Adjusting to Caribbean Life: Play and Work

So many things have happened in the last week that I can hardly begin to remember. I wasn’t sure about writing a blog, but actually I now think it’s a great way of absorbing everything that goes on. If this year is going to go by as quickly as this week has, I’m grateful for the time to sit down and just think about what I’ve been up to! It’s so much fun out here and I don’t want to blink and for it to be gone.

I really feel like I’m settling in now and gradually getting to grips with most things. Although I’m not going to lie, cooking is an issue. I’ve never been great at it and that was when I had the luxury of a huge TESCO. Here, you’ve got these little shops that all have their own opening hours..very confusing! Therefore, I was happy to meet John, the friendliest man in the world who runs a rum shop/eating place on the Hill Top. He feeds me. If I can’t finish my food he comes out the kitchen with a massive plank of wood, complete with protruding rusty nails – I quickly find that I can eat more! He insists that when I come I am not to bring an appetite, rather an appe-slack. (Took me a while to get that one.) The rum takes a little while to get used to. Here, a rum and coke is actually a treble rum with the tiniest possible splash of coke. I once asked for a little more coke and just got a confused stare in return.

I have been lucky enough to meet a lovely group of people already who have sort of adopted me and included me in everything that goes on. (I kind of wish I’d been left out of the Tuesday afternoon running club though…Although I’m more than happy to meet them for a post-run beverage!) As well as the regular rum shop stops I have also been to a wedding reception and had my first taste of Race Track, the “Club” down on the beach. That was an experience in itself!

On the way home from the pub last week we decided to nip down to the beach and go looking for turtles, as you do. I don’t know anything at all about turtles and was expecting little small things. I was mistaken. In the pitch black, apart from the incredible stars (I mean INCREDIBLE) we found this huge Hawksbill turtle (a critically endangered species) that had dragged herself out of the sea to dig herself a nest in the sand and lay her eggs. It was amazing to witness and we were lucky to see her as the turtle season only lasts from August to September. The Montserrat turtle man, John, was also there. Because they are an endangered species, he goes around all the beaches late at night and collects any turtle eggs that he can find and looks after them until they hatch. We were also lucky enough to witness him releasing lots of tiny newly born turtles into the sea. It’s incredible to think these tiny turtles (you could fit two in the palm of your hand) will grow to be as huge as the mother.

Speaking of animals, meet Graham the Rooster. He sneaks up to my bedroom window just before 6am every morning and decides to have a “Let’s celebrate the morning!” party! I’m tired and I hate him!! He also waits for me when I’m leaving in the morning and runs across the road just in front of the car so I have to stop. He has it in for me. The locals tell me that the day that I don’t wake up to the rooster is the day that I am finally at home here. Apparently the worst is to come though.. when it’s a full moon, they think it’s the morning and crow all night. Really looking forward to that.

Last week I was kindly invited to dinner by the Governor and his wife, Adrian and Sujue, who served the most wonderful Chinese food. I was so grateful, not least because corn flakes were getting pretty boring. Also at dinner were members of the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office, so I was able to learn more about Montserrat’s link with the UK and what it means for the island. This is also where I met my first friends! Hooray.

I was also invited as a guest to the Montserrat Rotary Club meeting/dinner which took place at Olveston House. This is the residence of Sir George and Lady Judy Martin, who leave it to be run as a guest house when they are not here. This was where Sting, Elton John and other renowned artists would have stayed when recording at the famous Air Studios here in Montserrat. Note to self: when invited to a Rotary Club dinner you are expected to give a speech about yourself and your plans etc. That was a nice surprise as I don’t love public speaking! The Rotary Club raised some funds last year for the Secondary School Classroom which have yet to be spent. So I need to put some thought into what needs replacing/buying and also chat with Jon about what he was intending the money for.

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On to work now… I had a meeting with the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education and explained my intention of working with the primary schools. Within a few days I had been introduced around all of the schools and to the music teacher who visits each primary school once a week. He himself admits that although he is a musician, he is not a teacher. So I will be working together with him to develop teaching techniques that really engage and excite the children about music.

There is one school at which the Reception and Years 1 and 2 classes don’t have any music at all. I am currently negotiating with the Head Teacher when I can go in on a weekly basis and do some music with the children. I can’t wait to get this organized. I was also introduced around all the nurseries and day care centers on the island and I will make sure I do some work with them all. Once I finalize my timetable with the primary school I can then work out how much time I have to devote to the nurseries.

I’ve been busy with the Emerald Community Singers and Volpanics, the steel band (I’m frantically trying to get my pan playing up to scratch since I’ll be leading the MSS steel band in a few weeks time!)

I’m nearing the end of my second week of teaching in the secondary school. I have been thinking a lot about my “curriculum” and what I want to teach the students. As a wise man (for those of you who know Ashton Mills) once said, “Although it’s important to have music in the classroom, it’s more important that it doesn’t stay there”. I am aiming to enthuse them so much about music that there is no way it can stay in the classroom. I am therefore planning my lessons more like mini music workshops, and each half term as a music project. So far most of the students are responding really well and seem to be really keen, making it enjoyable for me…most of the time!

My favorite quote from Secondary School today.. After listening to a boy playing the guitar I commented that he had really seemed to feel what he was playing. He replied, “Miss Chalmers, I love music. It just speaks to me”. It doesn’t matter that he only knows two chords. Moments like that, and a bunch of 7 year-old girls running up to you in the playground, asking if you are the “music lady” and begging you to listen to them performing a song together, really make the whole thing worthwhile. It may even be worth living with a rooster.

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8 thoughts on “Adjusting to Caribbean Life: Play and Work

  1. You write beautifully Becky – I almost feel I’m there.
    Now as for the cooking, how about a nice roast chicken? (as in: take one rooster….) xxx

  2. Hey Becks! What an unbelievable experience you are having. I love the fact that you have been on the island for all of two weeks and yet you are big wigging with the VIPs!

    Sounds like you are getting stuck in the teaching side and your ideas sound spot on. Music should continue out of the classroom? It’s all around us.

    Loved the turtle story, can u post a pic next time? People pay loads to see turtle lay eggs. And u just rocked up . Great stuff!

    Lots of love xxx

    Steph

    • Hey Steph!
      Haha yes I know..People have been very welcoming! I didn’t realise that about people paying to see turtles! There were a few people taking pictures, but the turtle looked really scared, so I didn’t want to take one. Think a friend got one though so will try to get my hands on it.
      I know music is all around us..I just meant that what we learn in the classroom needs to be relevant for the kids so that they can use it in their lives, not just once a week in music class. So that they can actually play and make their own music that they are proud of.
      Hope you’re well…congrats on the Great North Run!
      xxx

  3. Rebecca, I have tears in my eyes reading your blog……………………I am so so PROUD OF YOU………that is all I can say just now. If you enjoy the rest of your stay as you have enjoyed and integrated during the first two weeks, you will have had the experience of a lifetime..
    Love you, Mum xxx

  4. Hey Beccs!! you are such a star!! I wish you all the best with your projects. You should make of a steel drum band and put it on youtube!!! Blessing, Alisa

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