Friday, August 31, 2012

Another Kind of Peace Corps Adventure - Just a Taste

Everyone's Peace Corps experience is different, but Steve and I envisioned that we would live in a small village, in a hut with no electricity or running water, and hoped to become accepted community members during our 2-year stay. Of course, that is NOT the environment we are in.

I was lucky enough to be invited to help Mallory Begley, a PCV living in Pueblo Viejo, with her kids' summer camp. Pueblo, as it's called by Mallory, is a small Mayan village of about 600 people. It's located in south Toledo district, close to Guatemala. I took the James Bus Line to the village of Dump (yes), then completed the trip on a local village busline - Bol's to Pueblo Viejo. The ride to PV is quite rugged, and slow, but the view is so beautiful that I didn't notice that it took so long to go 16 miles.

From Dangriga to Pueblo Viejo by bus - about 5 hours

The climate is delightful - warm, but not hot, cool in the evening.Mallory was waiting for me. Her house is right on the village road. I guesstimate her house at 300 square feet, with one very large room and two tiny bedrooms. The good latrine is out back down the hill a bit. One of the village wells is right across from her house, so it's easy to "back water" (carry water on your back) when she needs it. There is no electricity. There are wood sides and a thatch roof about 25 feet high. Very picturesque.

Beautiful countryside
It was almost dark when I arrived. She wanted to visit a family before it was too late, so we went to Miss Antonia's house. Just like here in Dangriga, visiting etiquette requires that you hail the people as you approach the house. Nobody knocks or touches a house without being invited to enter. Mallory will be the godmother of Miss Antonia's youngest baby, and she wanted to chat with her about the christening and some other matters. They fed us with a specialty of the area, green corn. The corn is ripe, but it's boiled in the green husks, and thus the name. It was very dark by then, but they had a little light coming from another room, a fluorescent bulb powered by a stored energy from a solar panel. All the other children were there, and one of the daughters I had met already at the GLOW camp last month.

When we arrived back at Mallory's house, two boys were waiting for us. The older boy, Filamon (that's a phonetic spelling), about 14, wanted help with his homework. His brother Joshua was about 7, and he was just along for the fun. He and I played cards while Mallory and Filamon worked on the science homework.

Homework help. Mallory has 2 chairs and some buckets for
seating. Small homemade kerosene lamps provide some light,
often supplemented with flashlights and headlamps.
It was 10:30 by the time we got to bed - LATE. She carefully checked around the mosquito netting and under the mattress to make sure there were no scorpions. It rained hard during the night, so getting up to pee was not even close to fun. Otherwise, I slept very soundly in the quiet of the countryside.

The next morning, I tried several new things. First we bathed in the river, in our clothes. Mallory also washed some clothes - with laundry detergent and a rough brush. Underwear, skirts, socks all get the same treatment. There is no such cycle as "delicate." She was able to change into clean clothes there at the riverside. I could not manage it - everything was sticking and I couldn't maintain modesty. So I just left on the clothes I bathed in and planned to change back at the house. On the way back, we stopped at another family's home, the Salams, and they gave us a delicious breakfast of beans, tortilla, boiled egg, salsa, and avocado (pear). They also served a very weak coffee with lots of milk and sugar. Even kids drink the coffee drink.

By 8:00 o'clock we were back at Mallory's home doing other morning preparations. Two other Peace Corps volunteers arrived to help with the camp for the day. Jay Schultz lives in a nearby village, Forest Home, in Toledo, and works with education. PCV Ellen came all the way from Belize City where she also works with education, special needs children.

Mallory had planned the summer camp with very full days, and it was very well-organized. But as with any big project such as this was, there were some snags. The man who was to talk about recycling, clean earth and organic gardening was not able to be there by 8:30. I started the day for them with some fun Zumba. They were hesitant at first, but as they heard the music and saw how easy and fun it was, they joined in - con gusto! I really hammed it up and so did the other PCVs, so the activity was a great success!

Mueve la Colita!


