Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Thanksgiving, World AIDS Day, Christmas Pageant, Parties and Puppies!

Whole lotta stuff going on. Didn't SEEM too busy while it was happening, but I just saw that it's been more than two weeks since we've published an entry. Well, here goes - - -

Thanksgiving was tough for us, our first big holiday without family. We spent the time with our Peace Corps family. Several of us traveled to Independence Village to celebrate together. KC, our host, roasted the turkey, and the rest brought sides and dessert. Quiet and low-key, I think we all appreciated each other. We continued one tradition that I prize, is very meaningful for me. Each spoke about what they were grateful for. We ALL called family - either on the phone or Skype.

Our Thanksgiving Group
From the front, left to right, Kirstin Krudwig
Cathy Burnham, Ava Hacker, KC McAuliffe
Steve Burnham, Meghan VanDeventer, Kim Duchene, Shaz Davison
The 16 Days of Activism is held every year from November 25 to December 10. It is an international campaign that raises awareness about violence against women and children. The Women's Department manages the events in Belize, with activities and events for all ages and interests. Ava and I attended a Self Defense class on November 26, taught by Renee Wentz. She's an American who has lived in Belize for 10 years. We got the best of both worlds with her as an instructor because she could relate well to Belizeans and Americans. It was so helpful because we learned violence avoidance techniques that were appropriate for the culture. Yes, it's OK to shake your finger (like wagging your finger back and forth) to tell someone no. When to make eye contact, when not to. I already knew that Belizeans have a very different idea of personal space (they get really CLOSE), but that doesn't mean that I can't adhere to my sense of how close is OK. Good session. I was SORE the next couple of days!

On World AIDS Day, December 1st, the Women's Department held a big show for primary and high school kids at Alejo Beni Park (Yes, my Zumba park), complete with refreshments, skits, poems, songs, AND a drumline and drill team competition between the two high schools. Here are a couple photos of the competition.

DeLille Academy

Ecumenical High School

In partnership with UNICEF, POWA is conducting a survey of boys and girls 10-25 to determine what services are used by whom. Surveys in other countries have shown that the people who need the services most (medical, counselling, advocacy, legal) use them the least. UNICEF wants to make sure that its money is funneled to help the right people. For four weeks, POWA will be camped out at specific clinics, Women's Department, and other places to gather information. They will be paid for their time - $50 BZ per day, which is a LOT of money for them and nice timing since it's just before Christmas!

Steve and I attended a 3-day Peace Corps meeting in Belmopan, an in-service training for those of us who arrived in March of this year, called "Reconnect." The first day's meeting was supposed to be with our work counterparts. My counterpart, Michele Irving, could not attend because it was right in the middle of 16 Days, so one of the POWA women, Aidra Rodriguez, attended with me. She learned a little about Peace Corps and why we do things the way we do. The afternoon was spent rewriting work plans - which Aidra didn't have authority to do. So then it was MY turn to learn about POWA. I got the shoosh on everything from the beginning. Fascinating! And you know I won't write it here for all the world to read! Talented and creative, with a wonderful sense of humor, Aidra is a delightful woman with whom I very much enjoy spending time. Except for a couple of sessions, the other two days didn't hold too much value for me. But it was wonderful to see everyone from our "class."

While in Belmopan, we learned of a horrible incident with a man from the previous year's group, Owen Smith. He was attacked and had to undergo surgery. We were so frightened, as the news leaked in one bit at a time - some of it shoosh from his village, some of "official." He's OK now - minus one ear, 83 stitches - and back in the States with his family, but will stay in DC for a little while till they're sure he's stable. Not sure if he will come back to complete his service. Owen posted his story on Facebook. It's kinda long, so I'll mark it if it's more than you have time to read. Here is the story in his own words:


