Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A-M-A-Z-I-N-G !!

We are in Dangriga (!) for four days. We have brought ALL our stuff here to our new host family home. Our family consists of one wonderful woman, Patsy. Her home is about 100 feet off the coast of the Caribbean Sea. Take a look at our view from the back verandah. Not too shabby, huh?

So how did we get here? Last Friday, the 27th, our meeting with the counterparts was called off because of the bus workers’ strike. This country doesn’t  get anything done if the buses are not running. The few people who drive to work, especially anyone going up north (to Orange Walk or Corazol), were blocked by burning tire barricades.  OK, so Peace Corps Volunteers are flexible, right? Regroup. There are six people who are going to work in the Dangriga area. They brought us and ALL our stuff down here in two SUVs – absolutely packed to the seams!

We had our meeting with the counterparts at the Ministry of Education building. It was brief, just enough time for each person to introduce him or herself, and to hear a little of what we would be doing during this 4-day visit. Also while we were there, we met two other PCVs – Clifton and Allison, a married couple. Clifton has been doing some work with POWA, so I’m going to try to catch up with him soon to learn about it.

Miss Patsy's kitchen
We were then taken to our new temporary homes. Honestly, folks, this place is just wonderful. It’s a cement two-story house.  We live on the second floor. The breeze blows through so that you really don’t notice the heat. Fi chroo! Miss Patsy is quite an entrepreneur, running several successful businesses. One of the things she does is run the high school cafeteria (as an independent contractor) and other catering. 

Our first night out we went to the primary school arts festival at the Parrish Hall. Picture a room the size of a gymnasium, a stage at one end, and the rest of the room filled with folding chairs. Now imagine those chairs filled with kids and parents and every single person talking at the same time, jumping up and running to a different chair, all while the entertainment was being presented. Good stuff! Actually, it was fun to see the dances and music, especially the Garifuna dancing. If you read our blog entry from late March, called Kulcha Deh, you read about the Garifuna.

On Saturday, Steve went his way and I went mine. His entry will be separate from this one.

I started my volunteer career with POWA working (well, observing) the POWA educators working at a “satellite” table at Central Square of Dangriga for about an hour and a half. It’s simply a table set up with pamphlets and informational displays, including a dildo and artificial vagina to demonstrate male and female condoms. People came to talk and get questions answered. The men were encouraged to show that they knew the correct way to put on and remove a condom. They all thought they knew, but many screwed it up royally. These ladies were SO matter-of-fact about everything. Nobody was embarrassed. Lots of folks came just to get free condoms, including many female sex workers. So that was my introduction to some of the important grass roots work POWA does.

Later I talked with the founder and director of POWA, Michelle (I just always leave off the last names of most people). She took me to her mom’s house and showed me the lower floor that will eventually serve as the main office. Her mind is going a mile a minute with so many ideas. I thought, “How will I ever keep up with her?!” There’s NO way I’ll be bored here.

Skip to Saturday night. First we watched Mega-Bingo with Miss Patsy. Didn’t win again. Afterward she took us to Waruguma shed, a small outdoor club where Garifuna drummers from Honduras were performing. Again, I was just overwhelmed with the music and dance. In this case, it was not such formal punta as our Culture Day. The band played (1 guitar, 4 drums, 1 set of maracas, and two singers) and every once in awhile somebody, usually a woman, got up and gyrated hips in an oh-so-sexy version of punta.  I grabbed Steve. “Honey, can you believe this is really happening? And it’s our life for two years!”

After 10 minutes or so, a woman came back and grabbed Steve to dance with her. Of course, he was awesome. THEN she came back and grabbed me to do the same thing, dance with her. All I can say is, it’s lucky we’d had a couple of Bellikins (Belizean beer). So then we come to find out that that woman is the same one that demonstrated how to make the cassava bread on Culture Day. Here’s that picture again. We stayed there over and hour and then went to another drumming event (by then it was after 11:00), this time Belizean Garifuna, definitely slower and definitely not that sexy. But that was because it was a celebration of life for a man who had just passed away.

Sunday was pretty quiet. I walked with another “Peace Corps” named Ava and then came back to Patsy’s house. Ha! Our Program Manager, Austin and his wife came by for breakfast. Turns out that he knows EVERYBODY in Dangriga and is very good friends with Patsy. The significance? No secrets while we’re here!

