothie van, hotels, banks and shops, Bert’s Bar, Shell and on to Big B (our grocery store of choice). When we first arrived, we went almost every day. I am trying to buy as much “local” as possible – but it’s tempting with so many Canadian imports. The other great thing about Big B is they have a free shuttle when you buy groceries. A must since there is no bus running to our place from there.

And two nights ago, I spent about an hour making a delicious teriyaki veggie stir fry – complete with (knife) crushed peanuts – and what do I hear? Bells! Ice cream! I grabbed my wallet, ran to the curb and listened. And it was as if the sugar gods heard my prayer because the ice cream truck came around the bend onto my street! Someone hailed him down a few houses away, huzzah! I talked to the ice cream man and told him to drop by any time. This is so dangerous.

After a really lovely run under the stars, I spent the rest of the night relaxing on the porch with the scrumptious eats.

So, does anyone want to come visit?

P.S. False advertising, this is from my colleague's porch, not mine!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Morning Report

Is it possible that I am actually starting to really enjoy running? It seems odd to be looking forward to my morning runs, so much so that I have to stop myself from running every day. Weird. It might in part be due to signing up for a half marathon on December 5th with Laurie, the French intern at the office – I thought it was totally doable until I checked online only to find that the average finish time for a relatively fit woman is around 2 hours. In this heat, it will be quite the challenge for a distance noob like me. I ran about 10km last Sunday, and this Sunday, maybe 12km – so I’m sure I’ll survive. Though the race starts at 5am, harkening back to my press clipping hours. Here are some things I have observed while on my runs so far:

1. Everyone here owns a guard dog, or two, or three. This makes running a heart-attack-inducing activity, with the domino effect coming into full force and before long, the entire block becomes a chorus of different yelps, barks and growls. It’s a little much at 6:30am.

2. I have an unofficial running buddy here. Most mornings I see this old man, with mildly bowed legs, in his navy wife beater and red shorts. We always nod knowingly at each other as we are both dripping with sweat. This always makes me smile, like we have made a little connection. The other day, he seemed to have started pushing a small bicycle wheel alongside him with a stick. Now that takes skills.

3. I cannot seem to shake Sam, a delightful teacher who we met at Oistins, the Friday night fish market, our first week in Barbados. He lives up the street and always sees me running and wants to chit chat about everything. Run away!

4. On my evening runs, I’m still taunted by the distant bell chimes of the ice cream truck. Still unsuccessful in my attempts at figuring that one out.

More to come as the training continues. Wish me luck!

A Lot of Lashes without Defence

One of the major initiatives that UNICEF in general focuses on is the Child-Friendly Schools programme. Because all of the Eastern Caribbean has attained Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary, save one country, the main focus is on upping the quality of the education. CFS focuses on creating an environment where children’s needs are addressed individually, positive behaviour is rewarded, respect and responsibility for each student, from teachers and other students, is instilled, and parents are on board to continue the same behaviours and attitudes out of school. Sounds pretty straight forward, eh? (I know aboot where I come from) But in Barbados, and elsewhere in the region, corporal punishment is still a legally sanctioned and used form of punishment, both by teachers and parents, against children of all ages. I am sure I will get a chance to reflect on other child protection issues, but today seemed dominated by CFS and corporal punishment. And an article in Sunday’s Sun has not seemed to help – I’ll post the link when I find it. Here is something else in the meantime.

My supervisor Patrick was explaining to me, after I had contacted a Ministry of Education to see about visiting some CFS schools in Barbados to write a human-interest story, that people in Barbados feel threatened by CFS. The fact that it is a UNICEF initiative, an organization who many people see as a foreign influence coming in to take control of development of the country, there just is not the widespread support that other islands have for the programme.

I helped out at a CFS sensitization workshop for facilitators of extra-curricular activities (think Guides, Scouts, 4H, sports clubs, etc). Heather “big Heather” Stewart, the UNICEF matriarch here, addressed the crowd to speak to child-friendly schools both regionally and globally. She is quite the compelling speaker, and while during most of her talk, people were whispering amongst themselves, as soon as she mentioned the words corporal punishment, the room fell silent. The issue is obviously very controversial. Even within the Ministry of Education, there has been much opposition to CFS, wanting to re-brand the initiative the “positive school behaviour management” model. Many already think their schools as “friendly” enough as they are. I think people have to put their pride aside, and move forward in the best interest of the children, particularly as gang and youth violence in on the increase here.

Also this is Kayla, she's the daughter of a colleague and a ball of energy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thanksgiving à la Barbade

Finally, a sunny weekend. I hate to complain, but really, I am living on a tropical island and the last few weekends have been cloudy and rainy. After a Saturday of discovering the Cheap(side) veggie market, shoe shopping and going for a dip, I was not really thinking about cooking much. And it gets HOT in that kitchen. But how could I pass up the opportunity to make an international-style Thanksgiving meal after setting a Tanzanian precedent. Thinking back to making a feast for a good 15 people on three hotplates on the floor, mashing the potatoes with the bottom of a water bottle, making ad-lib stuffing from baguettes, and enjoying the oh-so-precious American import jello cheesecake, really motivated me to recreate whatever I could here. And I could not possibly forget our epic live turkey at last year’s thanksgiving in Rwanda. And my pumpkin pies, between seeking out an actual pumpkin at the market, cutting, cleaning and baking it, then scooping and attempting to puree it without a blender, followed by mixing with condensed milk and spices. Not to mention making my own crust from yogurt and coconut cookies I crushed myself with a hammer. I really felt like a cop out this year when I bought pumpkin puree in a can and ready made pie crusts. Lame.

Getting away from the nostalgia, we did make a pretty decent meal this year, although it did not have as much character as the previous ones. No slaving away for the whole day this time, but instead I had a beach break half way through. And I dropped the pumpkin pie. Typical.

