Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Settlement Day!

(This is Cathy.) Settlement Day was the best celebration yet! Here's a quick rundown on the Garifuna people from Wikipedia:

The Garinagu (singular Garifuna) are a mix of African, Arawak, and Carib ancestry.[11] More precisely, the average Garifuna is 76% Sub Saharan African, 20% Arawak/Carib and 4% European.[42]
Throughout history they have been incorrectly labelled as Black Caribs. When the British took over Saint Vincent after the Treaty of Paris in 1763, they were opposed by French settlers and their Carib allies. The Caribs eventually surrendered to the British in 1796. The British separated the more African-looking Caribs from the more indigenous looking ones. 5,000 Garinagu were exiled, but only about 2,500 of them survived the voyage to Roatán, an island off the coast of Honduras.
Because Roatán was too small and infertile to support their population, the Garinagu petitioned the Spanish authorities of Honduras to be allowed to settle on the mainland coast. The Spanish employed them as soldiers, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Central America. The Garinagu settled in Seine Bight, Punta Gorda and Punta Negra, Belize by way of Honduras as early as 1802. However, in Belize 19 November 1832 is the date officially recognised as "Garifuna Settlement Day" in Dangriga.

Dangriga geared up early, at least a week ahead of town. There were special ceremonies throughout the week. One celebrates TV Ramos, a teacher, activist, and philanthropist who worked for more recognition of the Garifuna people of Belize, and was instrumental in getting Settlement Day made a national holiday. All primary and high schools held historical and cultural events.

On Friday morning, day before Settlement Day, the primary school kids gathered at Alejo Beni Park (yes, the park where I hold my Zumba classes). They had their own re-enactment of the landing, followed by lots of speeches, and two "pep" talks from pop stars - Titiman Flores (YouTube of Flores) and another guy whose name I don't remember. They encouraged the kids to pay attention to their heritage and don't lose the language, beliefs and culture of the Garinagu. Few of the kids heard it. They talked all the way through! Or were listening to their iPods (probably to Lova Boy).

Later in the afternoon we took Carol and Nancy to the art gallery of Pen Cayetano. He is a well-recognized artist and musician from Dangriga. His wife, Ingrid, is also a textile artist. She is originally from Germany, and they both lived in Germany for 18 years, but came back here a couple years ago. I love both their works. Pen is also credited with "inventing" punta rock music. His band, The Turtle Shell Band, has several CDs, and they use turtle shells for drums.
Turtle Shell Band - picture painted by Pen Cayetano

Pen Cayetano with Nancy and Carol, in the backyard of his studio/house
That night, we walked around town just to see what was going on. And there was a LOT. Drumming everywhere! But my favorite was the John Canoe dancing. The men's dance spoofs the Englishmen who ruled in Belize in the 1800s. Here's a sample. It's a large file (22MB), so don't click it if you don't have a high-speed connection.

Much as we liked the festivities Friday night, we did NOT enjoy the all-night concerts (yes, plural) that blasted from 10:00 pm until 6:00 am. Both venues were just on the other side of the river, and the sound roared across the water and right into our bedroom. Big stars, very popular. Incredibly loud - hard to get the idea across here, but imagine having the band right in the next room.

Next day started early, which wasn't difficult since I'd been awake the whole night. We went down to the riverside to witness the re-enactment of the landing. The people were turned away the first two times they tried to land. Then the third time, the scouts brought the old people and played the sympathy card. It worked and they were allowed to bring all the people into the country. The re-enactment is performed with one scout boat, and three "people" boats.

Scout boat

Breakfast was leisurely after the re-enactment, then I got into my new Garifuna dress (I wore it all day Friday and Saturday). My host mom, Patsy Nicasio, sewed it for me.

The highlight of the day was the parade. A rockin', dancin', musical, funny string of people enjoying themselves. In addition to the really cute kids marching and strutting, there were floats with pretty girls, wild costumes, and free liquor! Yes, they were passing out rum miniatures! The last float was a huge tractor trailer hauling a group of drummers and - TA DA - Lova Boy singing.

