Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Words from Stevie
Thursday, August 25, 2011. I participated in a workshop for community health workers from Stann Creek District. I talked about the basics of diabetes. It was an interactive session with about 12 attending.

Community health workers work in health posts at villages that have no rotating doctor. I was stunned to hear that they do not have a glucose meter for monitoring diabetic patients. They do everything, including dispense medicines. For example, when I visited one of the outlying villages, I saw a kid with a cough and runny nose get evaluated and treated. The mom had to bring an empty plastic soft drink bottle to get the decongestant and antibiotic liquids.

I was also surprised that most receive a stipend, but it is only BZ $100 a month. Obviously they must have another job or a spouse or family member to support them. For the most part, they are very positive about their job.  

Steve teaching Community Health Workers

Let’s Talk about Food
We are eating very well, much healthier meals than we had in the States. ALWAYS lots of vegetables. I think we missed vegetables so much while we were staying with the host families, that we are making up for it now. Some of our favorite dishes:
  • Salsa fresca – better than anything I’ve had before. And so simple! Just chop up tomatoes, sweet pepper, onions, garlic, wan lee bit a hot peppa, cilantro and lime.
  • Herb and cheese omelet topped with homemade salsa fresca
  • Vegetable and chicken curry – I can’t believe I could make something so delicious. It was so much fun to dump in huge quantities of fresh herbs and spices. I didn’t really worry about a recipe (I rarely do), just looked at what I had in the cabinet and refridge. Then we got to smell it for a long time as the food simmered.
  • I wrote about the black beans in an earlier blog entry. I have made them several times since, WITHOUT damaging my hands :--) I love the citrus added to the beans – juice from one orange and two limes.
  • We tried my version of Belizean stew chicken. I marinated the chicken in a diluted vinegar mixture with garlic and onions, oregano, red pepper flakes, bay leaves. After three or four hours of marinating, I simmered the chicken slowly, adding back a little of the marinade liquid (all of the onions, garlic and spices) with some cornstarch – not much – to thicken the gravy. I’m not sure how much I like this dish. I like it a little better than what I had previously, mainly because the Belizean version is always the boniest part of the chicken. They love the bones, and sometimes EAT the bones. Our version was meatier. I know that eating (drinking) vinegar is good for digestion, but it’s not a taste I have developed yet. The mind is willing, so I’ll keep trying.
  • Chicken burgers – They sell “grind” chicken in the stores. Sometimes I mix it with diced onion and sweet pepper, and form it into patties, and cook it in a pan. Makes a good little sandwich.
  • I also like to use the cooked grind chicken for burritos. Burritos are very popular here, made with a flour tortilla, refried beans, chicken, and slaw, maybe a little hot sauce. We beef ours up a little (did I really say that?) with more beans and chicken, cheese, salsa fresca, guacamole, brown rice, and we have the slaw on the side. This particular dish is pretty labor intensive (including the cleanup of SO many dishes), so I’m learning that it’s best to prepare everything ahead of time and heat it up when we eat it. Fine dinin’.
  • Once in awhile, I add a little italian sausage to some veggies - with pasta or rice. Yum!
  • So in case you think we’re heavy meat eaters, I have to add that more than half of our meals are meatless. We had agreed before we came down to Belize that we would be OK with becoming vegetarian while we’re here if necessary. Well, there’s meat to be had – in fact, Belizeans are BIG meat eaters. Pork and chicken mostly. We are happy, though, to have vegetable fried rice, stir-fried veggies (and rice), beans and rice, usually topped with salsa or cheese.
  • Avocadoes (they call them pears) are in season, and we have some almost every day!
  • Maybe I’ll just mention the fruits they have here, most of which we don’t eat. Craboo, molly apple, moringa, monkey fruit, breadfruit. There are more, but I can’t remember them. 

For drinks, we usually have “purified water,” that is, bottled water. It’s sold in the large 5-gallon plastic bottles. Deposit on the bottles is $25 BZ, and the refill is $3.50 to $5.00, depending on where you buy it. It’s a pain in the neck, because Steve carries the full one from the store – not his favorite thing. I shouldn’t complain. Can you imagine what it’s like to haul buckets from a well every day?

Sometimes we drink juice made from “squash.” It is what they call a concentrated form of juice, mixed 5 parts water with 1 part squash. It’s GOOD, and a very cheap way to some juice. Unfortunately, they do add some sugar, but not much.

