Posted: September 20, 2016

I have never been a morning person. I have never been anything closely resembling a morning person. Getting up at any time before 8 is a struggle, and I tend to have the most energy after 9pm.

Until now.

Here on South Caicos, the sun rises at about 6 every morning and sets at about 6 every night. These hours of daylight are far from what I am used to in Maine.

Caribbean mornings are not like other mornings. A calm, pastel atmosphere protects the silence that early risers hold. The heat of the day has not yet arrived; the orange sun has not had a chance to kiss the land. The sky takes on shades of pale purple and light periwinkle blue. The brightest thing around is the sea, which flaunts its intense turquoise. Mornings are simply too beautiful to sleep through.

These tranquil mornings inspire yoga, swimming, quiet time on the dock, or resting in the hammocks hanging on the porch before breakfast which is at 7.

One morning, Barbara (our resident cat) and I scared the living daylights out of each other. I unintentionally snuck up behind her, she turned around and saw me right behind her, and hissed at me as if I were a 20-foot tall dragon about to eat her. Previously unaware that she was around, I jumped a foot in the air, a yelp escaping my lips. We both went our separate ways, trying to calm our adrenaline rushes and hoping that no one saw. Luckily it had happened before most people got up.

At breakfast, Clarence told me that he saw everything. And that he laughed. A lot.

Of course, being an early riser has its cost (besides having run-ins with cats). I am a big fan of sleep, so in order to satisfy my need for adequate rest, I am in bed by 9pm almost every night. Studying has never been a late-night activity for me (except maybe in the last week of the term), but here I have to be really on top of things and get my work done during daylights hours.

The gentle mornings fade away into bright, hot, sticky days more quickly than one would hope. We all agreed that we won’t be fully dry until December when we go home. The humidity is unreal, soaking shirts with sweat within an hour or two.
In the mornings we take refuge in one of two air conditioned rooms at the center: the classroom. But not until after morning meeting when we hear the weather, make announcements, and the Student of the Day leads a Reflection and Physicality.

All our classes are marine-oriented, but each has a different focus. Tropical Marine Ecology is all about the biology of the ocean life here. The amount of new vocabulary in the class is truly astonishing. Environmental Policy has so far focused on the history and culture of the Turks and Caicos Islands, and this week we are working on a creative assignment about our relationship with water on South Caicos (which I think is really cool). Marine Resource Management is focusing on fish stocks and fisheries management, and is going to give us hands-on experience doing stock assessments and working out the math.

In the afternoon we go out in the field, usually with snorkel gear and in two groups, one at 2pm and one at 3:30. We’ve seen graceful nurse sharks, rays the size of mini coopers, flamingo tongues, trumpet fish, and lots of coral. The biodiversity here is wild. Last week we had our first exam. It was mostly underwater, identifying marine organisms by their scientific names.

Speaking of being underwater, on Wednesdays and Saturdays we go diving. For me this is the highlight of the week. We kit up, do buddy checks, and plunge into the water. We slowly sink to the bottom, breathing slowly and deeply. Diving is like meditation for me, maybe because my breath is so loud in my ears, it focuses my attention on it. With every inhale, a reassuring hiss. With every exhale, silver bubbles are sent up to the sky. The water flowing over my skin feels so good after the heat of land, it wouldn’t even matter if we didn’t see anything cool. But of course we do: nurse sharks, corals, huge horse-eye jacks. It is an underwater garden teeming with beautiful life.

Days here go at a really manageable pace. Often when I am school, I feel like I barely have time to read books or do creative projects that are unrelated to class. Here I have been able to finish my homework several days before it’s due and then draw or read or swim–whatever seems best for my mental health that day. I’ve actually finished a novel in the two weeks since we’ve been here (I haven’t had time to do that for over a year) and I’ve done a pen and ink drawing almost every day, sometimes working from pictures but mostly working from things right in front of me. Conch shells are especially pleasant to draw, and there are lots of them here.

The cool evenings are variable in what they hold. Many nights revolve around homework, and memorizing one hundred scientific fish names in two weeks. But some nights we organize activities.

I’m an improv addict and it seemed that we could use some fun activities in the evenings, so our first week here I started an improv club called IMPROVidenciales (a pun concerning Providenciales, the main island in the Turks and Caicos, and home to the international airport we all flew in to at the start of the program). Improv is a great way to get silly, let out some energy (or gain energy), and get to know people. After our first meeting, we all left laughing.

Another night, Micki and Kat organized a group activity for the students. We all sat in a big circle with our backs facing in and our eyes closed. Kat and Micki tapped a few people’s shoulders at a time to invite them to stand in the center of the circle. Then they read aloud, “Reach out and touch someone who [insert something wonderful].” The students in the center would touch anyone on the shoulder whom they thought the statement applied to. Some examples include:

Reach out and touch someone who…
…made you laugh today.
…has given you good advice.
…lives life out loud.
…inspires you.
…is a good listener.
…has big dreams and the ability to achieve them.

Each anonymous tap on the shoulder brought a smile. Everyone got a chance to be in the middle, giving taps of affirmation. Each tap felt a little different, some firm, some soft, some quick and some lingering.
When getting to know a big group of people, it is hard to know if the new people see you the way that people at home see you. When the activity was over, everyone was smiling. We were closer. We were a community.

A shout out to my people at home. Things are great here, but I miss you all very much. Lots of love. Especially to a man who specifically does not own a hippo.

→ Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands