Sunday, September 30, 2012

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Celebration

Steve and I wrote this entry together, so sometimes the grammar is a little off. Apologies, folks, we have no pictures yet. For security reasons, none of us were allowed to take pictures. However, the media was present and two of our own were appointed as official photographers. They were all given specific instructions of what could and could not be photographed. We hope to have some pictures next time!

The official invitation from the US Embassy

This past Wednesday, September 27, was the Peace Corps celebration of working with Belize for 50 years! The highlight of the anniversary celebration was a series of events at the US Embassy. Preparations had been going on for months, and it was a first-class event. There were displays and video presentations about Peace Corps volunteers and what they do here in Belize. They also had lined up half a dozen or so talented performing groups from around the country to display their cultural arts.

The day before, the volunteers from all over the country gathered in Belmopan to begin final preparations. Rather than our less-than-deluxe accommodations at the Garden City Hotel, we were hosted by families who work at the embassy. We were fortunate enough to stay again with Barry and Donna Cuthbertson. They are career foreign service people and were very kind and generous to us.

They took us to dinner at a restaurant at the Roaring River Golf Course. The ONLY public golf course in Belize. The owner was from South Africa, and his wife was from Pawleys Island, South Carolina! That was some fine dining. Our favorite was the appetizer - lobster and avocado over boston bibb lettuce with a light frothy dressing.  Here is a link to their website - Roaring River Golf - The Meating Place

The morning session was restricted to various dignitaries of Belize and the Peace Corps. There were speeches and videos about Peace Corps that were very inspiring with multiple moments of teary eyes and goosebumps. We all felt so good about what we are doing here and how we are contributing to world peace in multiple small ways. Each speaker was introduced by a Peace Corps Volunteer in a local language and then in English. These included Kriol, Spanish, Q’eqchi’ (Mayan), and Garifuna. Guess who did the Garifuna introduction?! Steve introduced the keynote speaker - the CEO of the Ministry of Health.

Here's a little background on how that came about. Now normally he would have been practicing for many days to perfect the introduction. BUT he received the information about the speaker on late Monday afternoon. He immediately enlisted our friend Aidra to help with the translation. She spent Monday afternoon walking around Dangriga Town to get help from other native speakers (including a visit to the mayor’s office).

On Tuesday afternoon she went to the internet cafe and had them email her work to Steve. He wanted more than just the written word, however. That evening he called her, and went over some last minute changes handed down from the Peace Corps office. Then she read the introduction over the phone and Steve recorded it, to get the pronunciation and cadence. That was a big help for the practice sessions that night.

Tuesday night was pretty busy for him because after dinner he spent a l-o-n-g time practicing. He joked that she stumbled slightly on “lagaranihouniwa” on her first attempt, so he worked especially hard so that he would be able to let it flow "trippingly" off the tongue.

When he stepped to the podium to introduce the speaker he had to make sure the microphone was positioned high enough, his glasses were positioned correctly, and to make sure he spoke from the heart and made occasional eye contact with the audience. He gave the Garifuna introduction (flawlessly), and as he made the transition to the English version, there was applause! Steve wasn't sure if they were applauding his delivery or if they were relieved that they didn't have to listen to Garifuna any more.

Program from the ceremony
At the end of the speeches they had the signing ceremony. Peace Corps serves only in countries that have invited volunteers. The original invitation came from this country when it was British Honduras and had never been formally renewed after the country became independent in 1981. The signing Wednesday was a new invitation by Belize Ministry of Health as a partner for Peace Corps to continue to provide volunteers.

The signing of the agreement. See more about the ceremony
at Ministry of Health Signs Agreement with Peace Corps
and Peace Corps 50 Years in Belize
We were served lunch and then everybody scattered to various assignments as greeters, ushers, "exhibit explainers," and facilitators for the performing acts. The afternoon sessions were open to people we had invited from our communities.

