Friday, March 29, 2013

Wrapping Up Our Peace Corps Service - The Transition Home

From Steve:  When we joined the Peace Corps, every step of the process was guided by staff people.  The transition back to life in the US was not so structured for us, perhaps because we left earlier than the prescribed 27 months. Following is a short description of what happened (without the emotion of our last blog post).

Exit day minus 3We packed, gave away the rest of our stuff, and said good-byes to special friends in Dangriga.

Exit day minus 2:  I went to the clinic and said my goodbyes to friends that I have come to know and respect. Cathy and I both ran around town getting last minute utility issues handled and closing out the bank account. We had to make sure there were no obligations or problems left behind.

Reuben, logistics guy, came from the Peace Corps office and picked us up at our home. We were very thankful for the ride, since going to Belmopan on a bus, with all our bags AND the big drum would have been very difficult. 

In the afternoon we went through an administrative check list with Matt, administrative officer. To expedite our processing out so we could go home sooner, Cathy and I determined that we would not have our last medical checkup in Belize, but would take care of it in the States. 

We checked into our favorite hotel, the Garden City.  We had made plans to get together with PC friends, Ken and Mickie. However, the US Ambassador and his wife asked to spend some time with us before we left (Nice!!), so we had a wonderful dinner with the Ambassador, his wife Barbara, and her mother, and Ken and Mickie.

Exit day minus 1: We went to the office and met with the medical officer and also went through the forms that we would need to complete when we got back. We met with Nina, our country director, for our final debriefing. 

One last social time - We had pizza with a good friend, Shaz, another Peace Corps volunteer, for our last dinner in Belize. 

Exit day: We went to the office in the morning to get a ride to the airport. We had been warned that we might have one more chance to cry. Even Mr. Cal, the guard at the PC gate, said, "Oh, yeah, they always cry that last day." 

All the staff people had assembled in the reception area for our final good-bye. They had a big “Thank You” banner and a cake. I'm not sure if everybody gets a cake ;-)  There were short speeches along with tears and hugs, and then we were on our way.

A kind young man at the airport got our drum wrapped in clear plastic, and we cleared security. I was “selected for extra screening." I think it was because I wound up sitting next to the chief justice of the Belize supreme court on the flight to Miami.

When we arrived at Raleigh-Durham International we were met by Jeff, Stephanie, and Burke. 


We picked up our rental car and went to dinner where we watched basketball. Our favorite team won. We settled in at our extended stay motel and slept well.

Arrival day plus 1: We got new cell phones, and the following day signed a lease for an interim apartment. 

And so on . . .  On the weekend my nephew and one of his strong young friends helped us move the heavy pieces from the storage locker to our third floor apartment.

Monday we bought a car. This also involved finding an insurance agent and getting a cashier’s check for the down payment.

Now we have settled down to making the rounds of the dentists and doctors, and we have started looking for a home to buy.

From Cathy: It's still COLD AND WINDY! I'm thrilled to be home, and I miss everyone terribly.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Wrapping Up Our Peace Corps Service - Saying Goodbye

We certainly did have the joy of getting to know and love some very special people while we were in Belize. As our time approached to go home to the States, I became a regular "leaky tear faucet," anticipating the new homesickness I would feel leaving my home of two years in Dangriga.

We let select people know about our early exit for several reasons:
  1. I wanted a smooth transition for Aidra and the Garifuna GLOW Girls.
  2. I hoped that someone would take over teaching the Zumba classes.
  3. We wanted to make sure that there was no financial problems with our apartment rent, and that Rafi would be able to find a new tenant.
  4. We wanted to find good homes for all the STUFF we were leaving behind.
And so it began. Our last weeks, and especially the last weekend in Dangriga, were spent tying up details with utilities and moving furniture and other items out of the house. Some of the things were sold at a very reasonable price, and a lot were given. Our last night in the apartment, we treated it like a hotel room, because there were no items in the kitchen in which to cook, or on which to eat! Slept in a bed that Rafi bought but left for us, and took a shower with borrowed towels.

We also tried to get around to all our friends for one last goodbye. In no particular order . . .

