I had never ventured away from my parents for longer than two days until the summer after my sixteenth birthday. My friend had invited me to stay with her and her grandparents on St. Kitts, an island in the Caribbean, for a month, and I could not refuse the offer when she mentioned the sea turtle project with which we would volunteer. On July 15, 2009, I boarded a plane and left the United States for the first time, nervous and unsure.
I remember watching the island appear gradually from the plane, an assortment of green, worn down volcanoes and beaches surrounded by the bluest water I had ever seen. My friend had taken my speechlessness as disappointment, but I had been observing the island, taking in each new sight, sound, and feeling.
My hosts quickly included me in their daily routine, taking me out to dinner with their friends and involving me in the local entertainment and cuisine. The days and nights were hot and busy, and jungle sounds penetrated our screen windows each night. I had decided, not long after arriving on St. Kitts, that I would thoroughly enjoy my trip.
Almost immediately upon becoming settled, my friend and I began volunteering with Ross University’s sea turtle project. We were to drive to the beach at eight o’clock after sunset and walk the shore looking for female leatherback turtles preparing to lay their eggs. As high school students, my friend and I were the youngest of the group, and the experienced veterinary students helped us willingly. On our first night, we counted the eggs laid by a female leatherback, holding up the back flippers of the huge, nearly two thousand pound turtle and shining our red lights into her nest. As we volunteered more, our responsibilities grew. We measured and evaluated turtles, filled out data sheets, excavated already hatched nests, and (only once) tagged a turtle’s back flippers.
Often we would walk barefoot until sunrise, finding from zero up to three adult turtles a night. On rare occasions, we would excavate an old nest and find a few hatchlings struggling to break through the sand.
Each night, we would meet up at The Middle, a gathering point marked by various objects found on the beach, including a wheel from a stroller that had washed up on the shore of Keys to Cayon. From The Middle, we would split up into groups of two or three, and cover each half of the beach. When we reached the end of the beach we would take a thirty-minute break, head back to The Middle, and repeat the process. During these breaks I grew closer to the researchers with whom I worked. We would talk about turtles occasionally, but more often we would talk about ourselves. I learned about college, constellations, and trips to Europe and South America.
When the others would fall asleep nestled in the sand, I would often look at the stars and listen to the cool ocean breeze. I did most of my thinking late at night. I thought about how, beyond the dark ocean, my family members slept and woke up to their everyday lives. Beyond the jungle noises, sand, and stars, life carried on as usual. It seemed as if time stopped in St. Kitts. The days came and went without consequence, and before I realized it, I found myself back in my own room and back into the busy schedule of the modern world.
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