Steve was assigned to run the DVD changer and the projector for the video room. One of the videos had a short clip him speaking Garifuna. Whenever it played, the kids in the audience pointed to him at the side of the room holding the remote.

Cathy worked at the health exhibit. Most people just looked at the pictures, but then the Ambassador arrived with His Excellency the Governor General Sir Colville Young. Our Program Manager Valentino Shal was running interference for them and warned Cathy that he was on his way - BE READY! The Ambassador introduced them, and then she got a chance to explain the training manual project that she is working on and show the sample module. She explained how the manual would have language that is culturally appropriate. He was a charming man. He shared a couple of stories with her that related to that subject from his school days. Cool!

Governor General
Sir Colville Young
Throughout the afternoon, the entertainment continued. Cathy sang in the first "act," Amazing Grace sung in Q’eqchi’.

Afternoon entertainment
There was a separate sound system in the courtyard (helipad) with tents for shade and to cover the possibility of rain. The embassy’s AV expert, Nicholas, (who was Steve's "boss" for the day) really got his heart rate up with the Mayan stilt dancers (read about them here) since their music CD showed off his speakers with the heavy percussion parts. People had to be warned ahead of time not to stand directly in front of the speakers when the stilt walker performance started.

The dance group from Dangriga, Lirahunu Satuye, was the last act, and they are perfect for a grand finale. They always finish with an invitation for everyone to join in the dancing. One of the people in the audience was a professional singer who performed with Andy Palacio and the Garifuna Collective. Steve  managed to get an extra microphone to him, and he joined right in with another beautiful voice.

Boom! Just like that, at 5PM the embassy grounds were cleared of visitors. The "do" was over! Barry drove us (along with our guests, the Rodriquez sisters) to the bus station. It felt great to get home and get a rest.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Belize Independence Day 2012

(Steve here.) This has been an interesting week for us. Friday was Belize Independence Day, and all of us were in the parade in Belmopan. Our friend Daytha and a couple of the young Garifuna GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) Girls also rode on the Peace Corps float.

Aliyah, Shaniah, Daytha and Cathy
The front part of the float was covered with thatch to shade the riders, and the back part had a dove of peace that looked a little like a chicken.

The "Dove" of Peace
Most of us marched out in front of the float. Cathy and I got to carry the banner most of the way. We all danced along the way to the tunes from the float in front of us, but Cathy did Zumba whenever the music permitted. We were exhausted after marching in the tropical heat and humidity, but we all made it without incident.

We have also been preparing for next week’s anniversary event at the US Embassy. The Ministry of Health and Peace Corps will celebrate 50 years in Belize (Peace Corps has been around for 51 years), as well as formalize the invitation to work in Belize. On the day before Independence Day, I was at the embassy to help the audio visual man start preparation for our event. The arrangements will be very professional and will be detailed in next week’s blog entry. I found the security arrangements to be impressive, but some things should not be posted on the internet.

The day after Independence Day a bunch of of us crazy volunteers worked at a nearby school on a number of projects. Jess and Melissa painted a mission statement on the wall outside the gate. So the statement would look good, we made a level. We used a bottle mostly full of water except for a bubble and put it sideways on a straight piece of wood.

Making a level for Jessica
I worked mostly with the team pouring the foundation for a library building. There were half a dozen professionals in charge of the work. We helped with the vapor barrier and the heavy wire mesh over it. Then they cranked up the  cement mixer. We carried hundred-pound sacks of cement mix and buckets of water. The most physically demanding job was shoveling a lot of sand into the mixer. When it was mixed, it was transferred to wheelbarrows to get to the pour site. And I thought marching in the parade in 90 degree tropical humidity was challenging. Ava’s picture of me shows the sweat line down to the lower edge of my shorts. I think all of us guys who thought we were tough enough to work without gloves wound up with blisters on our hands, but everyone survived without heat stroke.

