Category Archives: Island Life

Bend but Don’t Break: Become More Resilient

It was not too long ago on Sept. 6 that one of the most powerful hurricanes in modern history ravaged my hometown, the Virgin Islands. Hurricane Irma was a category five hurricane – the highest category. It was the largest hurricane scientists had seen in the Caribbean – packing winds at 183 miles per hour, torrential rain and mini tornadoes. Homes, businesses, infrastructure on St. Thomas and St. John were totally destroyed. St. Croix, which didn’t get a direct hit, fared a bit better. Then, as if the God’s were angry, came another category five hurricane – Hurricane Maria. This hurricane took out what Irma didn’t, making sure that St. Croix was equally as devastated as the other two islands. This hurricane two punch is unprecedented – two category five storms in less than two weeks!

My mom said that during hurricane Maria, when the windows in the living room started to blow out she, her husband and my younger brother ran to the den, then to my brother’s bedroom – the safest room in the house. My brother threw his weight against a mattress that was holding up his bedroom door to keep it from blowing out and rendering the safe room unsafe. Mom said her prayer during the entire ordeal was “God please don’t let us die.” And thankfully her prayer was answered.

But we did lose some lives. I lost two classmates. Carlena was blown out of her home when her apartment walls blew out. Ishmel, the other, suffered a blow to his head that killed him.

Still despite everything, the people of the Virgin Islands are pressing on. Mother nature has restored her greenery, homes have been made livable – even if not comfortable, schools are in double session, cruise ships returned. And after about four months – electricity was restored to all homes and businesses.

The people of the Virgin Islands are resilient!

But just how do you develop resilience? I’ll share four strategies with you:

Sign up for my email and receive more empowerment tools and strategies. You’ll also get my e-workbook for free. Sign up here.

 

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All Invitations Aren’t Created Equal… Henry Smith said “Yes” to an Invite to Sail the Atlantic

 

WW at Dock in Las Palmas
The 49-foot Wind Walker, center blue, crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a round-trip voyage from the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Fall of 2016.

Henry Smith doesn’t have a boat captain’s license. But when he was asked by a former co-worker to help sail a boat back from Spain to the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI), Smith said yes. “Since I’m retired I have the time,” reasoned the self-taught sailor. The thought of spending days at sea crossing the world’s second largest ocean didn’t intimidate Smith. Instead his first thoughts were on the fitness of the vessel, the competence of the others who would be sailing and how he would fare in small, confined space with people he didn’t know closely. Soon he told himself, “I want to have this experience. I’m going to have fun.”

Smith’s wife Peggy had no apprehensions about the trip. “I’ve seen him sail, so I know what he is capable of,” she said. He has sailed before to Anguilla, St. Martin and Antigua.

“He’s been sailing so long that I have confidence

HS in Cape Verde
Henry Smith in Cape Verde prior to sailing the Atlantic.

in him that he’s not going to put himself in danger,” she said. “I was not afraid.” With Peggy’s support and his experience, Smith was ready for the adventure.

“To sail across the Atlantic was new, but I wasn’t at all a stranger to sailing,” Smith said. He has been on, around and in the water most of his life. Smith was born in Tortola, British Virgin Islands (BVI) to a father who was a carpenter and built boats. The younger Smith got his first boat when he was a child.

“We always lived close to the sea,” Smith said. When the family moved to St. Thomas, USVI, he had access to a bay in Bovoni on the eastern end of the island. Smith observed that his parents never objected to him and his brothers spending time in the water. But the children needed express permission to romp through the neighborhood.

“I could go by the shore and spend all day and they didn’t have a problem with it,” Smith remembered with a laugh. He would take his row boat along the coastline. “I got to know the east (coast) of the island really good,” Smith said. “I’ve always found a way to be around boats.” Smith pursued a career in water resources management, earning a Ph.D. in civil engineering with specialties in water resources planning and management and hydrology, and Juris Doctorate with a concentration in environmental law.

Since retiring from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) in 2015 as director of the Virgin Islands Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (VI-EPSCoR), Smith adopted an even healthier lifestyle than he practiced before – walking four miles daily, eating better and getting regular medical check-us. He was physically and mentally prepared for the voyage.

Glenn Metts is owner of the 49-foot offshore cruising boat Wind Walker and had made the north Atlantic crossing months earlier. He asked Smith to help captain the boat back to the Virgin Islands because one of his crew members was not returning to the Caribbean. The two had also previously raced together in a Rolex Regatta competition. Metts, who has a master boat captain’s license, said that preparation is the single most important aspect of an Atlantic crossing.

“Going off shore is extremely strategic,” explained Metts, who had begun planning the trip since 2014.

“Strategically speaking, it was one of the most complicated things,” the UVI professor of Management and Entrepreneurship said. “The preparation is so tough.”  It required multiple redundancy plans for mechanics, power, water, food and first aid. “If you get hurt, even for a simple thing, you can die,” Metts noted.

Metts also has been sailing since he was a child growing up in Florida. Always up for a new adventure, he planned this trip because, “I wanted to go across the ocean on my boat,” he said. He was on sabbatical when he set sail, and used the opportunity to collect data for his case studies.

