Paul and Gayle are taking a year from their roles in Picton and Belleville and will be teaching at the Maple Leaf International School in Trinidad. We will use this blog to record some of our edventures!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Lessons Learned

I am wedged, as comfortably as possible in seat 15A aboard Caribbean airlines flight 608 having left Trinidad for the final time. I am wondering, "What have I learned on this great #Edventure?"

My mind races when I think of all we've done and seen. This post would be over a hundred pages if I tried to give details of it all. Don't panic, dear reader.  I am going to summarize it into three big ideas.  You can read all 75 blog posts if you want the details. Or just ask,I love telling my story!

1. Always Provide Good Service.
Customer service in Trinidad is generally poor.  We've start to take special notice when someone goes the extra mile, (or just made eye contact!).

As people said their goodbyes over the past couple of weeks, the conversations often had a theme about how we had, in some way, helped or encouraged them.

Providing the best service shouldn't be hard. It's a mindset and it is rewarding! The question to ask is simple. "What can I do to make this situation better?" For me, sometimes it means pulling a trick out of my bag of "cool shit Paul can do with a computer", other times it means listened hard to a student find the one thing that might help him take a step toward rebuilding a relationship. 

Lesson 1 -- No matter what you do, try to find a way to help others.

 2. Learn to Be Better
You might have read a story about the exercise science class learning to juggle this year. I am very proud of that activity for a lot of reasons. The biggest is that one student discovered "growth mindset". It was magical.

During another farewell session, one of the 4 fresh-faced young teachers with whom we've had some great informal PD sessions said to me, "We like it that you want to learn along with us." I wouldn't have it any other way, I said.

 Lesson 2 -- Learn ways to improve what you do and learn to do new things.

3. Yes, and..
In February, Gayle told me that a teacher was organizing a trip to see turtles lay their eggs.   There were lots of reasons not go: the trip was too far, it too was early in turtle season,  there were going to be too many people, the car was not going to make it, it was going to be too expensive,  it was too close to the beginning of the semester.

We said, "Yes, and..." "it will be great to get to know some people better", "maybe we'll be lucky and see a turtle", "We get to drive past Toco, we've never been there", "let's bring pancakes for breakfast"...

It was a fantastic trip.

Lesson 3 -- Look at the positives and find ways to make things happen.
I would like to say a final "Thank You" to all the people in Trinidad who made our #Edventure a fantastic experience. We will be grateful to you forever.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hurry up and Wait!

I embarked on another "typically Trini" adventure on Monday.  The goal was to transfer the ownership of our car.  For most North Americans, this is a fairly routine process as long as you have the paper work in place.

Honestly, people started telling us stories about the licensing office before we arrived.  "Three days off work to get a driving permit...", "standing in the wrong line for 2 hours...", "being in line doesn't seem to matter"... As a result of all this we made a conscious decision to not get driving permits -- all we needed to do was leave the country every three months - easy enough.

I had been through the transfer process once, so I somewhat knew the routine and was feeling confident that I could get this done in one day.

To make the transfer, both the buyer and the seller must be present at the licensing office and all paperwork and signatures must be in place.

I picked up the new owner at 5 am and we made the trip to the office and parked in the line. By my assessment we were second in the line for transfers (there were also many new cars in the line).  At about 6:20 (after a 1 hour wait) the gate opened and we scrambled to get the car inside. We had to go around an abandoned vehicle and we were passed, quite artistically, on the way in but we still ended up second in the transfer line (only to begin our next wait).  There were three lines -- new cars, trucks and cars. Shortly after 8 the other two lanes began processing vehicles. By now there were over 30 vehicles in our line and the drivers were getting very twitchy -- and getting anxious because the longer the delay was outside, the more delay inside.

As it turns out, the "inspector" for our line hadn't shown up for work. We sat patiently as drivers of trucks wheeled past and 20 or so people with car transfers gathered at the inspection hut to express their frustrations.  Finally at 8:50, the car in front started and moved forward. I quickly followed and parked in the inspection bay.  The "inspection" amounts to this: open the "bonnet" and lift the flap on the firewall and read the VIN to the inspector. Less than 2 minutes later we were on our way to park so we could wait again.

Next we made a quick run to the insurance office to get a one day insurance for the new driver. Conveniently, there are photo shops, commissioners of oaths, insurance vendors and doctors offices within walking distance of the license office (as well as food vendors and if you look closely some "agents" that will "speed up" your transfer for a fee that I am sure is shared with some people behind the desk.)

We finally made our way inside to wait to be called to the transfer desk. To give you a picture of what is happening, there are multiple lines and waiting areas -- licenses, transfers, ownerships, cashier, information...all in all there were at least 200 people inside (and another 50 outside).  Last time it took 3 hours to be called but this time it was only about an hour.  We presented our documents and I was chastised for not having my work permit with me. I begged forgiveness and apologized in my best Canadian way -- the clerk had to get special permission but we got through.

The lady said we would be able to pay within an hour. I asked specifically if we needed to get into the rapidly growing cashier line.  She said no.  We sat down again and waited, thinking we'd be another hour and done. 

About 10:15, the next clerk called us up. The transfer had been approved. Now we had to get into the cashier line to pay.  WHAT!  The line was now snaking around the interior and there was only 1 cashier window open (there is room for 4 cashiers but there are never more than 2) .

Guess what, the cashier closes at noon--FOR THE DAY.  There was no way we were going to make it to the front by then.  Dammit, I was going to have to come back.

