eastern caribbean travel, human medicine, peace corps response

Beyond Impressive

I’m struggling to find my voice, the right voice in order to tell the story of St. Jude Hospital (SJH).  A voice that is honest yet sensitive.  It is a special story.  One that I couldn’t have imagined before arriving on island.  When I read the job description for SJH I knew it was the right fit.  I never even looked at another listing.  It was St. Jude or nothing.  The location was insignificant.  The pull was too strong.  Once I arrived, the CEO, Dr. Chierry Poyotte, told me he envisioned me coming to them.  Me.

map of caribbean

I’ll admit I originally thought my St. Jude was the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital based in the US.  It isn’t.

Rising from the Ashes is exactly what St. Jude Hospital was forced to do when its hospital, originally located in Augier, was destroyed by a raging fire on Sept 9, 2009.   A team of nearly 350 provide primary, specialty and emergency medical care to the southern region of the country which comprises roughly 68,0000 people.  To survive, to be displaced, to reorganize, and to make a stadium work as a hospital is beyond impressive.  There aren’t many organizations that can say they have endured and done what the St. Jude Hospital team has accomplished.

Vieux-Fort (VF) is the town and Augier is community within VF.

Vieux-Fort (VF) is the town and Augier is community within VF.

The stadium I speak of is George Odlum located in Vieux-Fort.  St. Jude literally took a sports stadium and turned it into a temporary hospital, albeit it’s been 6 yrs, so it could carry on with its mission.

This year, on the anniversary of the fire, the CEO, Public Relations, and I went around the hospital meeting with every department impromptu to thank them for their hard work through the years.  We acknowledged the “stadium fatigue” that is consuming them.  We encouraged them in this final push before we get to our new hospital…don’t give up…the light is at the end of the tunnel..  Even though we see the light, the feeling on the street is skepticism about the new hospital coming to fruition.  The people of St. Lucia are tired of hearing “next year.”  They don’t understand why it’s taking so long.

15 acre compound that houses the new St. Jude Hospital. This is the light at the end of the tunnel.

15 acre compound that houses the new St. Jude Hospital. This is the light at the end of the tunnel.

There are things that I’ve seen here that would never fly in a human or the best veterinary hospitals in the US.  The hard reality is the stadium is crumbling before our eyes.  In spite of this, the team pours their blood, sweat and tears into their work to be better every day.  It’s beyond tough to achieve best medical standards when there isn’t enough money to fix doors to a medical ward, replace flooring, provide certain tests, or to treat a certain illness.  Dirty electricity keeps us from putting in new equipment for fear it will be ruined outright.  The main focus though…is that the hospital strives to do right by it’s patients with what they have.  It is inspirational!

ER waiting area

ER waiting area

The generosity of companies and individuals who donate supplies, money and themselves is the human spirit at it’s finest. It is a long standing tradition and a foundation pillar of St. Jude.  During my 85 days thus far I have worked with volunteers comprised of doctors, nurses, educators, and a film maker, from the UK, Canada, and the US.  Also, during this time I have had the privilege of participating in small ways with Direct Relief and Americares through deciding what medications we need to how to logistically handle being the hub for distribution of supplies and medications to the 33 health clinics, two poly clinics, and Victoria Hospital which comprise the public medical system.  And this is simply the tip of the iceberg.

view of pharmacy from ER waiting area

view of pharmacy from ER waiting area

open air, rugged cafeteria area off the East Wing

open air, rugged cafeteria area off the East Wing

I’m honored and grateful to be here.  Those of you who have helped me and support me in my service to the Peace Corps and St. Jude Hospital are deeply appreciated.  By helping me, you are helping serve SJH and the United States.  The next time you go to the doctor, look around and be thankful for all which you have access.

Stay tuned…because I’m not sitting on the sidelines of life.

Other blogs you may be interested in:

-David: http://kuribbean.blogspot.com/

-Bash: http://www.bashhalow.blogspot.com/

-Kate: https://everywhereismydestination.wordpress.com/

-Chris: https://cannitopeacecorps.wordpress.com/

-Shelby: https://shelbyec.wordpress.com/

-Anna: https://hobbsseehobbsdo.wordpress.com/

-Mary: http://www.theknockabout.org/

-Alan: http://www.pcinec.net/

-Erin: http://pceasterncaribbean.blogspot.com/2015/07/

~Brie Messier, MBA

Note:  The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps 

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eastern caribbean travel, harassment training, Peace Corps, peace corps response, safety suggestions, safety tips, singles travel adventure

“Hey, sexy!”