Smith met the crew of Metts and his friend in Spain in November 2016.  From there they sailed to the Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands then to Mindelo in the Cape Verde Islands before they began the south Atlantic voyage. The three each had different “watches” where each person would have full responsibility for sailing the boat safely and on course. Smith’s watch was 2-7 p.m. and 2-6 a.m.

The morning watch was the hardest, Smith said. “At times it would be totally black.” He made sure to get plenty rest prior to his watch and to plan activities. Often he would journal or read on his Nook to ensure he wouldn’t fall asleep, ever aware that although it seemed they were alone in the wide ocean, they could come upon a tanker, meet drifting shipping containers or other debris, encounter bad weather or stray off course.

He soon fell into a routine. “Get up in the morning, there’s ocean. Go to sleep, there’s more ocean,” Smith said. Each morning the crew planned for the day ahead and each member briefed the other before handing off shifts.  “I didn’t pay much attention to what the days were,” Smith said. “That probably would have driven me crazy.” His idyllic free-time at sea was a departure from his hectic schedule at UVI where he held several senior leadership roles – sometimes simultaneously – during his 26-year career at the institution where he also earned his undergraduate degree in marine and environmental science. At UVI Smith had secured the institution’s largest grant – a $20 million National Science Foundation grant – to support VI-EPSCoR.

Sunset
The sun sets over the Atlantic Ocean.

Across the Atlantic on Tortola, Smith’s brother Bennett –  also an avid sailor – tracked his coordinates and monitored the weather. Smith sent his wife and daughter regular e-mails, accessible via the satellite internet. There were a few weather squalls and gear failures. “We dealt with them like they were routine matters,” Smith said. “Sailing for that length of time and in those conditions, the weather will change and equipment will break.”

One of the highlights for Metts was experiencing a whale breach.  The two men were on the deck one morning when Metts noticed something. “An eight-story whale comes straight up from the water and crashes down,” Metts said. Smith’s back was turned to the action but the expression on Metts’ face alarmed him. “Glenn’s eyes got big, wide, and his mouth dropped open,” Smith recalled. By the time he turned around the only evidence was a huge splash. “It was unbelievable,” Metts said of the sight. Other highpoints included seeing pods of dolphins.

Although there are challenges every day while sailing, Metts said that south Atlantic crossing back to the Virgin Islands was much smoother than the north Atlantic crossing to Portugal.  On the first crossing, they came upon a storm with 30 foot waves and 40 knot winds with 4.6 seconds between waves. “They (the waves) were very close together,” he said. The wind was behind the boat and there was a danger that the boat could broach, Metts said. They needed to change direction. “Doing this in that type of wind was very difficult,” he said. The crew battled the waves for hours. “That was the most stressful time,” Metts said. “I was very uncomfortable.” Eventually they changed direction and sailed out of the storm. Nothing on the south Atlantic crossing could compare to that, Metts said.

When they reached halfway across the ocean, each made a note-in-a-bottle that they released to the waves. The notes contained their contact information, so if recovered, the locator can contact them and report where it was found. As they got farther across, they bet on who would spot land first. “That happened on my watch,” Smith said with a laugh. “I just kept peeping and looking and staring,” Smith said. Often high waves were mistaken for land. “I then saw this wave that never went away,” Smith said. It was the hills of St. Maarten. As they continued to sail, they spotted lights from the BVI. “It was really very nice to see land,” he said. “It was nice to pick up the phone and call somebody,” as they got within cell phone range. But instead of celebrating then, Smith maintained his composure to sail the boat toward their goal.

It was rainy as Smith took the boat through the waters near St. John on Dec. 20. 2016. The weather cleared up by the time they approached Mangrove Lagoon on St. Thomas. There they were met by a small welcoming party with one member blowing a conch shell to greet them. Among the crowd was Peggy’s smiling face. “Everything just went perfectly,” Smith said. “It felt really good.”

Crossing the Atlantic was a big accomplishment for Smith, whose first significant solo sailing adventure was as a high schooler sailing his 12-foot boat with a 14-horse power engine from the eastern end of St. Thomas to West End, Tortola –  and back.

Smith noted the irony of accumulating an additional 3,000 miles crossing the Atlantic. “If I were to go to a charter boat company, they would not rent me a boat,” he said, because he doesn’t have boat captain’s license. So, about that license. Smith has no desire to obtain one right now. But he is looking forward to new sailing adventures.

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Vicious Cycle of Gun Violence Consumes the Virgin Islands; Psychologists say use Emotions to Activate Change

It was one gunshot. Lenora Rochester was in her Contant Knolls apartment on St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands when she heard the sound on that Thursday evening of Dec. 10, 2015. She was not very alarmed, as gunshots are heard in the neighborhood from time to time. But a few moments later came knocks to her front door – and her life changed forever. The news was devastating. Her son Kadeem John Sr. was shot. Rochester woke her daughter and they hurried to find John.

“When I walked out (the apartment) I didn’t have any emotions or feelings,” Rochester says. Her only thought was “I can’t believe he got shot.”

