Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Not Quite So Integrated as I Thought - and Merry Christmas!

Ah, Christmas time. 'Tis the time for good company and good food, Christmas songs and . . . firecrackers?!? The folks around here, mainly children and young men have been setting off LOTS of those poppers. I don't remember it happening last year at Christmas time. Yesterday, however, we heard not pops, not cracks, but B-O-O-M-S! Right in the street in front of our house.

I hollered at the kids to stop or to take it down to the riverside, that if they didn't stop I would call the police. Normally, I would just groan and put up with it, but these were beyond loud and were very scary-sounding, like a big gun. And there was nothing pretty to see, no big spread of color and light; the sole purpose of the "toy" was noise. Now in all my time here, I have only called the police twice, and it was when the music was blasting at 1:00 or 2:00 o'clock. They have a law that the "racket has to stop by midnight."  This time, in the afternoon, when the blasts continued, I called Dangriga's finest. Nobody came. As time went on, night fell, and more people started drinking, the whole situation escalated.

So I called a policeman I know, who came by to where most of the drunk group was hanging out (across the street) and rousted them. After he left, one of the guys came over a "cussed me out" big time, and so did his mother! How stupid am I? I was scared with how aggressive they were, and it occurred to me that this incident is the kind of thing that would cause Peace Corps to jerk somebody out of site.

Anyway, within a half hour, it was back up to the craziness level again, and I could hear it going on all over town. It was at that point that I realized that it really is the way that Belizeans celebrate Christmas. All our neighbors just put up with it, assume that nobody will get their arm blown off or lose an eye. The "celebration" continued until after midnight, and then was quiet until about 8:30 this morning, Christmas morning. It's been going steady ever since, not always on our street, but always close enough for good volume.

The dogs didn't like it. They are flat-out terrified of the explosions.
Stayed in the house for most of the last 24 hours. The dog at the
top of the picture, Princess, is FuWe Dog's mom. They both
stayed stuck up against Steve or me so they could feel safe.

We made Christmas cookies, a BIG batch to share with friends.

Steve did the rolling and sugar coating

Aidra and her husband came over for dinner on Sunday the 23rd.
Stew chicken, roasted potatoes and carrots, and some stir-fried
broccoli, string beans, and onions for dinner, and cookies for
And here's a Christmas card that my friend, Ingrid, sent to me. So pretty! Of course, if you've been following the blog, you recognize this as the mural painted by Pen Cayetano for the wall of the Town Council meeting room.

The original painting is about 25 ft X 12 ft
Merry Christmas everybody. We miss you and would love to hug you in person!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Mostly Ups

The last two weeks have been mostly ups! With a serious big crasheroo right there at the end. Maybe I can write about yesterday’s unfortunate event and then do the flashback thing to complete this entry on a high note.

Yesterday, Sunday the 16th, was the day that Aidra and I and all the GLOW girls decided was a good day for our Christmas party. It looked like everything was falling together into a big beautiful bashment. Aidra and her sisters, Daytha and Norie, arranged for the place (Why Not Island), and the food (Norie does catering so she donated her time and skills), and some extra presents in case the some of the girls forgot theirs (Daytha had lots of things she had bought for her daughters that she had not given them yet) and dessert (Aidra arranged for ice cream and cones, as well as plates, cups, etc.) I was in charge of music and other entertainment – fun games! Just because I wanted to eat some, I made cupcakes with red and green sprinkles.

So I had a great time pulling together the games. We had a home-made version of Twister. Steve made the spinners and we used the rubber exercise padding for the playing area.

Twister - Peace Corps style
We also had the field hockey game (more on that in the flashback portion of this entry), a fun keep-away game that the girls had enjoyed before, and those games we used way back at Easter for the DYA fundraiser.

Bean Bag Toss - only we used the paper ball for the
field hockey game instead

All the girls remembered their Secret Santa presents (they were excited about that idea), but none had wrapped them. They all stood together at the end of the table where Aidra had brought wrapping paper and wrapped their presents in front of every other girl. Funny. 