It was a great day. I'd like to tell you we kept on partying all day. The rest of the town certainly did. But the lack of sleep the night before dragged me to bed by 9:30. Slept like a baby.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Belize Zoo

Last week my sisters took Cathy and me to the Belize Zoo (www.belizezoo.org). It was really great. We took the Western Highway toward Belize City and found mile marker 29. Admission fees are BZ$16 for adults and half that for kids. All the animals are native to Belize and have either been born at the zoo, placed in rehab because they were a problem in their natural habitat, orphaned, or donated by other zoos. 
April, the tapir
We were very pleased by park rangers who spontaneously offered answers to questions before we asked them and pointed out things that we might have missed otherwise. We passed the howling monkey area, but all was quiet. A few minutes later they were all howling after a ranger passed by the fence and said something to them. We can only speculate about what he said.

Even though there were half a dozen school bus loads of kids in the park, it did not seem crowded except at the jaguar show. The star is Buddy Junior. This cat was born at the zoo to a mother who was trapped because she was dining on farmers’ livestock animals. After mom rejected the cub, he was raised by the park rangers and could not be returned to survive in the wild. 

The zoo’s director, Sharon Matola, has been nominated recently for an international award. (See http://www.lovefm.com/ndisplay.php?nid=15073). 

At the end of the tour we had pictures and movies. Unfortunately my camera chip tanked, but Nancy and Carol shared their pictures for this blog post. Carol continued to stimulate the local economy at the gift shop and got some truly lovely and unique things. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

International Children's Day

Hi, this is Cathy here.
The day after Settlement Day, November 20, is International Children's Day. Rather than have another session of the Adolescent Empowerment Workshops, Michele Irving planned a big party for the girls, POWA women and their families. It was held at Why Not Island under "di tatch" - the thatch. It was well planned and SO MUCH FUN!

Steve, his sisters, and Ava, who has helped train the POWA women in several projects, all attended, too.

Several of the girls from the workshops provided entertainment - an emcee, poetry recitation, songs (a capella!) and dance. Here's a couple pictures of their performances.  They had a choreographed dramatization of "Love and Affection," a song about HIV and discrimination. There was also a fun dance contest, mother and daughter or son. Lots of karaoke - Gosh, WHO invented that? Painful . . .

We had special guest stars! A father-daughter duo from Dangriga won the Belize version of American Idol, and they performed for us. That was also karaoke, because they couldn't afford a backup band. The daughter was especially talented.

So then the part where I really lost it was when we all joined hands in a big circle and sang "We Are the World." I KNOW it's schmaltzy, but I used to tear up just watching the music video. Imagine how I felt being a part of a circle of these beautiful girls and women!

Following is A Girl's Pledge, which the girls recite at the end of all our workshops.

I am a girl.
I am an expression of beauty, joy, and love.
I have the right, the power and ability,
to create a beautiful, joyful, and peaceful world for myself and others.
I have a body, but I am not my body.
I have a face, but I am not my face.
I am the most important thing in the world to me.
I am love in motion.
I am the light of the world!
I can create!
I can make a mistake!
I can create something beautiful in all that I do.
I deserve the best.
I give my best.
I do my best to always take care of myself!
I am a girl!
I am growing into a woman!
I am the joy the world is waiting for!

Finally, for your viewing pleasure, here are the winners of the dance contest - one of the POWA women, Bev, and her son, dancing to "Tornado." P.S. I did not record this. My sister-in-law, Carol, is the one who zoomed in on the magic hips :-)  

Friday, November 18, 2011

Trip to the Cayes

On Tuesday Nancy and Carol and I "booked passage" to Tobacco Caye with Captain “Doggie” Duran. It was a gorgeous day. 
Carol Steve Nancy

Our first stop was Man-O-War Caye, which has restricted entry because of nesting birds. We saw frigate birds and yellow footed boobies. Their feet really are yellow. 