Pen and Ingrid Cayetano gave us some of their beautiful art as a way to remember them. We've been lucky enough to keep up with them since we returned through Facebook and Skype :-)

Rafaelita and Anthony - they were our housemates. Rafi taught me a lot about being Belizean and being generous! Anthony grew several inches in the 21 months that we lived with them. Look out young ladies! Missing from this picture is her beautiful son, Michael, born just a few days after our grandson, Burke. By the next time I see him, he'll probably be walking!!

We saw a lot (but not enough) of Norielee, Aidra, and Daytha Rodriguez during our last few days in Dangriga. Those gals, especially Aidra, were just the light of my time in Belize. I learned so much about honesty, caring, community service and thinking of "we before me." I feel so lucky to call them my friends. Norie (on the left) and Daytha made the drum. It has a picture of Steve and me (well, the Belizean version of Steve and me). They got EVERYBODY - all the Rodriguez family and all the GLOW girls - to sign it. SO special. Aidra (on the right) made the beautiful doll that I'm holding. It's sitting in a special place here in our apartment so I can enjoy it all the time. The drum is, too, and "one of these days," I will take some lessons so I can play it.

On our last night in Dangriga, Kim (in the center with black scarf), and Ava (on the right), both PCVs, made us a scrumptious dinner. Ava was our companion for many things we did in Dangriga, and was always ready to lend a hand, share a joke or a gripe, and suggest great ideas for GLOW activities. We have left her all alone in Dangriga for her last couple months there. Kim is winding up her extended duty in nearby Hopkins. She'll be coming back soon to her home in Detroit with her hunky Belizean fiance!

Many GLOW girls came by the house to say goodbye. I was so touched, because I didn't think they would be comfortable showing their feelings about me. They were very sweet and open about saying they would miss me.

The Zumba ladies threw a surprise goodbye party for me on the last night of class. I am so pleased that TWO of the women who took the class, Carla (2nd row, 4th from right next to me) and Jolene (2nd row, at the right end in white and blue), agreed to keep the class going! They are sharing duties to cover the class, sometimes teaching together. They took the big speaker and paid for my old iPod. I've heard from Jolene via email several times, and she's even added some new (!) songs. I'm thrilled to think that there might be a little "sustainability" with the class.

Well, the desktop is getting wet because my eyes are leaking again. Did I say this in the last blog entry?  My life will be forever changed by these wonderful people.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Wrapping Up Our Peace Corps Service - COS Conference

Cathy:  There has been a long time gap between now and our last blog post. Steve and I made the decision to leave three months earlier than the "assigned" June 10 exit date. We could not write about our plans because they needed to remain secret. We also wanted to be sensitive to people who might read the blog.

Because we both had been in country with (what can only be termed) bad assignments, we felt unhappy about our Peace Corps service. This was true for the majority of the time we were in Belize. My work with POWA had been terminated officially in early February 2012. I found things to do in Dangriga - taught Health and Family Life Education to kids in Standards III, IV, V, and VI at three schools, started the girls club, and led the Zumba exercise classes. Those were all good small projects (they averaged about 8 hours a week), and I derived a lot of satisfaction from them.

Of the two of us, Steve had the least to do. Steve was taken off his assignment at the Polyclinic in October 2011, and then reassigned to the same project about February of 2012. Unfortunately, nothing changed regarding the work partners commitment to working with a PC volunteer was practically nil. Steve spent very little time in contact with the people there, less than 3 hours a week, despite trying to "drum up" work many times with many different organizations. As he got to know the Cayetanos, he enjoyed doing the woodworking project for them. He also helped Anthony, the young boy who lived downstairs, with his homework almost every night.

Then in March of 2012, Steve was asked to participate in rewriting the Community Health Worker training manual, and he brought me on board. Writing that manual was quite a challenge, and we are both extremely proud of our work with the Ministry of Health. We completed the last of the drafts in January of 2013. Although we were challenged and happy with our work product, the work was not fulfilling in the way that working directly with Belizeans would have been. Basically, it was a sit-down job, researching, writing, and creating illustrations. Contact with the MOH was primarily through email and telephone.

Once the "book" was complete, we felt it was time to come back to the United States. Our country director was very understanding and sympathetic to our situation, and was able to obtain an exit status of "Interrupted Service" which will allow us to work with Peace Corps again if we ever wish to do so.

So . . . these last entries are a short recap of our last few weeks in Belize. We'll start with a description of our last official Peace Corps meeting - the COS Conference.

