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.

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