Trying to rehydrate


Just a little postscript from me. Our GLOW girls are doing another fundraiser - bottle cap Belizean flags. Aidra's idea. The one in this picture has a little fishing line so it can be worn around the neck. Only $2 BZ. We also made earrings for $5 BZ. I made the Belize coat of arms on the computer, using mailing labels that stick when you peel off the backing. One sheet had about 72 of those little suckers. Had to cut every one out and stick it on. They sold "like hotcakes."


Just a couple more pictures from Independence Day -

Setting up the afternoon before Independence Day

Adding de tatch

No vehicle went undecorated

Some people really get into the spirit

Steve and Nina Hernandez, our Country Director

Something to do while waiting for the parade to start

GLOW girls on the float

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Dance Item and a Disappointment in Orange Walk

Last week began what seems like a month-long holiday. Monday was St. George's Day and Tuesday was Carnival Day. Wednesday Dangriga had the Talent Showcase, and on Friday the primary schools held their big rah-rah rally!

Our Garifuna Glow Girls wanted to perform for the Talent Showcase on Wednesday. We didn't have much notice - about 5 days - so we had to keep things simple. The girls were already familiar with several dance routines, taken from music videos, so they made the decision to pull something together from that.

I volunteered to have the girls practice at my house. About 9 girls showed up on Sunday afternoon. More than an hour was spent selecting music and trying to download it. The songs they wanted were NOT available from anywhere online, and they wouldn't believe that it couldn't be found.

"No, Miss. Right there on YouTube."

"Yes, girls, it's on YouTube, but that's a video, not music. I can't find only the song to download." And I tried some of those so-called YouTube downloaders, but none worked. I guess Google has found a way to disable them.

Steve helped me record it from YouTube played through the computer speakers, so the quality was AWFUL. Girls didn't care.

As the girls left on that first day, they all agreed to come back the next day at 1:00, and I followed with my usual, "And don't be late."

When 1:00 o'clock rolled around Monday morning (St. George's Day, remember? So there was no school.), and no one arrived I wasn't surprised. One girl showed up at 1:15 and she had a good reason for being late. Aliyah is one of the "good ones," usually punctual, quick to volunteer, very polite. By 1:30 we had 4 girls here, but we waited some more before practicing. The de facto leader still wasn't there, and we felt like she knew the routine the best. (I certainly didn't know it.) They finally started rehearsing and we broke up about 3:00.

As I walked out with the girls, we saw four other club members strolling up the street toward the house. I kindly but firmly told them that practice was over and that I was very disappointed in their lateness, that it showed disrespect for their club mates and for me.

I don't know any other way to put this. Few girls here have been taught social skills. The four girls just stood there gawking, speechless. So I gave them the words to use. "The nice thing to say would be, 'I'm sorry, Miss Cathy. I messed up and I won't do it again.'" Those poor girls could still not get a single syllable out of their mouth, just stood there. Some looked down at their feet, another gave a half smile, and got a little tear (of embarrassment?). Another turned on her heel and just walked away. I waited a few moments, never got anything from the latecomers, and walked away with the other girls. As we walked away, I told them that last rehearsal was the next day after school.

This is dragging on too long, but I guess I'm trying to get across the basic frustration I live with on a daily basis. I did call the girls' mothers to tell them that their daughters had let us down and that I was disappointed in them. I also emphasized how each girl was special and that I thought they were special (which is true!). Each mother said she would talk with her daughter.

The next day - 4 girls showed up and practiced. Here's a sample:

The little girl in pink in the front row is the only one who came to all 3 rehearsals.

There's more, but I'm tired of writing about it. Short version, to get this whole show on the road, I  -

  • Called Town Council
  • Called Police Department
  • Called 4 principals
  • Called Central Education Center
  • Helped the girls settle on what to wear and where to meet and when
I had to leave for Orange Walk the next day (see next section), so Aidra was taking over to make sure they did what they needed to do for the Wednesday performance. In the end, two girls showed up and one refused to dance. No dance item for the Garifuna Glow Girls. Sigh.

