Monday, April 11, 2011

Fall 2010

Summer has ended and fall approaches. The weather is turning cooler and the leaves are changing… oh wait, that’s the States I’m thinking about. Fall arrives with the exact same dripping heat as summer, letting us all down because, once again, we forgot that Belize has only two seasons, neither of which is even remotely close to winter. So we slide smoothly into the school year and September celebrations (which looks the same as summer, on account of the lack of formal educating going on – except the kids are now in uniforms).

You see, September 21st is Belize’s Independence Day. And in true Belizean fashion, why celebrate for a day, when you can party for an entire month. So this is what we all do. Parades and Jump-ups (dance parties) seem to happen on a bi-weekly basis. Officially, the kids are in school, but there are just too many parades and parties – so the result is that no learning actually happens until October.
Punta Gorda Methodist Primary school participating in one of the many parades in September.

Hurricane season is still in full swing. So the rains are still coming down regularly.
My neighbor’s house, which sits a good 3 feet above ground, is almost flooded by the rains of a passing hurricane. When they flood out, the neighbors take turns harboring the children so they can sleep on dry mattresses. 12 people live in this small house, 8 of whom are children.

I woke up one morning after a long rain to find a visitor on my porch. I took him inside to visit with Rishi, who had no idea what to do with a turtle.
Rishi wishing I would let her play with our turtle visitor.

Shortly after, I took Mr. Turtle out to the creek next to my house and hid him among the grasses. Otherwise the kids would have gotten a hold of him, and BAD things would’ve happened to Mr. Turtle.

Come November, all of Belize geared up to celebrate World AIDS Day with parades and candlelight vigils in the district towns, reminding everyone to stop discriminating. Our theme for this year: “Stop the Sadness”. Belize still carries the dubious distinction of having the highest rate if HIV infection in all of Central America, and the 3rd highest in the Caribbean.

I also began to teach Self Defense to the Police Cadets in town. And wouldn’t you know it. Some thoughtful ATA Instructor had left an ATA bag full of gear and pads for use by the PG police! Thank you ATA! It goes to show… You can take the girl out of Taekwondo, but you can’t take Taekwondo out of the girl...

Peace and Love everybody!

Summer 2010

So it’s been 9 months… which is longer than the 6 month break I took last time. You can yell at me when I get home (which is only 6 more months from now!). I know crazy right?! So here I am, giving you my obligatory catch up blogs where I will deftly stuff 7 months of experience into a few paragraphs and photos… I hope you appreciate all of the hard work and effort it took me to organize my pictures just so I could do this blog!

Summer 2010:
Right after my sister came down, my good friend Jessica met me in Cancun and we traveled down the Yucatan Peninsula and through Belize. The Yucatan is sooo very different from the Sonora Mexico I know and love. The food is just as good and they still speak Spanish and enjoy Salsa dancing, but that’s where the similarities end. The Yucatec Maya populate much of the area. They are a bit more reserved here than in Northern and Central Mexico, though still not as reserved as the Maya communities in Belize. Mayan women in Mexico will actually show cleavage! *Gasp*

On our way to our hostal in Cancun (not even close to the tourist areas)!

We hit Cayo District and rented a car (thanks Jess!) for a trip to the Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve. We got a flat tire on the way...
Jess and I helping Amy with the tire –well, more like supervising.

We saw the largest water fall in Central America (which was kinda boring), and then relaxed at the 5 Sisters water falls (which was wonderful!).

1 of the waterfalls in 5 Sisters

Then we headed South to the beach village of Placencia. We had planned to snorke the Outer Cayeswhich are near the Barrier Reef, but a large storm was headed in-land. So we had to settle for the inner island of Laughing Bird Caye. Still beautiful!

We got to swim near sting rays!

I also put Jess to work to help me put chicken wire up around my yard to keep the chickens out and Rishi in. Thanks to our hard work, the chickens are out… alas Rishi still crawls under the wires and wreaks havoc among neighboring chickens sometimes.

