Where in the world are we?

Where in the World are We?

15 December 2009

Happy Holidays!

We wish everyone a joyful holiday season!

Enjoy the sounds of the Panerrifix as they play a Christmas Carol!

22 November 2009

Pre-Service Training, Belize Class of 2009-2011

We are posting a bit out of order, but this one wasn't ready and the vacation post was!

We hope this little overview of the two months of pre-service training will help explain why we were missing in action for blog posting. Once the trainees arrived on August 20th we dove head first into seven-day work weeks until the class swore in on October 22. What little downtime we did have, we spent away from the office so could not update the blog as we do not have other internet access.

Training was a lot of fun! Ginnie served as the technical trainer for the education group and set up sessions and training activities to help them become acquainted with Belizean education and working in Belizean primary school settings. The trainees conducted two very successful training sessions: one on classroom management at the school in Georgeville (where our trainees learning Kriol lived for training) and one on diagnostic reading assessment at my old stomping grounds at Trinity (it was a lot of fun to bring my two groups together for a great workshop!).

Our training program consists of one week spent in Belmopan during which the trainees participate in core sessions and we also went out to Benque Viejo Town for a Maya & Mestizo culture day and then to Xunantunich for a trip to the ruins site. Then all trainees are sent off to community-based training where they live with a host family and in a community similar to where they will eventually serve and where they immerse more directly in the primary language of their site. For education, we trained in Maya Mopan, a K'ekchi village just within the limits of Belmopan, and Georgeville, a Kriol village on the Western Highway between Belmopan and San Ignacio. This meant a lot of driving time for Ginnie, but she loved being back behind the wheel, and definitely had a LOT of time to improve her skills in the manual-shift Prados! During this time, every trainee came together on Fridays for more core sessions that we all on staff worked together to facilitate.

Throughout training, we took a few field trips. Our biggest was the overnight trip to tour the future sites. We headed to Stann Creek and Toledo to see the different schools where the trainees would eventually serve. Our final trip for the sites in Belize City was done toward the end of training when we had the workshop and had a delicious meal catered by our very own Belize Mom - Miss Udeen! It was so great to be back with her - it always feels like home - and to share her delicious cooking with the trainees. Bringing the trainees to Trinity was also one of my favorite experiences since I got to combine both groups of people I'd been working with here in Belize. It also was my first trip back to the school since June, so I was really excited to see the teachers and students again. I got a lot of hugs as we came in and felt right at home.

After community-based training ended, for the first time here in Belize, we sent the trainees out for two weeks on a future-site visit. The experience began with a Counterpart Day in which they met their counterparts and got to know each other and participated in sessions on various Peace Corps topics related to their work together. They then went to their new host families with their counterparts and then spent two weeks learning about their new sites and communities. Anthony joined me on my visits to the trainees to check-in with them and see how they were doing and go over a final evaluation for their progress to approve them to swear in!

They all returned for three days of Bridge to Service training, which consisted of a few administrative matters and a lot of trainee presentations about their training experiences and their project areas. We concluded with a talent show and our training staff really set a high standard for ourselves with a fun spoof movie on Belizeans going off for Peace Corps America. We can't post that here, but are willing to share it if you'd like to laugh a lot! The swearing in ceremony occurred on Octbober 22nd and 40 new volunteers began their service the following day! That night we were invited to our new Ambassador's home for a lovely dinner and reception. We are really excited about Ambassador Thummalapally's enthusiasm for working with Peace Corps in our work here in Belize.

