So there are seasons here. Not so drastic as temperate Oregon, but it has cooled off some (more days are in the 80s than 90s), and in the evenings it even gets down to high 70s. It's been raining a bit more than it has before, which still only means for a few minutes or day. The fun part is that it is monsoon-type rain that really comes pouring down, and since we live in an old tin-roofed building with open windows (just screens), we feel like we are right in the midst of it. Hearing the waves pounding outside and the rain clanking on the roof is something I'll definitely miss. I snapped a couple pictures of rain this past week that was happening in the distance but not over us: the sky is gorgeous even when it's stormy and these pictures are exactly what it looked like (as in, these aren't edited. Let's get real.. very few of my photos are edited--I'm too lazy for that!!).
While the rain makes me feel closer to home, other experiences/behaviors/goings-on are so drastically different than the Jenna who left home 3 months ago. Example:
Another week of research and report writing and then next Thursday we are headed home! It is crazy to think we are getting to our "lasts".. last dive, last snorkel, last weekend... These are met with both excitement and nostalgia though, as I am looking very forward to my own bed and bug-less Oregon home filled with my awesome family!!
It's been a good time of reflection lately. I've had the idea of this post for a while and have wanted to put down in writing some of the sporadic spiritual conversations I've had---times that have lifted me up for hours...days...---but I needed to be in the right mood to write about this stuff. Coming back from Jamaica I was on such a spiritual high that in the weeks since then, I've been feeling lacking or lackluster in my faith. I've gotten into a bit of a rut, just going through the motions in devotions and prayers, and I can tell this is happening and want to catch myself and put the life back into my relationship with Christ. I need to remember all of the wonderful situations God has placed me in recently and how this faith is living, dynamic, and oh so good.
I had one of these experiences today that probably spurred me into writing this post tonight. (Which, by the way, is a blustery, rainy night--a chilly 75 degrees--and I am in a long-sleeved shirt hearing the wind howl through the open windows. It sounds like home and I love it.) On the boat ride out to our dive site today, my dive group had a shockingly passionate conversation about faith and if God is real. I say shocking because I have a tiny dive group of three other people, Lauren, Charlie, and August--and all of them more or less have no faith, some to a more determined extent than others. Charlie and I have talked before about my faith and everyone in the boat knows that I am "religious" as they say, and somehow he (we?) decided to talk about faith today and how I know it's real. August and Charlie got very into it and were "pelting" me (this is actually a very accurate description) with questions like How do you know God is real? What if someone just made up the Bible? Harry Potter is read just as much as the Bible. Maybe in two thousand years Harry Potter will be the most important book. What would you do if science proved that Jesus wasn't real? Is God white or black? ...and on. But it was all in the right spirit since--though he hides it--Charlie is actually curious and I think August truly doesn't believe but is intrigued by someone who does. I felt challenged and alive and so grateful for the testing. I have never been questioned like this before and it is so proving to my own faith when I am called on to explain to others--it makes me thankful for the background I was raised in but also critically aware that I need to live outside my little "AC bubble" if I am going to be a strong light for Christ. It is easier to shine in a crowd of lights, but more beneficial--though challenging--to shine to the dark world. I just think of the superficial relationships I have on the OSU campus and how few spiritual conversations I have had with my peers there; it is so easy to just blend in as some girl with a penchant for wearing skirts. Here, spiritual topics come up all the time and people are open to asking--- but maybe I am being more open to sharing as well. This experience has made me branch out and become less afraid of sharing--in the end, the only person who's opinion matters is God's and for Him to be glorified, I need to be willing to talk. I am praying I can keep this confidence and perspective when I get back to life in Corvallis.