SteveThe Close of Service Conference is a time for reflection of what our service in Belize has meant to us. It is also a get together with all the volunteers and all of the Peace Corps staff people for some “thank you” and some “good-bye” talks with each other.

It started with a cook out at the home of our country director. This was an all afternoon thing, and I think we all ate way too much delicious food. The next day we caught the bus to Cayo (San Ignacio Town) and checked in at the Cahal Pech Resort. It is right next to the Mayan archeological site with the same name. The manager of the resort smiled a special smile each time she told Cathy and me that we had the honeymoon cabana.

We had sessions to talk about our milestones as well as sessions about making the transition back to life in the US with gainful employment for some and graduate school for some. There was also a session where the top staff people went around the room and said something special about each of us in the volunteer staff.

Cathy participated in a role play as an interviewer.

We also had a surprise for the staff people. At lunch the last day we staged a flash mob. The director thought at first we had lost our minds. We used a mash-up of four songs (Hot Cheetos and Takis, Summatime, Gangnam Style, and We Are the World 25) that we could sing and dance to. We finished with “We are the World” after we went out and fetched each staff person to come and join us in a circle.

Twenty-five PCVs plus staff
Basically the entire three days were one gigantic “warm fuzzy” for everyone with lots of hugs and some tears (of happiness).

The Ambassador and his wife joined us one night for dinner.

Mrs. Thumalapally is every bit as qualified as her husband!
These are the education PCVs who worked with Mrs. T.

Our good friend, Shaz, participating in the "fun fact" exercise.

People participating in the photo scavenger hunt.

Some fun during a break

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Winter is Over!

Some interesting and unusual things have happened in the last week or so. Last Monday a former Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter was in country with his wife Nancy and two close friends. Our country staff people put on a luncheon and program about what we are doing in Belize.

Cathy and I were invited to meet with him for a half hour before the luncheon and tell about the  training manual for the community health workers that we are writing. Country Director Nina Hernandez followed up by explaining how it will fit into the direction of Peace Corps in Belize. As we have mentioned in earlier blog entries, the emphasis for next year’s volunteers will be on health education, partnering with the community health workers in the rural villages.

After a wonderful lunch (I got excited about the fresh salad), some of our fellow volunteers gave presentations about their work in all the programs (health, education, and business development).

He posed for a picture with us. Cathy is right behind his wife in the middle, and I am behind Cathy. 

I have had fun working with my good friend Charlie Holliday (a transplant from northern California) on a project for Pen and Ingrid Cayetano. They have a door with great sentimental significance and wanted it used on a display cabinet in their house. It turns out that Charlie is a master wood finisher - mostly for marine applications, and he shares my reverence for beautiful wood. We have sanded the door and cleaned it up, but Charlie is still struggling to find a can of finish that will do justice to this wood.

Pen introduced us to a cabinet builder, Maurice Martinez, who has a woodworking shop with production level tools. I designed a corner cabinet for the door and delivered the precise dimensions to Maurice for the front door frame with mortise and tenon joinery. I think the wood for the frame is from a mango tree. We picked up the frame on Friday, and I was very pleased with his level of perfection. He is truly a craftsman.

Next week I will mount the door on the hinges and get some photographs. I have also selected wood for the back panels, and it has all harvested from Pen and Ingrid’s farm and is well seasoned.  We delivered the boards to get them planed and edged. I can hardly wait to see the grain. 

Taken from the upstairs at Pen's house.
You can see me through the palm frond working on the door. That's Charlie in the background in the blue shirt.

The highlight of the week is the visit by my sisters Nancy and Carol. They brought us lots of toys and goodies. They stayed one night here and left the next day for Tobacco Caye. Carol has been keeping us entertained with her photos and emails.

Yesterday I was able to spend the day with them and had a blast. In spite of many reapplications of sunscreen, I still got a little reddened. It was certainly worth the minor discomfort. 

We spent almost the entire day in Cap'n Doggy's boat, and I learned how to catch baracuda. We went snorkeling on the reef for a while and marveled at the beauty of the sea life. I also met many new friends yesterday and enjoyed good food with them. It was a wonderful time. 

Carol, me and Nancy - with Doggy in the boat

Monday, January 28, 2013

Too Tired to Write. Pictures!

