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?


Rebecca Clay Haynes said...

Every detail is a pleasure! And I love your new digs. Keep up the fantastic work. xoxo

Anonymous said...

Hello, I'm an intern working for a teacher in Washington D.C. who takes groups of high school students to a foreign country during the summer to do humanitarian or service work for 1-2 months.
The students raise money not only for their travel expenses, but most importantly for the projects they are coming in to do. And of course, we work on ways to make it sustainable and involve community ownership. For example, one year, we took a group to El Salvador and the townspeople receiving the kids, actually wrote a grant to the kids for the project money they were bringing. Of course, the kids were going to accept the grant, but the purpose was to teach the community the skill of grant proposal writing. And it worked. The town went on to write grant proposals after the kids left and the town received more money for other projects.

We are looking for any PCVs who would be interested in hosting a group of 10-12 high school students for a month (or 2) during the summer and would be interested in helping to design what projects they would work on. The normal structure in the past is for the students to work on 1 primary tangible project (it's harder for them to understand that spending time in the hospital with the dying is service) and numerous secondary projects of any type. For example, in El Salvador our first year, the primary project was building dual composting latrines. Secondary projects included garden terracing, leading health and sanitation workshops, teaching life skills classes, teaching art classes, teaching English classes, teaching sex education classes, a women's empowerment entrepreneurship project, and a school world map project.
Past trips include projects in El Salvador (summer 2006,07), Ghana (summer 07,08), and India (summer 07) with primary projects including an adult education center construction project and wheelchair repair. Other secondary projects included working with street kids, running HIV/AIDS education workshops, doing permacultural work, etc.
Do you have work in which a student-teacher group could join you?
Would you be willing to host a student-teacher group during 2012 summer with project proposals?
Please Contact Jr Rodriguez at yissproject@gmail.com for further information. Thank you for your time and please forward to other Peace Corp Volunteers in your area and your host country that you think would be interested.

Jr Rodriguez

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