Tuesday, December 27, 2011


Yikes! That same "too much is going on" feeling has settled in here at #12 Magoon Street! It started the Monday before Christmas when our house dog, Princess, gave birth to a litter of seven. All our good intentions of getting her a doghouse BEFORE they were born were only that - intentions. She did what all good mothers do - dug a hole in the sand and popped those babies right out just healthy as can be.

Yes! There are seven in that little pile of puppies.

So I spend a disproportionate amount of my time standing or sitting and looking at these little beings. Steve has agreed to let me adopt one when they are ready, about mid-February. Since we have special guests coming - my son and his wife, and her mother - Jeff, Stephanie and Susan - we will wait till after their visit to bring up the puppy to live in the house.

In the meantime, after much coaxing our host mom from Camalote, Sala, came to spend time with us in Dangriga. She arrived on Wednesday. And on Thursday, construction of the doghouse finally got under way. Anthony is the 10-year-old boy who lives downstairs with his mom, Rafaela (Rafi). Princess is their dog. Steve showed Anthony a few things about building, and he took it from there. Steve just supervised. They did a great job!

Sala and Anthony, the dog's master

On Friday, Danny and Breezie, a married couple here with us PCVs, also came to stay. Christmas Eve was our big dinner. Meghan VanDeventer came over and made lobster rolls (Yes - LOBSTER). Along with traditional Christmas fare - mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, and green beans, and beer - we had quite the feast!

We followed the stuffing (of ourselves) with some good old-fashioned card-playing and fun. Lots of laughing and hardly any cheating!  Thanks to Breezie for her great photography.


Christmas day Steve and I were invited to dinner at the home of Rafi's boyfriend's mother's home (got that?), Miss Laurette. She lived in the US for 44 years before moving back to Belize. She served up ham and turkey and other foods we were used to for Christmas dinner - delicious! I have to tell you, it was very special for us to be included in their Christmas celebration. We were honored.

By the time we staggered home, we had trouble keeping our eyes open - stupefied from too much eating --- again.

I did NOT mention that Christmas Eve night and Christmas morning, from 12 midnight until 6 a.m. we were treated to ANOTHER all night concert at more than 100 decibels, so no sleep that night. On Christmas night, yet another party two doors down with the loud music. Started at 5 p.m. and finally went off at midnight when the cops shut them down. Thank goodness! I was experiencing some serious self-pity.

It's Tuesday afternoon and all our house guests have gone home. There is some crazy drumming going on close by (for Jankannu dancing, I think), again at a high decibel level. Oh, those poor puppies. It's a wonder that Princess can produce any milk at all.

We were lucky to talk with some of our family over the weekend, still have some people we have to call. I guess the hectic pace helped us to stave off the terrible homesickness we would have felt without it. We are thankful for our great friends here in Belize. Oh, how I wish I could see my family and friends back home.

Here are a few pictures I've drawn in the last month or so. Didn't post them earlier because they were gifts and I wanted them to be a surprise!


Guys on Stilts at a Parade

View from the back window, Dangriga, Belize

Tristan (Miss Patsy's grandson)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanksgiving, World AIDS Day, Christmas Pageant, Parties and Puppies!

Whole lotta stuff going on. Didn't SEEM too busy while it was happening, but I just saw that it's been more than two weeks since we've published an entry. Well, here goes - - -

Thanksgiving was tough for us, our first big holiday without family. We spent the time with our Peace Corps family. Several of us traveled to Independence Village to celebrate together. KC, our host, roasted the turkey, and the rest brought sides and dessert. Quiet and low-key, I think we all appreciated each other. We continued one tradition that I prize, is very meaningful for me. Each spoke about what they were grateful for. We ALL called family - either on the phone or Skype.

Our Thanksgiving Group
From the front, left to right, Kirstin Krudwig
Cathy Burnham, Ava Hacker, KC McAuliffe
Steve Burnham, Meghan VanDeventer, Kim Duchene, Shaz Davison
The 16 Days of Activism is held every year from November 25 to December 10. It is an international campaign that raises awareness about violence against women and children. The Women's Department manages the events in Belize, with activities and events for all ages and interests. Ava and I attended a Self Defense class on November 26, taught by Renee Wentz. She's an American who has lived in Belize for 10 years. We got the best of both worlds with her as an instructor because she could relate well to Belizeans and Americans. It was so helpful because we learned violence avoidance techniques that were appropriate for the culture. Yes, it's OK to shake your finger (like wagging your finger back and forth) to tell someone no. When to make eye contact, when not to. I already knew that Belizeans have a very different idea of personal space (they get really CLOSE), but that doesn't mean that I can't adhere to my sense of how close is OK. Good session. I was SORE the next couple of days!

