Where in the world are we?

Where in the World are We?

25 May 2009

COS & Futbol

In the middle of May our PCV cohort (commonly called Omnibus ’09 or BZ 45) came together for our COS (Close/Continuation of Service) Conference in beautiful San Ignacio at the Cahal Pech resort. The resort is atop a hill right next to the Maya ruins of Cahal Pech and overlooks the town of San Ignacio and the beautiful hilly countryside that is western Belize.

The conference provided all of we COSing volunteers one last opportunity to spend time together as a group as we reviewed all the many things we need to do before we can be cleared out of the government system (medical, paperwork, closing out Belizean accounts, etc). Cahal Pech was a perfect spot, they provided us with wonderful accommodations, the luxury of two swimming pools, and some of the best meals we’ve had!

While it’s a bittersweet time, it was great to be able to see our PCV family together to say our farewells and share memories of the past two years. With the official COS date of August 21st rapidly approaching we will all be on our separate ways before we know it (anytime between July 22nd and September 21st). We received our “diplomas” and the COS committee members also shared special certificates with everyone stating what makes each such an important part of our group. We both truly feel that BZ 45 is an amazing group of people – we came together as strangers in Miami nearly two years ago and each of us has built strong connections and relationships with one another. It’s a great group of people to share this experience with and to know will always be important parts of our lives. Our PC family is a strong one – we went through a lot of challenges as a group and that certainly served an important role in making us so tight. It also suddenly hit us that most of these people will no longer be here in Belize as Anthony and I continue our work with Peace Corps for the coming year; that's sad.

Look at us - from swearing in to COS; 2 incredible years!

Following the conference, the Gibnuts (PC Belize’s own football {soccer} team) played an afternoon game. This was followed immediately by the first ever PC Belize women’s team game! Way back at AVC in February the idea was presented to put together a female team. Ginnie supported it, but didn’t intend to play – just cheer them on. Anthony felt it important to share with the team coordinator, Rachel, that Ginnie played sweeper on the club field hockey team at Stonehill – so then Rachels’ charm and persuasion could not be overcome and Ginnie found herself ordering a uniform. As the game approached, I grew more and more apprehensive and did not want to be running around in the hot hot sun of the stadium (where I nearly passed out of heat exhaustion back at the Bandfest in April). Nevertheless, my sense of commitment and responsibility was too strong and I couldn’t let the team down. Fortunately, Nicole was happy to play in the second half, so I played photographer! I had a lot of fun playing in the game and while it’s quite evident I am not good at football, I did my best! The high school team we played was really good – they worried me when I saw them coming to the field. The majority of the game took place on our defensive side, so I definitely got a workout. I was often paired with Mini G from the other team – great name, wish I’d thought of it for my jersey J

The team really came together more in the second half as everyone got to know each other’s strengths but we still never did manage to make it to the other goal. Nonetheless, it was a lot of fun and I am glad I played. Our goalie, the fabulous Miss Mica, was named Player of the Game because she worked her butt off in the goal and kept the game from being a total massacre. Everyone on the field did awesome and it was a true WID/GAD experience when the husbands and boyfriends and other males in attendance came over at halftime to give the girls water and encouragement. It was a great afternoon which ended in a trip to Cayo Twist where I finally splurged and got the banana split (it was my reward for following through with playing in the game and was definitely worth it!).

That night many of us stayed in Cayo for one final night. We filled up the lee movie theatre with PCVs to watch The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Some of us fell asleep during the show, but it was fun anyway J

23 May 2009

TMS Library Update

The library is finally looking like a library! One day I returned to school after being away for Peace Corps meetings and the principal surprised me by telling me she ordered a bookcase. We were worried when we got an initial quote for $500 BZD for ONE case. We would not have been able to set up the library at that rate. Fortunately, she found a Mennonite carpenter (most carpentry is their work, but we’d started with connections we thought would give good deals) who made the case for $160BZD! It looked good, so we ordered 3 more, plus two tables and ten chairs (all with the grant money many of you so kindly provided) – they arrived today! Anthony and I (and a group of students) spent the afternoon re-organizing books one final time! Since we have nearly 4300 books we were unable to finish shelving all of them, but we did get all the children’s books and board books on the shelves; just have the chapter books, special category books, subject books, teacher resource books, and reference books to finish. Yes, that sounds like quite a lot but I will spend every minute in there next week until it is finished so we can get those Library Tours going and have an opening at the start of June!!

A few weeks ago, when we weren’t sure what would happen furniture-wise, I spent a day moving books and then Anthony joined me the following day for an afternoon of cleaning out the room and setting up baskets of pre-selected books which we would have the children borrow from since the stacks on the shelves are not conducive to browsing. Now that the bookcases are here, those baskets found a new use for the hundreds of board books and for class sets of borrowed books for the lower division.