Aimee has been asking me questions as well recently. She is a fairly new Christian and has a lot of questions as she comes across passages in the Bible or conflicting views and isn't sure where she stands. It has been SO GOOD for me to be called on to answer because it strengthens my faith and shows me where my understanding is weak. We've talked about modesty and head coverings before---I was surprised to find out that she had thought my head covering was a fashion piece (yes, though I wear old t-shirts all the time I decided to bring hair accessories;)--and this week the topic was non-violence. There is a ROTC guy here who is hard-core military but a Christian and the fact that I wouldn't take another life for mine was brought up. Later Aimee was asking my beliefs on the military and why in the Old Testament it was ok and what about the role of gun-carrying police officers and others keeping us safe. I realized how much I need to have more scripture memorized! I ended up looking up our Statement of Faith and the verses we have listed there, but I should be able to call them (or some of them) to memory in times like this. I know it's not New Years yet, but that is going to be a goal of mine... learn more of the Word and be able to explain it well! It is also interesting to see the variance in the King James Bible versus other new translations... and it makes me so thankful for our heritage of preserving the KJV! When reading verses the other day, Aimee commented that one of them sounded like something you would find on Facebook so I mentioned that it was probably her translation that tried to put in "21st century" speak-- I read the verse from my Bible and it was pretty different. As with a lot of these experiences, they strengthen me and I think are widening other people's perspectives as well. Maybe they will remember what they heard or saw here and seek the answers further.
A few weeks ago we had another of those nights where the atmosphere just fosters meaningful conversation: bonfires. This one was even more special as we road in the back of pickup trucks or in 15p vans to East Bay for a beach bonfire. Yay for attempts at fall! The first hour consisted of us clumped in groups as a few people attempted to start the pallets on fire--to no avail. We started just eating the marshmallows and chocolate chips plain and then a spark caught and the fire was soon blazing. Sitting around the fire a group of us started giving each other back massages and the conversation slowly turned to faith and traditions of modesty. There were four of us from pretty different backgrounds and then some others that stopped to listen in. I felt so humbled but then ecstatic about getting the chance to share of God's direction in my life--especially when Aimee heard people talking the next day about how much they appreciated the conversation!
Anyway, I am just floating through the days here, trying to soak up the stars and the views and the life because I know I'll miss it soon enough. God's plan is wonderful though, and the time I've had here to reflect on His will in my life and what all He's done for me and the awesome world He created has been amazing. This thinking time of me & Him, and the conversations I've had sharing the Word... this is what life should be all about. In the end, our purpose here is to glorify God and the times I do that are what encourage me and keep me running strong towards Heaven.
This was a wild weekend to be sure! Our Saturday dive turned out to be one of the coolest yet, plus we had a camera so we got great pictures of the action. We went to the Warhead, a dive site along "The Wall", or the coral drop-off to the deep ocean, which often has charismatic megafauna like sharks and turtles passing through along this ledge. It was our lucky day because as soon as the group got to the edge, we heard our divemaster signalling that there was a shark ahead, and sure enough, a 6 ft reef shark was approaching directly at us-- only 5 ft away from the first diver in our group! The shark swam on by us as we all watched in awe. Sharks are definitely the favorite around here! It's crazy how no one is scared when you have this huge animal swimming less than 10 feet away from you.. but it is so calm down there and you know that the shark would never hurt you unless you provoked it. We saw a bunch of other fish--including the ever-present barracuda--and a great portion of reef as well before we had to head back to the mooring.