Once the hectic schedule of training concluded, we had one week to get our annual programming report ready for Washington, DC, so all of us in programming and training were working all day compiling volunteer's reports and data to combine it into one master report. I can assure all you volunteers out there that we DO use the information in those semi-annual reports and you ARE doing a lot of great things! Keep up the good work. It was interesting to see all the project work come together and look at the impact volunteers have had on Belize in the past year. Then, we headed out to Mexico for that wonderful week of relaxation. Once we returned, we caught up on some other project work, Anthony headed out to the Toledo district for an HIV/AIDS Outreach event and Ginnie jumped right into site development and had 5 meetings with principals to talk about requesting a volunteer and the work volunteers can do for them. This week, we participated in an intense training on Designing for Behavior Change (which is going to be such a useful method for framing volunteer's work - I wish we'd had this when we started) and now are turning right around to train the volunteers in it for their in-service training this week. We'll conclude training with a Thanksgiving Feast and then some rest on Thursday and right back into the site development and other projects! There's certainly never a dull moment these days :)

Please now, sit back, relax and enjoy the show... :)

20 November 2009

Viva Mexico!!!

Yeah MEXICO!!!

After a long and sometimes grueling, but very eventful three months of Pre-Service Training, we were finally able to make an escape to a well earned week in Mexico. We left for Mexico Friday morning and hoped to at least make it halfway to our final destination in Playa Del Carmen and the Maya Riviera so that it wasn’t necessary to spend an entire day traveling. We arrived to Chetumal at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, checked into Hotel Los Cocos and made way for the Plaze de las Americas shopping mall for some dinner and purchase of provisions for the upcoming stay. We had some yummy pizza at the food court with our friends from Corozal Town, grabbed some essentials for the trip, and then made our way back into the town for the evening.

Dia De Los Muertos arrangements; a silly sign that said 'Drugs & Deli'

On Saturday morning we headed out early to a rental car agency that we had arrangements with to pick up a vehicle for the duration of our trip. After much debate with the salesman and gathering that he was a bit too adamant about selling us additional and unnecessary insurance which we already had, we decided to go search out an alternative rental agency. We rented a small car (Ford Fiesta) from the company and were soon off on a rainy and windy Saturday in Chetumal. We drove out of town and began our 240 mile trek to Playa. It was really great to actually be driving down a regular highway that was well paved, painted, and sensibly organized, ohh Belize. Anyways, as we got along down the road, approximately seventy to eighty miles or so, we started to hear a weird noise from the back of the car, no sooner did we hear the noise then that we started to feel as though the car was drifting a little bit too much to just be strong wind. We stopped once again, got out, checked things over, and all looked fine. Being that neither one of us know anything whatsoever regarding the mechanics of a automobile, we felt that if the noise stopped, we were good to go. Well, as it turned out, we were good to go, at least for another 150 miles, though the noise did grow much louder and by the time we drove through the town of Tulum, our car was blowing more smoke from its tires than an Indy car driver taking corners at 200mph.

Some typical foods found at Mexican grocery stores; Yummy donuts with a Nestle Crunch topping (Anthony almost tried these, but thought it would be best to refrain)

We stopped once again, spoke with a police officer, and we were able to determine from the conversation that we should have spent more time learning the Spanish words for different car parts…who would’ve known they would come in so handy. Well, as it turned out there was some kind of serious problem with our braking and suspension system. Long story short, the policeman assured us that as long as we drove slowly and carefully we’d make it up to Playa del Carmen without a problem. We sort of left the town with our tail between our legs and hoping beyond hopes that this guy knew of what he spoke. Well, as you may imagine, the adventure continued from there. We drove about twenty more miles, about 30 or so short of our final destination, and then, on la carretera federal, the car all our lost control of itself and we were forced to stop and come up with plan B. After a bit of debate and discussion, especially since we were basically in Mexico on a highway in the absolute middle of nowhere and the skies were quickly darkening into night-time, we decided to unload all of our bags and things and attempt to wave down a passing car for a ride. After about ten minutes or so, a vehicle heading toward the north, passed us, slowed down, and backed up to pick us up. We borrowed the driver’s cell phone and attempted to call the car rental company and pass along the necessary information so that they could have the car towed.

This was the closest landmark to where our car called it quits en route to Playa

Things were a bit crazy as we called again and again trying to get the message out and clarify things. As it turned out, we made it to the hotel an hour or so later and were able to enlist the help of the front desk clerks to get things settled. Sunday morning the car rental agency sent out a representative who went through the incident report, etc and determined that the reason the car essentially broke down was because of a repair that had recently been done (or not) on the same part that malfunctioned for us. So, long story short, we were given a new vehicle and sent on our way to enjoy the remaining adventures. What would the rest of the week hold in store for us now that we had had such a grand exciting adventure before even reaching our final destination?

