Thursday, June 30, 2011

Zumba in Belize and Other Highlights

Way too much good stuff going on here, so I have to melt it down into tasty nuggets (no sauce).

My Zumba classes got started last Tuesday, June 21. We held the class at the bandstand at Alejo Beni Park, right by the Caribbean Sea. So beautiful! I don't have a very good sound system, but other than that everything was perfect. First class had about 5 (Steve and 3 PCVs and one 11-year-old Belizean girl, the daughter of Michele Irving, my counterpart) people. That first time a bunch of kids came to watch and figure out what the heck we were doing. Now there have been 4 classes (we meet Tuesdays and Thursdays 5:30-6:30) and our numbers are way up - same Americans, same 10 or 12 kids, and a few more Belizean ladies. Check it out!

Yesterday, June 29, was Steve's 64th birthday - his FIRST birthday in Belize. I tried to plan a surprise party, but logistics made it tough. Nevertheless, we managed to have a few people - PCVs and locals - to wish him well, a really sad looking cake (it is such a LONG story, I cannot conceive of trying to type it all out!), with candles, and refreshments, and some good Garifuna music to celebrate. Here's a couple pics from the party. Steve's wearing his (certified pre-owned) birthday shirt!

PCV Ava and our host mom, Patsy
Miss Cas (Garifuna language teacher) and Norine (President of POWA
Other good stuff. I've given some presentations to some young people, Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV/AIDS. Steve and I co-presented at a monthly Diabetes Support Group meeting. For the youth stuff, I had to create flip charts and visuals on "shop paper," including all the drawings for the male and female reproductive anatomy. NOT easy. I must say that I was pleased with the youth presentations. I will be the first to say that I don't think I do well with kids, but I followed the Peace Corps formula, which included lots of activities and learning games, and they really liked it, were engaged in the topic, and even asked the organizer to have me back to teach more sessions. Huh, go figure.

For the diabetes group, we had a projector, so we wimped out and used Powerpoint. Steve talked about the medical aspects of diabetes, and I discussed nutrition and dietary tips. Steve did his usual stellar performance. Again, I tried out small group discussions to see if we'd get good participation and interest. I thought I'd have to explain what I meant about gathering in groups and working together, but they jumped right in and got to work, produced the result we asked for. There must be something to this PC stuff.

OK, what else? We've got a house lined up to rent as soon as Peace Corps Safety Office passes it. We have bicycles (and helmets) so it's quicker to get around. We are starting to make some friends. I mentioned to some people that I didn't have friends yet, but that I do have friendly acquaintances and it seems that many locals seem happy to see us. There are some women in POWA I would really like to get to know. Also the daughter of my counterpart is just a real doll. Her name is Thandiwe (pronounced TAN-di-weh), but she says I can call her T. Somehow, I stuck with Tandy and she seems OK with it. I'll try to get a picture of her in the blog soon.

As usual, Steve has written some things, so I'll include them here :--)

Cathy and I talked to the diabetes support group here onThursday morning. The public relations officer from the clinic set it up and both of us gave presentations. He took some pictures that he gave to me. My shirt is soaked with sweat, but that's the way it is. 

Yesterday afternoon I was invited to attend the clinic staff meeting. I guess they have them monthly. It started at 2PM and went for 2 hours and 40 minutes. ALL the clinic staff were there, including the domestic staff, the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, receptionists, and community health workers from the satellite village clinics. A lot of it was arguments between doctors and pharmacists, etc. Some of the discussion wounded disrespectful, but that may be business as usual. The meeting started with a prayer and ended with a slideshow presentation by one of the practitioners on combating human trafficking (aka slavery). She mentioned that US nationals buy young children from their parents to take back as domestic help. I was ashamed that we are singled out.