When Rochester arrived at the scene and saw someone holding pressure to her son’s bleeding chest it became real. “He looked lifeless,” she remembers. “I started to cry.” Between her uncontrollable tears while making calls to notify family members, a police officer put her in his patrol car. “I kept asking ‘is he ok, is he ok,’” she recalls. The only response was “stay in the car,” she says. She stayed put then the ambulance arrived. But instead of driving behind of the ambulance to the hospital as Rochester imagined, she heard something over the police scanner. “They (the EMTs) radioed for the medical examiner,” Rochester says. “I realized that he was gone.” She jumped out of the car to see her son. “I was trying to go to the body, they (police officers) were pulling me back. They said it was a crime scene.”

In that moment Rochester says she felt a rush of emotions – the most dominant being anger. “I was angry,” she recalls. “I was totally angry.”

Rochester describes her third son as a “fun child” who was always smiling – so much so that his friends gave him the nickname “Smiley.” He never got into trouble and had no apparent enemies, Rochester says, so she couldn’t imagine why anyone would kill him. A mariner with the Merchant Marines, John lived mostly on a ship at sea. He had come back to St. Thomas for holiday break. The family spent Thanksgiving in Puerto Rico. John returned to St. Thomas on a Tuesday. He spent the next Thursday at his aunt’s home and was returning to his mom’s home the evening when he was killed.

With support from family and friends, Rochester made it through to Dec. 23, when she laid John to rest – just a day before he would have made 24 years old. “It was just sad,” Rochester says of burring her son. “It was terrible. I was just crying a lot.” On Dec. 24, members of John’s 2009 graduating class of Ivanna Eudora Kean High School held a candlelight vigil at the spot where he was killed. It was then that Rochester began her fight for justice for John.

As homicides continue to rock the territory, Virgin Islands Police Department Commissioner Delroy Richards held a press briefing to address the issue following the July 30, killing of Bria Evans. At the Aug. 1, briefing Richards confirmed 36 homicides in the American territory. The number continues to grow: two police officers were discovered shot to death on Aug. 11 and a firefighter was shot to death on Aug. 19.  The national murder rate is 4.5 killings per 100,000 people per year.  At 39 homicides so far, the U.S. Virgin Islands – home to about 103,000 residents, is one of the most murderous places in the United States.

The homicide problem in the territory is multilayered. Many people point to the infiltration of guns into the territory along with the retaliatory nature of gun crimes.

Psychologist Anissa Moody says the problem in the Virgin Islands rests on two major issues: poverty and a distorted view of masculinity. KadeemYoung men are not given a healthy understanding of masculinity, says Dr. Moody, a professor of psychology at the City University of New York.

Often Caribbean and West Indian masculinity don’t allow men to experience and express a range of emotions, she explains. The males are “angry and aggressive or not,” she says, and emotions are not largely communicated. The community has no rituals around the development of young men, where they are taught a sense of self and expectations are set, she continues. Toughness – and in extreme cases violence –  is seen as the foundation of manhood. Many young men are ill equipped to handle conflict and manage their emotions. That, coupled with easy access to firearms, results in a vicious cycle of violence that cripples the entire community.

At the briefing Commissioner Richards confirmed the “retaliatory trend that exists in the territory” asserting that, “someone that the victim is close to will retaliate.”

In the minds of many young men “death doesn’t seem that bad. Your masculinity means that you fight to the end,” says Dr. Moody, who is also columnist for Ebony magazine and BlackDoctor.com. “Adults glorify these deaths by how we respond,” she says, noting that along with the rest in peace hashtags on social media victims are often remembered as “soldiers.”

“The violence is not experienced as loss,” Dr. Moody explains. “There is no ritual around it. The ritual becomes revenge,” she says. “Each death triggers another death and reaffirms this feeling of helplessness. Because of how often it happens, the more likely it is to happen,” she explains. “The worst part is that this is part of the community behavior. It’s part of the ritual of development for many boys in our community. It’s what we do. It’s part of our life rituals. It’s a cycle.”

The more killings happen, the more the community becomes numb and less likely to take action, Dr. Moody says. “People think that repeated experiences (of violence) will sensitize you. It doesn’t. It does the opposite. It desensitizes you,” asserts Dr. Moody who was born on St. Thomas and raised on St. Croix.

The parents, children, spouses, siblings, and friends who are left to bury the victims of gun violence often deal with their pain by hiding their emotions. Trauma after trauma has created a collective “emotional grave yard” in the Virgin Islands, Dr. Moody says. Not to mention the cumulative loss of potential that dies each time someone is killed.

Psychologist Carla Hunter says that the grief response is individual – the stages and length of time are different for each person. The stages of grief are denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Studies show that the grief response to violent death has an added component. The study “Trauma and bereavement: examining the impact of sudden and violent deaths” by Stacy Kaltman and George A. Bonanno, reveals a correlation between violent death and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to the study “violent death results in the development of PTSD symptoms over and above the normal grief response and thus may contribute to a more severe grief response.”

According to the National Center for PTSD, symptoms of the disorder include reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind you of the event, negative changes in beliefs and feelings, and feeling keyed up (hyperarousal).

