Sunday, March 18, 2012

Mostly Ups

If you've been keeping up with this blog, you know that Steve and I have been struggling with our time here - psychologically and emotionally, much more than any physical or financial hardship. Our original work assignments were not well-vetted, so we have been engaged in very little meaningful work. So many current and retired PCVs have told us that we would need to be here at least a year before things really shape up. Unfortunately, that's assuming that the work assignment is a good one. Nevertheless, Steve and I trudge ahead, routinely encouraging each other and looking for any glimmer of positive developments.

This past week was about the same for Steve. We make jokes about how early Steve gets back from work. He leaves in time to get to the clinic by 8:00, about a 20-minute bike ride,and seeks out his work partners to see what's going on. He's usually back before 10:00. Friday was a record; he made it back by 8:30. 

Next week promises to be a big step up. Steve will head up a big new project - updating and restructuring the training manual for Community Health Workers. It's a great opportunity and so perfect for him. I will be involved, too, since I have lots of experience writing educational materials and training manuals, as well as a background in adult education. Our "get organized" meeting is Tuesday. A Peace Corps Program Manager from Honduras will kick start the project. You may recall that all PCVs were sent home from Honduras, so this guy is on loan to PC-Belize for a month or so.

For me, last week was pretty good. I taught my regular HFLE classes and they all went very well. The kids in my classes have told other kids in their schools and neighborhoods about me. It's pretty fun to be walking or riding around town and hear, "Miss Cat!" I don't necessarily know the name of who's hailing me, but it warms me up to hear the hello and exchange a smile. I also taught Zumba twice, both times with large attendance. Yay! 

Kids across the street play most afternoons.

The Dangriga Youth Alive group met again. The Dangriga Town Council will join forces with DYA to create an even bigger and more diverse Easter celebration - a day longer (add Saturday), and a longer day (Sunday night concert/dance from 10-3). Yes, folks, I am helping to create my own worst complaint, the loudest, awfullest, all-night-keep-me-up musicfest :-(  OK, it's for a good cause. The Town Council will pay for all the advertising (DYA had NO budget for that), build a shed for vendor booths, pay for the big tent, and provide some other games. 

Aidra and I are planning how to cut and use this board
for some carnival games
Everybody benefits! The Town Council benefits by promoting Dangriga as a fun place for Belizeans (most people from Dangriga would go somewhere else for the holiday weekend) and tourists, and DYA also promotes its name and goals while raising money for high school scholarships. 

Dare I hope that something more permanent will work out for me with DYA? Fingers crossed. They are a newly-formed group that is just developing their organization and mission. Peace Corps and I disagree on a fundamental element of project assignment. PC management believes that work in Belize needs to be through the various ministries of government, and I think working through 
grass-roots efforts is best. I certainly understand the need for approval at high levels. Peace Corps can't just traipse in to a country and haphazardly try to help with development. But for the volunteers, it sure is easier to actually GET WORK DONE and feel useful working with very small groups. Just my two cents.

Finally, I thought I'd include an excerpt from a letter written by my friend, Alex. I knew her from when I volunteered at Family Violence and Rape Crisis Services in Pittsboro, NC. She was a paid staff counselor there. She and her husband came back last fall after their Peace Corps service in Vanuatu. She shared these words of wisdom with me. (P.S. If I have already included this in an earlier entry, I apologize. It's good advice two times.)

Thanks for the email--We are in the throes of readjusting to American life and I am so far behind on writing friends and even seeing friends in America.

The two most shocking things of being back in the states are how cold it is here and how stressed out everyone is. I am used to being the most high strung member of my community (along with Lucas), but compared to the average American, I am SO LAID BACK! Unbelievable! I really miss how chill the islands are (although at the time, I wish people had a little more fire under their asses to do ANYTHING at a faster rate).

Oh, Peace Corps. Towards the end of our service, Lucas laid down on our bamboo bench for a week and fell apart over how unsatisfying the job aspect of Peace Corps was for him. he was originally a business vol and really went into health because there was nothing for him to do that he would consider ethical as a business vol (he did lots of small business individual advising and was there long enough to see anyone who was doing something remotely innovative fail because of their family relationships). capitalism and a tribal community don't mix and the good things about the tribalism where we were outweigh the good things about capitalism...even if there was strong tribalism, people couldn't and wouldn't work together on community projects for various reasons: All of this caused my poor husband to have a breakdown for a really sad and ugly week...Lucas' hope of a meaningful project died and it was really hard to watch.

But, what we did take away from it all is that we caused no harm. We know volunteers that have done big projects that will surely fall apart when they leave (or soon after) and that did nothing to empower communities (in fact, having the opposite effect). They feel better about themselves, but I wonder about the unintended consequences they left behind.

we did do a whole lot of intentional nothing (we could have made ourselves very busy, but it didn't go with our value system of doing work with the community not for the community) and the only thing that I wish I would have done differently is offered more things like computer classes, adult literacy and English classes, reading classes with children, Spanish classes, anything like that. Lucas wishes he would have done PACA (I think it's a waste of time). Anyways, we did have periods of extreme busy and then absolutely mind-numbing nothing. I think most folks in the developing world are okay just taking care of the daily acts of living (which can be so time consuming), and all the other stuff isn't that important. Who knows. 

Anyways, I'm sorry for you guys--it's a tricky spot to be in, I know.

When we were leaving Vanuatu, there were about seven of us leaving at around the same time--we all ended up going out to dinner one night and all of us had different periods of really hard times in our service. 

This is what we could all agree upon: 
1. Peace Corps kicked our asses in ways we had no idea was possible--a lot of us at the table were very used to being competent professionals that were used to some degree of mastery; we were all humbled as all of our expectations for what we could actually do were higher than what happened.

2. We had all grown: there were people at our table in their 70s and a 24 year old and we all felt stretched and challenged.

3. At some point in our service, we all HATED Vanuatu.

4. And we would all do it again (not take it back) and would recommend it to anyone who was interested. 

So that's been our view from the end. All those stupid cliches are true about it being the hardest job you'll ever love.

I miss Vanuatu now being on the other side of it all and I even miss the laid-backness that would drive me so NUTS!! 


The requisite puppy pictures. FuWe Dog can SLEEP!

1 comment:


Hi, I have been visiting your blog. ¡Congratulations for your work, good luck with your blog! I invite you to visit my blog about literature, philosophy and films:

Greetings from Santa Marta, Colombia