Next up was a 2 week Basket Ball Camp for the youth of PG. Sponsored by UNICEF and local Belizean orgs, the camp was held in each District and focused on using Basketball to teach Conflict Resolution. I know, awesome right! So I assisted my NDACC Counterpartwith the training and the Con Res activities, and learned far more about basketball than I hought existed – I never did understand double dribble!

As the summer came to an end, the ’09-’11 Peace Corps Volunteers were getting ready to leave country. It was sad to be saying goodbye to the friends I had made among this group. But before leaving, we took a few fun trips to experience Belize with friends one last time.

Laura, Ashley, Dena, myself, and Denise inside the ATM caves

We saw remains of a young girl Mayan sacrifice far in the back of the caves!

Jumped off some waterfalls

Took my pup and her friend for a swim in the Caribbean Sea.

Life is good...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Yes, I am still alive...

Hey everyone! So… it’s been over 6 months since I have managed to put up a blog. Yes, I know that makes me possibly the biggest procrastinator you know. I’m fine with that. In any case I’ll give you the Readers’ Digest version of the last 6 months to get you up to speed:

Christmas and the New Year were lovely, too damned hot for the season, but lovely (honestly it’s been so long, I don’t even remember what I was doing then).

I worked my butt of for the Chess Foundation in January and February. The not so lovely Russian lady in charge was never satisfied with my work ethic; she expected longer hours and more travelling (see indentured servitude). Surprisingly, this did not go over well with Peace Corps either, and all primary projects working with the Chess Foundation were dropped. So counterpart-less and freed of my servitude, I went in search of another primary project and counterpart to occupy my energies…

Enter NDACC District Coordinator Mr. Neal. Mr. Neal had just recently been moved to my district (Toledo) and was put in charge of the National Drug Abuse Control Council’s Southern outreach. I met him through a mutual acquaintance and we hit it off. So now I work with NDACC to promote drug and addiction awareness in schools as well as helping to create anti-drug messages and youth safe spaces for our town (Punta Gorda)! This is more in line with my interest, and although we don’t get much support from our head office, we’re still having a blast!

Our NDACC office in Toledo, pre-painting! Mr. Neal in the doorway.

We hung donated computers with anti-drug slogans from the trees in our yard!

Mr. Neal built these bottle men as an anti-smoking campaign.

Don’t forget having fun… While all this was happening on the work front, I was also having fun in other ways:

I began a World Map Project on our Town stage. With the help of school children from all 4 schools in my town and many out of school youth, we painted in all of the countries of the world and have begun to paint a map of our district with all of the villages on it (so I don’t get lost).

Kids from the a local school taking turns painting countries of the World.

Pointing to the countries that they painted!

The house I was staying in (the one by the sea) was sold. I stayed with another volunteer (Christine B.) for a month then found a place to the back of PG (about a half hour walk from the center of town). I went from sea-front to jungle-front! So now I no longer get to watch the sun rise over the Caribbean from my bed, but I do get to hear Mayan church songs 3 times a week just outside my window, and occasionally a few howler monkeys as well…

My new house in the back of PG near the jungle. I live in the lower flat.

Rishi in my back yard. Jungles are more fun for dogs!

Mom came to visit! Yay! We had a blast touring the country, and eating all the food I can’t normally afford. Plus I just know my Mom LOVED the introduction to Belizean bus lines and 6 hour bus rides to reach my Town.

My Mom taking pictures at Xunantunich Mayan temple in Cayo.

I spent Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Guatemala! We visited Guat City, Antigua, Vulcan Pacaya, and Lake Attitlan… what an amazingly beautiful country!

Most recently, my sister just came to visit for a week and we also toured the country… We spent all our money on cave tubing and zip lines, no fancy foods for us! Great fun was had! I miss her already…

Catherine and I tubing into a scary-looking cave.

Catherine on the zip line. Attempting to slow down with the cunning use of her tongue.

So that’s enough for one day. I’ll catch y’all up later (whenever that is…).

Much loves from the Jungle!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas in the Caribbean!