This morning we went to all the bicycle shops around town. The going price was between BZ $220 and $260 each. All but one of the places were run by foreign nationals. The local man will be getting in some adult bikes on Wednesday, so we will go back then. He also does repairs if anything goes wrong. He is also very friendly and likable. Peace Corps volunteers are required to wear bike helmets when we ride, so everyone knows we are Peace Corps and not just the unusual white person on a bike. Cathy went to Belmopan on Friday and picked up our helmets at the PC office. 

I have Rosetta Stone Spanish software on my laptop and have continued to work on it since I have been here. It is expensive, but it teaches by reading, speaking, listening, and simple pictures to illustrate the idea of the word or phrase. If they had a Garifuna course, I would certainly buy it, since it is so effective. On Wednesday afternoon I am going to my first Garifuna lesson taught by one of the local ladies who taught Garifuna to some Peace Corps volunteers last year. I am hoping to learn pronunciation.  I have already been working on computer flash cards to build vocabulary. Yesterday afternoon I was invited to attend the clinic staff meeting. I guess they have them monthly. It started at 2PM and went for 2 hours and 40 minutes. ALL the clinic staff were there, including the domestic staff, the doctors, nurses, pharmacists, receptionists, and community health workers from the satellite village clinics. A lot of it was arguments between doctors and pharmacists, etc. Some of the discussion wounded disrespectful, but that may be business as usual. The meeting started with a prayer and ended with a slideshow presentation by one of the practitioners on combating human trafficking (aka slavery). She mentioned that US nationals buy young children from their parents to take back as domestic help. I was ashamed that we are singled out.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hit the Ground Running

Cathy here (sorry, no pictures this time.) – In case you didn’t catch my Facebook status post on Monday, it said something like, “Who says that starting out with the Peace Corps is slow? By 10:30 this morning I had two training presentations and a one-day commitment to work at a youth camp.” By the end of the day I had added two more trainings.

I arrived at my “office” about 8:00. There are two floors: the downstairs is the Women’s Department (where Michele Irving is the director) and upstairs are several other organizations, all a part of the Ministry of Human Development, what we would call Social Services. Downstairs was locked so I went in through the upstairs entrance, introduced myself to the ladies upstairs, and got their contact information.

Downstairs I started the “group” computer to check out what it could be used for. Michele and I had talked about my teaching the POWA ladies some computer skills. Ten minutes later when it had finished booting, I tried out a few applications. A bootleg copy of Windows XP is installed. I know this because a polite note kept popping up warning me that I might not be using a genuine certified copy of Windows. Every click of the mouse brought a 5- to 15-second wait. Same for when applications, even small ones, were loaded. I tried to see how much RAM and what speed processor it had, but the little executable file that brings up that info was MIA! Internet worked, but too slow – impossible.

Michele blew through about 8:30, rushing to get to Mile 9, a village called Hope Creek. The Women’s Department was sponsoring training for women in making vinegar. (She ended up spending so much time out there this week that I started calling it Vinegarville.) She thanked me for looking at the computer and said we’d talk about it later in the day. Then she was gone and I was on my own. That’s OK – I’m a grownup and can figure out how to manage my time, right?

A steady stream of people came by looking for her, including a guy from BFLA, the Belize Family Life Association. It’s an organization that helps people with sexual and reproductive health. He wanted to confirm with Michele that she was going to teach Monday (the 20th) at his youth camp. The kids were to be “certified” as youth trainers.

After we chatted a while, he asked me if I could teach a session on Youth Advocacy or Youth Participation. Say what??? I told him that I could help with health-related topics. So then he said, “How about Anatomy and Physiology?” and I agreed. Man, I am ready to roll on that topic. Peace Corps gave us pages and pages of material, lesson plans and activities on many topics, ESPECIALLY anything that might relate to sex, drugs and HIV. Monday afternoon, three and a half hours.

Then Stevie called me from the Polyclinic to inform me that he had "volunteered" me to present at the monthly meeting of diabetics, a week from Thursday – Nutrition for the Person with Diabetes. No problem.

