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Inside Insight: Cultural Clues from a New Yorker in St. Croix

2011 June 30

By Natalie Loney

One can never underestimate the power of a strong voice. It can be clear like a bell with the right timbre and resonance, or booming and vibrant like a bass drum. Either way, the power of my own voice was tested on a recent trip to St. Croix, USVI.

I was in St. Croix in support of EPA’s emergency response to an air release from the HOVENSA refinery. Part of my responsibilities included going door to door in impacted areas to talk to residents about our sampling results. So, with the support of local Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) reps, our team set out to reach out to residents. I was comfortable with this task, I’ve done community outreach countless times before. Walk up to the door, ring the bell, wait for someone to answer, then, start your mini-presentation, simple, right? Wrong! First of all, you can’t just walk up to someone’s door. Most of the residents’ homes were set back from the road behind a fenced or sometimes walled lot. My DPNR colleague pointed out that opening someone’s gate and entering their property without permission would be seen as improper. I definitely didn’t want to introduce myself to a resident by insulting them. What to do?

The answer was really quite simple. My DPNR partner simply stood outside the fence, gate or wall, and yelled out, “INSIDE!” It worked like a charm. Residents looked out and waved us in or sometimes came over to the gate and spoke to us over the fence. By the fourth or fifth home, I was calling out “INSIDE!” like a pro, I even adopted the sing-song inflection of a Crucian accent. The simple act of following local protocol went a long way, I started out on the right note and residents were receptive to our message. My voice made it through the whole day without incident. That’s because mine is of the bass drum variety not the resonant bell.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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