As Virgin Islanders deal with trauma at home, they are also confronted with trauma on the mainland. Recent killings of African-Americans by police officers, many of the scenes caught on camera and shared on social media, is dealing a double whammy on the psyche of many.

Watching these acts repeatedly on the television and social media “can take over you,” and induce anger says Dr. Kia Fisher, a clinical therapist at Potter’s House Treatment Center in Atlanta. “We have to take a break from it (watching traumatic videos),” Dr. Fisher adds. She points out that she is not suggesting that the community ignores the problem. Dr. Fisher suggests people who feel anger should redirect their emotions to empowerment by taking positive action. “Take baby steps toward change,” she says.

Dr. Moody says too many people in the territory are stuck at the individual level when it comes to problem solving. “This is a community sickness, this type of development in our young men,” she says, suggesting that the community unites to bring about healing. “You know what we can do about it,” she asks. “Take action,” she says. Do not accept things as how they are, she says. The shift in masculinity should start at home and extend into the schools. Children, especially boys, should be reaffirmed with a sense of identity and purpose.

“We tend to reaffirm overt talents,” in sports, academics and music, Dr. Moody notes, but all children should be reaffirmed for their potential. While constantly being reaffirmed, children must be provided with positive opportunities for development and growth. Leaders must emerge for the community organizing necessary to connect resources.

Regarding poverty –  the other main contributor to violence – elected officials must work to bring about economic prosperity in the territory. The correlation between poverty and crime is proven. The higher the poverty level, the more crime. Additionally, youth programs need to be funded, expanded and duplicated throughout the territory Dr. Moody says. Resources must be provided to parents, especially single parents. Parents should also be vocal about what the community needs, she adds.

Drs. Moody, Hunter and Fisher all suggest that people feeling overwhelmed by traumatic events should seek professional help.

“People don’t have to be in crisis to seek help,” says Dr. Hunter, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “When you realize that you’re behaving in a way or thinking in a way that’s not typical for you, you should seek help.”

Dr. Moody takes it a step further, encouraging everyone to practice “good mental hygiene.” Just like most people have a primary physician, “everyone should have a mental health provider,” Dr. Moody says.

Rochester says her coping mechanisms have been prayer, support from family and friends, and “taking it one day at a time.” While she’s returning to a new normal, the loss of her son is still hard to process. “I’m still in disbelief,” she says.

From the day of John’s candlelight vigil, Rochester launched a personal campaign to bring “Justice for Kadeem.” On the 10th and 23rd of each month –  the day John was killed and buried, respectively – Rochester takes to social media. Some of her posts are in remembrance, but most have been asking witnesses of the crime to step forward.

In recent movement of the case, the Governor of the Virgin Islands signed documents to have the suspect in John’s killing extradited from New York to stand trial. Part of the shock for Rochester was learning that the suspect knew her son. “It hurts. Everything was hurtful,” she says.

Because extradition is just the first step, Rochester continues to “hold the faith” that justice will eventually be served.  In the meanwhile, she tries her best to “keep it together” for her other children and John’s son – Kadeem John Jr.

Rochester says she is no longer angry, but the pain of losing a child to senseless gun violence hasn’t gone away. “I’m still sad,” she says. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.”

Dear Teachers: I Appreciate You

On April 21, while speaking to a cousin on my morning commute I mentioned frustration with one of my daughter’s teachers. The teacher just appears aloof and disinterested. She isn’t a bad teacher, per se. My daughter is learning well. But there is an emotional element simply missing from everything that she does. And I noticed it from the moment we met. But being new to the school and city, I betrayed my instincts that told me to to switch teachers and had my daughter remain in the class.

Our conversation took a turn when we both began praising a man, who had spent a year as our teacher but impacted our entire lives – Isborne Fredericks.

Isborne Fredericks is no ordinary teacher. He is a leader with the ability to touch students’ souls, see in them value that they never knew existed and get them to recognize that value – all while imparting stellar education. He has taught hundreds of students and I consider myself fortunate to have been one of his students when I was in sixth grade at the Joseph Gomez Elementary School on St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.

He was my homeroom and history teacher, and a true visionary. Long before Virgin Islands history was a requirement of the VI Department of Education, Mr. Fredericks created his own VI History curriculum. Our 11 and 12-year-old selves had to learn the executive leadership of the three branches of the VI Government. I still remember searching and calling people to complete my list of commissioners. Yes, we had to find the names ourselves, then still memorize them all. We often protested that we had too much work, but Mr. Fredericks always made us feel that we had the capacity to learn and produce even beyond his expectations.

He also imparted morals and values. Students were to treat each other with same respect as we treated him. He showed no favorites – the respect, grace and mercy that was extended to the best of us, were also extended to the worst of us.

Mr. Fredericks began preparing us sixth graders to be competitive in a global world. Azerbaijan, for example, is an Asian country that we learned about when many had not even ventured outside of the U.S. We also had to know how to spell it. Points were deducted for misspelled words, T’s left uncrossed, or I’s left un-dotted. Taking pride in our work, all the time, is something else that he stressed. He expected, rather demanded, our best always.

And then there was African history. We had to learn the countries on the continent and be able to identify a certain number of them on the map. We even began learning an African language!