“Hey Sexy” is how I was greeted by a young man at the VF bus depot.  So, I said hello.  Within 90 seconds he was asking for my cell number.  I politely declined.  This was the 2nd time I’d been asked for my number since I arrived.  I wish I could say it’s because of my wild charms but alas it’s just how it goes here.  Here’s how I think they’re looking at me…

Prior to arriving in St. Lucia I had read the Peace Corps welcome package which was fraught with caution, guidance, and safety tips on dealing with unwanted male attention.  I’m sort of a novelty, if you will, as there aren’t many Caucasian women here.  I must admit, dealing with sexual advances was probably highest on my concern list.  Would I be able to handle them?  Could I keep myself safe?  How would I know who was genuine?

Upon arriving, safety continued to be an emphasis.  A new friend, Hollianne, also gave me some tips on handling such advances.  This was a big deal.  I’ve encountered outward calls, hissing (sort of sounds like pssssst), physical contact, invitations to see them later, invitations to go out, offers to “stop by” my work, and far less intimidating, hello.  These have taken place on the road, on a bus, in the grocery store, walking through town, and in a food court.

Imagine yourself being pursued, verbally and physically, within the confines of a minibus, like the one below.  What is your recourse?  What do you do?

13 ppl packed like sardines and I'm in back

13 ppl packed like sardines and I’m in back

Can you feel your anxiety climbing?  He leaned his leg against mine; as I inched away, he followed.  I wanted him to stop. Seriously, I was worried that he would take the next bus I was on then see where I lived.  I contemplated getting off a couple houses away from mine or changing up my route in some way.  Those who know me best won’t be surprised that I ultimately asked him to move his leg to give me space.  He complied.  Such a wave of relief!  For added good measure, I told him I was married.  I suppose he felt I wasn’t playing into his hands and THANKFULLY got off one stop before me.

There are different approaches one can take: ignore, play dumb, yell, etc.  For me, acknowledging the men works well.   Better yet, I try to greet first; “Bonjou!”  I suspect by giving a friendly greeting in Patois it startles the guy(s) into not pursuing me.  In essence, I remove the target.  I’ve been told they simply want to be “seen.”  I understand so I do my best to “see” them.  Anything else…eh…they can’t touch this;)  Cue music…

Let’s hope as I gain more confidence and comfort in this foreign land that I will be able to blend in more.

Stay tuned…because I’m not sitting on the sidelines of life.

Other blogs you may be interested in:

-David: http://kuribbean.blogspot.com/

-Bash: http://www.bashhalow.blogspot.com/

-Kate: https://everywhereismydestination.wordpress.com/

-Chris: https://cannitopeacecorps.wordpress.com/

-Shelby: https://shelbyec.wordpress.com/

-Anna: https://hobbsseehobbsdo.wordpress.com/

-Mary: http://www.theknockabout.org/

-Alan: http://www.pcinec.net/

-Erin: http://pceasterncaribbean.blogspot.com/2015/07/mr-g-is-my-spirit-animal.html

~Brie Messier, MBA

Note:  The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps 

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caribbean music, eastern caribbean travel, Micoud, Peace Corps, peace corps response

The ordinary day that wasn’t…Pt 3

Micoud was a treasure trove of delight for me!  It is the complete opposite of my town of Augier, St. Lucia.   It is a wonderful collection of people living ordinary lives and they probably don’t realize how great their community.  Shops, salons, and goats dotted the landscape while people looked onto the streets from their balconies greeting us “afternoon” every couple of houses.  The fact that there were actual people outside to engage with, that we could walk to the water, and walk to/from Barbara’s work at the library oddly made me feel more connected.

A strangely inviting yet poisonous  tree in Micoud.

A strangely inviting yet poisonous tree in Micoud.

loving on a local goat in Micoud, St. Lucia

loving on a local goat in Micoud, St. Lucia

As we walked through the village, stopping in a shop to get water and chatting with a Syrian store owner, there was a street vendor with a little cart which caught my attention.  The little cart was filled with one of my favorites…ICE CREAM!!!  AAAHHHHH…  You better believe I got a cup of it 🙂  We were nearly to the Library which happens to be on the second floor of the Multi-purpose Center and I kid you not, as soon as we walked up my ears were rewarded with the sounds of a steel drum band.  The biggest smile emerged.

OMG…I was in heaven; ice cream AND steel drums at one time.  Very early on I learned about Panorama which is the largest celebration of steel drum bands on the island.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that I could go for a variety of reasons.  The universe delivered any way much to my delight!