Prior to setting up the browsing baskets, I visited every class and gave a Book Tour Lesson in which students learned about the features of books, discussed appropriate treatment of books (they did great at coming up with all the rules on their own – such as not throwing them on the floor or “whopping” other kids with them), how to find appropriately leveled books in our cataloging system, and the types of books we have for borrowing. I wondered if I would need to cover all the features, but it was definitely helpful since many of the students had never been specifically taught this information before – including the upper division classes. Once the shelves are set and the library is ready, I will be taking each class for a tour and then the borrowing will begin!

22 May 2009

YES: Leadership Group and Parenting Classes

Things at YES are going well. Ginnie planned an assertive communication session for the April Leadership Group meeting and the girls were excellent participants in the many activities planned to practice passive, assertive, and aggressive communication styles. The aggressive scenarios always ended up with laughs because when the girls rail up on each other in Kriol it is something – you do not want to get into a confrontation with a strong Kriol woman! I forgot the camera that day, but Ms. Inda took some photos with the office camera. I will get some from her and post when I can.

The most recent activity has been a three week parenting class. I took on the topic of nutrition and spent weeks researching everything about nutrition for pregnancy, infancy, and toddler years. I even spent countless hours calculating the nutrition facts of commonly used foods here in Belize (there is a great site http://www.nutritiondata.com/ in which you can input nearly any food and find out its values). I focused on the ingredients so the information can then be used to create a nutrition fact sheet for an entire meal once broken down – a lot of work, but quite a valuable tool! The session went really well – the moms participated in all the activities of identifying the categories on the new USDA food guide pyramid and then taking common Belizean foods and putting them into the different categories. They also played the Most Nutritious/Least Nutritious food choice game and did a good job of identifying the better choices. They closed by creating a weekly menu based on a balance of the foods we need each day. It was a lot of fun and I hope they will try to make some small changes to increase the nutritional content of their meals. Just using brown rice for white rice will be a huge step and a big health boost.

Graduation for the parenting class was held yesterday and the moms looked great. Their closing session was all about taking care of themselves and finding ways to make time for themselves every day. It was fun to spend these sessions with them and I am looking forward to our next support group/information session on June 5th. I’ve been asked to facilitate on the topic of post-natal depression... back to the research!

Our next leadership group meeting is on May 30th and we planned a really great discussion session on teen pregnancy because both Ms. Inda and I are concerned about the fact that we still have so many new mothers (even some from leadership group). We want to try and learn why girls still engage in risky behaviors when they are informed about protection and consequences associated with unprotected sex. It could be a very good discussion and eye-opening for us.

In other YES projects, work on the “My Future is Not For Sale” campaign has been going for months. The campaign targets intergenerational transactional sex and human trafficking. Peer educators have visited several schools to talk with upper division students about these topics and do activities with them. I was able to sit in on the presentation at Trinity and offer support. We hope that by educating young people they will be able to identify ITS and get information on who to contact if they realize they or someone they know is in this situation.

I really enjoy my work with YES and plan to continue working with the leadership group since we meet on Saturdays and I will be around.

21 May 2009

GLOWin' Girls

The Club is going strong.  We’ve had some really great sessions over the last several weeks.  We’ve been making crafts, discussing issues of body image and wellness, and even began making jewelry. 


During the body image session, the girls looked through magazines for images of beauty and we discussed how they made their selections and why we think certain woman are considered beautiful.  The girls had strong opinions about too much makeup, tattoos, and revealing clothing.  They got into arguments over some of the pictures selected when they thought the woman had too much makeup (in fact it was a Cover Girl ad) or a tattoo or showed too much skin.  They then selected their favorite features of their own bodies as well as their least favorite.  We talked about loving ourselves as we are and finding the beauty that each of us has.  It was a great conversation and nice to see the girls really express themselves and their opinions.


This week, PCV Olivia came down from her village up north to teach the girls (and me) about beading.  I purchased supplies and beads in Orange Walk town several weeks ago in preparation for the session and then received two packages full of beads (thank you to Mrs. Tarzia and Nikita’s 6th grade class!).


I didn’t tell the girls what we would be doing; just that a friend was coming and it would be fun.

   They were so excited when they saw the beads and really enjoyed picking through them to come up with a bracelet design.  We had a few spills, but everyone was happy with their projects.  The heat and sweaty hands did not help as we tried to tie off the bracelets so we sent some of the girls home with their string and beads.  I made a pair of earrings earlier as Olivia taught me how to use the tools and I am pretty happy with them – one of the girls (who is not in the club because she is still too young, but happened to be in the library browsing through books) wanted to know why I didn’t have my new earrings on yesterday already! 