And we draped a large Canadian flag underneath the front window of our house on Sunday for thanksgiving, and this had the unintended positive result of correcting our neighbours’ previous perceptions that we were American. And we have met more neighbours in the last few days than in past few weeks.

Now back to trying to fit in. Next step: work on my tan.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Turtle pictures!

Okay, so I've done a few cool-ish things since arriving in Barbados, but nothing yet rivals saving the baby sea turtles. So here are a few snaps I received earlier today, enjoy!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ice Cream and Turtles

Setting the stage: It was the last night before our German friends Jens and Armin, who we met at the guesthouse we lived at temporarily before finding this house, were to fly back home. We met up after work, had some local eats, and went to the newly discovered ice cream place – Chilly Moo’s - very dangerous for those who know me well! Did I mention the “we” is Matt and Julie, the two other Canadians working at UNICEF and living with me? Basically these guys were our first basically only friends so far, and luckily Julie speaks some German because I have to hone my slow English speaking skills still.

So after food – and in case you were wondering I ordered a strawberry cheesecake milkshake, yum! – right, so after food, we went back to the guesthouse for drinks on the beach and some evening swimming.

The main event: After some swimming, myself, Julie and the Germans went back to the porch of the guesthouse to hang out. After about 10 minutes without seeing Matt, I decided to go make sure he didn’t get swept out to see since “Da sea ain’t got no back door,” according to the Barbadian proverb to deter people from swimming out too far. Nearby a shower station down the beach a little ways, I spot a scurrying, scantily-clad Matt yelling and picking up squirmy little things from the beach, then running towards the ocean. “We have to save the baby turtles!” “Hurry we have to save them!!” I grabbed the others and after taking the requisite adorable photos, we starting collecting the little guys and bringing them to the waves. Basically, the turtle eggs hatch in the evening, and innately the turtles flail towards the moonlight. The problem is, the shower station and surrounding development puts off an even stronger light, leading the baby guys in the wrong direction and towards attack-ready crabs!

Basically, we spent about 30 minutes collecting and saving close to 100 baby sea turtles. I felt like such the budding conservationist! Apparently you can volunteer to help do this on a regular basis, so I think I’ll look into that. Armin took the photos so I’ll post them when I get ‘em. For now, enjoy this snap of the Germans, Julie and I and pretend we are hugging palm-sized turtles a la Finding Nemo.

In other news and more on the ice cream front – since most of you know about my mini-obsession – there is an ice cream truck cruising our neighbourhood. And it’s exactly how you would picture it in your mind, ding-a-ling music and all. The first time I heard it, I ran out to the street but couldn’t find the source. This evening, as Julie and I were walking home from work, the truck whizzed past us! I set out in pursuit, literally looking foolish by waving my arms in the air. But unlike the busses here that stop and reverse towards you, the ice cream truck did not seem to care about the scene I was making. I saw him stop up ahead of me, but as I approached, and what looked like a school girl got out, he whizzed off again. Now I’m puzzled. A school bus disguised as an ice cream vendor? Will keep you posted!

And here is me running after a rooster, so imagine me wearing dress clothes, running after an ice cream truck in the dark.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Feeling Grounded: Our New Digs

Two weeks. It has been both a whirlwind and what seems like forever. Before telling you some quirks about Bridgetown and how my life and work is going here, I have a confession to make. Much the groan of the majority of those who will read this, I did not initially want to come to Barbados. I know, I know, I’m a terrible person. But I’m a terrible person who is looking for direction and building on new experiences, and I guess I thought I would end up back somewhere on the African continent. The reason I’m letting you inside my mind, is that I’m still trying to shake that off and embrace Barbados and the Caribbean for what it is, beautiful, friendly and pretty developed!

Okay, so I’m not directly helping people who are plagued by conflict, or those who are malnourished because of crop failure, but I just need to get over that and move on so I can be successful where I am, not where I might wish I could be. UNICEF Barbados covers the entire Eastern Caribbean, including 9 other island states. In no particular order, they are: St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kits and Nevis, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos and the British Virgin Islands. While most UNICEF offices are country-based, this office has to deal with 10 governments, 10 sets of stakeholders and 10 different cultures, plus logistical issues, and a pretty small staff to manage all of it. Issue-wise, the office deals mainly with programming in Early Childhood Development, HIV/AIDS and life skills, Child protection and social policy. I have not quite pinpointed my role in all of this yet, as all I have done thus far is update a bit of web content and become the most informed intern ever. I have a page of question to ask Patrick, my supervisor, but he’s going a contagious eye infection, so it looks like I will be flying solo a bit longer and teaching myself to be patient.

But it is a challenge when, for five days, my fellow intern Julie is going to Montserrat, a tiny British territory with a population of 5,000 people and an active volcano smack dab in the middle of it, to help with an Evaluation conference. Note to self – devise cunning and indirect ways to persuade supervisor to let me accompany him when island hopping. But more about work at a later point.

Enough of what appears to be complaining, because regardless of the fact that it is rainy season for another month or so, Barbados is lovely and homey. And I have to admit, it is rather nice that everyone speaks English here, even if sometimes der accen make it difcul ta undastan. After a short stay at a guesthouse right on the beach, the owner, a German cum Bajan woman named Brigid, helped us find a cute 3 bedroom house in a good neighbourhood, and affordable on an intern’s allowance. Sweet! We even have a lime tree in our front yard! So we are living in a residential area called Rendezvous Hill, a 10 minute walk up from the main road running along the South Coast.

Here are my contact details:
Cell: +1 246 268 3149
Address: No. 43 4th Avenue Amity Lodge, Worthing, Christ Church, Barbados, West Indies.

Big hugs and a turtle story to come,