We moved on the the next caye in search of crocodiles at the edge of the mangrove trees. We didn’t see any, but we were relieved to move away from their area. 
As we trolled over an area of sea grass, the captain threw out a line and hook baited for barracuda. He had a strike in a matter of seconds, and he pulled it in successfully. He had a simple spool of line with no rod and no reel - just strong fingers. 

At Tobacco Caye we dropped off the captain, who was going in search of conch and lobster, while first mate Mark took us over the the atoll to do some snorkeling. Water on the surface was warm enough, but seemed uncomfortably cool below 8-10 feet beneath the surface. 
We got to try out Carol’s new underwater camera and were happy with the results. When we were thoroughly tired, we went back to Tobacco Caye to eat lunch and refresh with cold beer. We lounged and explored the island (exploring did not take long since it is very small). 

When the fishermen came back with the catch, we got to see them take conch out of the shell and clean the catch. The shallow water was full of rays waiting for table scraps. In the late afternoon we came back to Dangriga with a wonderful day of experience. 

I also am adding video footage from the top of El Castillo pyramid at Xunantunich. I was not able to up-load it yesterday because I just learned how to add video to the blog.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


Nancy and Carol took Cathy and me to the Mayan ruins at San José Succotz, known as Xunantunich (“Stone woman” in the Mayan language).  
Steve Carol Cathy Nancy
Along the way Carol stimulated the economy in several stores and shops. At Marie Sharp’s factory, she had her picture made with Miss Marie before she emptied the shelves of several products. 
Carol with Marie Sharp
When we arrived at the ferry boat to cross the Mopan River, she was the one who had to take a turn at the crank. Cathy and I got the Belize price for admission as Peace Corps volunteers. 
We hired a certified guide (Mr. Albert for BZ $50) to fill us in on history and to tell us about the various parts of the temple area. It was a pretty good deal up until the time when we reached the top of El Castillo (the tallest pyramid in the complex), and then he was indispensable in helping us control our panic and get back down. We made him take us the long way down, because the regular way looked like two steps and then a drop-off into emptiness. We thought the challenge would be the climb up the steep  stairs, but it was the trip down that took all our concentration.

We left Carol in the court yard to take our picture when we reached the top. She quickly struck up a friendship with the national policemen who routine protect tourists from muggers. Nothing in basic training taught them how to handle women like Carol.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Trip to the Wildlife Preserve

My sisters Nancy and Carol are visiting for the Settlement Day festivities. We are trying to do lots of the tourist things while they are here. While Cathy was busy with a project, the sisters and I went to Maya Center to visit the Jaguar Preserve at Cockscomb Basin. We stopped and got our tickets (BZ $10) where the road turned off the Southern Highway. We were a little amused about the prohibition of pets in the jaguar preserve. The jaguars might like a few tasty young pets. 
Maya Center

We drove 6 miles on the secondary road to the trailhead. We saw the exhibit at the visitors’ center and bought the trail map (BZ $5) for the self-guided tours. There is also a guided multi-day tour to Victoria’s Peak that is for outdoor people who are in really good physical condition. I do not think it is available during the rainy season. We opted for the old people’s trails and were very happy with them. The map has narratives that go with the trail markers to tell us what we were seeing and interesting information about it. We learned a lot. 

Jaguars are protected in the preserve. We did not see one, but perhaps one saw us. They are mostly solitary nocturnal hunters. They stalk and prey on larger animals but will also take smaller targets of opportunity. We saw pictures from the motion sensor photo traps. The individual cats can be identified by the unique pattern of spots and have been named by the park rangers. I think we saw 5-6 different cats, and none of them looked happy about being photographed. 

Carol and Nancy
Steve and Nancy

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Miss Garifuna Belize 2011

We are fast approaching November 19th, the biggest holiday of the year for Dangriga and much of Belize - Settlement Day. Some people call it Garifuna Day. In preparation for the holiday, the Belizeans crown their Miss Garifuna, and Steve and I attended the Pageant last Saturday, November 5!