But they do look cute, don't you think?


Several weeks ago, Peace Corps Volunteer Natalie Macias invited me to come to Orange Walk Town to teach a Zumba class to a small women's group. I agreed and looked forward to seeing a part of Belize that was new to me. 

It's a L-O-O-O-N-G bus ride, close to 6 hours I decided to take my big speaker - my Block Rocker - so we'd have good sounds for the class. It weighs a little over 20 pounds, but it's got wheels and good handles. It's manageable. I just have to be careful to make sure nobody "thief" it.

So I rode up on Wednesday morning. Natalie met me and we had lunch at a cool restaurant (air conditioned), and did some power shopping at A&R (sort of like Target). Natalie has a great house, a sweet fun dog, and a nice music collection. On Wednesday night, we met another PCV, Barbara Levy, and had shrimp ceviche and Belikin Beer at a fun spot. The only thing they sell at the restaurant is shrimp ceviche (except when conch is in season; then they also have conch ceviche). And I saw something that I never would have believed. Mennonite men sitting around drinking beer. They weren't even eating, just drinking. Natalie said there's a group of "very progressive" Mennonites in the OW area.

Thursday morning, we went early to the library, where the Zumba class was to be held. Natalie said the women's group was small, usually about seven, but a very enthusiastic and outspoken group. They meet once a week and have a different speaker or program each week. They had been looking forward to this fun class and even joked about what they would wear. The librarian texted everybody at 9:00 to remind them about the session. Class was to start at 10:00.

You guessed it - nobody came. By 10:50, I was disgusted and ready to pack up. One of the women walked in with her two kids. "Where's everybody?" The librarian "railed up" on her, but of course it fell on deaf ears. She said, "Well, I couldn't come because I had family court." She kept talking about family court. I asked her how it went in family court and she said, "Well, I didn't have it because I never called them back." Not quite sure what that was all about.

So I showered and got back on the bus. On the Belize to Belmopan leg of the ride, I had an interesting conversation with some guys who were ranting about how Peace Corps was trying to teach children in Belize to be homosexuals and that the anus is a sexual organ. They were getting pretty excited about it. I decided to speak up, identify myself, and set the record straight. They were referring to the HFLE curriculum, of course, which has been in the news a lot lately (see this link: HFLE PAGE LISTINGS and brief descriptions of issues). By the end of the conversation, I think five people believed me, and the last guy wasn't going to change his mind no matter what. It was fun and cordial, and I think the people appreciated hearing a reasonable dissenting view.


So that's about it for me. Here's a picture of the journals that the Garifuna Glow Girls made. They are writing in them a little each week - about their name, their strengths and weaknesses, goals - topics like that. Some of the girls are enthusiastic, and some do bare minimum - just like school!


Steve here. This week I traveled to the satellite clinics in Pomona and Hopkins with Mr. Tillett who is the nutrition social worker for the district. We went through all the charts of babies and children up to 5 years old to check on their growth charts. We picked out those that may be in trouble and compiled a list for home visits if they do not come in sometime soon for their routine immunizations. We have great data on how many kids are served by each clinic and how many of them are underweight and what their ages are and their genders are. 

Hopkins clinic

Nurse Martinez at Hopkins Clinic

Pomona Clinic
It was a good week for keeping in touch. I was able to video chat with my son and was able to talk to both sisters on the phone. We all look forward to getting together next month in the US.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hangin' Out at the Speed Bump

Our Garifuna Glow Girls finally had their fundraiser last Saturday. We had been planning it for more than a month, and I'd say it went pretty smoothly.