By 4:15p I was standing at the bus stop waiting to go home.  That was the longest ride thanks to a guy who wouldn’t leave me alone.  I was beat and ready to chill after my totally gratifying ordinary day that wasn’t.

Stay tuned…because I’m not sitting on the sidelines of life.

Other blogs you may want to check out are:

David at http://kuribbean.blogspot.com/

Bash at http://www.bashhalow.blogspot.com/

Kate at https://everywhereismydestination.wordpress.com/

~Brie Messier, MBA

Note:  The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps 

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Dennery, eastern caribbean travel, Micoud, Mondele Lookout Point, Peace Corps, peace corps response, singles travel adventure

The Ordinary Day that Wasn’t…Pt 2

By 12:30p that same Saturday, I had connected with fellow PCV, Barbara T., in VF.  Initially, we were going to run an errand to the Peace Corps office in Castries but that changed.  We walked down Clark St. a little which is where the general street market is and she pointed out a few stores, like China Town, that everyone MUST know about.  I got to see a different bus area that serviced the North of the island which is exactly where we were headed.  Dennery (pronounced Den Ree) was our destination to have lunch at this place called Mondele Point.

In Dennery there is the beautiful spot called Mondele Lookout Point.  Awe inspiring views of the water and good food.

In Dennery there is the beautiful spot called Mondele Lookout Point. Awe inspiring views of the water and good food.

I’d passed this place several times already and it was calling my name.  Thankfully, Barbara had a good outlook because she said if they didn’t serve lunch we’d simply take another bus to another destination.  I couldn’t ask for more in a travel buddy!

As we were pressed in the bus like sardines, we chatted away about our experiences thus far.  She had just finished an amazing, yet draining, week of summer camp for 50 kids of various ages at her library in Micoud.  I expressed I wanted to see her village and where she worked if we could manage it.  20 minutes later we arrived; I was thrilled with my lunch destination!  Some places are hard to tell if they are open or not therefore I simply asked if they served food.  We had a lovely, inexpensive lunch under the shade of the pavilion overlooking the absolutely stunning scenery of Dennery.

View of Dennery village from Mondele Point

View of Dennery village from Mondele Point

All during lunch we exchanged ideas, ways to partner for a secondary project – how my hospital can reach out to the community through her library initiatives, and more.  It was about this time when we strolled the grounds and a couple tour buses arrived.  I said “Man, I’m glad I’m not a tourist!”  The last thing I wanted was to be shuffled around and rushed through the experience.  I felt particularly thankful at this time because we leisurely went through our lunch on our time table.  We could leave when we wanted.  A couple buses came and went yet we hadn’t moved from our lookout point.  Amusing really.

Me at Mondele Lookout Point

Me at Mondele Lookout Point

Alas our bellies were full, even topped off with Tamarind balls and Gooseberries for dessert.  Off to Micoud we go to see Barbara’s village first hand.  Back down the mountain we went.  The coolest part of that bus ride was I received a compliment that my Patois (also spelled Patwa) was very good!  I was able to exchange a couple sentences.  Yay!  Go Me 🙂  Patois is formally known as Kweyol or better known as Creole.  I have to tell you that I fell in love with Micoud (pronounced Me Coo).  Although I have heard people pronounce the D in Micoud.  I learned it is all about the confidence in which you speak.

Fellow Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Barbara, and I at Mondele Point in Dennery.

Fellow Peace Corps Response Volunteer, Barbara, and I at Mondele Point in Dennery.

Stay tuned for part 3…because I’m not sitting on the sidelines of life.

Other blogs you may want to check out are:

David at http://kuribbean.blogspot.com/

Bash at http://www.bashhalow.blogspot.com/

Kate at https://everywhereismydestination.wordpress.com/

~Brie Messier, MBA

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Peace Corps, peace corps response

The Ordinary Day that Wasn’t…Pt 1

I don’t want to be a tourist.  I never have.  When I go somewhere I want to immerse myself in the culture as best as possible with the amount of time I have.  Living in St. Lucia, affectionately called St. Lucy, is no different.  This weekend has been action packed and I was thrilled by everything I did, saw, smelled, heard, tasted, and touched.  I covered all five senses, correct?  Much of what I did can be considered normal, and some of you may be unimpressed, but for me it was anything but ordinary.

