We’ve survived Hurricane Dean! The category 5 storm narrowly missed a direct hit on Belize and only left damage in its wake up in the northern district of Corozol. Unfortunately some villages suffered some destruction and many of the sugarcane plantations also sustained some heavy damage. There were mangos and papaya for all as many of the trees begrudgingly surrendered their fruits to the 100-plus mph winds of the storm. After spending four days cooped up in the dismal and quite odiferous Garden City hotel, we were granted our freedom to once again freely roam the streets of the great capital city of Belmopan. On Thursday, albeit a day late, we were all officially sworn in as the omnibus class of 2009 Peace Corps Volunteers. Our ceremony took place at the U.S. Embassy building and included a speech from a fellow PCV, thoughts from some of our more accomplished linguists, and short thanks and talks by our country director, training director, and a few other staff members. It was a long and winding road through our training with many highs and a few lows, but in the end we all were extremely proud of what we had accomplished thus far as we head into the next phase of our Peace Corps experience. It seemed our class really was tested from day one with the fire in the hotel in Miami, the cancelled flight and then a hurricane right on the eve of swearing in, yet we are still here and excited to be official volunteers! On Friday, everyone headed out to permanent site placements and we are now spread far and wide across the country. The Belize City group quickly came together for a great dinner and good company at Clare’s house. It was nice, and we hope it will become a weekly tradition that we each host one another for meals, considering the cost sharing and the company, it will be a nice way to settle into the city and have an extended family and support network out here. We already miss everyone, but know we are not too far away and will see each other. Our week in the Garden City was interesting. We got to spend time with the second year volunteers and hear their stories and bits of advice for surviving the first year (and in particular these first few months as we integrate into our communities and projects). We also celebrated our swearing in with a lee party at the hotel where the Armenia girls coordinated a fun award ceremony and provided each of us with a special award. Then the dancing got started! It was a nice way to send ourselves off to the start of our work, and since it will be months before we are all together again (barring any further hurricanes) it was a little bittersweet. We took tons of pictures and have a few here to share the event with you. As we embark on the project portion of the PCV experience nerves are pretty high. It’s time now to head out on our own and get to know the community members and find ways to integrate and get to work on the many goals we set with our counterparts. For us, school starts September 3, so we have a week to settle in to the city and get through some reading about the different things we know we will be working on at the schools. Considering Ginnie has never taught elementary school – this will be a week full of cramming everything she can about literacy education into her head. Should be fun – trying to understand all there is to know about teaching phonics and putting together assessments for students’ reading and math abilities. Only slightly overwhelming, but the good news is that September is really a celebration month, so we won’t be getting right into the assessments for a few weeks. We are working on getting to know free and low cost entertainment options in the city and yesterday found ourselves at the USA Exhibit at the Radisson Fort George. It was interesting because it featured US made products – which consisted of some Kellogg’s and General Mills products, a lot of chewing gum, Spam, Avon, and some services from airlines. Anthony was able to get a whole package of bubblicious ink’d when he asked several questions about this new product we were not aware of, while Clare and Ginnie were only offered two pieces of gum… not sure how that happened! We think we are going to see Andy Palacio perform a free concert next weekend, but it seems the newspaper ad Anthony read yesterday is mysteriously no longer in any paper we have in the house – so we hope it is actually happening! It’s coming up on the Carnival and two big holidays and of course Ginnie’s birthday, too, so things in the city will be pretty exciting in the next couple weeks. In our new home we do not have Internet, so we will not be able to post as often, but we will make updates when we can. We also won’t be getting email as frequently, so now really is the time to write up letters and send them along so we can stay in touch! We hope everyone is doing well and are excited to hear stories about your new sites, too. As for the people at home, we hope you are all doing well and look forward to hearing from you with those letters:).
Here are a ton of pictures and they are NOT in order at all, but they show the last few days of training, swearing in, hanging out at the hotel, and the swearing in party. (We are at a cafe and our time is almost up, so we can't organize them or caption them this time, maybe next visit...)