In the afternoon we went to Y-Not Island, a recreational area right at the beach with a thatched shelter. The POWA women asked me and Steve (and Ava and Porter) to come to a little get-together. It was a welcome for me. Each person introduced herself, said how long she’d been with POWA and a couple words of how happy she was that I was there to help. It made me feel SO good I thought my heart would explode! Then we chowed down.
Michelle in front the group at Y-Not Island

During all this time, we’ve been asking everyone we meet if they know about any houses for rent. We’ve heard about a lot of them, and I feel certain we will be able to find something we can afford (we’re lucky because we have double allowance!) near the water.

As I read through these descriptions, I don’t feel that I can convey how excited and thrilled I am with our new situation. I’m inspired by the group I will be helping and energized by the leader’s attitude and ideas. I am delighted with the beauty of the area and the milder temperatures. Still hot, yes, but the breezes cool things back down.

Wednesday morning we go back to Belmopan for more “Bridge to Service.” I know this preparation stuff is important, but I’m really tired of it. Can we not get started?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Assignment Day!

Since the day we arrived at the Peace Corps Office in Belmopan, we have anticipated the day we would be given our project assignment and site location. Although we’ve had several conversations with our Program Manager, the actual assignment is kept pretty hush-hush. Many of the current volunteers try to predict who’s going where, and our PM also made some pretty broad hints, too.

The day finally arrived and this morning all 38 of us found out where we’re going and what we’re going to do! Not only were all we trainees excited, but the PC staff were, too. The atmosphere was very charged (trite but true).

They sent us out of our meeting room so they could set up. When we came back, the first thing we saw was a huge map of Belize. It was decorated with flowers and animals, with major towns and other landmarks. So pretty. Clustered around each town and in other areas, were other pictures, flowers and animals, each representing a PCV.

The game they used to reveal the assignments was Taboo. I hadn’t played it before. One person has to make another person guess a word or phrase by describing it. Of course, all the words were related to Peace Corps and CBT and Belize. The one giving the clues also has a list of taboo words they may NOT use. If they do, they’re disqualified. In this case, if the guesser got it right, the two people got to reveal an assignment. Of course, since neither knew where they were going, it was fun for everybody to see who was going where. The game carried on for a good hour and a half!

Here’s what the map looked like when we were done.

Steve and I are assigned to Dangriga Town! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dangriga

We had received so many hints and guesses from “those in the know,” that it came as no surprise, but we were so happy to have it confirmed. We each got a packet with project-specific information – organization, contacts, resources, potential activities once we’re in the job. The packet also included a schedule for the 5 days we’re going to spend with our counterparts starting this Friday.

Steve will work at the Poli-clinic. His assignment includes (straight from the packet):
  • Health outreach and education on healthy lifestyle to the Stann Creek Community (Stann Creek is the district where Dangriga is located)
  • Organize and conduct meetings to make presentations to working groups and employers about health risk factors, the benefits of healthy living and how to access health care services (over 5,000 persons)
  • Sensitizing patients about post-operative health care
  • Advise patients at the clinic on how to control and avoid illnesses
  • Sensitizing chronic patients on adequate control levels
  • Conduct health talks at schools and other target institutions; make presentations about the importance of personal hygiene and quality food and exercise (more than 25 schools/4,000 students)
  • Advise patients and the citizenry on alternative source of healthy foods
  • Make presentations to the general population on lifestyles and behaviors that may put them at risk and how to avoid these, eating habits, sexually transmitted diseases (especially HIV and AIDS.

Whew! And that’s not even the detailed part! His two counterparts are an administrator and the health educator/public relations officer.

My assignment is with POWA – Productive Organization for Women in Action. My duties as a health educator include:
  • To assist in building capacity of the POWA members as it relates to their ability to make presentations on health information to the rest of the community
  • To assist in better delivery of health information to the community
  • To assist in the design of health programs and other informational campaigns especially focusing on women, children and other vulnerable populations
  • To assist POWA members to organize community Health Programs such as radio shows, TV shows, and other innovative ways to reach target population with health information, especially sexual and reproductive health.