In Vieux-Fort (VF) I saw the fish market up close and personal.  I met “my guy,” Ace.  Yeah, I got a fish guy!  I learned a few things such as types of fish available, how the market works, that I can get 3-15 lbs, a good price is $7-$10 depending on type and if supply is higher than demand.  Good ole economics!  Fish eggs, better known as Caviar, is a pretty price all on it’s own.  My guy…he threw in the eggs at no extra charge.  I got to choose my Mahi Mahi, otherwise known as Dolphin here, that would yield 5lbs.  Now to someone who goes fishing and actually eats their catch or has lived near a place that has a fresh fish market this is a customary experience.  But for me not so much.  I’d never gone to the docks, picked my fish, watched it get cut into fillets then carry off my two bags of fish parts.

While downtown I got to experience a barbershop, a True Value hardware store that had a restaurant in it, and bought some pineapple from a vendor outside the super market.  A notable yet cool occurrence is that the shops are barely labeled.  I mean there is very little signage…at all.  You kind of wander around and poke your head in to see if it may have something you need.  Granted, I have people helping me learn the ropes but sometimes it’s like, “How did you know there was a barber inside that tiny, unmarked building?”  I returned home only long enough to put my groceries away then I hit the pavement to wait for a bus to go meet a friend for more exploration.

We drove around a couple streets in Vieux-Fort looking for this barber shop.  It's the little brown building with no signage.

We drove around a couple streets in Vieux-Fort looking for this barber shop. It’s the little brown building with no signage.

A typical view of city of Plateau.  Notice the far right building that is a bakery.  If you blink you'll miss it.  Small signage.

Another example of business signage; the building on the far right is a bakery. If you blink you’ll miss it.  Typical view of the village of Plateau.

Stay tuned for part 2…because I’m not sitting on the sidelines of life.

~Brie Messier, MBA

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Peace Corps, peace corps response

Go ahead…laugh

Friends.  Bus.  Independent.  Cooking.  Laughing.  Those words could easily sum up my days.  Fortunately, up to this point, I have been getting a ride to the hospital with a colleague, Dylan, even though I know I need to learn how to catch the bus.  I figured after a full day at work on Wednesday, I’d brave the adventure of taking the bus home for the first time.  Initially, it is nerve wracking; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  As I strolled out of the hospital and down the steps, I was greeted by this cutie.

the sweetheart who greeted me AND walked me all the way to the bus at work.

My new friend at work

Up until now, I haven’t gotten close to any of the dogs that I’ve seen but this little girl really liked me talking to her and she even let me pet her a few times.  She was quite curious of me as I crouched down in the parking lot to change into my flip flops.  I loved her right away. Together we trekked around the George Odlum Stadium.  We even played a little; it was awesome.  Can you believe she walked me the entire way!?  No kidding.   I tried giving her water but she didn’t grasp the concept of drinking from my hand.  As I approached the street I got very concerned for her.  I really didn’t want her to cross the road with me but she refused to stay.  It was so darn sweet.  Was she sent to look after me?  She stayed with me until the bus came which was rather quick.  I swear, if she could’ve, and I had invited, I think she would’ve jumped in the bus after me.  It broke my heart really.  As you can imagine she’s a stray.  I simply wanted to scoop her up.  Tears threatened as we left her; I watched nervously as I silently encouraged her to make it to safety.  Leaving her brought my Springaling to mind…gosh I miss her.

These are what our buses look like.  I take two to get to work or home.  Most are identified with a green plate with an M on it.  Others have an H and are black.

This is a typical minibus.  I take 2-4 each day. Most are identified by a green plate with an M on it. Others have an H and are black.

Knowing where to get off in  Vieux-Fort is easy.  It took two tries to find my next bus going to Augier. Here you have to wait until the bus is full, 15 people, before it starts the journey. Patience is a must.   Quiet panic rushed through me a couple times when I didn’t recognize the surroundings.  I sat back, told myself this is all part of the adventure.  Honestly, if I had missed my stop then I’d just get off somewhere and call Dylan to come get me.  I had already prepped him if I wasn’t home by a certain time to come looking for me, lol.  Much to my relief, I recognized my stop.  Bus stops aren’t too formal, they kind of exist but not really.  The art is all in how you yell “Stop!”  $3.20 EC gets me home sweet home.

apartment compound

apartment compound

Feeling like a big girl for finding my way home I felt ready to tackle dinner.  Yup, I dug in to make my first Caribbean meal.  So, I broke out the Bread Fruit, Plantains and chicken.  I swear, the bread fruit was going to do me in.  First I tried boiling it.  Then I changed my mind midway because of what I read in my Peace Corps issued cookbook.  To be a fly on the wall watching me not only attempt to light the stove but to then pull the semi boiled food out so I could peel it…simply priceless.  Did I mention it took me 12 matches to light the stove?  Yes, 12!  In the moment I was cursing because the matches wouldn’t stay lit or the gas wasn’t on or the match burned to0 low for my comfort or…well…you get the picture.  It was a sweat producing event, lol.  Ultimately, after I peeled it, I boiled it then fried it and sprinkled salt.

