Thursday, March 31, 2011

Kolcha Deh

Culture Day, Saturday, March 26. We were both so impressed and so overwhelmed with HOW MUCH we saw, heard, and experienced and how interesting everything was. I was going to write TONS about it, but then couldn't gather the energy. Maybe sometime at a later date. Things are happening so fast that I can barely keep up with the basics. SO glad that Steve mustered up this good paragraph.

Yesterday was cultural day, and we all went to the southern part of the country and learned about the Garifuna people. They are a mixture indigenous Arawacs and Carribs who blended with two shiploads of shipwrecked African slaves. They were deported from St. Vincent and came here. We started at a cultural museum and had a guided tour. We went to a native bakery and watched how women dug up the cassava roots, stripped the bark, ground up the pulp, squeezed the water out and baked the dry pulp into thin bread. Next we were treated to a tour of the gallery of Pen Cayetano who is a musician and a painter. He was very interesting to talk to. After lunch we went to watch two women make drums. They took log sections and cut out the inside with chain saws. Our last demo was native dancing with singing and drums; afterwards we were invited to dance the Punta with them. Almost all of us joined in. Cathy and I asked one of the drum makers to pose with us for a picture. She is a beautiful woman with features that suggest that she got the best from a diverse genetic heritage.
Our hostess, Mrs. Cayetano
Baker making cassava bread

Garifuna Dancers
With Datha, the drum maker

Monday, March 28, 2011

Arrival and First Day of Training

We’re in Belize! It’s a very small airport building, but has a long enough runway to allow large jets to land. Just like Dallas, we didn’t need to be in a hurry to get through Immigration and Customs, because we still had to wait for everybody.

As we exited the airport to find our bus, we were surprised by a huge crowd and a Peace Corps Welcome banner. They cheered us and introduced themselves. Made us feel really special.

We hopped on a Trailways-type bus and were off to Belmopan, the capital. Steve and I sat up front, and got to listen to the driver telling stories the whole way. Jim told us about home remedies from his grandmother. Here’s one: Soak your feet in a strong mahogany tea for a half hour or so for five days in a row. You’ll have really red feet, but it goes away eventually and you’ll never have to worry about athlete’s foot again! He also told us that all the speed bumps along the main roads were Belize’s “highway patrol.”

We ate at a nice hotel restaurant, all of us together out on the lawn. Beautiful weather, exotic birds calling, “potlicka” dogs barking (not too many). We had watermelon juice to drink (Well, I did. Watermelon doesn’t agree with Steve.), and barbecue chicken, rice and beans, and potato salad, bread pudding for dessert. The PC country director, Nina Fernandez, made a nice welcome speech. She is just back in the office after giving birth to twins!

Oh, and they gave us money – “walking around money.” This was Belizean money, and it’s pretty, don’t you think?

The hotel where we’re staying is pretty basic. It’s a different one from where we ate. Twin beds, no lamps – only overhead lighting, two towels, thin walls, and that’s it. Well, there IS toilet paper. Our room is in the middle of the building and has no window. There are other rooms with windows that open into the hall, but we didn’t even get one of those! We do, however, have hot water AND air conditioning, so we’re pretty happy about it.

We managed to unpack before collapsing into bed. So happy to be here!

Friday the 25th was a pretty busy day. We met all the staff again, and had more of those interactive group sessions, learned what to expect from our pre-service training. We also received some real practical information about cell phones and internet access. Steve and I got the cheapest phones available, but added $50 worth of talk and text – which was immediately tripled because it was Friday! Nice.

The two of us ate dinner for $10 Belizean ($5 American), then raced back to the room to try to catch the UNC basketball game. Now I didn’t talk about the television in the room before because we couldn’t get it to work on Thursday night (I wanted to see the Duke score. Wasn’t that trouncing awesome?!?). One of the guys told us the trick, so we turned on the TV only to find that the UNC game was already over. Duh, two-hour time difference. Anyway it was a good outcome, so I couldn’t be too upset.

We went to bed pretty early because Saturday is Culture Day. Can’t wait to tell you about it in the next entry.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cathy here. I have to say that this past week has been very strange for me. I’m usually thinking ahead, planning, setting objectives, anticipating what’s coming up, yadayada. Not that I don’t enjoy the moment, but I usually have a clear view to the future – near and far. Something about this week is just so surreal, that I’m moving through each day and just taking it as it comes, not thinking beyond the now, and not feeling quite engaged either. I’m assuming that sometime soon I’ll come back down from this semi-astral travel state. In the meantime, I still feel competent to recount events, but not interpret what anything means.

Some of these events probably don’t need tons of details, but I’ll include a little here just to round out the big picture. Tuesday was a tough day to start and a great day at the end. Jeff and Stephanie took us to the airport, went with us as far as the security check-in. Stephanie is such a world traveler; she gave us her learned opinion of which scanner to go through (NOT the new kind). It was just too hard to say goodbye!