Lots of GLOW Girls, traveling up and down the road to Belmopan, woodworking, Zumba, eating, and writing.

Self-esteem activity

Making puppets

More puppet making

Puppet dogs

And more puppets
Charlie in front, Pen in back
Steve is making a cabinet for Pen Cayetano with the help of his friend, Charlie. We don't have a picture of any woodworking yet, 'cause it's still in the planning stages. This is a picture of Pen showing off his guinea hen to Charlie. I took care of his 15 or so chickens for almost TWO months!

Yum! Barbecue chicken!

Rafi cooked a big spread for us! Delicious!
I know Rafaelita is going to say that's a bad picture, but I think it's really cute.

We used this picture with an ad on cablevision.

When we started Zumba classes, we were exercising inside the Town Hall in front of Pen Cayetano's mural. After three weeks, just when our number of participants had exploded, the Town Council received a huge shipment of desks, chairs and tables (for the schools, I guess). Now that stuff is stored in the room where we were exercising. The last time they got a donation like that, a huge supply of books, it took them a year to distribute them. So anyway, we're dancing on the stage at Princess Royal Park. At least it's lighted. We really liked that Town Hall venue.

One more thing. A picture I painted of Aidra.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

A Day When Everything Went Right!

A Facebook friend of mine posted an article that listed thoughts to live by. One of those ideas really struck home when I applied it to our Peace Corps work here in Belize.

Over-prepare! And then go with the flow.

I think Steve and I both are good at being over-prepared. The most important part of the advice is the second phrase, though, and it wasn't until yesterday with the GLOW Club meeting that I got to enjoy the benefits of following ALL of those words of wisdom.

I didn't have to do much preparing. Most of it had been done last Saturday for the club meeting. Except nobody came. NOBODY came, not even Aidra. Well, it was raining off and on, but because club meetings are so popular, I figured a few would trickle in. Zero, zip, nunque!

Even that wasn't TOO terrible, 'cause Steve and I got to eat all the chocolate chip cookies ourselves. Took a few days, but we enjoyed them a lot!

Anyway, this week we had a house-full of glowing girls. We had fun activities, and some of them were new and challenging!

  • Role play scenarios learning how to introduce friends to each other. We will do a little of this every week with different "mannerly"aspects of life. Next week, saying "thank you" and all the times when it's appropriate to do it.
  • Odyssey of the Mind challenges. We want these girls to learn to think on their feet, and to learn to work together in teams. There are some fabulous practice exercises online. We started them off with an easy one yesterday, with real loose rules. We will work up to tougher problems and stricter guidelines. 
The girls loved both of these activities, and were very enthusiastic in helping each other!

We also played the "indoor field hockey" game and made pencil toppers and ate cookies and "juice" and laughed and sang and danced . . . . Oh, no wait a minute. I'm getting carried away.

I had lots of helpers this time. Ava, the PCV who lives here in Dangriga, Steve, and Charlie, an American friend who has retired down here, AND Anthony, the boy who lives downstairs - all of them helped Aidra and me. In addition, Rafaelita and her new baby, Michael watched (and enjoyed, I hope). I guess she was curious about what goes on up here.

Well, unfortunately, except for a few, all our pictures are on video, and I don't have that yet. Will post as soon as I get it this week! For now, enjoy the pictures of our big crowd while we were doing our crafts :-)

And then go with the flow

Charlie, Malicka and Vaughnya
Aidra - in charge of color mixing

Cathy - pipe cleaner expert

Ava - wields a mean pair of scissors. Gets award for most patient.

Refreshments. The little girl on the right is a member's sister.


Admiring the avant-garde dragonfly.

Anthony lent his expertise by managing the drying operations.
Finally - from me, anyway.
I just had to paint another picture here in Belize. Used those same poster paints you see in the pictures above.


From Steve:

We had a site visit by our Country Director, Nina Hernandez. We talked about progress on the training manual. She seemed very happy with our progress so far. 

We went to a close-by restaurant for lunch. One of Princess's other pups (FuWe Dog's brother!) lives there and is their watch dog. The owner warned Cathy not to go near the dog since he would bite. When he sniffed Cathy, he remembered her and seemed very happy to see her again. So much for the watch dog idea.