On World AIDS Day, December 1st, the Women's Department held a big show for primary and high school kids at Alejo Beni Park (Yes, my Zumba park), complete with refreshments, skits, poems, songs, AND a drumline and drill team competition between the two high schools. Here are a couple photos of the competition.

DeLille Academy

Ecumenical High School

In partnership with UNICEF, POWA is conducting a survey of boys and girls 10-25 to determine what services are used by whom. Surveys in other countries have shown that the people who need the services most (medical, counselling, advocacy, legal) use them the least. UNICEF wants to make sure that its money is funneled to help the right people. For four weeks, POWA will be camped out at specific clinics, Women's Department, and other places to gather information. They will be paid for their time - $50 BZ per day, which is a LOT of money for them and nice timing since it's just before Christmas!

Steve and I attended a 3-day Peace Corps meeting in Belmopan, an in-service training for those of us who arrived in March of this year, called "Reconnect." The first day's meeting was supposed to be with our work counterparts. My counterpart, Michele Irving, could not attend because it was right in the middle of 16 Days, so one of the POWA women, Aidra Rodriguez, attended with me. She learned a little about Peace Corps and why we do things the way we do. The afternoon was spent rewriting work plans - which Aidra didn't have authority to do. So then it was MY turn to learn about POWA. I got the shoosh on everything from the beginning. Fascinating! And you know I won't write it here for all the world to read! Talented and creative, with a wonderful sense of humor, Aidra is a delightful woman with whom I very much enjoy spending time. Except for a couple of sessions, the other two days didn't hold too much value for me. But it was wonderful to see everyone from our "class."

While in Belmopan, we learned of a horrible incident with a man from the previous year's group, Owen Smith. He was attacked and had to undergo surgery. We were so frightened, as the news leaked in one bit at a time - some of it shoosh from his village, some of "official." He's OK now - minus one ear, 83 stitches - and back in the States with his family, but will stay in DC for a little while till they're sure he's stable. Not sure if he will come back to complete his service. Owen posted his story on Facebook. It's kinda long, so I'll mark it if it's more than you have time to read. Here is the story in his own words:


Hello friends, a lot of people have been asking what happened so I thought I'd just give a little description:
First of all, I have been living in Trio Village for a year and 7 months and have loved every minute of it. The village has been so friendly and it's been a wonderful experience to be a respected and recognized member of the community. In February I and the whole village (about 1400 people) were shocked when the brother of my recent attacker robbed my house (possibly with his brother as well) and attempted to murder my friend ( and neighbor) and place the blame on me by putting my machete and other clothing by the body of my neighbor. Fortunately the neighbor has survived and the soon found out the truth about what happened.
For the last 10 months I have felt safer than ever and have grown even closer to the village and honestly feel that they are one big extended family for me. Everyone always exchanged greetings with me and visited my home and invited me to visit their own homes. The only person that never responded to me when I would great him was this young man ( probably about 18 years old) whose nickname was Nunio and was known for using drugs and being more troublesome back in school than his brother who has been in jail since the incident when my home was robbed.
And so, I have been living in Trio enjoying my friendships and working with the village council, water organization, malaria/vector control, primary school, teaching adult ESL classes, health classes and training for women interested in being health workers,, and many other jobs that I have enjoyed extremely.
On the night of December 6th I had been visiting my good friends the Riveras. Julio Rivera is the pastor of the Rios de Aguas Vivas church in Trio. As is typical, they made me some flour tortillas to take home and make mini Pizzas out. Because it was going to be their daughters birthday the next day, I made her a pineapple pizza and brought it from my home to her as birthday present. After arriving back at my house, just down the road, I made myself a couple of pizzas and began to watch one my recent favorite shows Modern Family on my computer. My host brother Douglas visited me also and brought a shoe he had re-stitched for me. He did an amazing job and I happily payed him for his time. Also my friend Ernesto Rivera who had recently arrived in El Salvador and who I was planning on visiting this week called me to talk and give me his number in El Salvador. I even did a quick workout with the firm band that I have in my home.
At about 9:15 I had just gone outside onto my back porch to brush my teeth. I had came back inside and started watching the last episode of season 1 of modern family, when I heard a noise like someone climbing on my porch. Usually my friends don't visit me after nine because everyone goes to bed around then, but I assumed it must of been someone coming to see me. I walked over to the door leading to my back porch (which was about half open) and looked out to the right side and did't see anything (I don't have a back light so it's a little hard to see) then I looked around the door to the left. Behind the door to there was a figure (shorter than me and wearing a shirt around his mouth and face and forehead, kind of like a stereotypical ninja or someone working in construction that is protecting their face). In a moment of surprise I said hey but instead of responding to me verbally he swing his machete at my face and severed my ear. What ensued was about 25 seconds of fighting where he continued to swing at my neck and head. I did't have a weapon and also was just wearing my jeans so I wasn't in the best position to win. Because of this I decided that my best bet was to grab him after one of his swings at my face. I tried to stop the blade with my hand (good thinking I know) and it severed my finger. But fortunately I was able to grab with and press hid machete between us not allowing him to swing any more. I struggled with him onto back onto my porch and tackled him of the porch. We both fell to the ground and I could feel his machete fall between us. All the while I had been yelling and I think this scared him a bit, so he started running towards the bushes behind my house and I ran towards the street light on the other side, still yelling for help. Pretty soon my neighbors began arriving and found me covered with my whole upper body covered in blood. Some of the men started chasing my attacker and some of the people wanted to call the police, so I re-entered my house to get my cell phone. From there they soon found a pickup to drive me to the hospital and after going to a shop to get gas, my friends Pastor Julio Rivera, his wife Yolanda, and another friend Noe Florian drove me about an hour to the hospital in Independence Village.
I had't been able to see the face of my attacker, but had a feeling I knew who it was. The police confirmed this when they told me that a huge group of villagers had run the young man down and had him surrounded in a building in the village. I can still feel the adrenalin and horror of the experience but thanks to God I've been able to find rest and peace in Him.