Sunday proved unexpected as I had just settled back into the room after brunch when my roommate, Kate, came bursting in saying that Aaron, the marine ecology professor, just offered to take her (and a group) out to look for her sunglasses, which had gotten dropped overboard during sharking the days prior. She told him it was fine, that he didn't have to do this on his day off, but he insisted and said to get a group together and they could look for some turtles as well. So... long story short, I got to join this group of 5 on a Sunday afternoon boat ride across the Caicos bank. Aaron likes to drive fast so we flew across the water to the north side of the islands towards a shallow sand flat that is the "hot zone" for turtles and nurse sharks. Almost immediately we saw a shark and so the plan was to chase it until it got tired and then "lasso" it with the cast net (this strategy had never been done before because the net was new, but we had a Southern girl who had used cast nets for catching shrimp so we were hopeful;). We were right on top of it a number of times but it maneuvered past the net so easily and the sun moving behind the clouds sporadically wasn't helping us. We ended up losing sight of the shark but within a few minutes spotted a turtle. The way this works is that one person stands on the bow of the boat and constantly has a finger pointing at the turtle so Aaron knows where to drive, and the rest of us are all standing/sitting to track the turtle (or shark) as well. As you can imagine, it is a very high-energy, high-enthusiasm scenario. The week prior, a girl caught the first turtle of the semester, and one of the guys on our boat had tried twice unsuccessfully that week and was determined to find success so he had a mask on and was ready to jump off the boat just as soon as we were close enough to the turtle. It was a tiny thing but SO fast... it zipped around a huge area of sand flat and it was hard for the boat to keep up with its changing directions! Finally we wore it out and it slowed a bit, and Charlie launched himself out of the boat like a champ and grabbed the turtle (if you can imagine an all-fours "tackle" coming from above, that is what this is). He got it, though he did end up with a turtle bite on his knee (not serious though)! We all helped Aaron take measurements and tag the turtle for his research and then we let it go again. Scouting for a little longer, we spotted another nurse shark and were even more determined to catch it. We chased it with the boat for quite and while and had MANY close tosses with the net, but with no luck. We lost this one again after a sharp turn and the sun in our eyes.
At that point--perfect timing as Aaron said, now that we had an angry shark in the water--we went to the spot where the sunglasses were supposed lost and we all five jumped in and snorkeled in a line across to cover as much area as possible. It was kind of a long shot with the sunglasses since the channel was so large an area and with tides and shifting sand flats, none of us were too surprised when we didn't find them. But we were all thrilled with the opportunity to go out so no one was complaining!
It was getting late in the afternoon so Aaron radioed that we'd were heading back to the school, but within minutes we found another (or perhaps the same) nurse shark and of course we couldn't leave without trying again. For a good ten minutes we chased it, in and out of the shallows, waiting for it to get close enough to the surface that we could net it. It started to get mad and ended up bumping against the bow of the boat which was the perfect opportunity for Payton to through the cast net... and shock of shocks, she got it!! There was so much screaming and excitement going on and Payton, Charlie, and I were all pulling on the net which now had a 6 ft nurse shark in it and we were all a bit in shock that it had actually happened. Aaron was beyond ecstatic and shouted commands for us to keep holding the net but no one touch the tail, he would grab it and with our side of the net we would all hoist in in the boat. Unfortunately the shark slipped tail-first out of the net before Aaron could grab hold of it, so we lost the shark. Technically though, we did successfully cast-net it, we just didn't get it onto the boat. ;) So we were still pleased even though it was definitely beyond time to head back to the center. I kept thinking that day and even now, as the days go by so faster (we're down to 22 days left), that this is the only time in my LIFE that I will get to do these things and see this wonder and live this life. It is too incredible to think about and I just feel so blessed to have gotten to see this tiny portion of the world out here in the middle of the Caribbean ocean.
Last week we had quite a few directed research days and since mine leaves me with a flexible schedule, I decided to join some other projects as well. The two birders, Aimee and Lauren, go out every morning around 5:45am to do bird counts and observations around the salinas (old salt ponds--a surprisingly great bird habitat). I joined them and took some pictures of both the area (thinking that we only have a few weeks left to capture this place!) and of them for the professor running the project. It was fun to join them and have a nice, quiet morning but there is no way I could handle tromping around in the mud and shrubbery at 6am every morning! Here's what we were up to.