Santa Maria (stretch)

After Zumba and the morning presentation, we had a little time to kill, so we had some fun icebreakers and games.

Musical Chairs
Princess Pat - a real favorite with the kids.
We dined in style at lunch with Mallory's special pad thai rice!

After lunch, it seemed like the afternoon flew by. Ellen entertained the kids with magic card tricks, and gave them a very active lesson in self-defense.

HOW does she do it?

We finished off the day (for the campers) with a visit to the falls where they could have a fun swim.

Boys get to strip down to their underwear. Girls go swimming
in their dresses.

One of a series of waterfalls in this area.

The day didn't stop for us at 4:00 when camp was over. Back at the house, I took a bucket bath in her little bath house; it was very refreshing, and definitely the way I would go if that were my permanent place to live. LOTS of people came by the house. Low key visiting.

Then we went to visit her old host family. As soon as we went in, we sat down to make corn tortillas. I joined in, and did a lousy job, looks-wise, but they tasted OK. Scrambled eggs, beans, tortilla, hot sauce (Marie Sharpe's and some homemade), and pear! Also coffee drink. We sat around for awhile after eating and I looked at a picture album - parents and 11 kids - then we left. The 2 boys were waiting again for homework help. Replay of night before, except it was math help.

We fell in the bed after 10:30 and slept HARD till 6:00-ish. We at breakfast AT HOME - toast and pear. Kids were at the house by 7:00, so it was hard to do everything since there was NO privacy.

Time to start Day 2 of the camp week. The principal of the school taught the kids how to sing the Belize National anthem in Mayan. Well, some of them already knew the words, but other's didn't know it at all. I believe there will be something on television with the kids singing.

Then they made sock puppets. SO cute!

Lunch was back at the Salams' house, the people who fed us the first morning. It was the 2nd birthday for their 2nd youngest baby, and they cooked big-time to celebrate. Rice and beans, cole slaw, stew chicken, tortilla, COLA (now that is very special for these folks) and something else I can't remember. There was a houseful of people for lunch, including several teachers from the school where the camp was being held.

Domingo Salam and his family (one of the son's is not in the
picture). The boy in yellow, Imer, is the birthday boy.
Afternoon was more Zumba (the kids were VERY enthusiastic this time), and water balloon fights. We made more than 100 water balloons which disappeared in a nano-second. Not really. Mallory made up some crazy game that the kids understood, and they played with them for at least 20 minutes. Even Mallory couldn't believe that they figured out the game. SHE didn't even understand it ;-)

Just a few other things to describe.

  • Pigs are kept by people, but they don't do a very good job of keeping them penned. Here's a picture of a sow and her piglets as they got caught in the school fence.

Pigs lost inside the school fence. In the background you can
see Mallory's house.

  • We had MORE visits at Mallory's house and ANOTHER meal with a family on that same night. Shame on us - we turned the lights off so that the boy who wanted homework help would have to go home to get help. I guess Mallory didn't think that offering to help him was going to be a full-time job.
  • I saw a scorpion crawl out from under the mattress, and didn't have a heart attack.
  • Throughout the time I was there, I tried to place myself in that situation. I think I would be really happy to work in a setting such as that one - muddy, slippery footing, always wet, living in the fishbowl, afraid to go to the bathroom. I believe I could acclimate and enjoy!
  • The Mayan people I met a beautiful people, proud of their heritage (as are the Kriols, Garifuna, Mestizo, etc.), and they seem to be very cordial and polite.
Finally, I admire Mallory SO much for her initiative in this project. She wound up with very little help from the school faculty (there WERE some who helped). She was everything that a PCV is supposed to be - flexible, enthusiastic, integrated in the community, resourceful, concerned about people's well-being. 

I can barely keep my eyes open this evening. It was a great trip.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Little Update

We have had a light week, but things are starting to pick up!