Just the week before this incident with Owen, we had learned of the death of a PCV in Paraguay, died from a traffic accident. She was from Burlington, NC, and a graduate of UNC. Some of our friends back home knew her or her parents. We all feel close, even if we don't personally know a Volunteer.

On to happier topics. Christmas is almost here!! Kirstin and I attended the Kids First Primary School Christmas Pageant. There were many "items" with every class performing songs, dance, skits and poems. It was really quite charming.

POWA held the End of Year party for the girls in the Adolescent Empowerment Workshops (we've nicknamed it Pink POWA - thank goodness!). FOUR hours of fun - games, songs, food, and Face Painting! Steve and I were the official painters, and it was INTENSE. I fell in the bed that night. Steve enjoyed it, I think, but he felt the pressure, too. We didn't have good paints to work with, so some of the colors faded quickly. Next time we'll have better materials to work with.

Hello Kitty on Thandiwe, Michele's daughter
Our most popular design - the shooting star
It's Christmas-y here!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Glover's Reef

The last several entries have been out of order chronologically, but we hope to get back on track as the dust settles from so many recent events. 
Steve with Dante, Charles, and Capt. Doggie
On the last day of Nancy and Carol’s visit, Carol hired our favorite captain to take us to Glover’s Reef Atoll. It is more than twice as far out as Tobacco Caye, so you really have to want to go there. 
The atoll is ringed by less than half a dozen small islands. The exact number changes with each big hurricane. The outer side of the reef is best known for spectacular scuba diving at the wall of the cliff that drops quickly to more than a hundred feet. There is a dive shop on one of the islands called “Off the Wall” (they have a web site), and of course the gift shop has tee shirts there. 
We stayed inside the atoll and snorkeled where the water was warm and quiet. We saw lots of fish and beautiful coral formations. We gave Carol’s underwater camera a chance to show its worth. At several of the islands we went ashore with permission of the owners. There are tourist lodgings there, but we did not get a close look at them. The thatch cabana over the water seemed really neat. For someone who wants to get away, this place is FAR away. The bed swing on the beach was Carol’s favorite fixture. People there are not only laid back, they are laid waaaay back. 
Carol relaxes on bed swing
Captain Doggie brought Charles and Dante for his crew. He and Charles talked about the good old days when they fished there and nobody lived on the islands. They could come and go as they pleased. Now it is a marine preserve, and the local fishermen are banned from fishing there. Without admitting they have actually done anything wrong, they told how someone could theoretically pick the right time and circumstances to fish there if they were so inclined. 
Carol and Nancy with Charles and a friend

At the end of the day we were a tired bunch. On the way home we were entertained by a school of porpoise who swam with us for a while, until they got bored with our slow pace and inability to mimic their tricks. I was amazed that they swam close enough to touch. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Settlement Day!