More decorations and displays for Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

We finished off the night with an incredible dinner at La Palapa. Anthony had some fabulous salsa verde enchiladas suizas and Ginnie indulged in a ginormous mozzarella and vegetable sandwich. It was definitely a sweet end to a wild day.

Anthony with his delicious enchiladas verdes

On Sunday we spent the day hanging around the pool at our hotel and shopping in town before heading out to a party with some fellow Peace Corps workers and volunteers.

The view from our room :)

We spent a wonderful evening together telling funny stories, sharing good times, and enjoying an amazingly delicious barbeque dinner of turkey dogs, shrimp and chicken kabobs, salad, chips, and drinks. It was a great night, but slightly sad at the end when we all had to bid farewell to two friends who had finished their 3 years of service and were heading back to the United States.

Rooftop BBQ at our friend's place

Monday morning was yet another exciting day in el centro. Since it was our 4th wedding anniversary, we decided to search out a new restaurant and taste some unique and delicious food that we wouldn’t typically be able to find in Belize. After talking with a couple of people to get some recommendations and looking a plethora of menus and dining options, we decided to return to one of the first places we had stopped. The restaurant specializes in Mayan cuisine and was called Yaxche (http://www.mayacuisine.com/). We sat down in a beautiful dining room decorated with all types of Maya themed art, pictures, and tapestries. The menu was pretty extensive so it made it a bit difficult to narrow down our choices. We finally decided to start with a crepe filled with chaya (a leafy green vegetable similar to spinach) and oodles of cheese, covered in a delectable cream sauce that was simply delicious. After stuffing ourselves on this we started on our second basket of fiery nachos with garlic sauce and picante salsa. By the time it came time to actually order dinner, we were both already quite full, but decided to take on for the team, and go ahead in ordering dinner as well. Hey, we were already there, may as well, right? Anthony had a wonderful plat of chicken breast marinated in a tangerine and chili adobo sauce, and topped with mashed potatoes; Ginnie dove into a veggie fajita type dinner that was also equally amazing.

Tangerine chipotle chicken; a crepe stuffed with chaya and cheese; decorations outside the restaurant for Day of the Dead

As we left stuffed from our appetizer, two baskets of hot nachos, and entrees, the next thing on both of our minds was…Dessert. Not just any dessert, but rich, chocolaty, and delicious brownies from “Ah Cacao”; a place that was visited by Rachel Ray earlier in the year and given rave reviews for the best brownies ever. Well, to be perfectly honest, we just weren’t sure they were the best brownies ever, so it was necessary to return to try them a couple of more times. Officially, Anthony called these delectable delights the best brownies he had ever laid his teeth into. All in all, it turned out to be quite a memorable day.
Anthony's yummy brownie from Ah Cacao

Over the course of the remaining days, we visited a couple more places around the area. One day was spent at Tulum. The Maya site may have been formerly also known by the name Zama, meaning city of Dawn. TulĂșm is also the Yucatec Mayan word for fence or wall, and the walls surrounding the site allowed the Tulum fort to serve as a defense against invasion.

Pics from all over Tulum

From the numerous depictions in murals and other works around the site, Tulum appears to have been an important site for the worship of the Diving or Descending god. Both coastal and land routes converged at Tulum which is apparent by the number of artifacts found in or near the site that show contacts with areas all over Central Mexico and Central America. Copper artifacts from the Mexican highlands have been found near the site, as have flint artifacts, ceramics, incense burners, and gold objects from all over the Yucatan. Salt and textiles were among some of the goods brought to Tulum by sea that would then be dispersed inland. Typical exported goods included feathers and copper objects that came from inland sources. (Information gathered from http://www.tulum.com/)
Lots more Tulum photos

The next was dedicated to a complimentary entrance and day of feasting, snorkeling, and river tubing at Eco-Park called Xel-Ha (pronounced Shel-la). Check out there site for more information www.xelha.com . We also squeezed in a lot of reading and swimming at the fabulous pools and beach outside our doors.