Happy Christmas everyone! I figured that I’d got out one more blog before Christmas, seeing as how I’ve been extremely dodgy on the blogging recently. The past two months have been full of adventures and fun… with some stressful situations thrown in for fun!
Mostly, I’ve been focused on my teaching chess, visiting villages and other towns for chess-related activities, and adapting to the rather warm “winter” weather here.
I’d rather tell my story in pictures though… more fun for you! Less thinking for me.

This is my current house! I’m renting it from an American man who lives in Alaska most of the year giving whale-watching tours. I totally lucked out in getting this place! He needed someone to watch over it while he’s gone, and he was willing to let me stay here for the Peace Corps price of $300BZ/month (that’s $150US). Yes it is for sale, and yes I would have to move out if it’s sold – but, it IS a bad economy right now, so while I don’t wish him any ill will, I hope I get to stay in the place for a while yet.

BIG bonus! This place comes with a rooster! I’ve named him George. He looks like a George. And while I’m not entirely certain he’s mine, he hangs out enough that I consider him a resident. I’m thinking of training him to attack drunken strangers who come to my yard at odd hours. He looks fierce, doesn’t he? I’m sure with the right corn-motivated methods, we could work out a guard-rooster arrangement!

Sunrise view from my front veranda. It doesn’t really feel like Peace Corps when I get to wake up to this in the mornings! The only downside to living soooo close to the market is that I end up waking up with the villagers when they come into town to set up for market day. Their buses begin arriving between 4:30 and 5am and the bustle doesn’t stop until around 11:30am. The good side, the first pick of the best fresh fruit and vegetables if I manage to get my butt up and dressed by 6am.

Cali and I manning an HIV/AIDS awareness booth during Punta Gorda’s World AIDS Day Event. They offered information on available community resources and free HIV/AIDS (though results are NOT confidential – a HUGE problem in Belize – and a continuing reason for the extremely low numbers of people actually getting tested regularly)

PG held a candle-light vigil to recognize those suffering with HIV/AIDS and to spread the word to stop the discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS. These two boys were so excited to get their own candles, despite their sober looks in the picture… I guess they thought it would look cool – And it does! (One of my favorite pictures.)

I helped out at the Christmas Tournament in Belmopan. We had a Santa and elves!

Me vs. Christmas bear. A tough competitor, that one!

A day after the X-mas Tournament, Ella offered to put me on one of the Cave’s Branch excursions they had that weekend… The Cave Expedition! We tube down a river and into a cave. We alternated between tubing and hiking while we explored this giant cave and viewed ancient Mayan ruins for the entire day!
Tubing into the mouth of the cave…

Hanging out with my tube next to a large stalactite.

And finally, when all of the traveling and adventures were over with, I had a chance to relax and really get into the Christmas spirit…

Erica, Cali, and Christine helping me to decorate my Christmas tree.

The final product! Beautiful!

On that note, I want to wish everyone who can’t be with me right now, and everyone I can’t be with, a very Merry Christmas! My blessings to each and every one of you… Peace and Love my peeps!
To my friends and family,
I miss you lots and lots and LOTS! I wish I could transport myself home for the holidays and relax with some hot cocoa, friends and family around me, and some genuine cold weather! But in lieu of that, we PC folks are getting together for some X-mas eve fun… and I’ll be visiting my host family for some holiday cheers as well! Much love to everyone!


Tuesday, November 17, 2009

If Belize were a tree...

Whew! It’s been a long time since I’ve updated my blog. Sorry about my procrastination. Sometimes it feels as if sooo much is happening in any given day or week, that I get overwhelmed with the thought of what I should write, and then I don’t write at all… so here I am, completely overwhelmed with the thought of stuffing over a month’s experiences into a small blog!
I’ll start quick and dirty… Let’s see, I’ve been working with my counterpart, Jose, to teach chess classes at 4 schools in PG and the surrounding villages. For the most part, it seems that teachers here appreciate the value of chess as a teaching tool. Which is really nice because then they see the value of having a chess club, or even incorporating it into their class time – something that many of the schools do! I’ve also helped him to coordinate and facilitate chess coaches training and some smaller tournaments. Here are some pictures!