Uneventful flight to Dallas (always good) and check-in at the hotel. We had plans to get together with my nephew David (who lives in San Marcos, TX), and his girlfriend, Karen. It’s about a 4-hour drive up to Dallas from there, but they got held up with a snafu along the way, so it was after 8:00 before we saw them. FABULOUS dinner at the Blue Goose Mexican Restaurant. Potent margaritas! David is so fun and funny, and we loved hearing about his recent work at the SXSW (South by Southwest) Conference. Ten days of music and technology – he was in heaven! We loved Karen, too. Such an “agreeable” girl, as Jane Austen would write.

Wednesday marked our first official day as Peace Corps Volunteer Trainees. The staging meeting didn’t begin till after lunch, since most people were flying in that morning. The purpose of the meeting was to review the basics of the Peace Corps mission, what is expected of us (labeled Core Expectations), explore anxieties and aspirations, and to review the logistics of Today, March 24, the day we fly to Belize!

I must say that it was a first-class meeting. There was variety, lots of interaction, fun group activities, and very effective reviews of the topics. It was like many corporate meetings I’ve attended, but lots more fun. The only non-excellent aspect of the meeting – NO snacks and only water to drink. And they ran out of water!

All that staging paid off. The exit from the hotel to the bus to the airport went very smoothly. There were long waits as everyone checked in. But there’s something calming about knowing that you can’t go anywhere until the last person in your group is through. We still had tons of time until our plane took off, so Steve and I walked (with backpacks) for more than an hour and a half through the huge DFW airport complex. Word of advice – DON’T try to do power walking in Concourse A!

This bunch of 38 people is quite remarkable, as you might imagine – Surprise! There are FOUR married couples – and very diverse in ethnicity and age. Haven’t figured out the other diversities yet, but there probably are some ;-)  Majority female, but haven’t made an actual count. We joked about creating a survey asking pertinent questions (Do you smoke? How many days a week do you floss? What’s your astrological sign?) and building a database to draw generalizations about our group.
So I’ll stop for now. We’re on the plane, will land in a couple of hours. It’s time to fill out the immigration and customs forms, read my book, and maybe nap a little?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Steve's Last Meal ... North Carolina. I've really been terrible about not wanting to eat at his favorite restaurant - Squids. Not a big fan of seafood, and I don't think their seafood is very good. And it's definitely pricey.  But he worked really hard to get all those last minute details taken care of today. And there's no template for figuring out how to cut loose from what you're doing now so you can go do something else. Like leave the country and work in the Peace Corps for 27 months. Steve figured it all out and kept us on course. That's just one of many reasons why I think he's wonderful.

It seemed only fair that we dine at Squids tonight. I loved every minute of it. We sat on the patio (in this picture, closest table on the right), and enjoyed the beautiful night. Just acting like we were taking it easy, but both of us thinking about what's ahead. Hey, neither of us was hungry enough for dessert!  WHAT IS WRONG?

So now we're back in the hotel room, getting ready to sleep if we can. We'll be at the airport by 8:30, Dallas-bound. He's reading a book called The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Just in case.

Mas maƱana.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


We moved almost everything OUT of the apartment today. Just a few doodads left. Steve's nephew Daniel and his great roommates helped load and unload the truck. THANK YOU. We'll turn in the key tomorrow. In the meantime, we've checked into the University Inn for a couple of days.

This place advertises itself as the "Home of the Sports Experience." In the middle of NCAA March Madness, this is a good place to be. Funny to think that next weekend, we'll be in Belize and have to hope that we can get an internet connection to learn how well our Tar Heels fared. And a year from now, we may not be aware that the tournament is going on!

ANYWAY, plenty to keep us busy tomorrow, details. My son, Jeff, and his wife, Stephanie, are driving us to the airport first thing Tuesday morning. Looks like the luggage thing is going to work out OK, we should both be well below the 80-pound limit.

Tired . . .

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Meaning of the Word "Farewell"

Every day Steve and I are getting more and more excited. And every day we're seeing dear friends and relatives for "one last visit." Which really tugs at my heart (Steve's too, but I'm the one writing this time) and pulls out lots of tears.

Zumba love - Thanks to the awesome ladies at Kinetix, UNC Wellness Center, and Orange United Methodist Church for the FUN goodbye parties. Wish I had pictures of everybody. Here's one of the gals at OUMC after LOTS of really good food and MARGARITAS :-)

Best Friends - Last Friday night I met with three dear friends, Quyen, Stacey and Toni. They made me the BEST going-away present. Each of them wrote cards, sealed them up, and labeled them when I could open them - birthday, anniversary, friendship, get well (!), that kind of idea. Oh, I was such a mess, pretty much ran out of kleenex. So touching, and I'll get to keep enjoying that love while we're gone.

Many Special People - And we've seen my sister in Newport News, my aunt in Reidsville, my dad in Winston-Salem. This week we'll see the kids and grandkids, then take off for the "tour de siblings." We're managing to fit in some lunches and dinners with friends here in the Chapel Hill area.

I wish I could express myself as well as all these wonderful people. They wished me farewell with cards, and hugs, and eloquent words. Oh, I will miss you so much.

Thursday, March 3, 2011