Sunday, November 8, 2015

St. Lucia, More than Just a Tropical Paradise



The entrance to Archbishop Kelvin Felix Archdiocesan Pastoral Center, our home






Greetings from St. Lucia! It has hardly been a week, and we’ve already been completely consumed and engulfed by the culture of this gorgeous, tropical island. Although many of us are still adjusting to the climate and the way of life here, we are excited to learn and to develop more as thriving young individuals. Upon arriving, many of us took full advantage of the neighboring resort's beach made available to us: adventuring to the beach, swimming together, finding strange objects (a trumpet fish, to just name one) that wash up on shore, and joining in on a water aerobics class. It has been a nice change from the cooler weather of the Midwest to feel the warm sun and relax on the beach. Random, passing bouts of rain is an everyday occurrence. Most of the drizzles are welcomed by us because they cool us down; but they put a damper on the day for many of tourists who are here to simply enjoy the sunshine. This week we experienced some severe weather conditions. Torrential rain came down in sheets for an entire day. This downpour left the city of Castries flooded, but thankfully we haven't run into any major issues where we are staying.
Gymnastics at the beach! 
Now, our group hasn't just been basking in the sun this entire time. We have been rigorously developing our critical thinking skills: analyzing what we read, the things we see and our experiences. We even are reflecting on the way we talk to one another--and the words we chose to use (or not use) when we debrief at the end of the day. We are starting to connect what we learn from the course readings to what we see as we navigate our way through various towns and talk with some of the locals about our experiences. 

On Wednesday we went to the town of Rodney Bay to exchange currency and spend some time walking around.Our "assignment" was to critically analyze the ways in which 'cultural imperialism' has affected this small coastal town. We have learned that the theory of 'cultural imperialism' states that Western nations have a very powerful and influential (sometimes negative) effect on developing countries by exposing them to Western views and commonly shared Western values--overwhelmingly, these views and values are spread via media. The effect of cultural imperialism can, in extreme cases, destroy the native culture of an area. While walking around, many of us noticed the ways the American ideal of 'beauty' was portrayed here in St. Lucia -- noticing that most of the mannequins are of light skin, with an hour-glass figure, and unrealistically sized. Similarly, many of the billboards and local advertisements showed lighter skinned models even though many of the locals are of dark complexion. Even the music on the island is American! The local radio stations play a lot of American music, including country music! We learned from this excursion that cultural imperialism has left a mark here in St. Lucia.

On Thursday we had the opportunity to visit The Folk Research Centre. It was a beautiful old building with a wrap around porch. We hung out on and enjoyed the view of the city, Castries, from the porch. Also, we were given permission to pick mangoes from a tree in front of the building. Luckily, Mojo brought her pocketknife, and we got to enjoy some delicious, fresh mango slices before our presentation! Our first presenter was a man named Kennedy 'Boots' Samuel, the former Executive Director of the FRC who has lived in St. Lucia most of his life. Boots told us all about the history of St. Lucia. One of the topics we learned about was the island's native language of Creole, which is a combination of French and African. We also learned about the impact tourism has on the island and how at one point the main source of the countries economy used to be agriculture. Mr. Samuel offered a very provocative critique on the level of power the Mininstry of Tourism has on the country. He subtly encouraged us to think more critically about the driving economic force that is at play on the island, and what effect this has on the remaining indigenous culture of St.Lucia. Most of us took away much to think about from his talk!
Matt and Zach matching in the tropical climate

After listening to what Samuel had to say about St. Lucia's economic switch from agricultrue to tourism, we got to thinking critically. Where did we see the dominence of tourism on the island? During our trip to Rodney Bay, it appeared that most of the town was designed to cater to the American and European tourists. Another "tourism-fuled" experience we had in Rodney Bay, was the pressure put on the shopper by store employees. When visiting stores, the clerks called out in assertive voices, “Come here,” “Take a look,” or “Try it on;” while at the same time, they called us honey, sweetheart, or darling, which is something most of us have never experienced before.