In the true essence of developing the whole child, Mr. Fredericks taught the African Bamboula dance as an extra-curricular activity. I can hear him all now beating his drum and singing, “Whe Joycie gone, Joycie gone down the river. Whe Joycie gone, Joycie gone down the river….”

My all-time favorite teacher, I always thought that Mr. Fredericks was special to me. Until I reached high school and realized that many of us in my graduating class claimed him as their favorite also. What was shocking was a time, as an adult, when I was out with a cousin who is about 10 years my senior and we saw Mr. Fredericks. My cousin remarked that Mr. Fredericks was HIS favorite teacher. Unbelievable, I thought to myself, this man has been impacting generations of students!

As we wrapped up our conversation my cousin asked the whereabouts of Mr. Fredericks. I told her where he was and to look him up on Facebook. I encouraged her to share with him directly his impact on her life. Life is too short not to, I explained.

A few hours later I found out that Prince died. And so during this 2016 Teacher Appreciation week, I hope to honor Mr. Fredericks and all the teachers who have made a difference. Gomez Elementary School really set an unshakable foundation in my education and my life. Ms. Wilkes, Ms. Dominique, Ms. DeWindt, Mr. John, Ms. Christian, Ms. Freeman, Ms. Donastorg – if they shaped at least one life, they shaped mine.

But everyone at Gomez contributed.  How could I say that Cheryl Potter, Joan Dawson, Sylvia Woods (God bless her soul) were not my teachers? They never graded my papers or signed my report cards, but they taught me just as well. And l can’t forget the special subject teachers like Mr. Robinson, Mr. Dallas, Mr. Shaw, Ms. Rhymer, Ms. Carson…. Or substitute teachers like Ms. Brooks (sleep in peace) and the two Ms. Benjamins. The support staff also kept us on the right track. I can hear Ms. Sadie saying, “manners will take you round the world and back!”

Throughout my years in the public education system I’ve had extraordinary teachers. Ms. Morton’s seventh grade English class at Bertha C. Boschulte Junior High made me love writing. Mr. Monti’s math class in high school taught me patience. Then it was Jack Beauvais whose class helped me to find what I now recognize as my purpose. I wasn’t even supposed to be in that journalism class he taught at Ivanna Eudora Kean High School. I was in 10th grade and the class, I was told, was for 11th graders. But because I was in advanced English courses, I was admitted with ease. After producing a news broadcast for a project in Mr. Beauvais’ class, I knew I wanted to be a journalist.

I always tell people that in the Virgin Islands we have learned to make do without much. But we still achieve. We achieve in spite of – largely because of our dedicated teachers.

To everyone who has taught me, I say thank you. To all of my family and friends who have made teaching their profession, I say thank you. To all of the teachers that have taught my daughters, I say thank you. And to all of the aspiring teachers who have hopes of molding future generations, I say: “go for it. The world needs more Isborne Frederickses. The world needs you.”

 

From Donoe to Doctorate, “Beep” Returns to Home Court

“I just wanted to teach math.”
Bertrum Foster, Jr. says, those words with such indifference that it belies his major accomplishment. Just wanting to teach math led Foster to a Ph.D. in mathematics.
The statistics for black males excelling in the sciences are dismal. They are even more grim on the doctoral level. His intent was never to bolster the statistics for black males, even though he did. Dr. Foster simply wanted to teach mathematics on the collegiate level. In order to accomplish that goal, he needed a Ph.D.
“I like math because it’s a challenge,” says Dr. Foster, also known to many as “Beep.” His passion for math began with 9th grade algebra. But his first passion was for basketball.
Like many young boys, Dr. Foster imagined himself playing professional basketball. But by high school he was 5’9″ and realized that his dreams of playing professional basketball were slim. But his love for the game continued. In 1995 he lead “Jah Youths” the basketball team founded in his Donoe neighborhood on St. Thomas to the Thanksgiving Tournament championship.
During that same time period, in 1994-95, he lead his Ivanna Eudora Kean High School Devil Rays boys basketball team to consecutive inter scholastic basketball championships.
After graduating high school, Dr. Foster took a break. He held several jobs in Oklahoma for four years before returning home and enrolling at the University of the Virgin Islands to take a shot at the men’s basketball team.
For him, getting a college degree was imperative. He remembers his first real job while in high school – stacking shelves at the Plaza Extra grocery store. “I would just watch the clock,” he recalls, mindlessly working until his shift ended. He would also watch the boss and think to himself, “I need his job.”
“The people who had the kinds of jobs I liked all had degrees,” Dr. Foster says. At UVI he remained a boss on the courts and in the books. In 2003 he earned a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from UVI.
After undergrad Dr. Foster again took a break from academics, this time working in New York.
As time passed he got serious about his career, returning to grad school at Howard University. In 2013 he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from Howard.
Being totally honest, Dr. Foster confesses that his carer choice first came about for the wrong reason: when as a university student he walked into the office of a mathematics professor who was playing solitaire on the computer. “I wanted to play solitaire at work too,” Dr. Foster says with a laugh.
But Dr. Foster learned that being a professor is no game. In addition to lecturing he has to mentor and advise students, grade papers, conduct research, get his research published, make presentations to academic groups, serve on committees and be at the forefront of curriculum development. “It’s definitely more work than meets the eye,” Dr. Foster says.
After serving as a professor at Montgomery College in Maryland and a lecturer at Howard University, Dr. Foster was recruited as an assistant professor of mathematics at UVI. Although it was challenging readjusting to the facts of life in the islands – high electricity bills, high cost of living and high crime: “Corned beef is $12 a can,” he notes as an example – Dr. Foster is happy for his circle of experiences.
His next goal is to become a tenured professor. And he still plays basketball – four days a week. Soon he will start coaching and training young men in the game. At 30-something years old, Dr. Foster is at the top of his game – a mentor in the classroom and on the courts. Sounds like a slam dunk!