The girls clustered around the table wrapping their
not-so-Secret Santa presents

I had four hours’ worth of Christmas and pop music, and certificates from Peace Corps congratulating them on winning the art contest.  (Yes, you remember. Waaaay back in September.) This was gonna be a killer party.

BUT . . .

We didn’t know that the Town Council had scheduled a Jankanu dance competition at Why Not Island. We thought it was supposed to be at another venue, Parrish Hall. Well, we found out on Saturday, the 15th of the changed location, but we knew it was supposed to be under a huge tent over at the basketball court – not at the shed where we planned to be. We figured there might be some noise coming over from there, but not enough to mess up our party.

Crowded under the shed at Why Not Island

There's the shed in the distance. You can also see all the boys
preparing to dance Jankanu.

When we arrived at the bridge to cross over to Why Not Island, we were met with a huge metal gate and two ferocious women who said we had no right to be there unless we paid admission for the big event. Fortunately, a police officer arrived (who I knew from the Health Fair), and she helped us straighten out the situation. We told them that a few girls would be coming in for the party and we could identify them.

What we had NOT counted on was that everybody assumes the shed is as much theirs to use as the other parts of Why Not. We were literally inundated with kids getting ready to perform. At any given time, there were between 25 and 75 boys and girls, and a few adults, from different schools under the shed with us. No room for our games. And the other kids kept interrupting, wanting to play. They also wanted to buy our food. “We no di sell no-ting!” They also decided that under the shed was a good place to do some last minute rehearsal with their drums. So forget the music that I brought. In fact, I turned off my big speaker and grabbed up my iPod so it wouldn’t “get legs.”

Steve had come with me. I invited him because I thought it would be fun, and he definitely deserved a good Norie meal for all the help he gave the club. After an hour or so of “not fun,” he decided to exit. Plus he was hungry, and the food wasn’t there yet. (We found out later that the taxi driver didn’t show up for a half hour after Norie called him, and then he couldn’t get through the crowd to get near the gate to bring it in – multiple trips.)

Now earlier in my service, I would have been going nuts because of the way things were not working out. Not so this time.

I had already been through craziness for the Settlement Day Parade and survived. I learned that things usually work out OK even if not the planned way.

Aidra was there with me, and she is like a Valium. She was in control and knew how to handle the non-party people. After observing her for a while, I knew what to say and do, and, at least on the surface, appear calm and collected.

To the end of this story. We only had seven of the 12 girls who were supposed to be there. The other five missed some or all of it for various reasons. The ones who were there seemed to have a good time and definitely had plenty to eat. We told them that we were taking the rest of the year off, starting back in January. Although  disappointed, they seemed to accept it as a reasonable thing.

After 3 hours of pandemonium, Aidra and I were able to pack up and head for home. Steve made two trips on his bike so we didn’t have to try to get a taxi. By the time I walked in the door to our house, I felt like somebody had picked me up and slammed me against the wall a few times. Whew! Glad it was over. Stevie brought me a big cold Belikin!!

So let’s hop back one week to when we were planning our party at the GLOW girls meeting. It was fun, and the girls really participated and were helpful and cooperative with each other. Also, we tried out a “field hockey” game with brooms and a paper ball to see how it worked. Steve and I were planning to use it in a training on Monday and Tuesday of the coming week, so we wanted a dry run.

On the right you can see Ava Hacker and Aidra seated, and
Daytha standing just behind them. The girls are learning about
Secret Santa.
I thought we had pictures of the field hockey, but no. I thought we had pictures of them working together to make little individual pizzas (tortilla crust!), but no. Here’s a chance for you to visualize.

Here are the girls making Christmas stars again. One of the girls made one for me. How nice!

The girls worked so well together

The girls who had made stars the previous week helped the new

So all day Sunday, Steve and I worked on our presentations for the HECOPAB Educator training, slated for Monday and Tuesday. Arlette Sheppard had invited us to do two sessions. The Monday night session was “Fun in Learning,” and then Tuesday morning, we had two hours to introduce the educators to the CHW Training Manual. 