Also assist in:
  • Development of program targeting community members with health information
  • Helping in the development of data gathering and generation of reports
  • Going into communities (rural) and schools to present health info
  • Assisting at community and health fairs and other public events
  • Development of other skills such as basic computer skills, writing skilsl and general personal development

My counterparts are the founder of POWA and a woman from the Women’s Department (don’t know what that means).

So what it sounds like to me is that I’ll be using my computer skills to help them with database, powerpoint and presentation stuff. The “health” connection is weak, but I like this fine! And I admire what the group is doing.

We are both very happy with our projects.

We will meet our counterparts this Friday at a “Counterpart Workshop.” We’ll spend time getting to know each other. I will learn more about what’s expected of me. Then we’ll head down to Dangriga where I’ll tour their office and see some more of Dangriga.

While Steve and I are in Dangriga for the visit, we will stay with our new host mom (yes, another, but just for a little while, I think). We are eager to look for a house to rent and get started setting up. Don’t think we’ll have time during this visit, but you never know. Could be one of our counterparts will know of something.

Stay tuned . . .

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Packing Up to Leave Camalote

Cathy here. We’re sad to be leaving our Belizean friends here in Camalote, but happy to complete our preparation work. We have had our last class in Camalote. I can’t say I came anywhere close to enjoying the classroom activities. I’m glad we had it, and I know I learned a lot about working with groups. Truthfully, when my friend Alex, who serves in Vanuatu in the South Pacific, told me, “Remember, pre-service training bites the big wahn,” I really thought she meant that it was some boring thing that we just had to get through. Not quite. The assignments were very challenging, and we had a rough go with our group, mainly because of one person. Each day was a real test of patience and understanding – at which I sometimes failed, I’m sorry to report. Steve, of course, was very supportive. He’s always rock steady and he didn’t let the problem get in front of him.

Not to worry, however, because NOW we have MADE it, and are about to receive our assignments. We won’t learn of the specific assignment until Tuesday morning, May 24. However, my program manager assured me that I will really like what I’ll be doing, and that it takes advantage of my skills and interests. Yay – maybe Zumba?? Computers?? It seems likely that Steve will do something with the Ministry of Health. They’ll be so lucky to have him, doncha think?

A Day in the Life of a Peace Corps Trainee

Here’s what our “typical” day was in CBT (Community-Based Training).
  • Wake up between 5:00-5:30. Get up soon after, bathe and dress.
  •  Eat a breakfast cooked by Miss Sala, usually a combination of the following: bread (fryjack, toast, sweet bun, or johnny cake), beans, scrambled eggs, turkey or pork bacon, watermelon or papaya or banana, OR my favorite – waffles! We have beans (the smooth refried kind) most mornings.
  • 20- to 30-minute walk to the classroom (depending on how many people we stop to chat with) on that busy highway I keep complaining about. Arrive by 8:00 a.m.
  • Morning activities with our LCF (Language and Culture Facilitator), Tanisia. The majority of this portion is learning Kriol language, through vocabulary lessons, dialogues and role play, and some non-traditional learning activities. Peace Corps calls those NFE – non-formal education. We frequently finish between 10:30-11:00. So we have downtime waiting for lunch when we cas work on our technical assignments. One guy who lived nearby usually leaves for lunch. He takes a nap and a shower and we are always JEALOUS.
Building on far right is our little classroom
  • Lunch for the rest of us, always provided by our host moms, is either a bag lunch or a hot meal delivered at about 12:00. If Miss Sala knows she won’t be able to cook, she “orders” our lunch from the school “cafeteria.” The cafeteria consists of a tiny 8 X 15 dark room next to an open shelter, maybe 20 X 20, with a few picnic tables. I’m not sure what they charge for a hot plate of food (usually rice, slaw and chicken or fish or a tamale-yum!), but I do know that when we had our Health Fair and I got food and drinks for some of the booth vendors it cost BZ$13 for three plates and 5 bottled sodas. That’s US$6.50, folks.
  • After lunch our schedule is not as predictable. We might have someone lecture on a content area (NGOs, government structure, health education used in schools called HFLE or Health and Family Life Education). Many times we have a field trip to keep things interesting. During the second half of CBT, frequently we have had SDL, Self-Directed Learning, when we work on the various assignments and projects on our own or in groups. We take this opportunity to ride the bus in to Belmopan to shop or go to the PC office to get air-conditioning or internet or to print something.
  •  On Fridays everybody goes to Belmopan for the day for instruction that concerns all of us (usually health and safety topics, and facilitation techniques).
  •  Sometimes we come back to the house and do laundry (they say “wash”) or take a nap. We take our showers (yes, most people bathe twice a day) in the late afternoon.
  • Most days we get a “Coke” and las galletas (cookies) from one of the shops near our home. The one across the street is called B and B Shop. For those of you who know me well, you should appreciate how appropriate that name is for me. The shop is one of the few places that has Coke Light. Miss Braselia owns and operates the shop  and she also drives a taxi in the mornings.
  •  Miss Sala helps coach the girls’ softball team in the afternoons, and then does her own workout until about 6:30. So unless I am cooking (rare), supper doesn’t get started till about 7:00, usually another hot meal with rice or potatoes or both, beans, and chicken. Most recently she has fallen in love with STEAMED broccoli and cauliflower. I guarantee you she’s the only Belizean in Camalote who feels this way. We are SO LUCKY. Steve and I usually sit at the kitchen table to eat. Miss Sala always eats her supper in front of the TV.
  •  After supper, Steve and I play around on our computers or read. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, we watch and play Mega-Bingo with her. $2.00 a card, progressive jackpot (last night worth $193,437!), and six ways to win. We are living the culture! Since we started playing, we’ve probably spent $32 for the two of us; sometimes Miss Sala buys our tickets for us. Haven’t even come close to winning anything :--(
  • By 9:00p.m. we’re both droopy and have a lot of trouble staying awake past 9:30. Steve always sleeps straight through. Wish it were true for me. When I wake up between 2:00 and 3:00, I either play games on the laptop or read by flashlight. Problem with either choice – the light attracts the flying insects, which attracts the geckos, which attracts the rat. So I never do either for long.