The premise is easy. Hang out at a speed bump on a busy road and try to get money from folks as they pass. It's a very accepted way for groups, especially kids' groups, to make some money. People are used to seeing this kind of activity, and usually have their change out and ready to drop in the bucket :-)

We got started only 40 minutes late. We had made two big posters to advertise our reason for being there, and all the girls but one wore the Garifuna Glow Girls shirt. At first they weren't sure of what to do. I said, "Just get out there and ask for their support." They still didn't know what to do. So I walked out to the middle of the road (I was holding a poster, but didn't have a collection bucket). "Good morning! Could we ask for your help for our club?" Within a minute every girl was out shouting, "Good morning" and asking for a donation.

People skills - they might need a little work in that department, but by and large the girls were cute and mostly polite. Aidra and I had to remind the girls to THANK them when they gave money, and to wish them a good day even if they declined.


We made $223 BZ begging at the speed bump. At first the girls talked about the trips they wanted to take, and all the things they wanted to get with the money. In the past week, though, it sounds like they DON'T want to spend it, but to hold on to what they have to make sure they get the best thing. Ha haaa. Reality sets in.


Work! I wrote some new materials for the Women's Health section of the training manual. I'm pleased with it and hope to hear back from the head of the project soon.

My Zumba classes are in such demand ;;-))) that I'm going up to Orange Walk this week to teach some ladies there. It's about time I got to see more of this country!

Steve has been busy with the video project (it's growing!), and he is definitely appreciated now because of his expertise in that area. I'm glad that the staff there is FINALLY recognizing his worth and showing him a little more respect.

He went to a funeral (the sister of the lady who teaches Garifuna), was Mr. Fix-It for about six people around the neighborhood. And helped ME with several projects for the girls club.

Most importantly, he's got all our tickets and travel arrangements made for our trip to the States next month!


September is a big month for holidays. Today, Monday, September 10, is St. George's Caye Day. Tomorrow is Carnival Day. The 21st is Independence Day. And on the 26th, Peace Corps will celebrate 50 years of being in Belize. We'll probably say a word or two about that when it rolls around.

That's about all I'm going to write tonight. 272 days, folks - that's how much time is left till we come home for good.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Fix It

(Hey - we have two blog entries this week, so be sure to check out the one right after this for a taste of "real" Peace Corps life.)

Sunday was a fun day for the fix-it man hidden inside me. I went with our neighbors, Rafaela and her son Anthony, to her home village, Big Falls, near Punta Gorda. She owns property there, and she is renovating her building in hope of renting it as a commercial site. It has a good location right by the road.

The future Copa Cabana of Big Falls
It has a distinctive red zinc roof. There is a large room that could be a store or restaurant or night club and an adjoining kitchen, bath, and storage room.

The current project is electricity - no pun. The meter was tacked to the cinder block building with concrete nails and doesn't meet code. We used U-brackets and concrete anchors to screw it to the building. When we finished I thought it was ready to be hurricane-tested.

After the work was completed
They have not yet hooked up the water connection, so Anthony went across the road to pump a bucket of water to flush the toilet.

In Belize, it's usually the women who pump and carry the water.
We enlisted Anthony's help for this special situation - his mom is
8 months pregnant!
We went into Punta Gorda town to get larger brackets and more screws and also got lunch. It was spicy fried chicken in a place that was air conditioned. Wow!

I like the "timeless" clock tower in PG. None of the four clocks work, they all tell different times, and none of them are correct - except each is correct for one minute twice a day.

The clock tower and the town center
Back in Big Falls, Rafaela also owns a house across the creek, and we went to see it after finishing the electrical work. She has a renter there who was baking journey cakes (pronounced johnny cakes) to take and sell. The woman and her daughter (or granddaughter?) rode with us to Bella Vista (it's on the way back to Dangriga) where her son lives. We also visited with Rafaela’s brother before heading back home. I am not sure what her next project will be. She does parts as money becomes available for the work.

Rafi's house in Big Falls
Weekly Dose of Pet Pictures

Murusun Mesu is growing! He seems to be the catalyst for a lot of interaction between dog, cat, Steve and Cathy!