Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Child is a Child...

…no matter where you are.  Regardless of culture, upbringing or nationality, children are wont to be children.  In whatever ways I am left confused, amused, or even alarmed by the locals, I am comfortable with the children.  They don’t hide their longing for attention, and in this respect, they are like every child I have ever met.  Whether blatantly obvious (“Look at me, Miss!  Look!  Look!”) or more subtle (an extravagant cartwheel, an error-free homework assignment), their motives are to captivate you.  Every little praise and admiration paid to a child is like a test of their ability to shine brighter.  And as their timid smiles bloom into confident laughter, so they earn that admiration over and over again.

I have been won over by the children of Grenada.  In truth, I put up little—if any—struggle against their charms.  How graciously they have accepted me, despite our mutually reserved first encounters.  Even though I am still somewhat reserved compared to my more energetic cohorts, still a child or two is happy to have me for company.

My Monday routine now includes a visit to the Queen Elizabeth Home for Children in Tempe, St. George.  There I, along with a group of enthusiastic Significant Others (SOs), volunteer two late-afternoon hours engaging the children in school assignments, sports, reading, and fun.
At the orphanage

Before being allowed to play outside, the children are required to complete any homework.  With the help of the SO Support Squad, though, homework’s a breeze!  Or at least it seems breezy to me.  Unfortunately, not all of the children find reading and mathematics as endeavors worthy of their focus, particularly when half of the children don’t have homework and are outside playing.  Even with the distraction, the children eventually buckle down and their two-plus-twos fill workbook pages and voices break apart the phonetics of reading passages.
"A person's a person, no matter how small." -Dr. Seuss

During my first two visits, I worked with a young girl named Melissa whose homework, on both occasions, consisted mainly of reading assignments.  She read to me, her finger prodding each typed word as she progressed.  If she came across an unfamiliar term, she would flash a bashful smile my way and nudge the word with her fingertip until I read it aloud.  Mostly she stumbled across pronouns and prepositions, but also was confused with words that sounded similar: which, what, how, who, at, all, etc.  I was happy to help and urged her to sound them out before asking for the answer.  In one moment defeated by the simplest syntactical unit, Melissa would amaze me by then completing a string of multisyllabic words unassisted.  This is how I have learned not to underestimate these children.

Once homework is complete, the SOs can accompany the children outside to read their favorite books, or just play games.  The orphanage is not crowded; there can’t be more than a dozen children residing at Queen Elizabeth currently.  (As I become more acquainted with the children and learn all of their names, I will, no doubt, be able to offer a more exact figure.)  Even with such a small number of children, their recreation relies on their ability to share.  While there may be enough storybooks to go around, the same cannot be said of basketballs, which are in high demand.  For their community to thrive, there must be rules.  The children know they are not allowed to steal from one another.  However, that doesn’t stop them from pouting when they don’t get their way.

Some of the SOs bring toys to be distributed to the children.  This is how one talented young man ended up with a Hannah Montana guitar, which he used to serenade his rapt audience.  For the past couple visits, one SO has been kind enough to bring her jacks set with her and spends her time teaching the children how to play.  Some of the kids are especially fascinated with the jacks, using their turns to spin the jacks on the floor or in their palms rather than playing the actual game.  Last Monday, a couple of the SOs utilized extra kite string to teach one of the girls how to make the Eiffel Tower and the Cat’s Cradle by netting the string elaborately. 
A handful of colorful jacks.

Pretty neat trick.

Playing with the bouncy ball from the jacks game.

Next week we’ll be visiting the day before Valentine’s Day.  In recognition, the SOs have some projects planned, including letting the children decorate sugar cookies.  It’s bound to be fun and maybe a little messy.  I’ll be sure to take pictures.

Tuesday was Grenada’s Independence Day, which meant Ivan had a chance to get caught up on his homework and we both enjoyed a little R and R.  Meanwhile, the rest of the island, bedecked in the national colors of red, gold and green, convened at the stadium where celebrations lasted all day.  Perhaps next year we will be able to attend the festivities, but I won’t complain about the opportunity to spend some quiet time with my hubby.  There was one major drawback to the holiday: no eggs were being sold on campus.  How we hoped this wouldn’t be the case!  Down to one egg, we were relying on being able to get the much-needed five dozen more for the next week.  You might say we put all of our eggs in one basket, relying on the SGU eggman.  We were let down.  But lo and behold, Ali’s market was open and we were able to secure a couple dozen eggs after all.

(For anyone wondering what our obsession is with eggs: we haven’t eaten meat in weeks and are relying on eggs as a primary source of protein.  So, yeah, we’re kind of obsessed.  And also maybe a little crazy.)

Have I mentioned that yams are really inexpensive on the island?  Well, they are.  We’ve bought them about three times now.  I might be interested in buying them more frequently if I had more recipes in which to use them, but they are unlike yams in the States in almost every way.  Boil them all you want, they’re just never going to whip up into creamy mashed potatoes, regardless of how much butter and milk you add.  They don’t do well in casseroles because they have no flavor.  And you really don’t want to prepare them with the skin still on.  I may not have yet unlocked their potential, but at least I can attest to their ability to satiate.  Hideous and flavorless as they may be, these yams are still dense and filling.
"I yam what I yam." -Popeye

Last weekend at IGA we noticed avocados for sale at a reasonable price.  I can only assume these avocados are locally grown since I’ve never seen one this big in my life.  It’s the size of a small melon, with a smooth, hard skin.  When I sliced some of it up, I expected it to be soft, verging on squishy, like the ones back home.  I was surprised that the texture was crisp, more like an apple.  I cooked up half of it in a strata.  It was good.  Really.

Today my skin was crawling when I saw a bat-sized insect clinging to the ceiling of our balcony.  I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say it was, without a doubt, the creepiest thing I’ve seen so far.  When Ivan got home, he used a clothesline support pole to get the bug down.  I’d like to point out how brave this was since I would barely acknowledge the insect, much less stand below it to coax it down.  Once it attached itself to the end of the pole, we were able to identify it as some sort of katydid (or at least something similar).  While still reluctant to get less than a foot away from it, I was much more willing to approach it, knowing that it was not a roach or thorny beetle.  Even the word katydid is endearing.  Not endearing enough, though, to put me at total ease around this mammoth.  I want to point out that I do not yet own a macro lens.  These photos are not cropped.  These were taken with a 50mm lens.  The bug really was that big.  I’m guessing he survives on the little lizards that overpopulate the island.  Little lizards and puppies.  Do you want to know what the creepiest moment was during our impromptu meet ‘n greet?  I am 99% sure I made direct eye contact with an arthropod.  Having never been acquainted with an insect the size of my hand, I was not aware that I should avert my eyes to avoid this awkward moment.  So, it happened.  I locked into a stare-down with a behemoth katydid and its conical blue eyes.  And that is a sentence I want engraved on my tombstone.
Does this give an impression of how big it was?

Note the creepy eyes

Check out the horrific chompers!

"I eat puppies!"

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