Haily in the front, Jadyn behind the chair
We’ve gotten close to the little girls next door – Jadyn and Haily, five and three years old. Steve tells them stories on the front steps in the evenings. I like to talk with them about flowers and birds and silly things, or just throw the ball, play hide and seek, or watch them ride their bikes. If we come walking home from school when they’re at home, they come running – “Mr. Steve! Miss Cat!” Big hugs and, “You could tell us a story?” (Kriol way of asking that question.) We’ve been telling them we’re sorry we have to leave but that we want them to come visit us when we get our new house (in Dangriga??). I explained that we plan to have bunk beds for our guests, and described a bunk bed. Jadyn said quickly, “I could sleep on the top?” She’s quiet and sweet. Haily, the bold one, shouted, “I want to sleep on the top!” They’ll probably both sleep up there if we can rig a safety rail.

In Sala's kitchen after getting big girl lip gloss
This weekend we are hosting a Family Appreciation Dinner for all the hosts. Music, entertainment, good food (fried chicken, kalalu, salad, mac and cheese, cornbread, juice, and chocolate cake), at the school cafeteria. Our group will get together for a while on Sunday to work on our last two projects. Monday is a play day at a park, kind of like Senior Day – going cave-tubing.

Well, that’s it for now. Maybe more details than you want, but I really did want you to get a flavor of what we’re experiencing here.
Next time I write, Steve and I will know what we’re going to be doing and where!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

What's Goin' On

Here's another entry from Steve. I have been a little overwhelmed for the past 3 weeks or so, and have not been inspired to write my usual stellar descriptions ;-) This entry is a copy of an email from Steve to Jeannie (yes, of "Ed and Jeannie" fame). We have a ton of pictures I want to post - sigh - soon.

This past weekend Cathy and I were in Independence village in the south. We had a half day bus ride from Camalote Saturday and stayed with a volunteer who has been there for a year. We are supposed to be learning what it is really like to live and work in a community. She rents a house and has indoor plumbing, electricity, and water until 10 PM. It comes back on at 5AM. Several years ago there was an earthquake that damaged the storage tower, and they have not fixed it.

We also met some other volunteers from the region. They sometimes gather at her house. We had a tour of the village and stopped at several shops to get food to cook for supper.

Sunday we took the water taxi across the sound to Placencia, which is at the tip of the barrier peninsula. It is written up in the tourist book as a “must see” place. On the bus ride to Independence the couple behind us were headed there. I think they may have been on honeymoon.