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Conclusion

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Getting Back Home
I was restless on my transatlantic flight back to the US. I had missed my family and was nervous about my cousin’s health. I also felt bad about leaving the trip early, even though it was only one day early. Everyone was sleeping when I left and only my boyfriend had known of my last-minute decision to leave. On the airplane the remote control for my inflight entertainment was broken. I couldn’t scroll through and the only thing I could watch was a children’s channel or Life of Pi. I had spent an enormous amount of time trying to fix the control. I had even had a flight attendant reset my screen. Unable to settle my mind, I decided to watch Life of Pi. It was one of the best movies I have ever seen! Everything happens for a reason. There was a reason that was the only movie I could see. The most important theme I got from the movie is that no matter what we may face in life, once we have the insatiable desire to overcome, we will. Praise God. In that moment, I knew that my cousin would be fine – that she would fight for her healing.

Landing back on US soil felt so good. That was an unexpected emotion for me. Back in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport around noon I was disappointed to find only two US Customs agents to receive US passport holders. Now this is the type of service that, unfortunately, I have come to expect in the Virgin Islands. But I was quite surprised to meet a long line of international travelers returning home and having to wait so long to go through customs because so few agents were available. Nevertheless it felt good to be in familiar territory.

When my cousin finally picked me up, she had some good news. Our cousin was recovering rapidly! I had a layover in Atlanta and cherished the opportunity to spend time with family. It just so happened that my uncle and his family from Chicago and other family from Bermuda were visiting Atlanta. It was a mini reunion of sorts. I was tired bad! But the night in Atlanta was filled with family and fun. I left out for St. Thomas the next day.

I hadn’t even arranged for someone to pick me up from the airport. But hey, I was home. I should be able to find a ride one way or another. I was glad when my dependable cousin was able to pick me up. I can’t explain how good it felt to see my children and mom, even though I had been gone for only eight days. My oldest had baked a welcome home cake for me! Home sweet home!

Conclusion
Travel, travel and travel some more! I like seeing and experiencing new places and cultures. Still, my fear of long flights and limited financial resources made traveling a challenge for me. But like anything else, we can come up with a million excuses of why we “can’t,” or we can simply do it. Now international travel won’t happen instantaneously for most people. It will take planning and saving. But it’s worth it. On my travels through Europe I saw older couples – some looked to be in their 80’s, younger couples – some toting babies in their arms, entire families – with three generations traveling. There were travelers who were wheelchair bound. There is no excuse not to travel and expand your world view. Even though I live on an island, I promised to never limit myself to an island. So get those passports. Renew them if you must, but make it a point to see and experience something new.

Accommodations
Having heard of hotels in France with no air conditioning, no irons or other amenities that we are accustomed to, I was a bit concerned about what to expect. We stayed at Marriott properties throughout our visit and each had met or exceeded our expectations. The Marriott London Arch was the best. Service was great – the concierge spent almost an hour helping us to get the best cab deal on our 4 am departure from London.

Food
There were bakeries everywhere in Europe! I love sweets, and tried out quite a few desserts, but surprised myself with the restraint I used to not eat all desserts in sight. I didn’t notice too many obese people, perhaps because portion sizes in Europe were smaller than those in the US. And in Amsterdam just about everyone rode bikes. I wasn’t totally impressed with the food. Like anywhere else, there were good restaurants, and there were not-too-good restaurants. My best foods were a ravioli dish and the Josephine Baker drink in France, and the waffle and ice cream dessert in Amsterdam. I’m pretty easy to please and like learning about new cultures, so I had an easier time with food than some in the group.

Random
• The Charles de Gaulle Airport in France had, by far, the most sophisticated public bathroom that I’ve ever seen.
• We traveled within Europe on Easy Jet. It was easy and economical.
• Plan for the money conversion. The Euro and Great Britain Pound are stronger than the US Dollar. Do the math early for good budgeting.
• Check the weather of your destination before you arrive. And be sure to pack more than a denim jacket – even though it’s summer!

Now go get those passports and book some travel!
This island girl’s firs European adventure was awesome! Love and blessings!