Hello friends, a lot of people have been asking what happened so I thought I'd just give a little description:
First of all, I have been living in Trio Village for a year and 7 months and have loved every minute of it. The village has been so friendly and it's been a wonderful experience to be a respected and recognized member of the community. In February I and the whole village (about 1400 people) were shocked when the brother of my recent attacker robbed my house (possibly with his brother as well) and attempted to murder my friend ( and neighbor) and place the blame on me by putting my machete and other clothing by the body of my neighbor. Fortunately the neighbor has survived and the soon found out the truth about what happened.
For the last 10 months I have felt safer than ever and have grown even closer to the village and honestly feel that they are one big extended family for me. Everyone always exchanged greetings with me and visited my home and invited me to visit their own homes. The only person that never responded to me when I would great him was this young man ( probably about 18 years old) whose nickname was Nunio and was known for using drugs and being more troublesome back in school than his brother who has been in jail since the incident when my home was robbed.
And so, I have been living in Trio enjoying my friendships and working with the village council, water organization, malaria/vector control, primary school, teaching adult ESL classes, health classes and training for women interested in being health workers,, and many other jobs that I have enjoyed extremely.
On the night of December 6th I had been visiting my good friends the Riveras. Julio Rivera is the pastor of the Rios de Aguas Vivas church in Trio. As is typical, they made me some flour tortillas to take home and make mini Pizzas out. Because it was going to be their daughters birthday the next day, I made her a pineapple pizza and brought it from my home to her as birthday present. After arriving back at my house, just down the road, I made myself a couple of pizzas and began to watch one my recent favorite shows Modern Family on my computer. My host brother Douglas visited me also and brought a shoe he had re-stitched for me. He did an amazing job and I happily payed him for his time. Also my friend Ernesto Rivera who had recently arrived in El Salvador and who I was planning on visiting this week called me to talk and give me his number in El Salvador. I even did a quick workout with the firm band that I have in my home.
At about 9:15 I had just gone outside onto my back porch to brush my teeth. I had came back inside and started watching the last episode of season 1 of modern family, when I heard a noise like someone climbing on my porch. Usually my friends don't visit me after nine because everyone goes to bed around then, but I assumed it must of been someone coming to see me. I walked over to the door leading to my back porch (which was about half open) and looked out to the right side and did't see anything (I don't have a back light so it's a little hard to see) then I looked around the door to the left. Behind the door to there was a figure (shorter than me and wearing a shirt around his mouth and face and forehead, kind of like a stereotypical ninja or someone working in construction that is protecting their face). In a moment of surprise I said hey but instead of responding to me verbally he swing his machete at my face and severed my ear. What ensued was about 25 seconds of fighting where he continued to swing at my neck and head. I did't have a weapon and also was just wearing my jeans so I wasn't in the best position to win. Because of this I decided that my best bet was to grab him after one of his swings at my face. I tried to stop the blade with my hand (good thinking I know) and it severed my finger. But fortunately I was able to grab with and press hid machete between us not allowing him to swing any more. I struggled with him onto back onto my porch and tackled him of the porch. We both fell to the ground and I could feel his machete fall between us. All the while I had been yelling and I think this scared him a bit, so he started running towards the bushes behind my house and I ran towards the street light on the other side, still yelling for help. Pretty soon my neighbors began arriving and found me covered with my whole upper body covered in blood. Some of the men started chasing my attacker and some of the people wanted to call the police, so I re-entered my house to get my cell phone. From there they soon found a pickup to drive me to the hospital and after going to a shop to get gas, my friends Pastor Julio Rivera, his wife Yolanda, and another friend Noe Florian drove me about an hour to the hospital in Independence Village.
I had't been able to see the face of my attacker, but had a feeling I knew who it was. The police confirmed this when they told me that a huge group of villagers had run the young man down and had him surrounded in a building in the village. I can still feel the adrenalin and horror of the experience but thanks to God I've been able to find rest and peace in Him.

Just the week before this incident with Owen, we had learned of the death of a PCV in Paraguay, died from a traffic accident. She was from Burlington, NC, and a graduate of UNC. Some of our friends back home knew her or her parents. We all feel close, even if we don't personally know a Volunteer.

On to happier topics. Christmas is almost here!! Kirstin and I attended the Kids First Primary School Christmas Pageant. There were many "items" with every class performing songs, dance, skits and poems. It was really quite charming.

POWA held the End of Year party for the girls in the Adolescent Empowerment Workshops (we've nicknamed it Pink POWA - thank goodness!). FOUR hours of fun - games, songs, food, and Face Painting! Steve and I were the official painters, and it was INTENSE. I fell in the bed that night. Steve enjoyed it, I think, but he felt the pressure, too. We didn't have good paints to work with, so some of the colors faded quickly. Next time we'll have better materials to work with.

Hello Kitty on Thandiwe, Michele's daughter
Our most popular design - the shooting star
It's Christmas-y here!

1 comment:

Rebecca Clay Haynes said...

What a mix of emotions and experiences! Owen is such a strong young man -- I hope he finds a way to return. He still has much to give. And that you continue with your loving and worthwhile work. And especially that you both have a very, very Happy New Year!