I like to drink milk. I can get Lala Light, which is a Mexican milk in a  1-quart carton. It sits on the shelf, not refrigerated. Once opened, it must stay in the refrigerator. Pretty good milk.
On special occasions, we drink a Belikin Beer. (Read about it here -  http://www.thebeerofbelize.com/) Each beer is about 9 ounces, but the bottle looks like a regular 12 oz. bottle like the ones we have in the States. The bottom of the bottle is about an inch and a half of solid glass, so it feels like a regular 12 oz. bottle, too. So just when you’re enjoying that beer, you get a surprise because it’s all gone! Steve and I usually split a second one. They cost about $3 BZ each. They taste good!

If you come to visit, we’ll feed you!

Post Script
We had our first theft last weekend. Someone stole the front wheel of Steve's bicycle from the downstairs porch, sometime after 10pm on Saturday night/Sunday morning. There was a bright light overhead shining on the bikes. We each had our locks on, but we used only one of our cables. It was long enough to wind through both my wheels, around a big post and one of Steve's wheels - the back one. We had been warned that we should bring our bikes in at night, but our neighbor leaves her motorcycle out, and nobody ever took it. We thought we were safe with all the locks and cable.

Steve's quote: "There are two kinds of people in this world - Smart People and people with no front wheel."

Post Script 2
I've started another class on Monday nights - a strength class. We use our own body weight and some ropes (similar to TRX). Gettin' that good sore muscle feeling!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Were Hoping It Would Be HURRICANE Harvey

In the Peace Corps safety world, there are four status levels – All Clear, Alert, Stand Fast, and Consolidation. We have just returned from two days in Belmopan where all PCVs in the southern half of Belize were consolidated.

Steve and I had been planning a fun trip to Corozal Town – our first trip out of our site since we arrived! As a little background, during our preparations for deployment to Belize, a friend of mine from Zumba classes told me of her friend Rachel who served as a PCV in Belize 1999-2001. Rachel is a wonderful woman who now lives in Boston. She shared with us all her wisdom and advice via telephone and email. She also told us that she came back to Corozal Town, Belize, for about a month every year, and invited us up to meet her this August. As the weekend approached, Rachel coincidentally met several of the PCVs who went through training with us, who are posted to Corozal. We were planning lots of great visits with everybody, and some good getting acquainted time with Rachel.

Enter Tropical Storm Harvey. 

Thursday morning we were put on Alert, and Friday morning notified of Stand Fast status. That means Don’t Go Anywhere. We scooted around to make sure our Emergency Bag was packed, and sure enough, right after lunch we got a call that they were on their way to pick us up for consolidation. Now, most people had to get to Belmopan via bus, but we lucked out. Some might have considered it a little crowded – seven of us plus the driver in a PC SUV, including all the backpacks and other bags. Luckily, most everybody was pretty efficient with their packing.

On the way to Belmopan, Mr. Stanley, our driver, stopped so we could all get ice cream cones. You have no idea how special it was. A little luxury in the middle of some stress.

Once we arrived in Bpan, we went straight to the PC office. The bigwigs were in the conference room looking at the projected screen of several websites – all storm tracking sites. I think in addition to the ones that anyone can look at, they also have some subscription sites. That storm was headed smack dab for Dangriga. It was projected to hit about 4pm on Saturday with hurricane force winds.

So far, no real rain or wind. So once we got checked into – guess where? – the Garden City Hotel, we spent most of the time talking to everybody else and shopping at the Belize version of WalMart. Didn’t need anything (bought salt and pepper shakers), but it was something to do. We knew we’d be stuck in the room for a long time.

Once back from our shopping "spree," I spent a fair amount of time meeting and getting to know PCVs who started a year ago. They’ll be leaving next June 2012. I continue to be so impressed with the caliber of the people stationed here.

Friday night we fell asleep to cloudy skies, but no "weather."

Saturday morning was overcast and drizzly, but still calm. So we shopped some more, this time for food, in case we couldn't go out to eat.

We had a short status meeting at 10 o'clock Saturday morning, and I announced that if anyone was interested, we’d have a Zumba class. Luckily I had brought our little iPod speakers. I figured everybody would be going stir crazy. 

By then the rain and winds were getting pretty hard – and sideways. The storm arrived much sooner than originally forecast – about 12 noon. By 2:30 it was all over and just super muggy. We didn't get a picture of the heavy rain and wind. Here's one just after it passed. In fact, we thought it was the calm of the eye. The storm was a bust! Just a big inconvenience. 