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: Amsterdam

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The “Red Light District” is Real

If I thought London was cold, I was in for a surprise – Amsterdam was colder! When we finally made our way out of Schiphol Airport I wanted so badly to get into a vehicle to escape the cold. My denim jacket wasn’t helping me at all. But the group proceeded to spend the next 20 or so minutes in front of the IAMSTERDAM sign. Then we missed our first bus to the hotel. We decided to take public transportation because the bus took us right in front of the Amsterdam Marriott where we were staying. We were lucky this time to be joined by my boyfriend’s sister who lives in Amsterdam. In addition to being such a warm and fun person, she also spoke the native language.

After checking-in and dropping off our luggage, we decided to head out for something to eat. For me the temperature was so cold that I considered staying in. To make matters worse it started to rain just as we left the hotel. We went to a nearby Hard Rock Cafe for lunch. The wait for a table was long and the food was expensive. But the food was good and we got so comfortable that we didn’t want to leave. Our 3:45 am wakeup call earlier that day probably also had something to do with our sluggish mood.

We finally left to explore the area. A member of our group had been patiently waiting for this leg of our trip to experience the “cafes.” From since we were in Paris he had been waiting for his “medicine.” As we walked around I was startled by the electric trams which seemed to appear out of nowhere and drove through what I thought were pedestrian walkways. We walked in and out of stores in the drizzle. The day was wet, cold and dreary. Four of us headed back to the hotel, while two set out to find the cafes.

I crashed when I hit the bed. After about two hours I woke up and called around to see what the group was doing. They were asleep. Grateful, I went back to sleep again. We woke up a few hours later and headed out. It was night by then. And I wanted to see the Red Light District.

The hotel’s surrounding area had blocks and blocks of stores, which were all closed. The city looked like it was asleep. The further away from the hotel we walked, the more the nightlife came alive. There were lots of bakeries and other eateries, which I had grown accustomed to seeing in Europe. Out of the blue our friend who had gotten his “medicine” earlier walked into this eatery. This move was new to us because he was not a fan of sweets like the rest of us were. He ordered a waffle with ice cream and began raving about how good it was. He offered everyone some and they all decided it was great. It was already cold, and the thought of ice cream made me feel even colder, so I passed. But when he went back and purchased a second one, I decided to try it. It was the best dessert I tasted in the whole of Europe! And I had been eating a whole lot of dessert since I landed in France. The waffle was nice and warm – slightly crunchy on the outside, nice and soft on the inside – lightly sprinkled with powdered sugar. The ice cream had a smooth caramel, butter pecan, vanilla flavor. It also had a few candied nuts. It was awesome! It was one of those things that you just want to eat slowly, to savor each bite. And I’m not a foodie. But that dessert did it for me. I could have gone back to the hotel and called it a night.

I guess I wanted to see the Red Light District, because in my mind it couldn’t be real – legal prostitution where women are displayed in window fronts selling their bodies! From afar we saw the red lights. We got closer, and I was still in disbelief. The women on display looked like Victoria Secrets’ models. They were slim, beautiful, fully made up and wearing some of the sexiest lingerie. The fact that they were selling their bodies still didn’t seem real to me. The guys in my group asked their price. It was €50.

Then we walked by a set of stairs and saw a man leaving a room zipping up his pants. Wow! It is real. How did these model-type ladies make it seem so easy? Was it easy to have a career as a sex worker? Continuing to walk around we saw more red lights on than off. I guessed that it was a slow night. But for each window where the lights were off and the curtain was drawn, I got this weird feeling.

Beside the sex for sale, the nearby area offered strip joints, live sex shows and the cafes. The night was beautiful. But watching groups of young men stroll the area deciding their pick of women had me thinking conflicting thoughts. First – this is true freedom, when a woman can choose the career that she wants. Second – this is truly sad when a woman must sell something so precious to make a living.

The further away we walked from the main area the women in the windows changed. They were no longer Victoria Secrets’ models look alikes. They looked like the girl next door – panties and bras, cheap wigs and in some cases cellulite. We decided to head back to the hotel. The walk back was especially cold.

At the hotel I used my Magic Jack app to call home. My mom sound worried. One of her nieces had suffered a stroke a few days earlier. While the whole family was praying for her and her recovery seemed miraculous, my mom wasn’t dealing with the situation too well. Mom herself had undergone surgery two weeks ago. I decided to fly back home the next day.

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: London Part 2

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Bolt, the Queen and the Marble Arch

Usain Bolt seems to be a really popular guy in London. As we made our way around the city he was featured in quite a few advertisements. Go Bolt! Equipped with our complimentary hotel umbrellas we headed to the famous London Bridge. Apparently the London Tower and the Tower Bridge have replaced the London Bridge in prestige. All this time we had been singing about the London Bridge falling down, I had expected the London Bridge to be a bright, shiny part of the city’s history. Instead the Tower Bridge was the main attraction. We visited both, just for the fun of it.

Our next stop was Borough Market – an open air market that sells everything from fresh Parmesan cheese, to candied nuts. There I had the best honey, cinnamon roasted cashews. The vendor sold trays and trays of candied this, or yogurt covered that – and he allowed me to sample all that I wanted. I had to consciously make myself walk away from the table. We were told that we had seen only a fraction of what the market had to offer, because it came alive on the weekends, not on the Tuesday that we were there.