(This is Cathy.) Settlement Day was the best celebration yet! Here's a quick rundown on the Garifuna people from Wikipedia:

The Garinagu (singular Garifuna) are a mix of African, Arawak, and Carib ancestry.[11] More precisely, the average Garifuna is 76% Sub Saharan African, 20% Arawak/Carib and 4% European.[42]
Throughout history they have been incorrectly labelled as Black Caribs. When the British took over Saint Vincent after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, they were opposed by French settlers and their Carib allies. The Caribs eventually surrendered to the British in 1796. The British separated the more African-looking Caribs from the more indigenous looking ones. 5,000 Garinagu were exiled, but only about 2,500 of them survived the voyage to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras.
Because Roatán was too small and infertile to support their population, the Garinagu petitioned the Spanish authorities of Honduras to be allowed to settle on the mainland coast. The Spanish employed them as soldiers, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Central America. The Garinagu settled in Seine Bight, Punta Gorda and Punta Negra, Belize by way of Honduras as early as 1802. However, in Belize 19 November 1832 is the date officially recognised as "Garifuna Settlement Day" in Dangriga.

Dangriga geared up early, at least a week ahead of town. There were special ceremonies throughout the week. One celebrates TV Ramos, a teacher, activist, and philanthropist who worked for more recognition of the Garifuna people of Belize, and was instrumental in getting Settlement Day made a national holiday. All primary and high schools held historical and cultural events.

On Friday morning, day before Settlement Day, the primary school kids gathered at Alejo Beni Park (yes, the park where I hold my Zumba classes). They had their own re-enactment of the landing, followed by lots of speeches, and two "pep" talks from pop stars - Titiman Flores (YouTube of Flores) and another guy whose name I don't remember. They encouraged the kids to pay attention to their heritage and don't lose the language, beliefs and culture of the Garinagu. Few of the kids heard it. They talked all the way through! Or were listening to their iPods (probably to Lova Boy).

Later in the afternoon we took Carol and Nancy to the art gallery of Pen Cayetano. He is a well-recognized artist and musician from Dangriga. His wife, Ingrid, is also a textile artist. She is originally from Germany, and they both lived in Germany for 18 years, but came back here a couple years ago. I love both their works. Pen is also credited with "inventing" punta rock music. His band, The Turtle Shell Band, has several CDs, and they use turtle shells for drums.
Turtle Shell Band - picture painted by Pen Cayetano

Pen Cayetano with Nancy and Carol, in the backyard of his studio/house
That night, we walked around town just to see what was going on. And there was a LOT. Drumming everywhere! But my favorite was the John Canoe dancing. The men's dance spoofs the Englishmen who ruled in Belize in the 1800s. Here's a sample. It's a large file (22MB), so don't click it if you don't have a high-speed connection.

Much as we liked the festivities Friday night, we did NOT enjoy the all-night concerts (yes, plural) that blasted from 10:00 pm until 6:00 am. Both venues were just on the other side of the river, and the sound roared across the water and right into our bedroom. Big stars, very popular. Incredibly loud - hard to get the idea across here, but imagine having the band right in the next room.

Next day started early, which wasn't difficult since I'd been awake the whole night. We went down to the riverside to witness the re-enactment of the landing. The people were turned away the first two times they tried to land. Then the third time, the scouts brought the old people and played the sympathy card. It worked and they were allowed to bring all the people into the country. The re-enactment is performed with one scout boat, and three "people" boats.

Scout boat

Breakfast was leisurely after the re-enactment, then I got into my new Garifuna dress (I wore it all day Friday and Saturday). My host mom, Patsy Nicasio, sewed it for me.

The highlight of the day was the parade. A rockin', dancin', musical, funny string of people enjoying themselves. In addition to the really cute kids marching and strutting, there were floats with pretty girls, wild costumes, and free liquor! Yes, they were passing out rum miniatures! The last float was a huge tractor trailer hauling a group of drummers and - TA DA - Lova Boy singing.

It was a great day. I'd like to tell you we kept on partying all day. The rest of the town certainly did. But the lack of sleep the night before dragged me to bed by 9:30. Slept like a baby.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Belize Zoo

Last week my sisters took Cathy and me to the Belize Zoo (www.belizezoo.org). It was really great. We took the Western Highway toward Belize City and found mile marker 29. Admission fees are BZ$16 for adults and half that for kids. All the animals are native to Belize and have either been born at the zoo, placed in rehab because they were a problem in their natural habitat, orphaned, or donated by other zoos. 
April, the tapir
We were very pleased by park rangers who spontaneously offered answers to questions before we asked them and pointed out things that we might have missed otherwise. We passed the howling monkey area, but all was quiet. A few minutes later they were all howling after a ranger passed by the fence and said something to them. We can only speculate about what he said.