Later that week our socioeconomic professor took us to tour Sail Rock, a high-end developer building sustainable villas on the northeast side of the island. It is a wild ride up there--a good 45 minutes over terribly pot-holey roads with sporadic donkeys and water-filled ditches--and I was in the back of a pickup truck, not the most comfortable! It was a fun time though, and on the way home I was in one of the 15passenger vans. SFS works with this company and so the developer came to speak earlier about the missions of Sail Rock and their sustainability objectives; on site he gave us a lose tour of the show villa--mainly just opening the doors and letting us explore. It is a very cool development: built on the premise that bigger is NOT better, and luxury does not have to mean excessive mansions, it has front to back windows that allow a through breeze and minimize use of the AC, lots of glass for natural lighting, a one-story frame with 3 modest bedrooms and baths, and an infinity swimming pool run off a solar pump. It was fun to see the life that some people will experience on South Caicos--- SO FAR DIFFERENT FROM OURS. We do NOT live in this luxury even if our friends think it when they hear we're in the Caribbean;). (We have the no AC, no couch, no white objectives anywhere, bug-filled version. That stuff would not last with our kind of life).
Just some pictures from a snorkel yesterday my roommate and I took at the Regatta. We had fun playing around with her GoPro and enjoying HIS awesome beauty.
Our student affairs manager, Molly, is trying her hardest to make it feel like fall here. Sometime in the past two weeks, Christmas lights appeared by the dining area and little pumpkin and ghost decorations showed up on the tables. She had to order pumpkins and candy a full MONTH before Halloween to make sure they arrived on time, and despite the good planning, the shipping company accidentally put the refrigerated food for the WHOLE island in the freezer section and so everyone's food got ruined. So no pumpkins for us. The backup: cantalope carving!
There was a competition for best cantelope design (the turtle won) while sporadic local kids came to trick-or-treat. Later a big group of us went to explore Miss Mayes, which is an old run-down house at the top of a hill near the center, that has local significance as housing the queen on one of her visits a long time ago (I think I'm getting this story straight..??;). Anyway, the inside is completely torn apart with mattresses and broken glass and chairs everywhere, and the stairs are too rickety to climb, so it was a fun exploration for Halloween. Plus to get there you have to watch through brambles and uneven gravel up the hill with no street lights or houses whatsoever.
We are all having VERY fond memories of sweaters and boots and apple cider and falling leaves about now, so when it gets down to a chilly 75 degrees, we all put on our long-sleeved shirts and/or wool socks (no joke). There is the slightest breeze and we think it is getting cold. I literally sat in a hammock the other evening as the sun was going down, listening to Christmas music, in my long sleeves. And it was 77 outside. (Yes I am going to get hypothermia when I get home, and it won't even be snowing)
So this post is an amalgamation of things that have just happened or pictures I've gotten from other people. Above is a bunch of pictures from Shark Bay, a beach about 15 minutes away from the center that we went to for resource management last week. It was a class session about pollution management on South Caicos and we were looking at different waste sites on South--- intentional ones, like the dump, and unintentional ones, like some horrendously polluted beaches and docks. It was interesting and somewhat sad to see the different in values of Turks islanders as compared to US or European citizens.. they see throwing trash out the window no different than taking it to the dump, because regardless it will be outside. It is an education and motivation problem here, which will hopefully be addressed so sidewalks, streets, and beaches can be cleaned up and marine life less affected. Long story short, it was a productive afternoon and we got some fun time at the beach.
I finally got the pictures from sharking on Middle Caicos over the field trip. They were on someone else's camera and now it is fun to remember that night. Gorgeous evening in between the two islands, North and Middle Caicos, even though it left me with horrible bug bites. Plus a legit picture of my scraped up leg ;)
I'm a twenty-something from the Pacific NW making home in new places as I follow where God leads.
My intent is to show Christ's love to the world and use business to solve some of the social problems we face: hunger, illiteracy, healthcare, economic hardship. For now, I'm in a stage of learning. A little adventuring, a few books, some good friends, and a whole lot of prayer and life runs on.