Peeling Bread Fruit

Peeling Bread Fruit

I went on to prepare the Plantains.  As I was cooking, I thought to myself that they didn’t look like my host moms.  Ah, I just chocked it up to my first time cooking them.  Yeah, well, turns out I made some mighty fine BANANAS!!!  I crack me up.  I didn’t know it until the next day when I made the “same” dinner again but this time the Plantains color and consistency were very different.  Regardless, it was all delicious.

My first delicious, home made meal:  chicken, fried Plantains, and Bread Fruit.

First home made meal: chicken, fried Plantains, and Bread Fruit.

 

 

 

Stay tuned…because I’m not sitting on the sidelines of life.

~Brie Messier, MBA

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Peace Corps, peace corps response

St. Lucian Eats!!

There has been new and delicious food every single day since I arrived here in country. In my host family’s home, they are very health conscientious.  Little or no sugar, 98% of things are prepared from scratch, little salt, and little dairy (if something calls for milk, Rosanna, host mom, makes fresh coconut milk!).  Did you catch that?  Me, in a house with little or no sugar/sweets.  If that isn’t a test, I don’t know what is, lol.  Some of my favorite dishes have been baked bread fruit with salt (island version of french fries), bread fruit with garlic and cheese, cucumber salad, grated salad on a bed of lettuce, potato salad, all the homemade juices such as passion fruit and tamarind, smoothies, and fried plantains.

Lentil balls, bakes bread fruit w/cheese and garlic, and a pasta with grated veggies

Lentil balls, baked bread fruit w/cheese and garlic, and a pasta with grated veggies

Today, however, was the first time I had a traditional St. Lucian meal:  Salt Fish fritters, bakes, and cucumber salad along with cocoa tea.  It took nearly three hours to prepare everything.  It’s a good thing Rosanna, my host mom, loves to cook!   Want to know the kicker about Salt Fish?  It is imported!  From Canada!  That’s right, it isn’t even a native fish here.  I was shocked.

Salt fish fritters batter

Salt fish fritters batter


I took notes on the prep of this meal as I’ll be on my own in just a few short days.  I know there is a lot to learn and do but I feel content in just going slow.  I figure it’ll all come in time.  I don’t need to learn EVERYTHING today because then there’d be nothing for me tomorrow.  I helped to a small degree in preparation and cooking.  The most nerve wracking part was lighting the gas stove with a match.  I am highly cautious; I don’t like dealing with grease or hot things in general. It makes me

Bakes dough ready to be fried

Bakes dough ready to be fried

sweat!  I was burned, in a minor way, as a toddler from playing with matches.  One stuck to my finger and burned me.  Ever since, it truly colored my view of fire.  In spite of this, I was able to drop in the fritters and bakes as well as flip them.  I only over cooked one…not too shabby!

Delicious traditional St. Lucian meal ready to eat:  bakes, salt fish fritters,  cucumber salad, and cocoa tea in the mug.

Delicious traditional St. Lucian meal: bakes, salt fish fritters, cucumber salad, and cocoa tea.  Your mouth must be watering by now?!

Cocoa Tea

Cocoa Tea

It is so cool that we can go in the back yard to knock down a Pawpaw (Papaya), pick herbs and/or vegetables for our meals.  I know we can do similar things in the US yet it hasn’t been in my everyday life really ever.  I love that we can do it here.  It seems everyone around us grows as much as they can.  It’s in line with the #foodisfreeproject for which I subscribe.  We truly can plant and harvest things for food at home.  Even if I do it a little, I will help stretch the all mighty dollar or in my case, the Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollar.

Want to know what the best part of dinners are with my host family?  The togetherness.  One such time, Najah decided she wanted to share embarrassing stories.  Well, that got all of us rolling in laughter as we took turns divulging dirt about ourselves!  It was fabulous and exactly how I envision family dinners.  It’s a joy to watch my siblings so happy,  eager to engage, and love eating their mother’s meals.  Good food and good company.

Stay tuned…because I’m not sitting on the sidelines of life.

~Brie Messier, MBA

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