I gave Steve a haircut last week. This past weekend, he went to
work on highlighting my hair. MUCH more advanced than the last
time. We worked with FOILS!
Anthony brought us some bananas from the tree right here in our yard!
They are smaller and much sweeter than the Dole
bananas we usually get at the store. They're called apple
bananas, and they DO taste a little apple-y.
We made T-shirts with spray paint. It took me about two hours
to cut out the stencil. Each girl's shirt is a little different, because
the "glow" behind the letters is unique :-)
Murusun Mesu and Fu We Dog seem to be doing very well together. Poor Fu We puts forward a stoic face to the constant onslaught from the kitten.

Note how much BIGGER the cat has gotten relative to Fu We.

He's climbing a lot, too. Not quite brave enough for some places,
but it won't be long till he's up on the kitchen cabinets :-(

If you've been following this whole thing with the cat, you may have noticed that over the past few weeks I have called the cat a "he," then a "she," and now I'm back to "he." Well, it's tough to determine the sex of a cat, darn it! I looked online and found an article and pictures that told us how to locate body parts, with just a little bit of difference between the two. Well, I thought I had it figured out, but then Steve told me that the thing I thought was the vagina was really a mole . . . .

I leave in the morning for two days in Pueblo Viejo, a village in the Toledo District. I'm going down to help Mallory (the very first Belize PCV that we "discovered" once we knew we were coming to Belize) with her summer camp. We'll do Zumba each day, and then I'll just help with stuff. I told her, "Mallory, I don't really know anything about kids, you know." She said, "That's OK, I'm no good with 'em either." Maybe I'll get some pictures.

I do know that it's pretty rustic living down there - no "current," running water, or any kind of plumbing. So I'll get a little mini-taste of what a "real" Peace Corps Volunteer should experience.

Steve got a call today from PC Staff. They want him to give a speech at our 50th anniversary celebration - in Garifuna! Yay! He finally gets to show his stuff.

These are the pictures I couldn't find last week.
This is Steve's presentation to the teachers.

Well, not really HIS presentation. It was the Ministry's
PPT that he didn't see until about 90 seconds before beginning.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

National Garifuna Council

Steve and I attended the bi-weekly regional meeting of the National Garifuna Council on Sunday the 19th. With Settlement Day only three months away, we were interested in participating in the preparations.

As background - Ms. Felicia Nunez, better known as Nen, had spoken to us about the meeting, asked us to attend and help with ideas. Nen's granddaughter was one of the GLOW Club girls for the summer, so we saw quite a bit of Nen. She is very active in the community, especially in ways that benefit the Garifuna culture. I would have to say that recently she has taken us under her wing a bit, to make sure we get the complete cultural experience while in Dangriga.

Felicia Nunez - Nen
We went over with Aidra Rodriguez, the co-leader of the girls club. When we arrived at the NGC building, the meeting had just started. We heard singing as we entered. After Steve and I introduced ourselves, the singing resumed. They had a song sheet with about 20 "celebration" songs, only two of which were in English. I did the best I could with the Garifuna, but Steve had no problem with it. Guess all those lessons are paying off! We sang about 5 songs. In Belize, it is traditional to begin a meeting with a prayer. This was the first one we attended that began with singing. Nice!

The president of the regional council is Phyllis Cayetano, another activist in Belize. She is also the head of Gulisi Primary School, the Garifuna school in Dangriga. Gulisi is Phyllis' passion, and she is very dedicated to the preservation of the Garifuna culture. As she says, "The children of Gulisi are the future of the Garifuna culture." By the way, she was our hostess when all of the PCVs came to Dangriga WAY back in March of 2011. Both of these pictures of Nen and Phyllis were taken on Culture Day.

Phyllis Cayetano
Once the business portion of the meeting got under way, things got very lively. They looked for ways to raise money (dues, raffles, casino night), and events activities to sponsor/raise funds for the next three months. They want to have a Garifuna fair for Belize Independence Day (September 21st) and a CultureFest for all cultures (Mayan, Mestizo, Kriol, Garifuna) in October. Of course, there will be MANY activities associated with Garfuna Settlement day on November 19th.