We also learned that The Good News Project -- a Wausau based humanitarian non-profit organization with whom we are partnering here on the island -- built a safe dormitory building several years ago for Upton Gardens Girls Centre. (The mission of Upton Gardens is "to provide a quality day care rehabilitation service in a conducive environment to abused, disadvantaged and neglected young girls through high community involvement, timely and appropriate interventions and effective case management.") This school caters primarily to young women at risk, and for many years they have been a partner of The Good News Project.  Many GNP volunteers have spent countless hours working with this school. Despite the volunteer hours to build this dormitory and the hours spent to get governmental pre-approval to use it as a "residential" building for at-risk girls to stay, we learned from the school's administrator that the building was denied residential zoning based on resistance from the Ministry of Tourism. Because the economy of St. Lucia is dependent on tourism, one could speculate on the growing power of the Ministry of Tourism, and what effect it is having on vulnerable populations within St.Lucia.
 Ready to learn about local culture at the Folk Research Center
Kennedy "Boots" Samuels, a local St. Lucian historian

Another presentation we had at the Folk Research Center was with a man named Jason Joseph, an educator at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. Jason taught us about the traditional folk music and various folk dances of the country. We were all excited when he told us to stand up and push the chairs out of the way. We spent the next hour laughing and smiling while learning group and partner dances. After learning the various dances from Joseph, he shared his claim to fame, and sang the original Calypso song that earned him the title of "King of Calypso" one year. Calypso is a form of music here that is widely celebrated, and each year there is an annual Calypso festival. Although many of us had no idea, the lyrics of most Calypso songs are often political satire, and are used as a way for the locals to poke fun at local politicians or raise awareness about the other social injustices they see around them. It's safe to say that we all had a great afternoon learning more about our new home away from home!

Doing a traditional St. Lucian dance!
We all enjoyed a free day on Saturday. Many of us went to the Castries Market. To get to the market we had to take a bus, which was just a large minivan. The buses run the same routes all day, and it costs $1.75 EC (or about $0.65 US) to get to Castries. The market was in the middle of town. It was filled with small booths containing shirts, knickknacks, and other items. Many of us were happy with the experience and our purchases -- whether it was a food we've never tried or coconut-husk drinking cups! At the end of our free day, we all met up to have dinner at Key Largo Pizza. The restaurant had an open-air concept, with shades built in the walls that could be closed if necessary. As we were looking at the menus, we weren't too surprised to see yet another example of the pervasive American culture influence in the pizza options: "American Style Pizza." Nevertheless, we all enjoyed different types of delicious pizza and gelato for dessert!

Sunday morning everyone dressed up to go to a traditional Catholic mass at the Cathedral in Castries. This old wooden building was decorated with brightly painted frescos, simple stained glass windows, and intricate architecture. Many of us enjoyed the variations in the music with the children singing along to the upbeat sounds. One man especially caught our attention as he sang a peaceful rendition of, “How Great Thou Art.” Though not all of us are practicing Catholics, we still took away an important lesson from the homily: absolute giving of self and resources--in good and tough times. 
Jack with our adopted cat, 'Leo' or 'Chewy'


After a week in St. Lucia, we are all still adjusting to the occasional cat-calls (and marriage proposals) that the gals are getting from some of the locals. Although we just came from Chicago, not all of us are used to constant honking as we drive somewhere. Believe it or not, St. Lucians honk as a courtesy, rather than Chicago drivers who honk out of rage. People here honk when they see someone that they know, and it appears that Glendon, who has been kind enough to drive us around, is a very popular man on the island! And finally, we are even getting used to our new residential pet, Leo or Chewy depending on whom you ask, a very affectionate cat that is ever-present at meal time. All in all, it has been a busy, fun-filled, and thought-provoking week. We all look forward to many more this month!



Written by Autumn Ash and Morgan Pennings
Edited by Jakob Pekosh
Photos by Jack Primer

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