The planning for Camp 2009 has begun and the committee and campers are in the midst of fundraising.  Olivia and I traveled all over the city this week dropping off sponsor letters and talking about the camp.  We already raised $720BZD and will be following up with everyone in a week.  Other districts have also been busy fundraising and we are making progress toward our goal of raising $6000BZD so we can hold a four-day leadership camp for 30 girls from all over the country.  We don’t want the girls to have to pay for the experience so the sponsorship we have received will cover all expenses.  If all goes well, camp will be held from July 21st – 25th in Camalote and will be my final activity as a PCV.  I’m getting excited to hold some bake sales at school to continue to raise funds so the Belize City girls will be covered for their camp experience.  GLOW continues to be one of my favorite activities and I am glad it will bring my service to a close.

10 May 2009

Good Eats, or Tertiary Project Gone Wild!

So, you may recall we've been doing a lot of experimenting in the kitchen and Ginnie's actually become quite enamored with cooking in general, baking in particular.  This is a highly unexpected development in her abilities, but she has taken it on full force.  Ok, let me just finish this one off myself – I love it, who would have predicted that?

Well, it’s really become a huge habit that involves losing myself for hours searching for and reading through recipes to come up with ideas and adaptations using available produce and such here in Belize.  Having been working at it for over a year now, I’ve really learned a lot of cool techniques and now come up with my own recipes much more frequently.  We have both also learned the importance of good seasonings and spices and have of course found my favorites – we have gone through ridiculous amounts of chili powder, cumin, and cinnamon (that’s for the baking my friends, but I do toss it in a few other dishes to give them that little something special!).  We also find it quite interesting that we are on our third one of those Morton’s Salt things – all our lives we never saw any of those finished.  I thought they just sat on shelves, but we use them.  Because we are very health-conscious cooks, it’s not used exorbitantly, but you can finish those things with regular use (especially baking).  We also have gone through a few things of unsweetened cocoa powder – it’s so perfect for Anthony's no-bake cookies and I love to make brownies and have discovered a pretty fantastic devil’s food cake recipe that involves a good deal of the precious powder. 

I’m not a huge chocolate- lover, but that cake is pretty awesome and Ant has been asking me to make more ever since he indulged on the ginormous one made for his birthday.  Our other major staples are fresh onions, fresh garlic (which I often wonder if my hands will permanently smell like since I chop so much of it!), and fresh tomatoes – nearly every meal begins with a sauté of onion and garlic to get things going.  Depending on the cuisine, it will then be accompanied by any number of spices, seasonings, and other fresh produce.  And, of course, no Belizean kitchen would be complete without a bottle of pepper sauce – our top choice is good ‘ole Marie Sharp’s (we will be placing online orders if we have to when no longer in Belize – this stuff is addicting and just gives that little kick to EVERYTHING we eat – seriously, well not the baked goods, but you know dinners. and lunches. and sometimes popcorn.)

 Well, anyway, back to the point.  We have primary and secondary projects in Peace Corps (we’ve described those before, but in brief they are our assigned projects and our independent projects).  I have been calling all this cooking my tertiary project since it developed out of a desire to eat healthily among some poor eating habits and cooking techniques in Belize as well as to find new ways to use limited produce options (and in all honesty, because I don’t commute for hours a day and I have much more time to devote to cooking, I was curious to see if I might actually enjoy it and be good at it).  Since nearly every recipe I make is adapted from somewhere, I’ve been writing them all down and had the idea early on to make them all into a cookbook – so I take pictures of everything and have been compiling it all.  Anthony's still a pretty fantastic cook himself and he's been adding some really delicious dinners and things to his own faves, too.  Over time, we’ve hosted Belizean friends for meals, baked them treats, and brought leftovers in for lunch; subsequently, they have asked for our recipes.  We have friends getting married in July and I decided I would give a copy of the final cookbook as a gift; then when they were over for a games night the bride-to-be mentioned she would love it if we could give her our recipes for her wedding...  At any rate, we now have a few requests for the cookbook and will be including sections on nutrition and healthy substitutions for high-fat or high-sugar (there is a diabetes concern for many and a lot of people use hydrogenated oils in their cooking not realizing the negative impacts it has on health and connection to diabetes, in fact).  I’m starting some classes on nutrition for the teen moms and sharing recipes to help them in meal planning.  