View from the balcony of the Garden City Hotel

Zumba class at 4:30 was a big success – maybe 16 or so (including Steve!). Nobody had brought the right shoes, myself included, so we did the whole class barefooted on the carpet. A lot of the carpet was really soaked. Such enthusiasm and energy! and FUN! As the class wound toward the finish, people kept saying, “Let’s do one more.” Not surprising, since we all knew there was nothing to do afterward.

We're so lucky to have a place to do Zumba at the hotel!

Right at the end of class our “warden” came up to tell us that the storm had passed and that some of the people could go home first thing Sunday morning. Those of us from Dangriga and further south would have to wait for damage to be checked and to make sure that buses were travelling.

Steve and I went out for pizza.

So anyway, Tropical Storm Harvey turned out to be not much danger or excitement (I’m getting bored – as I often do with some of these blog entries – just writing about it), and it ruined our chance at a fun weekend with friends. AND, because it never got up enough umphhh to boost the winds to 75, we were deprived of an alliterative storm name.     :--(

OKAY, on to other topics. 

  • On August 11, the ladies from Vinegarville graduated from their training. The ceremony was first class, with speakers from Belize City and Belmopan and national TV coverage (Yes!). Thirty women received their completion certificates. Keep your fingers crossed that the enthusiasm that kept them coming for 12 weeks of training with carry through to make it a money-making cooperative. 

  • Steve continues to create educational fliers and pamphlets to help the people who are served by the Polyclinic.
  • He may have bottomed out on the weight loss. We hope so. Looks like he may have stabilized.
  • He has accumulated a tool or two, so he smiles more now. The beautiful built-in mahogany bar that you may have noticed in one of the apartment pictures is actually the tool shed. But there’s still a lot of empty space that needs to be filled with “useful” gadgets.
  • The Train the Trainer for the POWA women continues.
  • I also participated in training Youth for the Future kids in HIV outreach.
  • And I’m doing a session for a summer camp at the library. Six through 12-year-olds. Treasure Hunt to learn fun facts about fruits and vegetables (arghhh!), including TWO Zumba dances, some fun games, putting together the treasure map, the treasure hunt itself, AND making salsa. I just have to say, I don’t mind dreaming up some of this stuff, but I’d love to hand it over to somebody else to do. I KNOW I’m going to louse up the delivery/participation part with the kids. Oh, well, at least there’s food, so they might like that part.
  • Just watched The Big Lebowski again last weekend – on my little netbook with my earbuds. Couldn’t breathe, I was laughing so hard. It’s good to escape.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Settling in to Life in Belize

Well, if anything, living here in Belize has taught us that we used to eat and drink too much!

Cathy - minus 16 pounds since arrival
Steve - minus 31 pounds since arrival

We're not going hungry. We're not on a weight-loss diet. There's just no nightly wine or junk food. We walk or bike everywhere, and water is our preferred drink.On the other hand, I'm sure that I've lost some muscle mass because I'm not exercising as much as I used to. As for Steve, we are working on getting more calories into him.

Other benefits: Steve has gone from taking two blood pressure pills a day to one-half pill every other day. Sometimes his allergies disappear completely! (not always)

Not a benefit: My blood pressure was already low, and now it's through the floor. Diastolic is often below 50. Which is why I drink so much water - trying to keep up volume. I feel fine, but frequently experience a few seconds of dizziness.

The New Digs
We love the new apartment. It's quiet, has lots of light, good circulation, SCREENS on all the windows, a fantastic kitchen, two verandas. Three bedrooms and two baths - what will we do with all the space? We need company!

Here's a mini-tour.

Steve is sitting in the dining/entertainment area at the "Mennonite table." It's one of only two pieces of furniture that we bought. We also bought 4 plastic chairs (I don't count them as furniture.) YES, that is a built-in bar you see in the background, and a screen door to the front veranda.

Here you see our spacious sunken living room, currently decorated with our bicycles. On the far left you can see our wireless router (very high on our priority list) which even as I write is providing us with lightning speed 512K download speeds :--). On the far right you can see the hallway that leads to our three bedrooms and two baths.

You should also note that resting on Steve's hip is one of our bicycle helmets. Peace Corps Volunteers are very easy to spot in Belize, because we are the only few of the population who wear them. Our Safety and Security Officer in Belmopan tells us that when people "thief" PC bikes, they always leave the helmet behind.

The kitchen has beautiful custom cabinets. Currently the majority of them sit empty. Of note here, you can see our 5-gallon bottle of "purified" water. The deposit on the bottle is $30, and the water is 5.50 BZ (or 3.50 if you buy it from the factory, but that's too far for us since we have to carry it ourselves). We have a gas stove and I'm learning how to cook on it - VERY different from the electric contraption I've used all my life. (And, yes, I know that the best cooks use gas stoves.)