I have been slowly adapting to my living situation and daily life here in PG. I’ve learned to take VERY short showers because there is almost always one of my host-family members waiting to use the bathroom. Also, the water is damned cold in the morning! On that note, taking cold showers while trying to shave my legs is like a contradiction in terms… having shaved my legs, I go to wash off the soap with cold water, which gives me goose bumps, which in turn makes my legs hairs stand up- those very same hairs I’m trying to decapitate with my razor!! I’ve also learned that no matter what else is going on in my life, when it starts to rain, I should immediately drop everything and run home to take my laundry off the line – otherwise that’s like three hours of hard work down the drain! ALL parts of ANY animal can be and is eaten here! Pig tails, chicken necks and feet, cow foot soup, fish heads (and eyes)… ‘Gross!’ You might say. Here, we say ‘Lunch!’

Things I like about PG (and BZ as a whole):
The laid-back relaxed atmosphere; the friendly people (probably the nicest in the country, but for the mean crazy guy who calls us ‘white devils’ as we ride past); the fact that if you watch chickens for long enough you really do begin to see their resemblance to small dinosaurs (as others have noticed before me); the ferris wheel here goes like 35mph around and last like 20 minutes until you have to yell at the conductor to let you off so you don’t puke; meetings and events here can start late (average 30 minutes after posted start time) but MUST end on time; when someone asks you when it will be done and you say ‘Right now’ you actually have a window of between 15 minutes to 4 hours to complete said task (if you say ‘directly’ you agree to be done within 10-30 minutes); strange old men at the pier ask you for permission before they strip into their underwear for a dip in the sea; ideals and milkyways (sugary juices that are frozen in small plastic bags) can be bought in almost every front yard and only cost a shilling (25 cents); and last but not least – I live right on the Carib Sea!!! Bwahahaha!

Things I’m still getting used to (but not so much really!):
Cleanliness and sanitation are relative in a country where you eat with your hands, toilet paper is a luxury and is typically not flushed down toilets, and running water is subject to stop at any time (and for any reason); the buses here are actually old US school buses that have been badly repainted and forced to run until they literally combust on the sides of roads – which they do, I have pictures!; the buses here can and will take turns at 55mph, make u-turns in small spaces that would make an Audi Quattro envious, and drive precariously on bridges that even horses shy away from – they are also mainly on-time; back in the states washing cars brings the rains, here it’s doing my laundry (sigh); and lastly, I’d say not having my friends and family around to hang out with really sucks at times :(

Ok, up next, my new place that I will move into Friday! Photos and updates coming soon…

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Living by da Sea!

Punta Gorda Town

My first night in Punta Gorda town... Craziness! First off, I live with 10 people in a four bedroom house with one bathroom! Ms. Carmen lives with her father, her son, 3 nieces, 2 nephews, 1 cousin, and 1 family friend. Whoa!! Secondly, our electricity (called simply 'current') is intermittent – which then means the water is off for a while afterward b/c the water is pumped by electric pump. No current = no running water. (The family keeps rain cisterns for just those occasions.) Thirdly, the family is Garifuna, which means an awesomely rich culture decedent from freed slaves; plus drumming, dancing, and massively fried foods! Basically, it's all just a bit overwhelming right now...

Yay for the sea!

Traditional Garifuna drumming

It's been hard for me to move out of San Ignacio, where I was just getting comfortable, and start all over again with a new town, a new job, and a completely new family and way of life. I feel constantly out of place and in the way – I can't really tell if my actions are on par or offensive to my host family because Belizeans won't ever tell you if they have a problem, they'll tell someone else and eventually it gets back to you. Belizeans don't like conflict at all, and they go out of their way to make sure they aren't a part of it. Very different from America, where I'm used to constant feedback and honest evaluation. One more piece of the cultural puzzle...