Steve and I were asked to create and run a health fair in early November. Steve will ask the Polyclinic administrator when we can have the nurses available for the fair to weigh, take blood pressure and blood sugar measurements. We want to pull together some good vendors and organizations that will be of interest and/or service. The POWA women can do HIV/AIDS and STI awareness. There are four primary schools nearby, so we will want to have some fun and interesting things for the kids, too. Not sure if there's room for games. We shall see. Nen told us she would help us with the fair.

By the end of the meeting there were at least 20 people there, some elderly, and some young. It was definitely a who's who of activists, and I loved meeting them for the first time or reacquainting with them. Looks like we will have some fun times with these new connections.


GLOW Club:  Aidra and I went to the NGC meeting because we wanted to get our Garifuna Glow Girls club name out in front of everybody. That will help us with fund raising for our club, and give us more opportunities for activities for the girls. They will march in the Settlement Day Parade and are very excited.

We are planning for a fund raiser at a "checkpoint" in two weeks. That means we stand at a speed bump and ask for money from people driving by. Most will give a dollar, and it's amazing how much money can be raised in a short time! The girls want to look like an official organization, so this Wednesday we will design a simple t-shirt design and then make them on Saturday.

We've been crafting, too.

Making necklaces from recycled bottle caps

Hammer the cap flat, spray paint it with a background color . . .

. . . and paint a pretty design. String a cord through.
Also, this past weekend, a PCV, Natalie Macias, from Orange Walk came to help us with the graphics for our Community Health Worker manual. Since she was at our house Saturday, she helped with the club meeting. Just so happens that she was a scholarship soccer player in college. So she led the girls in some football. They loved it!

Football at Alejo Beni Park


A Typical Peace Corps Day: Steve had an interesting time this week. This is the time of year when all the teachers in the country go to workshops - professional development. To keep the story short, I'll say that there were two aborted attempts at planning meetings, Steve made the conference room reservations, and nobody showed up. No calls, no texts, no mention of the fact that nobody showed up the next time he saw them.

So . . . when the week of the workshops rolled around, his counterpart walked in and said, "The workshops are tomorrow. Are you coming?" Of course, Steve said he would. Walked in the next morning, and Tylon said, "You can present NCDs, right?" That's Non-Communicable Diseases. Steve says, "Yes," and Tylon says, "That's good. It'll be tomorrow at 9:00."

Steve came home that afternoon and pulled together some Powerpoint slides and prepared for the presentation. Walked in the next morning and started to plug in his computer to the projector. Tylon says, "Oh, you're giving the Ministry presentation. The Powerpoint is on THIS computer." Would have been nice if he had mentioned it the day before, don'tcha think?

Anyway, at the end of the day, Steve had a few choice words with them, none of which I can repeat here.

Well, I had some pictures of him at the workshop, but I must have put them in a really safe place . . . .

Peace Corps Core Expectation #3 - Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.

Zumba: We have started back with classes. I will try to get a better place to hold class. For now, we will hold it at Alejo Beni Park on the stage.  I'm going today to talk to the Mayor to see if we can use the Town Hall.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Tag Team Blog Entry

Cathy: Every so often, we don't have a lot to write about - HA! very often. That gives us a few choices -

  1. Don't write anything, but then we'd lose track of those little everyday things that make this adventure SO very wonderful ;-)
  2. Write something with a theme - about the culture or an economic or health situation or some other meaningful issue.
  3. Or filler. Steve and I both scribble down some things and let that pass for blog entry. 
Lucky you - you get option 3 today! Do not expect any cohesiveness whatsoever.


Last week, our Medical Officer sent us all an email letting us know that she would be in a meeting all week. Thought you'd enjoy reading some of it.

Greetings to all,

Please note that I will out of  office next week August 6-10 as I will be attending  a Peace Corps Medical conference in Belize City.  Peace Corps Belize has the honor this year of hosting about 60 doctors and nurses (Peace Corps medical officers ) from several Peace Corps countries.

