January 04, 2021

POV: From a Peace Corps Volunteer

I am a returned Peace Corps Volunteer. My assignment as a community development volunteer was to be stationed in East Timor but weeks before I was set to leave, a civil war ravaged the country. I was given two options – wait it out for a year or go someplace else. I had just graduated with my bachelor degree, quit my job, and sold my car so essentially I was ready to leave. And part of me knew that if I didn’t go, I might not.

I would get sucked into a real job and my dream of serving outside of this country might go away. Even though I had been planning and preparing for East Timor for months I made the decision to go wherever my recruiter wanted to place me. Within weeks of receiving notice that East Timor was no longer an option, I was then reassigned to the Eastern Caribbean. Little did I know that I won what has been dubbed affectionately, the Peace Corps Lottery. Not only was the region rich with culture it was stunningly beautiful and incredibly isolated.  

I was first placed in a small village called Micoud in St. Lucia and was there for about a month with dozens of others awaiting placement on the various islands that made up the region. My forever Peace Corps placement was in the Leeward Islands on the island nation of St. Kitts-Nevis. Nevis, the sister-island of St. Kitts, had at the time a population of about 10,000 people. It was quiet yet vibrant and over the course of my time on The Queen of the Caribbes, as she is commonly referred to, I grew accustomed to greetings and a different way of interacting with people.  

As an example, it was the custom to greet people when you saw them with the time of day (“Good Morning”, “Good Afternoon”, “Good Evening”) wherever you were. You could be walking into a bank, going into a grocery store, getting into the bus, passing folks on the street, etc. There were no exceptions and if you got it wrong (if it was 12:01 and you said “Good Morning”) or failed to greet someone you were reminded your place. Not as a way to chide for screwing up but more of a familiarity of being in community with others. I had been living on the island about 7 months when the New Year rang in. I spent the New Year on the beach listening to the waves of the Caribbean Sea and it was magical. Almost as if on cue the New Year sparked a light in everyone. It was a time of reflection and of rejuvenating relationships. And I quickly learned that the New Year brought with it its own formal greeting. For about a month or two or whenever you’ve finally run into everyone, the standard greeting was replaced with “Happy New Year!”  

It is likely that the formality of the Caribbean is not something widely known, which is in large part why I have shared it with all of you.  What I love about this formality is that it has forever rooted me in what it means to connect with others and assure that they see that you see them. There is no hiding from your neighbor down the street while walking by their house. There is no ignoring the greeter at the grocery store or the bank teller. As we ring in 2021 may I leave this with you, “Happy New Year!” May we all be graced with a connection to others that helps us build stronger communities.  

Kate Rubalcava, M.Ed.  
Peace Corps Volunteer 
EC 76 (our group name/number) 
Nevis 2006 – 2008