We were pumped! The event was held at the Banana Bank Lodge, a nice resort outside of Belmopan - gorgeous landscaping and a small zoo with a healthy-looking jaguar and some exotic birds. We had a beautiful cabana all to ourselves. They had a large dining hall where they served meals family style. And they were healthy meals with lots of vegetables.

The dining hall

Our “fun” session went very well. They enjoyed the field hockey. (They scored 1 point if their team made a goal, and 10 points if they answered the health-related question after it.) They liked the team-building exercise with people blindfolded and trying to find something on the wall with their team members helping them. But what they liked the best was the role play of “mom” and baby. Belizean people love stories, and this played right into their enjoyment of a story. 

A mom and her two-year-old son

Ms. Arlette, mom, and her nine-month-old daughter

On Tuesday morning, we spent some time talking about the manual, and we had one module that had been printed up so they could follow along to learn how to use the manual. Then we taught a small lesson exactly the way it was supposed to be taught according to the book. 

Arlette Sheppard and me between sessions

Action shot

The participants

Well, the topic was diabetes, so who better to explain the complexities of that disease. Steve was marvelous, and everybody absolutely LOVED the way he taught. The only thing that I did was lead a small group activity that focused on what family and friends can do to help someone with diabetes.

The MAN!

We were very pleased with how the training worked out. This was our first time to present this new tool to the HECOPAB folks. We were the only "outsiders" invited to participate, so it was an honor and acknowledgement that they felt we were a part of them.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Little Down Time

After the excitement and festivity of Settlement Day, we have been cruisin' along taking it easy.

Thanksgiving was very low key. Just three days after the parade and concerts, we didn't have the energy to do more than celebrate quietly. Ava invited us to her home for the big feed. Kim Duchene, PCV from Hopkins, and her Belizean boyfriend were there, too. Kim made an awesome apple pie - crust, too - with ice cream, and Ava provided the sides with delicious mashed potatoes, stuffing, and sauteed brocolli. We had the easy part - the small roast turkey and gravy.

We turned on football (American!!) in the background, and just enjoyed the food and quiet conversation. I had carried over some supplies to make gift boxes, so Kim, Ava, and I had a little craft fest while the guys watched football (slept).

Later that evening we had a GREAT Skype session with Jeff, Stephanie, and the new grandbaby, and I cried for awhile afterward, just missing everybody so much.

Look at this beautiful child!

This is one of his first smiles.
At a UNC basketball game.

It's almost winter in North Carolina.
The child is truly blessed with an incredible
Since Thanksgiving Steve and I have spent a lot of time writing and formatting sections of the training manual. Steve especially has had his head down cranking out the content.

We've had some fun in the girl's club.

World AIDS Day lesson, lots of crafts, planning for Christmas party.

That's kinda all there is, folks. A few meetings coming up, but I'd better save something for the next time.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Settlement Day - Unveiling of the Mural AND the Parade

Monday was Garifuna Settlement Day (a national holiday in Belize) and the day before was full of preparations as well as its own events. The biggest Sunday event was in the evening with the unveiling ceremony for Mr. Pen Cayetano’s mural on the north wall of the town council hall.

Cultural entertainment played a big part, and the GLOW girls performed a short version of the Chumba, which is a traditional dance. They looked great in their matching traditional dresses, and all the practice seemed to have paid off since they were nearly perfect.

On the way to the performance

Nervous girls just before dancing

These boys focused on the view of the sea

After the unveiling, Mr. Cayetano spoke about the culture and the ancestors and explained all the parts of the mural including who the characters were and what the events meant in the history of the Garifuna people. Several times he mentioned that during the months of working alone with the mural he sometimes did not feel alone. Instead he felt that the ancestors were all around him as he worked.