It was held in the Parish Hall behind Sacred Heart Church. There was a small fee - $10 or $15 BZ - just to weed out the riff-raff. The spectators turned out in their finest Garifuna dress. Men wore the traditional garb - black pants with a dashiki of yellow, white and black. The women also wore traditional dress, but in MANY colors. The event was broadcast on national television and radio. Entertainment and music was provided by - of course - drummers! That's one the main things that the Garinagu (Garifuna is singular) is known for.

The pageant was NOT a beauty contest, although girls are pretty. They are judged on their presentation of the culture. They did a dramatic presentation, three different dances each, and their main presentation which was basically a speech with a story and more drama. Seven contestants competed, each representing a town or village - Belize City, Belmopan, Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Hopkins, Seine Bight, Georgetown. Everybody in the audience had their favorite, of course, but they were much more polite than audiences at beauty pageants in the States.

My favorite part of the competition was their "dance of choice." What that really meant was that they each did their own version of the chumba. According to one website - "The chumba is another dance performed by women, and done to a three-beat rhythm within the circle. Some Garifuna scholars claim it is danced as a defiant reminder of the days when women were the sexual subjects of the colonizers, and also as a form of protest against slavery in the sugar industry." These girls danced individually, not in a circle. I thought it looked like a dance portraying a woman working. They were always bent over at the waist, bouncing their hips to the rhythm. Their arms were chopping, or digging, or hoeing, or wringing (laundry?), carrying a baby on the hip. They all included some element of humor (show biz), like a shaky knee, a shovel breaking, a stubborn rock. Well, I laughed.

And the winner is . . . Miss Hopkins, Elisa Magdeleno.

The 2011 Miss Garifuna Belize

Did I mention that almost the entire show was spoken in Garifuna? Once in awhile the EmCees spoke English. Steve had a great time trying to pick up what was being said, identifying about every 10th word or so %-)))


Making name tags
The girls' club, AKA Adolescent Empowerment Workshops, are moving along swimmingly. Here are a few pictures, and a short video of an icebreaker game they played. We also played Self-Esteem Hopscotch :-) and this week I'll lead them in a Zumba dance, just for variety. Waka-Waka! The sessions are led by the POWA women, and I just help. I did put together a "lesson" on Respect, and I think they want to use it, but it will have their own flavor, of course.

Self-Esteem Hopscotch
Why I like myself"

I also had a major breakthrough this week. I spoke Kriol to one of the women and she didn't laugh! Now that sounds trifling, but it lifted me up. She said, "Yeah, Catty. You're getting the hang of it. You're gonna love Belize just like Debo did." Debo is a PCV who worked with them a few years back. Well, add that "triumph" to the fact that Steve's sisters are here and we're all enjoying ourselves like it's a real vacation, and you've got one happy PCV. This just may work out after all! Yay!


Steve here:  Cathy and I were invited to one of the focus groups the Peace Corps is putting on in Belize. We had two facilitators who are former Peace Corps volunteers. In addition to volunteers from around the district, we also had some of the counterpart group. They are the work partners of the Peace Corps volunteers and are a vital link in the Peace Corps mission of transfer of skills and information.

After brief introductions of all the participants, we were told how our time together would be used. We divided into two groups with counterparts in one room and volunteers in the other and a facilitator in each room. The first few minutes of this session were for individual reflection and listing what we thought were the “issues” in the country. These would be areas where work could be done by the Peace Corps.  Next we shared our ideas about the issues and looked for common ground among the group members; this involved defining the issue and combining similar issues. After narrowing the list to about seven, we did a pair-ranking study to to identify what was considered the most important.

The work partner group did the same exercise with their issues. Then we came back together to share the highlights and results with all the participants. The idea was to give direction for the overall program plans for Peace Corps Belize.