But may I just say that PG is so beautiful! We are literally a few minutes walk from the sea from just about anywhere in town. For me coming from land-locked AZ, this is absolutely breathtaking. I make it a point to walk on the road next to the sea every chance I get. And I just found this amazing little chocolate shop called The Chocolate Center of the Universe! We got a tour and a play by play of how chocolate is processed from bean to delicious. And then we ate it! Amazing!!! I may just have to stay in PG and work for the lovely Julia making chocolates for ever and ever... I know you can appreciate why! If this happens, I will find a place to stay next to the sea for all of my friends and family when they come to visit and help pick cacao beans with me.

My new favorite place on Earth... scratch that, the Universe!

Lets see... my counterpart, Jose, with the BNYCF (Belize National Youth Chess Foundation) is a pretty cool guy. He has been taking me around PG and surrounding villages to show me the schools that have chess clubs, and those that want them. For the next two years, I'll be working closely with Jose and sharing his routes all over the Toledo district to help develop the program and keep it sustainable for when I leave. Plus I get to help with my fellow volunteers' projects as well. Cali (pronounced Kay-lee) is working with Red Cross which provides meals on wheels, disaster relief and more. Christine is working with the CRD (I forget what it stands for) which works with underprivileged people, primarily relating to at-risk youth and those affected by domestic violence. Erica works with a Mayan business owned and operated by Mayan women to fund their families in the poor rural villages. So I'd say we all have pretty awesome experiences ahead of us!

Christine and Cali found a snake (no worries, it had passed on...)

Ok, long blog... gonna go help my family of 10 make lots of food for supper.

Much Love,
Kristen :-)

Monday, September 21, 2009

September 21st - More Cayo Life

Wow! 3 weeks have gone by soooo fast! Although to be honest, it feels like I've been in Belize for 2 or 3 months now instead of the 1 month its actually been. The constant training with no real time to decompress has been putting a lot of strain on me, and I think the group as a whole. It'll be nice to finally get my site placement and spend some time just unwinding in what will be my new home for 2 years. This weekend is a big weekend for Belizeans... It's their Independence Day on the 21st and the whole country has been celebrating with parades, jump ups (parties), and little carnivals in the larger towns for the whole month now!. This weekend also features the first time we get a day off from training in what I estimate is around 2 weeks – boy could we use it!!

So since the last time I wrote you, we have continued on our daily journey of language acquisition - as an aside, my favorite new Kreol phrase is “Yoo chrai da chons mi man?!” the equivalent to “You trying to cheat me out of money?!” - and technical training in things like non-formal education techniques, role modeling, and presentation skills. To date, our Youth Development group has presented 2 computer training classes, 2 HIV/AIDS awareness classes, 1 Communication class... and we've got Leadership Skills and Conflict Resolution to go!

Also this past weekend, we all got to hop on buses to visit currently serving volunteers all over the country! I hopped on a bus to the Toledo district to the medium-sized village of San Antonio (about 1,000 residents). Toledo is the Southern-most district of Belize, it's the longest to get to by bus, the most sparsely populated, and the least developed of the 6 districts in Belize. San Antonio (South) is geographically the last village along the Southern road to have running water and electricity (lucky me!). Past that, I imagine everyone invests in bucket baths and candles/lamps. Anyhow, I had a great time hanging out with the volunteers in that village (more on that later ;-). I even got bit by a tarantula as I was walking in the dark to take a shower in the separate shower/toilet building! It stung like a mofo for like 10 minutes and then it kind of just throbbed for a bit – all in all, not too scary.

Lily, Adam, and my foot @ Rion's place.

The water fall near San Antonio, Toledo... absolutely beautiful!

Well, I'd say that's enough for now... don't wanna overwhelm you with crazy long blogs! We get our site assignments in two weeks and everyone is anxious to see where they will be placed. Send out positive thoughts for me to get a coastal town! (Yay Caribbean Sea!!!)

My host niece and nephew! So adorable...

The view from my house before an incredible HOT day!

Much Love,
a slightly tanned Kristen :-)