And so forth. By the time I received the email (did I mention that Internet speed was fine for me with my little netbook?) from the BFLA guy, he had added another session on essentially the same topic in July at another camp. (By Wednesday of this week he added yet another session on Tuesday, the 21st, on HIV/AIDS.)

Monday afternoon I went over to the office that will one day be the POWA headquarters to meet with Michele, some POWA women and some students from the University of Arkansas. A large group of them are here in Belize for about three weeks to help businesses, co-ops, and other organizations.   POWA wants to produce a product, called POWA Punch, that will allow them to be self-sustainable rather than relying on grants for their various projects.  

The punch is fresh fruit juice – they want to test market watermelon juice, carrot, carambola (star fruit), and pineapple. It’s packaged in a narrow plastic sheath, about 8 inches long, and then immediately frozen. When it’s time to consume, you just bite a tiny hole in one corner and drink or suck it out. It’s meant to compete with what everybody calls “Ideals,” which is colored sugar water like Kool-Ade. Kids pay a shilling (25 cents BZ) for the Ideals, but POWA thinks they’d pay 50 cents for their product. Diabetes is such a huge problem here, so this is just one more step toward improving life in the country. I really want to help them any way I can to promote the product.

The Arkansas students are helping by costing out the production, creating a business plan, and creating a logo and advertisements. The students are having a fun fair for school kids on Friday afternoon, with activity tables and games. POWA will bring a lot of samples and ask questions about which they like best, etc.

So that was Day 1. Ended up taking a walk with Ava and Meghan, a couple of other “Peace Corps” here in Dangriga. Fell asleep early and slept well.

The rest of the week was busy sometimes, and slow others. I’ve got my Zumba class set up for Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5:30-6:30. There are several – maybe 10 so far – who have told me they’ll be there. I’ll charge BZ $1 for a couple of reasons: 1) People think they’re getting something of worth if they have to pay for it, and 2) I will have to feed batteries to the CD player, big D ones, and they’re expensive. We’re holding class at a bandstand on the Caribbean Sea. Will have a picture in our next entry.

I’ve been walking most mornings with Miss Patsy, our host mom. We are out of the house by 5:30 and we walk about an hour, not very fast, but at least it’s moving. On some nights I walk again with Peace Corps, and soon we’ll have the Zumba! Just need to add some resistance training to get back my muscle tone. Since we arrived on May 25, I’ve lost 12 pounds. Steve has lost 28 pounds!!

One last note before I sign off. Today is Saturday, June 18. Patsy is cooking food for 250 people today. It’s for a ceremony called Ninth Night, originally intended to be held in honor and memory on the ninth day after someone is buried, but not always adhered to regarding the timing. There were four other women helping almost the whole day. Steve and I helped a little with the baloney sandwiches and the soup. They also made barbeque chicken, rice and beans, and macaroni salad. I’ve never seen food prep on this scale. It’s now almost 8:00, and they’ve been going since about 8:00 this morning. She is a very very kind woman.

All the women spoke Garifuna the entire day, only a little Creole. Cool!

Patsy is taking us to the Ninth Night. We’ll go about 9:00 and all the eating will start about 10:00 or 11:00. There will be lots of drumming and some dancing. I guess Steve and I won’t stay all night. She’ll stay until she’s too tired, probably very late.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Bridge to Service and Swearing In

Steve and I have only half energy right now, so we’re sharing the writing. BE FOREWARNED: This entry is really long and schmaltzy!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011.
Steve:  We caught the James Express bus to Belmopan. The seats had leg room, and it was air-conditioned. Rainy season has officially started. After lunch we went to the Peace Corps office for a debriefing on the site visit. Most of us are thrilled, but we probably are in a “honey-moon phase” right now. We received a box of toiletries and rain boots for Cathy. It is amazing how excited we get over little things like that.
Cathy: We hated to leave Dangriga for our last days of class, called Bridge to Service. After just a taste of what live would be like for our two years of service, it seemed cruel to send us back to the American side of things at the Peace Corps Office. And, yes, I was excited about my new rainboots. Thanks, Stephanie!

Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 2 - 4
Steve:  We had sessions all day long on how to teach about HIV/AIDS. On Friday we got our iPhones back from Belize City. They are unlocked and will work now with the local network. On Saturday we had the day off and did some walking. I worked on updating the contact list for my phone. It has not been a very challenging day, and it may be a test to see how we handle our down-time.
Cathy:  I wasn’t too enthused when I heard we had yet another session dealing with HIV/AIDS. We had already had two days on the topic, but that’s because our sector is Healthy Communities. These particular two days was really provided for the trainees in Business Organization and Education. There was a half-day that was a repeat; it was presented by US, the health trainees. The other day and a half I found fascinating: people living with HIV, directors of various awareness outreach and BCC (Behavior Change something) agencies, gay men’s rights organization, maybe a couple of others.

I volunteered to create the “class slideshow,” so I was busy on Saturday. I worked on the soundtrack, and did some editing of the pictures. This is the kind of work where I really dig in :--)

Sunday June 5, 2011
Steve: This afternoon we went to Camalote to visit our former host family. The girls from next door were the most glad to see us. Back in Belmopan,, we ate lunch at Corker’s, and I had a Caesar salad with grilled chicken. It was wonderful. It is really hard to find fresh vegetables here in restaurants. Cathy is working tirelessly on the picture presentation for the swearing in ceremony. I think it will wow everyone, and I anticipate many requests for copies of the slide show.
Cathy: Thanks, Stevie.

Monday, June 6, 2011.
Steve: We had a presentation by the Volunteer Action Committee this afternoon. Cathy nominated me to be the junior member from the Stann Creek district, and I was elected by acclamation. I will have meetings every quarter and work on issues that affect volunteers. This afternoon we also had a presentation of the web forum. It is a closed forum to share information with staff and volunteers without worry about our counterpart people reading and taking offense at our rants. I appreciate the kind messages from family via email.
Cathy: One of the activities we did was to create an action plan for the volunteers in each district. There are six districts, with some volunteers in the main town, such as we are. There are others who are in close or remote villages. We want to insure that people have a support structure. We decided to have monthly potluck or activity get-togethers. We can share our woes and our successes, network regarding our primary and secondary projects, and play. Steve will make a great representative/leader of our group.

Tuesday and Wednesday, June 7-8
Cathy: Slideshow, slideshow, slideshow. Excuse me while I geek out. I used Mixmeister for the music (5 song portions had to be mixed and timed), PowerPoint and Corel Paint Shop Photo Pro to edit and create the slides and transitions. The latest version of PPT allows me to create a video from the show. I am very proud of my production. There is one slide where the faces of each of the trainees slides onscreen exactly on the beat of the accompanying song. It was tricky. I knew that the song had 126 beats per minute, so Steve helped me calculate the exact fraction of a second required to give two beats for each picture (it’s .945).

I’d love to hear from somebody how to put up this movie (it’s about 160MB!) or at the very least one of the songs that’s my favorite (about 7MB). Ideally, someone would be able to link to it, nothing that would play automatically.

Anyway, I handed it over to the reception organizers on Wednesday morning. Finally, I can sleep.

One very sad note here – one of our fellow trainees was “terminated” today. Stephanie was a sweet sensitive girl, and we will miss her. She was the first and only person in our cohort to leave (against all statistics).

Thursday, June 9, 2011
Cathy: Hardly slept last night. Couldn’t stop thinking about what happened to Stephanie. It was almost like a death. And although my reaction couldn’t have been one scintilla of what she went through, I felt it very deeply.

Last day of activities in our Bridge to Service. We practiced the details of our swearing in, including singing the two national anthems. Every CBT group (there were eight) presented a (usually funny) summary of their time in their villages. SO Creative. Then they had a talent show, with random talents. I read Goldeelaks ahn di Chree Byaas in Kriol.