I felt good about the process and the results and was glad my opinion counted for something in the big picture. I think all of us had a hard time pulling away to go back to everyday life, and Cathy and I missed one bus back home as we continued to talk in small groups afterwards.

Apropos of nothing - Steve making home improvements

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Gúndatiwa (We feel happy)

Miss Cas
One of the highlights of my week is the evening class in the local Garifuna language. Some of the pronunciations and spellings vary slightly from the Garifuna spoken in Honduras and Guatemala. Our teacher, “Ms. Cas”, hosts the class in her home. She has taught the language to volunteers for a number of years and has been “host mom” for a current volunteer as well as previous volunteers. She is a wonderful and warm person who is justly proud of her culture and eager to share it with her students. In addition to language skills, she shares insight into her beliefs and her experiences with the traditional healer from Hopkins village. Several of her grandchildren also listen in on the classes. Ms. Cas speaks only in Garifuna to them in the home to help them preserve their culture. 

We use the Peace Corps language manual with about 120 pages, a textbook Wani le, which has some Guatemalan spellings, and the People’s Garifuna Dictionary by E. Roy Cayetano (a Dangriga resident) printed in Belize City. One of the other volunteers has made several vocabulary card games that we play for a couple of rounds during class. The grandchildren have an advantage over us, but we are pretty good losers.

I have supplemented my class experience with the inexpensive flashcard software by David McGavern called iFlash. Unfortunately it is written only for the Mac operating system, but decks could probably be exported to Excel for Windows users. The website has a library of flashcard decks that are available for download, and I have uploaded my deck of cards, and I updated it until I exceeded the size limit for uploading. The cards allow attachment of sound files and images to the cards, and I have tried to use my best pronunciation for the cards. Perhaps at some point I can get a native speaker to revise those for me. The deck is up to 1500 words and phrases (13 Mb) and seems to grow at one to two hundred words per week.

The language is a beautiful one. If English is the language of exceptions, then Garifuna would be the language of following the rules. It seems very logical. Even at my early stage of learning I can tell who the speaker is talking about by the first letter of the nouns and verbs.  If it is “N”, then he or she is talking about self (néibuga = I am going and nuguchu = my mother). If it is “B”, then they are speaking about the listener (buban = your house). If it is “L”, the conversation is about a man or masculine subject (lisimisin = his shirt), and “T” is for a woman or feminine subject (tuma = with her). In addition, there are different vocabularies for men and women.

This rule makes personal pronouns easy, and gets rid of some of the ambiguity that makes English difficult in some ways. Another beautiful feature is that it does not translate word for word to English. A single Garifuna word may mean a complex sequence of cause and action, and a single syllable English word may require a sentence to say in Garifuna.  

If you are interested in learning more, we found a website that may shed a little light on the language - The Garifuna Institute.

Cathy here: Steve has had a little more time - and a LOT more motivation - to write this week, but I'll throw in my two cents. I'm wallowing in homesickness right now. I've been following the blog of my friend, Susie. http://pbmgarden.wordpress.com/ She's a marvelous photographer, with a stunning garden. I keep thinking what I would be doing back home, especially in the garden. 

We are eagerly awaiting our first visitors from the States! Steve's sisters, Nancy and Carol, arrive on Thursday. We are also taking our first vacation from work since we arrived in Belize. Much needed! We plan to be tourists with them, see the Mayan ruins, go to the Cayes and other beach spots, check out other resorts. They are renting a car and we will be fully mobile - you can't imagine how nice that will be :-) But I will also delight them with my cuisine - I hope. They will also be here for Settlement Day on November 19. More about that in a later entry.

My projects are moving along, some more quickly than others. The resource booklet is almost ready for publishing - that's mostly computer work. The girls' workshops have been a big success. I'll try to get photos this weekend. We have an all-day meeting tomorrow with a man from the Ministry of Education. He wants the POWA women to teach adult literacy - a 12-week course - that will PAY. Nice! We'll spend the day planning how that will flow.