Catching the “tube” (metro/train) we made a second attempt at the Buckingham Palace. We had a nice stroll through Green Park on the way to the palace. I don’t know what an average day is like at the palace, but to me, the place was packed. Does the Queen really live there? We hung around taking pictures at the palace and the Victoria Memorial.

On the way back to the hotel I was delighted to find a roadside fruit vendor. Back at the hotel we dropped off our day’s purchases, then headed back out to wander around the Marble Arch area.

The group settled on Middle Eastern cuisine for dinner. My boyfriend, whose culinary taste had been hard to please, wanted something more familiar (hint, American franchise food) so we continued along.

It was a nice stroll in downtown Westminster. As we reached the end of one street – we saw it – the Marble Arch. What is it with the Europeans’ fascination with arches? My companion decided to eat at a McDonalds. While he was ordering I noticed veggie burger on the menu. It was part of the deli menu. Veggie burgers at a McDonalds? I had to inquire more. I didn’t feel like eating a sandwich. But I was encouraged to try it to see if I liked it. And I liked it. It was lettuce, cucumber and mayo on a wheat bun, with a chickpea burger. The burger tasted like falafel, which I had earlier at a Middle Eastern restaurant. The mango smoothie was pretty good also. That was my first time eating lunch at a McDonalds since I stopped eating fish at age 19 (I stopped eating meat at 15). I really enjoyed the stroll, as there was no pressure to make it to any particular destination.

Heading back to catch up, with our friends, we encountered a long line in Restaurant. We joined the group, who had finished their meal. All of us were in high spirits and decided to do a group toast. As we sat there sipping on champagne, we were getting mean looks from the people who were waiting in line. This was strange, as everyone we encountered in London was really nice. I asked the server if the restaurant was always so popular on a Tuesday night. He explained that it was Ramadan and the fasting ended at sunset so every evening was packed. We soon ended our celebration and headed back to the hotel.

At the hotel we made arrangements for transportation to the airport. We were leaving out from London Southend Airport, which was more than an hour from the hotel. We had an early flight to Amsterdam.

Stay tuned for more on my European adventure.

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Chronicles of an Island Girl’s First European Adventure: London Part I

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The Eye and the Rain

I never cared to visit London until the 2012 Olympics. Of course after the country was put it in an international spotlight, I wasn’t the only one interested in going. (Now I can’t wait to go to Brazil! But Brazil has always been on my travel wish list.) My first impression after landing in London was “why is it so cold.” We traveled from France to London via Easy Jet to London Luton Airport. It felt like 60 degrees when we got off the plane. London Luton is like the airports in the Virgin Islands. We walked off the plane, down the stairs, unto apron, then into the airport. When the cold morning air hit my face, for a second I wondered if it was summer in this part of the world. Then I remembered that France was a hot 90 something degrees. Putting the chill aside, it felt good being in an English-speaking country. We were able to negotiate our cab fares! (The little things we usually take for granted.) After reaching to the hotel we set out to find something to eat.

On our first stroll through the Marble Arch area in Westminster, England we were startled by the loud horn blowing on a delivery truck as we crossed the road. The group hurried across the street but the horn blowing continued. We looked back to see a Dominica flag in the truck, driven by two men – one wearing a visible Gucci chain. For those who may not know, a gold puffed Gucci chain is a trademark piece of Caribbean people, specifically Virgin Islanders. It’s a surefire way to identify a Caribbean person; it’s right up there with the hibiscus earrings. We started waving and shouting “ehhhhyyy” at the guys. It turns out that we were not being run out of the London street, but instead given a real island-styled “hail up” – and it felt really good. The truck kept on its way, and we kept on ours – wondering if and how the drivers recognized us as island people.

The guys in our group wanted to go to Brixton in southern London, where we were told has a large Caribbean population, for some island food. But we were too hungry to venture all the way down there at the time. We ate at Giraffe’s then headed out to sightsee.

While we had found many historical marvels in Paris, I found the Eye of London to be a modern marvel. It’s described as a revolving observatory. In essence, it looks like a gigantic ferris wheel. A misunderstanding with my boyfriend had dampened my spirit a bit as I rode on the Eye. But the 360 degree views of London from aboard the eye were a must see. I had been looking forward to seeing Big Ben. But after I did, the Eye stole all of Ben’s glory.

As we were leaving the Eye it started to rain. And I was unprepared. One couple in the group was equipped with a complimentary umbrella provided by the Marriott Marble Arch where we were staying. As she said, “If a hotel offers a complimentary umbrella, that mean it rains a lot.” We waited out the rain a bit, then decided to go ahead with the rest of our sightseeing. Passing by several double decked sightseeing busses, we came across the iconic London phone booths, then headed for Buckingham Palace.

It started to rain on the way to the palace. Then it started to pour. The group had to decide if it made sense to continue or to head back to the hotel. Since we were nearly there we continued. The experience was pretty cool, as my boyfriend and I walked and talked – in the rain. The palace wasn’t too much fun in the rain. We plotted our way back to the hotel.

Luckily for us, the wifi at the Marble Arch Marriott Hotel was pretty good. We used our extra time to check in with family and friends back home.

For the first time in days, I got a full night’s rest!

Stay tuned for more on my European Adventure.

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