I loved the very last activity of the day. We were divided into two groups. One group formed a tight circle, and was instructed to close their eyes. The group who was left, was instructed to “touch the shoulder of someone you admire; . . . from whom you learned something; . . . who makes you laugh; . . . who you trust.” And so on. Then the second group formed the circle and the first group had a different set of reasons to tap shoulders. It was moving.

Little did I know that was just the start of my emotional crying (happiness, of course) for the next two days.

Friday June 10, 2011
Steve:  This morning we took the oath of office and are officially Peace Corps volunteers. I felt a lot of joy and enjoyed the moment immensely. Several things the speakers said brought tears to the eyes of all of us in the graduating class of Training 2011. I thought of all the people that I wanted to have there with me to be proud of what I have gotten through. This sounds like an acceptance speech at the Oscars, but I didn’t get here by myself. That’s for sure.

My clinic administrator and my director of public relations and education were both able to be here for the ceremony and for the luncheon.

This afternoon I watched the soccer match between the old volunteers and the newbies. We won 4-1. I was careful not to get sucked into playing.

We got to spend some time with some veteran volunteers, Roger and Tracy. They are really nice people to be around. I hope we will get to spend more time with them in the future.

This evening we have a reception at the ambassador’s residence. There is a two drink maximum, but all the food we want. 

Cathy: Why am I always getting caught off guard? I should have known I was gonna be emotional.  Everyone looked so nice for the ceremony at the Governor General’s House (Belize House). We had done such a great job of rehearsing, so I wasn’t worried about any of the logistics. The grounds were manicured and lush, and the organizers had set up about 4 large tents for the occasion. At the front was a huge poster of John Kennedy, initiator of the Peace Corps, Belize banners and flags. Lots of flowers.

However, when the music hit those first three notes of the Star Spangled Banner (O-oh say), my heart just flipped and the tears started flowing. I looked around at all the people who came to honor us and was overwhelmed – current volunteers, host families, counterparts, and some bigwigs. Such high hopes from everyone, including us.

We didn’t have hats to throw into the air at the end of the ceremony, but I felt like we should.

The reception Friday night was first class. It was held at the US Ambassador’s house, which was even lusher and classier than the GG’s house. Great food and lots of camaraderie for the new volunteers – our last time together for awhile. The slideshow was a hit – Yay! And we had “superlatives” for each person. Steve was “Most Qualified,” (duh) and I was “Most Likely to Whip You into Shape.”

This day will keep me “up” for a long time. I feel so proud to represent our country in this peaceful important mission.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Steve's Dangriga visit

Saturday my counterpart (Isaac), who is the public relations officer for the clinic, took me for a walking tour Dangriga town. He seems to know everybody,  We chatted with the mayor as he drove by. We stopped at some shops. We caught the bus to Pomona village for a bar-b-cue party at the home of one of the doctors, who is from Nicaragua. We watched football and enjoyed food, drink, and fellowship. The doctor told me we were eating Nicaraguan food rather than Belizean food. The meat on the grill was alligator. 

Monday was my first day at work. I walked to the clinic about a mile away. People were cordial. When they saw me surfing the net about local cultural things, they were much more friendly.
Tuesday we visited the satellite clinic in Pomona. There is a waiting room with a TV monitor and a DVD player with educational tapes. There is also a small pharmacy, an examining room, and a bathroom. While we were waiting to go to the next site we had a grapefruit right off the tree behind the clinic building. We rode in the back of the truck to two other sites with the Ministry of Health people delivering vaccine, and then drove on to Bertha’s Burrito place. Chicken burrito for BZ $2 is a full meal. I tried some hot pepper sauce on mine that made for an exciting meal.
Today I hope to get my phone back from the fixer place in Belize City and will try to catch up on family calls. Rainy season started yesterday, so maybe it will be less hot.