Here's our bedroom and some more incredible cabinetry. The wall unit full of shelves and drawers, and a "Hollywood-style" mirror is built-in. In the foreground you can see the second of our two furniture purchases - the bed. It's positioned in front of three tall jalousie (or louver) windows that let in a wonderful breeze all day and night.

The Chickens
The neighbors behind us keep chickens, maybe 25 grown hens and roosters, and half that again of chicks. I love their clucking and crowing. The three roosters have very distinct crows, too. One of them trails off at the end with a kind of mournful sound like a distant wolf howl. The neighbors keep the chickens to eat, not to lay, so I'll try not to get attached to any of them.

Next Time Wear Gloves
Last night I fixed the most delicious black beans recipe - http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/spicy_citrusy_black_beans/ . Steve and I talked about it all day, and I gathered fresh ingredients from the market to make it, including five small habañero peppers.

When the time came to prepare the dish, I was so excited I lost my common sense, cleaning and and chopping the habañeros. Within a half-hour, my fingers started to throb with pain. As time went on, the pain became quite unbearable and I could only relieve it by putting my hands in cold water or by holding something cold (like a beer bottle - we are not completely abstaining). When I tried to stir the steaming beans, the heat made me hurt even more.

Internet to the rescue. Found a reference to burning hands from habañero peppers. I tried--

  • Soap and water (big mistake, it only spread the oil)
  • Vegetable oil
  • Milk
  • Vinegar
  • WD40
  • Tomato juice
  • Clorox
  • Hand lotion
  • Benadryl
  • Advil

None of them worked. I finally made a bag with ice, and alternated keeping my fingers of one hand on the ice and eating with the other. The beans (and brown rice and spinach) were delicious. We pronounced them a huge success. I gladly washed the dishes (we don't have hot water, so my hands were immersed in the cold soapy water).

Started getting sleepy from the Benadryl, but still couldn't bear more than 30 seconds away from the ice pack. Finally I put a thick towel on my stomach, the ice pack on top of the towel, and my hands on the ice. Woke up at 3:00 a.m., soaking wet, but my hands didn't hurt anymore.

Make Your Child Count
Well, we have been working, too. The POWA women worked to get children registered in Belize, through a UNICEF project. So many children are never registered, don't have birth certificates and therefore, can't get social security cards. They canvassed the neighborhoods in Dangriga and several villages to find specific children they knew about and others they didn't know about. They had forms to be filled out, to "forgive" the fact that they hadn't been registered at birth. 

People (usually mothers) here change their names frequently, sometimes because they are in love with their boyfriends or they're mad at their boyfriends, or a myriad of reasons. If a father is not available at the time of birth, the baby takes the mother's last name. At any point in the future, the father may register the child in his name. Some babies were born in villages and it was too far to travel to register the baby, or the midwife said she would do it, but then learned it wasn't legal in some situations. Shall I go on?

It's a baby country, only been independent since 1981. Lots to learn, I guess, but there are so many priorities.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Mas o Menos

The Spanish phrase “mas o menos” means “more or less,” OR if you ask someone, “How are you?” it means, “Just so-so.  Both meanings apply to the last two weeks for both Steve and me. We’ve been very busy and really bored with nothing to do, and our attitudes/enthusiasm has definitely been up and down. 

There have been times when we were both questioning our purpose. Are we doing any good here? When will I come to accept the differences? Why aren’t people more careful when driving or biking? Oh, how I miss my family and friends! When we were preparing to move to our own home, it hit me that this is for real now. We’ve been living in someone else’s house or a hotel room since March 23rd, more than four months. Regarding moving, I thought I’d feel only joy, but not so. Same with Steve. We both sank pretty low. Back on the upswing now, thankfully. One day at a time.

Steve has moved into a groove at the Polyclinic. One or more days a week, he goes out to a village clinic or other location to talk with a few people about diabetes, hypertension, or STIs/HIV/AIDS. That usually involves a ride in the Ministry pickup truck, maybe a lunch at a local eatery, and then the trip back. Occasionally, the driver lets them off at the clinic, and they have to find their way back on a bus – which one time meant that he didn’t have money for lunch! (I keep talking about getting organized so that we take our lunch, but have actually succeeded only 20% of the time.)