Hayawadina Wayunagu
(Literal translation - Imagery of our Ancestors)

Pen's interpretation

Monday started early for us, but it was not the re-enactment of the arrival at dawn that occupied us. The float for the parade later in the day was over at Norielee’s house where she had worked her magic on a simple trailer. She had turned it into a small jungle with real plants that are part of Garifuna culture. Cathy and I took the giant tissue paper flowers that she had made. We attached them to each post of the side wall of the trailer. On the way back home we passed people who had been to the river for the re-enactment which was over.

Norie was "fluffing the stamens" on the tissue flowers.

At mid-morning we wolfed down a snack and prepared for the arrival for the GLOW girls to get dressed again in their traditional costumes to wear in the parade.

When the float arrived in the staging area, I took the banner to hang on the front of the truck so none of the girls would have to carry it. It was covered with small tissue paper flowers of black, white, and yellow. Norielee was there making last minute additions to her mini-jungle, and fortunately I had brought twine and lots of duct tape. It was certainly a MacGyver moment.

The handmade-duct-taped-on banner

When the float moved into position, I called Cathy who came running with the girls to hop on the float. Several girls were late, and one girl just forgot about the parade. Aidra arrived for the second half of the parade and took over so that we could come home and sit and re-hydrate.

And the parade begins. Norie really ran the show.

Aidra and Cathy. Aidra made all the dresses.

That night, Ava made a pot of spaghetti and meat sauce and brought it over for a relaxed supper.

Here are just a few pictures of those beautiful girls.



Comani and Shae




Sunday, November 11, 2012

Settlement Day 2012 - Chumba Dance Rehearsal

Did I mention in yesterday's blog that we are pretty busy during this November? As soon as we finished cleaning up from the NGC Health Fair, I had to jump right in to the next fun activity - the GLOW girls' dance rehearsal.

First a little background: Pen Cayetano, international artist AND musician, has painted an historic mural on the wall in the Town Hall. It depicts the history and people of Garifuna culture. I've seen it (while he was working on it) and it is fantastic. It WILL become a Belizean treasure. The unveiling of the picture is slated for the afternoon of Sunday, November 18, and Pen asked our GLOW Girls to perform at the grand opening!!! What an honor.

More background: Pen has a boy's group that meets with him once or twice a week. He teaches drumming, life skills (mainly by setting a good example) and Garifuna culture and values. You might notice some similarities in what he's doing with the boys and what we do with the GLOW girls. He and I talked about each other's groups a couple times, and Ingrid taught her thread painting for one of our activities.

While we were in the US, Ingrid and I corresponded and she told me that Pen wanted the girls to dance. Yay! So Aidra took the girls' measurements, bought fabric for dresses, and will make 12 very authentic, very traditional Garifuna dresses. We will also use them when we walk/ride the float in the Settlement Day Parade. So the girls came by yesterday afternoon, and we walked to Pen's house/gallery/studio so they could learn the dance.  The drumming was great and the boys and girls were so cute. The rest of this blog is a picture story. Enjoy!

Pen and the boys demonstrated first.
And then the girls gave it a shot.
The Chumba is a traditional Garifuna dance depicting women's
work. In this dance, the girls make cassava bread, wash laundry,
hang the clothes, and sweep.
And jump!
You can see the studio walls from this shot. The art matches
the characters in the children's book written by Ingrid and two of
her children.
It took a little practice till they got it all together :-)
Then the boys showed us some moves.
Jankanu dancing. The boys dance (individually) and the drummer
follows the lead of the dancer.
Well, all I can say is, "You had to be there."

Lots more going on this week, folks, so maybe another entry sometime Saturday. Sunday is the unveiling, and Monday is Settlement Day. Stay tuned :-)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Settlement Day 2012 - NGC Health Fair

Steve and I are so thrilled to be busy this November with many of the activities of Settlement Day. Last year,  we attended some of the events - Miss Garifuna Pageant, traditional dance performances, youth presentations, the Re-enactment, and the parade - but only as a tourist would experience them. This year we are in the thick of things.