The lagoon at Xel-Ha; Relaxing after a lot of snorkling and eating, but not necessarily in that order :)

On the last day before our return to Belize, it started raining (the start of hurricane Ida), so we decided to do a little pottery painting and decoration. The different phases are in the pictures below. We were quite impressed with our finally product, that before adding the lacquer, was polished up by the resident artist. We were really happy with the final result, and fortunately it made itself back to Belize in one piece.

The stages of our fish ceramic work

On Saturday, we began our long journey back to Belmopan at approximately 8am and finally stepped back into our house at 7pm. It was a wonderful week, filled with many memorable moments, great food, and new and exciting learning opportunities.
Yet another delicious brownie

The road home to Belize from Mexico (a whole lot of trees, jungle, and not much else along the road for about 300 miles); Back to Belize - the border at Santa Elena

21 September 2009

The sea breeze. Mexico. Birthday. Fun!

We finally took a trip up north for Ginnie's birthday. Fortunately, the trainees' visits to PCVs sites fell on her birthday weekend, so we planned a trip to Chetumal, Mexico for some shopping, as well as to get away for rest and relaxation at the mid-point of community-based training.

The trip gave us our first chance to see Corozal and finally spend some time with our good friend Mateo in his site. Corozal is absolutely beautiful - we loved being able to spend the weekend overlooking the beautiful blue-green water of the bay.

Beginning on Friday afternoon, we hopped the bus heading to Belize City to transfer to a northbound bus. After nearly 5 hours, we reached and found ourselves at The Sea Breeze Inn where we settled in and headed out for dinner and then a restful evening so we were alert and ready to go early in the AM. In the morning, we met Mateo, got our pesos, and hopped on a bus bound for Mexico! Just about 30 minutes later, we were crossing the border and into a whole new world.

The sign outside the bus station pointing us to our destination!

Our plan for the day was simple - go to the mall and shop, eat, and see a movie (if time allowed). We never made it to the movie because we just took our time enjoying browsing the stores. Strangely enough, our favorite was the ginormous Chedraui, which reminds us of a WalMart-type place. The aisles are so long and stocked full of so many choices, it was paradise. Not to mention the bakery and panaderia were filled with the most delicious-looking (and tasting, as we discovered) treats.

We were mesmerized by the bakery - look at those doughnuts and muffins, so many flavors!

There are fruit loops on these muffins - who would have thought of cooking muffins with cereal? They had zucaritas muffins and cocoa puff muffins, too.

All decked out for Mexican Independence Day

Granted they don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but isn't it still early for Christmas supplies?

They have a lot of flavors of Oreos that I've never seen, having been in Belize for so long; this one caught my eye since choco-bananas are such a staple treat around here. Considering I do not like banana flavor, I could not justify purchasing them, but the photo was a must!

I really miss Special K! Look how much cereal this store has! We're lucky to get three shelves of a half aisle (and an aisle is not very long, folks!)

Anthony wanted to share the fun flavors all the North American folks are missing out on

During all that shopping in the mall, we never stopped to eat (well, ok, Ginnie did get some gelato) so in the taxi ride back to the border, she had her birthday doughnut and coke zero {that is the best doughnut she's ever had, she thinks, but it may be perspective since it's rare to eat a doughnut these days}

The clock tower in a park in Corozal looks so pretty against that bright blue sky

Just hanging out by the bay on Ginnie's birthday

We got pizza for the birthday dinner, and this sign was in the restaurant; we found it a bit funny

I love pizza, especially on my birthday! Somehow, it had ham under the cheese even though we did ask for no meat at all. The woman said there was no meat at all (maybe she doesn't consider pork meat?). It was all good, we just picked it off and the friendly cat who hung out with us ate most of it.

We had a pretty nice view as we ate during sunset.

Even though it's blurry, I like this picture

I wonder where my next birthday will find me?