On Wednesday, after dropping Gayle at the airport, I returned to the licensing office. I arrived shortly after 7 and made my way to the front door where others were already waiting for the 8 am opening.  I sat and read the paper as more and more people started to arrive.  At about 7:45 somebody twitched and the crowd started to move toward the door. I was close to the front and had put up my elbows to block an old lady from passing me.

The door finally opened at 8:05 and the 100 or so people flooded inside to find their proper line. Less experienced people had to change lines a few times. I ended up second in the transfer line, after blocking the same old lady AGAIN!  5 minutes later I had to block her again in the cashier line.  By some miracle a second cashier opened and I was out of there by 8:15. I had to swerve to avoid hitting the "old lady" as she walked to her car.

There are so many advanced things in this country, yet licenses and car ownerships are all pen and paper.  No computers were visible in the office at all. The cashier only takes cash!

While the vehicle is transferred, the new owner has to return in a few months to buy a new copy of the ownership.  None of the last 5 owners have bothered to do this!  I am sure that will take a couple of days too.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Final Few Days

As our time in Trinidad comes to an end, we've managed to pack in a few more things.

Friday night was the Maple Leaf graduation. Here, grad is a mix of a typical graduation ceremony with "inspirational" speeches, awards, diplomas, as well as fancy dance prom dresses and a dinner. Paul and I were asked to be the Masters of Ceremony for the evening. Word on the street was that they needed efficient eye candy!
Efficient on the Left, Eye candy on the Right!
Saturday we played in a frisbee hat tournament. Basically, people we play pick-up with registered, teams were made and we played 3 round robin games. It was good fun, and the lime after was even better. Trini's know how to drink, dance and have a good time.

Sunday we decided to track down hatchling turtles. So up we got at 4 am, jumped (ok, more like crawled) into the car and drove out to Blanchisseuse. We were on the trail by 5:30 and had arrived to Paria Bay by 7 am. There must have been 15 tracks left from the momma turtles, nesting the night before. We did see hatching tracks as well, but after 2 hours of waiting and watching, we decided to bail. No hatchlings for us.

Baby Tracks with Hat for perspective

Fresh Eggs with Momma Turtle Tracks behind
We've been asked a bunch of times if we want to go back to Canada. It's funny -
because we knew we were only going to be in Trinidad for a year, it isn't really a question of "want to". We've both loved our "edventure" a ton. We've met lots of great people, seen so many cool things and had so many great learning experiences. Of course we are sad to see this year come to an end, but we are both excited to start the next phase. Life is really what you make it, and we've made this past year "real fresh" and "real heights" as our students would say.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

A Visit to Chacachacare Island

Friday was Labour Day here in Trinidad. One of 3 holidays grouped closely together at this time of year. (May 30 was Indian Arrival Day and June 4 - Corpus Christi Day). For Gayle and I, this was a perfectly placed as we started exams on Wednesday and neither of us had exams on Thursday, so all the marking was done and there were no classes to plan.

A few weeks ago we'd seen that a hiking group was heading out to Chacachacare (SHA-KA-SHA-CAR-EH) island on the holiday. We'd been once before for a Hash, but we new there was a lot more exploring to be done there so we decided to go. We convinced some of the other Canadian teachers to join us as well.

This outing was slightly unusual as we were meeting close to our apartment, so we didn't have to get up a 5 am! We picked up "the girls" at 6:45 and headed to the West Moorings KFC. KFCs are popular landmark for anyone meeting or giving directions in Trinidad. Of course, since we are still Canadian at heart, we arrived before the scheduled 7 am meeting time and were not surprised that people were still arriving to register at 7:45!  We took a short drive to the launch site to meet the boat and were on route at about 8:45am (a full hour past the posted departure time!)

Most of the hikes we've been on have 20 or so people. Our usual guide is very strict about that for safety reasons. As the boats loaded, I noted that there were only 3 or 4 guides and, although it was hard to tell how many, there were a lot of people. It wasn't until we started to unload about 45 minutes later, that I saw that our group was close to 200 people.  It became very clear that our "guides" weren't going to be able to give us much of a lesson on this hike and we'd be exploring on our own.

Chacachacare has a great history and our goal was to explore this "haunted" island in greater depth.  (note:  much of the information we've found online or heard from locals is incomplete or contradictory.) Columbus discovered the island in 1498. It used as a military base by Venezuela in the early 1800's. There was a whaling station built in 1820 and a light house was erected in the 1870s. The island was home fishermen and to cotton plantations and was inhabited by 3-400 residents at the turn of the century. In 1924, the island was converted to a leper colony and nuns from France were brought in to care for the residents. The US military set up barracks and built some roads during World War II. In 1984, the leper colony was closed down and the buildings were left abandoned.

Unfortunately, Chacachacare, today,  is a real mess. It is a popular spot for visitors to spend the day or to camp and there is little or no maintenance so garbage is a big problem. The road and wooded areas near the beach and boat have bottles, Styrofoam, and bags strewn everywhere. The beach to the east side is littered with washed up plastic bottles and other garbage.

During our visit we hiked on a road up to the light house which still has cotton plants growing along the side. At the top, there were a mix of old and new structures. There were two obvious residences from different time periods, one quite recent, that have been abandoned. The diesel generator ran steadily to keep the old light house beam turning. On the way back down, we found a trail that lead to some sort of oven and another abandon concrete structure. Once back near the dock, we headed east on the trail to the old nun's residences. They are quite well persevered, but they have been vandalized. There are three buildings, some old water tanks and an outside bathroom.

Being able to explore these buildings was a neat experience and we had a great time hiking with everyone.  We finished the day with a swim on the south side of the island were there is a nice beach.

Click here to see the photos and a video.