Felicia Nunez
She is "Fel" to some, "Nen" to others
Back in August, we wrote about our meeting with the National Garifuna Council. The meeting served as a brainstorming session to create ideas and recruit volunteers for a long line-up of events in November leading up to the 19th, Settlement Day. Steve and I agreed to organize a health fair for them. Other than some broad guidelines as to which days would be appropriate, and a promise that we could use that same meeting place as the venue, we had a blank slate to create the fair.

We didn't do much before we left for our vacation in the U.S. Because a commitment from the Polyclinic was foremost in our minds as key to the success of the health fair, Steve got them locked in. I talked with one of the POWA women, and they also agreed to participate. So - we had a start, both of them based on who we worked with. YAY! We had a chat with our NGC liason, Ms. Felicia Nunez, about what issues we needed answers to. She promised to carry those concerns to the NGC at their next meeting while we were in the States.

Phyllis Cayetano
Ms. Caye
Then we visited family and friends and forgot all about it for two fun-filled weeks. (STILL miss you all SO MUCH!)

Once we returned, we had about a week and a half to pull it all together. I was right in my element. I love organizing events, especially tending to all the details. Ms. Nen had gone to Surinam (!) for a leadership and women's rights conference, so we worked directly with Ms. Phyllis Cayetano, the chairman of the Dangriga NGC. She is a mover and a shaker, has been an activist in the community for years.

On Wednesday before the fair, we joined Ms. Caye and two other men in charge of other activities at the studios of Hamalali Radio. Steve and I each had a chance to talk about the health fair and invite people to "come on out" to our event.

With Ms. Caye.
The two guys in the foreground are DJs for the station. The one
on the right is named Rugged.
We thought you might enjoy hearing Mr. Francis Marin speak. He is the principal of the ANRI High School (Agricultural emphasis high school). In this clip, he is talking about the three "hats" that he wears.

Everybody got a sticker
The rest of the week was taken up with making signs and banners, stickers, handouts, 200 small bags of popcorn to give the kids, running around to some of the different participants and several schools to make sure all those ducks were lined up. I also went back to the radio station to get several hours worth of Garifuna music to play on my big Block Rocker. Steve managed the logistics for the tables and chairs, and liaised with some of the other participants. Of course, Steve and I were also WORKING at our own tables at the fair, too. So that meant pulling that stuff together, too.

The day arrives! We were up early (we always get up early), with all our materials ready, and Ms. Caye picked us up in her husband's pickup truck.

Setup was fun!

Deluxe decorations for the outdoor tent

Steve figured out how to  hang the sign so it wouldn't
"bust up" from the wind

Mr. Roy Cayetano helped us haul stuff
We had a surprise visit from TWO carloads of Peace Corps staff. They arrived just at start time and stayed about an hour. That really gave us a boost!

Denise Diaz
Nina Hernandez, Country Director

Ellen, PCV from Belize City, came to help us. She joined up with me at our Healthy Lifestyle table.


Once we got under way, we had a few adults and LOTS of school kids.

Steve explains Incaparina to kids from
Epworth Methodist Primary School

Kids from Gulisi Community School at one of the booths

Nurse Laverne, from the Polyclinic, demonstrates how to
take someone's blood pressure to students from
Sacred Heart Primary School
Ellen came up with a fun game for all the kids. It was a relay race with two teams competing. Players run up to a judge and answer a true/false question about exercise. If they get it right, they run back right away and tag the next person in line to run. If they get it wrong, they have to spin around 3 times (or so) before they can run back. Here's a little sample.

Here are just a couple more pictures. We had a great time, and got home very tired but feeling satisfied with the event.

Nella (from POWA) and Ms. Nen talking about herbs and
natural medicine

Aidra came to see us, too. Here she is with Ellen at our
Lifestyle table. In the foreground you can see the nutrition
basket I made to help illustrate examples of a healthy diet.

And . . . winding down.