The other times, Steve sits in the Polyclinic and creates or revises brochures. Right now he’s creating one to explain hypertension and how to understand the blood pressure readings. He’s also revising a handout the clinic has been using to explain diabetes. The current handout is very theoretical, but doesn’t give any practical advice about diet, medicine, or lifestyle. He’s going to try to simplify the verbiage (VERY difficult for him ;;-)) and use more pictures. Our friend, Ava Hacker, another PCV, will translate it so there’s a Spanish version of each.

Workwise, I’ve been busy helping Michele put together a Train the Trainer for the POWA women. It’s called “Train the Trainer – Life Skills Facilitation.” We want these ladies to eventually be able to give the same kind of training that Michele and I give, and using the same nonformal education techniques. The initial training was last Friday and Saturday, the 29th and 30th. It was a first-class event. We pulled in several presenters from around Belize. People used PowerPoint, flip charts, music (that was me – surprise!) and lots and lots of small group discussion, role-play, energizer activities, and “games.”

I was pleased with the workshop. We had a great turnout – 12 people! Next blog entry I’ll have pictures. These women are a dream to teach. They are attentive, smart, very interactive, and enthusiastic. They drank up everything presented to them and immediately related it to their personal lives as well as the training ahead of them. Although there is potential to make money from this skill, the main reason they want to participate is that they want to help the community. Wow!

Only one negative, and it’s an American thing. The schedule was shot all to hell. Started at least one hour late both days, Belizean presenters talked twice as long as they were supposed to, so people had to stay so very late – sigh. I think I was the only one who worried about it.

We will have bi-weekly half-day sessions for the next several months, probably through the end of the year to teach additional techniques and content. Actually, the title of the workshop does not include all the things they will teach. We want them to be able to talk about health-related topics, too, in addition to life skills. A year from now, we hope to have an arsenal of women who can present to children, youths, and adults about:
Life Skills – Self-awareness, empathy, communication skills, interpersonal skills, decision-making skills, problem solving skills, creative thinking, critical thinking, coping with emotions, coping with stress.
Non-communicable diseases – Diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, asthma.
Healthy lifestyle – Nutrition, active living

Whew! That’s a tall order!

Our big news this week is that we have finally moved into our new home! It’s an upstairs apartment, but big big. Three bedrooms (we only need two, so the third is a work/crafts room), two baths, sunken living room, dining/party area (I don’t know what to call the place that has the built-in bar), kitchen and laundry. Good grief, I thought we were supposed to live in hardship. Our neighbors are very nice; haven’t met them all yet. There is a dog downstairs so I won’t be tempted to get one. Rafaela lives with her 10-year-old son, Anthony, in the downstairs apartment. She is our “superintendent.” We pay her the rent, tell her any problems, etc. But, of course, those of you who know Steve, know that there won’t be any problems.

He’s been gleefully distributing WD40, repairing funky window handles, and devising creative solutions to all my wishes! We spent our “settling in money” already – stove, refrigerator, washing machine, table, and bed. The place is pretty empty! The bedroom has a built in (mahogany, of course – EVERYthing is made from mahogany) wall unit with drawers, shelves, mirror and lighting. Fantastic. The kitchen has many built-in cabinets, too. All the rooms have ceiling fans, so they will save us a lot of money. Fans are a must in Belize. Every room also has an air conditioning unit, but I doubt we’ll ever use them. Maybe when company comes from the States ;-).

I cooked our first meal at our house last night – omelets! We sat on our $16 BZ plastic chairs at our Mennonite mahogany table (only $160 BZ for a 4-foot round one), ate on our $2 BZ plates. Delicious!

We don’t have access to Internet very often right now. We had wifi at our host family home, but now we’re on our own. Internet café or at work – that’s it. I’m looking into what it will cost if we have cable internet to our apartment. It may be beyond our means . . . .

A Peace Corps Volunteer is prepared to work 24/7! Yesterday – Sunday - Steve, Ava, and I went with a nurse and two others from the Polyclinic to a banana farm. The plan was to take blood pressure readings and test blood sugar levels of about 250 workers. We left Dangriga at 6:15, traveled down in one of the ubiquitous government pickup trucks, and were finally set up by 8:00 or so. People started trickling in soon after. Boy, those are a bunch of healthy men! And a few women. Good pressure and good “sugar.” We found one man who did have a very high blood sugar reading, surprise to him. He’ll get an appointment at the clinic and get some medicine. It’s all free in Belize if you have a Social Security card – Universal Health Care! Only about 46 people came, but it was fun and I got to practice mi espanol.