Monday we went to the clinic and toured the facilities and talked about medical records. The financing for the clinic is tied to documentation, but the doctors are not very good about completing the paper work. Our hostess took us to her hair stylist, and we both got a cut. Cathy is not entirely fascinated with hers, but mine will be fine within a few days.

In the afternoon one of the other Peace Corps workers there took us to the public library where she works. It is very nice and well-maintained. I hope the community uses the facility. They have internet access there. Eventually that will be a big drawing card since internet access is too expensive for most people here. Afterward we rode bikes to the lagoon and cooled off in the water. There were not many people, and the quietness was serene.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Agric

Last weekend the National Agricultural and Trade Show was held in Belmopan. People look forward to it all year, because it's THE place to get good deals on merchandise - ESPECIALLY cell phones. The show is a cross between a State Fair and retail free-for-all. We went early Saturday morning to beat the crowd and the heat, stayed out there about three hours, which was plenty.


  • Cathy getting kicked in the butt by a horse
  • Spending time with the Taiwanese at the Central Farm booths, tasting their new and improved tomatoes, wax apples, corn and sweet peppers. Bigger, better, grow faster. 
  • Visits with the folks working at the HIV/AIDS and vector control booths. Always hustling for contacts.
  • Sneaked into the petting zoo, and saw our next door neighbor get bitten by a mouse.
  • Watched kids and friends ride the rides
  • Had our eardrums BLASTED out by HUGE speakers.
  • Concerts by Lova Boy and Supa G!
We didn't go back on Sunday to see the rodeo. We did, however, watch a televised show from the fairgrounds of Lova Boy singing his #1 hit song, Slow Tornado. See the YouTube version here:

I'm enjoying most of the music here, and will try to post more songs when I can get them.

Here's info Steve wrote to his sister - to fill you in on his point of view :--)
It looks like the rainy season is starting early this year. We got lots of rain last night and again today. Until then we has seen rain only twice since we arrived 5 weeks ago. Today was a culture day in the morning. We met at the market in Belmopan and went shopping. We spoke Spanish more often that Kriol, and we also met a Canadian vendor who has been here for 18 years after marrying a Belizean woman. This evening we are meeting at the instructors house, and the 6 of us are going to cook dinner according to Kriol recipes. I am sure we will have too much food. At the market I also got a new pair of short pants for US$7.50 which is BZ$ 15. I have lost two inches in my waist, and my belt makes the other pair of short uncomfortable.

This afternoon Cathy and another trainee named Taylor taught a sex ed class at the village school. Belize has this program called Health and Family Life Education (HFLE) for every year in school. Before the Easter break we observed the teacher do a session on conflict and crisis. Today's topic was along the same lines and was about coping mechanisms when you feel down. They do not actually get to the boy-girl stuff until late in hight school. At that point some of the students could teach it if they haven't dropped out because of pregnancy. The Catholic Church is very much a player here. Yesterday we had a workshop about how to teach HIV/AIDS education classes. The class was done by current Peace Corps volunteers who use a manual created by Peace Corps initially in Africa, but now used world wide. They will teach the course to groups of migrant farm workers as well as to schools and church or community groups. It includes a lot of nitty-gritty, including a condom relay contest between two groups of participants. The baton is a banana, and each person has to hold for the next person while they correctly place a condom. It gets slippery near the end of the line because of the stuff on the condoms. It seemed strange to have a recent college grad woman put a condom on my banana. We will also be teaching our own workshops, and one of the important parts is to make sure the students know where to get condoms and where to get HIV testing. The problem in this country is confidentiality. We are a long way from the restrictions imposed by HIPPA. Some people avoid getting tested even though they have been engaged in risky behavior, because the entire village will find out quickly if they test positive.

I think I mentioned on the phone that we will be going to Independence village on Saturday to shadow a current Peace Corps volunteer for a long weekend. I think Cathy and I both would be quite happy to be stationed in that area for our permanent assignment.

We are both healthy and happy. We have finished all the rabies vaccinations. We may have more hepatitis B shots, but I can't remember right now. I may have told you that we got our mid-term evaluations back. I got all "S"'s, and the written evaluations were very nice, especially about my attitude. I think they are going to keep us and give us an assignment here.