Somehow, this cooking thing became a major secondary project and is now involving a lot of work; all of which will be well-worth it since it will provide some Belizeans with a tool for healthy cooking based on the ingredients they have access to in their backyards. We're both pretty excited about it and looking forward to the final product.  It would be awesome if we could print it in color, but I don’t think that will be affordable.  Some people will receive it in an electronic format, so it will work well that way.  I certainly never thought when I came to Peace Corps I would leave with a homemade cookbook!  I’m sort of excited about how all these recipes can then be adapted to all the produce we’ll have wherever we live after Belize – I can’t imagine too many places where there will be fewer options J.  I’m most excited about the baking section because I receive a lot of requests for my baked goods, all of which have reduced fat and sugar from their original recipes (the people eating them don’t know that and if they enjoy it as is, then we know it’s good – the highest compliment is when a Belizean tells me “Ms. Ginnie, your cake/cookie is nice.”)  I’ll include information on how to substitute fats and reduce sugar so they can adapt

other recipes I have yet to try.  It’s very difficult to find a little baked snack here that isn’t loaded with trans fats, expensive, or made with lard so I had to start baking and I just fell in love.  The bread thing keeps getting better, too.  My cooking habit involves subscriptions to several food blogs and I have gathered some great recipes on a special bread making technique whereby I can use all whole-wheat flour and still create moist delicious bread! It’s been one of the projects I do for fun and relaxation – my perfect Saturday or Sunday activityJ.  After making bread, cakes, bagels, English muffins, doughnuts, brownies and many, many different cookies and learning how easy it is to bake from scratch I can’t imagine why either of us ever used those box mixes (fyi – most contain partially hydrogenated oils)!  I thought I didn’t like cookies until I started making them myself – now I make the best moist cake-like cookies that are a perfect mid-morning snack (because they are not loaded with sugar and fat) or great for dessert!  Anthony laughed when I recently said “I can’t wait to visit friends and family and cook for them!” because that is not something he’d have ever expected to hear from me in a lifetime.  What can I say, I pick up a hobby and I commit to it – I really want to stick with this one, I’ve already looked into baking classes I can take.  I want to get better and learn the technique from professional bakers so it’s not just me interpreting from a recipe (though, I had a batter epiphany recently when I was making Ant’s cake and it resulted in a brownie-like batter – I knew exactly how the cake would turn out in consistency; I’m working on getting there with my yeast doughs, but that will involve more practice).  Anthony is really good at a lot of the yeast and bread-type things - he is the master flour tortilla maker and makes them perfectly and super-thin.  He has also mastered naan(see first picture) and pita bread and of course his pizza dough and pasta dough are both fantabulous.

Recently, we decided to start a new date-night activity to come up with
 a more involved recipe or idea or to splurge on an expensive (for us) ingredient every couple weeks and so far that has resulted in two new dinners: spinach-artichoke lasagna rolls with homemade tomato sauce and brown rice risotto with zucchini.  I really like this new plan – so any ideas, pass them on.  We want to try paella, but finding a good vegetarian version that does not have every kind of bell pepper is hard (that would break our budget because red and yellow peppers are up to $12/lb so just one can cost $4-$5!). 

Check out some of the results of our research.

Baking Fun:

Ginnie's version of Powda Bon - made with some variations, but still delish-os

Pumpkin Oat Muffins

Wheat Italian Bread

Cinnamon-Sugar Doughnuts

Orange Drop Cookies with Orange Glaze

Anthony's birthday cake - all from scratch, even the frosting!  There is so much cocoa in there it is a chocolate-lover's delight

Pumpkin Pie Cookies - tastes like a little bite of pumpkin pie, fabuloso

Homemade Oreos 

Honey Wheat Rolls

Cinnamon Raisin Bagels

Other Random Things:

Soy Ice Cream - that's a long process and it didn't turn out so great, considering I make the soy milk too, it's all pretty much a water-based thing.  I have to work on this one if I have the patience again

Anthony's Black Bean Soft Tacos on homemade wheat tortillas

Spinach-Artichoke Lasagna Rolls in homemade tomato sauce

Anthony's Pupusas con frijoles y queso

Deep Dish Mexican Pizza with a cornmeal dough and topped with homemade taco sauce

Lentil Loaf - the whole thing and some slices

Chana Masala

Buffalo-Style Chili - this is the best chili ever, made with soy meat, black-eyed peas, lots of veggies and Marie Sharp's.  Served with mashed potatoes made with blue cheese dressing and extra blue cheese for topping, it is a really spicy flavorful chili

Salsa Verde Black Bean Burgers with oven roasted potatoes made with a spicy chili powder mixture

Brown Rice Risotto with zucchini and mozzarella cheese