Since I will not be in office, please be kind and don’t drink to excess, eat any bad food,  have unprotected sex, ride in back of any trucks or play any sports, ride a bike without helmets or break up with your boyfriends/girlfriends.. smile…although this is would be the time to get sick with all these medical personnel coming.

Dr Craig will have the phone to assist with any medical issues . Kent will be in the office to help with supplies.

Have a great week to all.

Steve: Last week, Hurricane Ernesto came and went. On Tuesday, August 7, we were summoned to consolidate in Belmopan. 

It was boring, but we had air conditioning, electricity, running water, and WiFi at the Garden City Hotel. 

The Garden City Hotel got mad at Steve

This picture has nothing whatsoever to do with the next two
paragraphs of the blog entry!
While in Belmopan, I was able to attend a focus group on reporting sexual assault in Belize, facilitated by Peace Corps officials from DC. The emphasis was on finding ways to ensure confidentiality and take appropriate action on behalf of a volunteer who had something to report along those lines. They are still trying to improve their function (and their image) after several horrendous attacks and a murder, most recently reported in 2010 - ABC Investigative News Report.

Hooray for Peace Corps’ concern for volunteer safety.


Cathy: When I found out we were going to Belmopan, probably staying until Thursday, I called Aidra to let her know we couldn't have GLOW club on Wednesday, asked her to let the girls know. Unfortunately, I neglected to give her the list of telephone numbers.

The Security Officer let us come home a day early. There was NOTHING - no wind, rain, NOTHING - in Dangriga or Belmopan. Which put me here on Wednesday afternoon. Not only did the girls show up, they came an hour and a half early! I had nothing prepared, but the girls didn't care. They played with the pets and made coffee filter flowers (again), and were happy with things. Wanted to do Zumba, but I had to chase them away so I could get work done.

Aidra and I are trying to make some big plans for the fall. We want the girls to have an act in the talent show for Independence Day (mid-September) and march in the Settlement Day parade. More on that later.

On Saturday, only three girls came because there was a lightning rainstorm.

The three girls who braved the storm
This week's project was to make bags that everybody wears to carry their stuff.
Malicka - her own design on the embellishment of the bag.

Shinoah - Malicka's older sister.
She liked the flower so much, that she copied it.

Skylar - She's visiting here from the States. Her grandmother is
our neighbor and a local Garifuna activist. We enjoyed having Skylar
be a part of our club while she's here.

Steve: In Belize we have a semi-official website It was nicely put together by a volunteer, Nate Thompson, who finished his service last June. 

I have been entrusted with maintaining it since then. I had a personal triumph with successful posting of a new article on the “News” page with an image. Nate would be proud of me. I will probably never be a “webmaster”, but I qualify to be a “web amateur” for a site already created. 4th of July Celebration


At the Dangriga Polyclinic the administrator asked each section to put together an educational DVD to play for patients in the waiting room. The medical chief of staff put his together with minimal help from me, just a little coaching here and there. Both of the nursing units put together videos with help from tech-savvy relatives. 

I think the nutrition section probably has the best video. I was able to ignite the interest and creativity of my work partner, Tylon Tillett. He is the social worker in charge of the malnutrition prevention project for the Southern Health Region. (Cathy: It IS good!)

This weekend I combined all of their DVDs into one movie project, with small transitions between them to make the whole thing cohesive. I burned it to a DVD that will play automatically and will loop back to the beginning to play again. "Look Ma, no hands!" 

It seems like not much when I write it here, but I spent long hours tweaking and perfecting this project. Even so, every time I watch it, I see one more thing that I could improve. 

Tomorrow, it "premiers" on the waiting room TV. Can't wait to hear the feedback.


Cathy and Steve: We continue to be entertained by the pets. We re-evaluated, and decided the cat is a female. It's tricky.

Our new name for the kitten is Murusun Mesu, which is Garifuna for “a little bit of cat." We call her Murusun (mu-ROO-soo - "N" is silent). She will probably grow out of that name at some point, but I guess we'll stick with it.