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.

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