Even though there were half a dozen school bus loads of kids in the park, it did not seem crowded except at the jaguar show. The star is Buddy Junior. This cat was born at the zoo to a mother who was trapped because she was dining on farmers’ livestock animals. After mom rejected the cub, he was raised by the park rangers and could not be returned to survive in the wild. 

The zoo’s director, Sharon Matola, has been nominated recently for an international award. (See http://www.lovefm.com/ndisplay.php?nid=15073). 

At the end of the tour we had pictures and movies. Unfortunately my camera chip tanked, but Nancy and Carol shared their pictures for this blog post. Carol continued to stimulate the local economy at the gift shop and got some truly lovely and unique things. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

International Children's Day

Hi, this is Cathy here.
The day after Settlement Day, November 20, is International Children's Day. Rather than have another session of the Adolescent Empowerment Workshops, Michele Irving planned a big party for the girls, POWA women and their families. It was held at Why Not Island under "di tatch" - the thatch. It was well planned and SO MUCH FUN!

Steve, his sisters, and Ava, who has helped train the POWA women in several projects, all attended, too.

Several of the girls from the workshops provided entertainment - an emcee, poetry recitation, songs (a capella!) and dance. Here's a couple pictures of their performances.  They had a choreographed dramatization of "Love and Affection," a song about HIV and discrimination. There was also a fun dance contest, mother and daughter or son. Lots of karaoke - Gosh, WHO invented that? Painful . . .

We had special guest stars! A father-daughter duo from Dangriga won the Belize version of American Idol, and they performed for us. That was also karaoke, because they couldn't afford a backup band. The daughter was especially talented.

So then the part where I really lost it was when we all joined hands in a big circle and sang "We Are the World." I KNOW it's schmaltzy, but I used to tear up just watching the music video. Imagine how I felt being a part of a circle of these beautiful girls and women!

Following is A Girl's Pledge, which the girls recite at the end of all our workshops.

I am a girl.
I am an expression of beauty, joy, and love.
I have the right, the power and ability,
to create a beautiful, joyful, and peaceful world for myself and others.
I have a body, but I am not my body.
I have a face, but I am not my face.
I am the most important thing in the world to me.
I am love in motion.
I am the light of the world!
I can create!
I can make a mistake!
I can create something beautiful in all that I do.
I deserve the best.
I give my best.
I do my best to always take care of myself!
I am a girl!
I am growing into a woman!
I am the joy the world is waiting for!

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, here are the winners of the dance contest - one of the POWA women, Bev, and her son, dancing to "Tornado." P.S. I did not record this. My sister-in-law, Carol, is the one who zoomed in on the magic hips :-)  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Trip to the Cayes

On Tuesday Nancy and Carol and I "booked passage" to Tobacco Caye with Captain “Doggie” Duran. It was a gorgeous day. 
Carol Steve Nancy

Our first stop was Man-O-War Caye, which has restricted entry because of nesting birds. We saw frigate birds and yellow footed boobies. Their feet really are yellow. 

We moved on the the next caye in search of crocodiles at the edge of the mangrove trees. We didn’t see any, but we were relieved to move away from their area. 
As we trolled over an area of sea grass, the captain threw out a line and hook baited for barracuda. He had a strike in a matter of seconds, and he pulled it in successfully. He had a simple spool of line with no rod and no reel - just strong fingers. 

At Tobacco Caye we dropped off the captain, who was going in search of conch and lobster, while first mate Mark took us over the the atoll to do some snorkeling. Water on the surface was warm enough, but seemed uncomfortably cool below 8-10 feet beneath the surface. 
We got to try out Carol’s new underwater camera and were happy with the results. When we were thoroughly tired, we went back to Tobacco Caye to eat lunch and refresh with cold beer. We lounged and explored the island (exploring did not take long since it is very small). 

When the fishermen came back with the catch, we got to see them take conch out of the shell and clean the catch. The shallow water was full of rays waiting for table scraps. In the late afternoon we came back to Dangriga with a wonderful day of experience. 

I also am adding video footage from the top of El Castillo pyramid at Xunantunich. I was not able to up-load it yesterday because I just learned how to add video to the blog.