28 December 2010
04 December 2010
Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end…
As our days in Belize come to a close and we move into the next phase of life and the new adventures that will come with it, we need to, at least for our own peace and sanity, reflect back on what has most definitely already been logged as three and a half of the most memorable years of our lives. It’s been a lot of things: challenging, heartbreaking, daring, often hilarious, and definitely frustrating at times, but more than anything, the most encouraging and eye-opening learning experience of our lifetime. Seeing the way many people live their day-to-day lives in other parts of the world is a lesson in and of itself. It is incredibly humbling, yet powerfully simple. Things we take for granted, issues we sometimes argue or lose sleep over, can seem menial when you step back and look at things from someone else’s perspective. The old adage of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes certainly holds true (some days we weren’t sure we could even walk a few feet in them). The amazing people of Belize have forever become part of who we both are in this life. They have each treated us like family, welcomed us into their homes, fed us, cared for us, and provided nothing but love, laughter, and a feeling of being right at home even though we were far from it. No closing for us would be complete without a few, well, more than a few we guess, but some observations and experiences that we’d like to share since many are representative of our experience and the many stories that we’ve shared with family and friends. We have both been keeping journals since we arrived in June of 2007, every now and again recording that little nuance, quip, or moment in time that you wish could either be frozen or quickly passed over. Here are some for our readers,
· How to take a shower and wash your hair with a half a bucket of water
· Chickens roosting at 3am on the thatch roof above our heads
· Fitting 35 people into a 12 passenger van
· Conversation…”Hey the bedroom temperature is only 85 tonight…not too bad…we can do that” · A Kriol boy referring to our dachshund Maya, “Man, dat da wahn reel sauseege!”
· Stranded…doesn’t really have the same ring to it anymore
· Swinging and spinning amazingly flexible and daring children by the arms until you’re dizzy
· Malaria pills that induce hallucinogenic dreams
· Humans vs. Nature…Nature always wins
· Washing clothes in a giant tub, wringing out by hand, and hanging in the sun to dry…definitely got old quickly
· Waking up early in Indian Church Village and wandering through the Lamanai Maya ruins all by ourselves
· Bus conductors that treat women and children with the respect they deserve
· Bus rides jam packed, with a cool breeze and reggae or Love FM blasting on the airwaves
· Punta rock, Punta Dance, Punta…Punta…Punta!!!
· Ice cold seaweed, wintahfresh gum, and sweets peddled on the bus by people of all ages
· People stopping outside your house and hailing you to say hello
· Sometimes spending $10 dollars for a box of cereal
· Living 3 feet below sea level…no more hurricanes please!!!
· Not sure what the final kill count was, but it’s somewhere around 1 million fire ants, a few thousand carpenter ants, 7-8 roaches, 5 frogs (in our shower), 50 or so millipedes, lost count of spiders large and small, 3-4 geckos (thanks to our dog Maya), and a multitude of flying creatures. “0 snakes and 0 scorpions…Thank you”
· A student that once inquired to Anthony about what people in the US do to protect themselves from dinosaurs
· The large basilisk lizard that often sunned itself on our steps
· Iguanas in the jungle, and in the streets of Belize City
· Walking the dog and seeing parrots and toucans fly by and squawk overhead
· The corn tortilla truck flying through our neighborhood blaring it’s horn
· The speed at which the jungle is able to quickly start taking over an empty home
· Kriol women endearingly using “babes” when thanking or greeting us
· Asking our host sister to take the tarantula off of our mattress during our first night in Belize, flash forward…successfully removing three tarantulas from our home (not sure how they got in)
· Mosquitoes that are bigger, faster, and smarter than any we have ever experienced
· The taste of fresh Belize pepper on everything we ate (Thank you, Marie Sharp’s)
· Kranglish (Kriol, Spanish, and English all mixed into one)
· Huge bags of orange left on our veranda every Sunday morning by the family upstairs
· The need to substitute 90% of the ingredients in a recipe because they just don’t sell everything · Dreaming of living in the Caribbean and enjoying beautiful weather all year round, but then coming to the realization that days on end of 95+ degrees without an air conditioner certainly take a toll. Those of you who have been here can relate
· The smell of fresh barbeque floating through the neighborhood every Saturday
· When there’s a holiday, there’s a holiday. No exceptions.
· September celebrations – done seh it!
· Kids at school that hung and swung from us on a daily basis
· Picking and eating fresh mangoes, limes, and oranges right off tree
· Beans…not sure how many pounds we ate, but definitely quite a bit (some rice too!)
· Riding our bikes everywhere with everything and always admiring those locals that rode around with everything from groceries to a washing maching on their bikes
· The many shades of blue and green of the Caribbean Sea
· Bootleg movies for sale in Belize City
· Being proud to say that we lived in “The Land of the Free, by the Caribe sea” for 3½ years
And finally, a huge thanks to The Gonzalez Family, Ms. Udeen, Ms. Lilith, The Batty's, All the Peace Corps Belize Staff, Our Teachers, Principals, Students, Community Partners, and every Belizean past, present, and future for allowing us the opportunity to live in their beautiful country and share in their amazing and diverse culture. It would have been a much more grueling and difficult journey without your support, guidance, and encouragement along the way.
“Tanks Beliz, yu mek we feel laik paat ah di family!”
Here is a look at 3.5 years in 6 minutes:
This beautiful reflection was so eloquently written by Anthony. The video montage was compiled by ginnie.
02 December 2010
Favorite Belizean meal: Beans n’ Rice
Favorite place in Belize: My Hammock in Belmopan
Favorite shop: Save-U
Favorite dining establishment: CoCo Bongos and Noodle Guy at the Belmopan Market
Favorite Kriol phrase: Shuks Bwai!
Favorite Kriol proverb: Haad ayz pikni goh da maakit too tiam
Most memorable moment: Being asked to be the guest speaker at my school’s 2010 graduation
Most surprising experience: When I walked in flip-flops through foot tall grass in our backyard after dark to get a lime off the tree (not even giving a second thought to the creatures of the night that live there). I commented to Ginnie when I returned that 3½ years ago I never would have even considered.
Funniest experience: The many children that made me laugh on a regular basis
Weirdest experience: Missing Belize when I visited the U.S.
Favorite bus story: Riding back from Cayo on a packed up bus one market day and spending an hour talking with an old Kriol woman and her grandson about Belize, who also continued to share fruit with me for the duration of the ride
Favorite getaway in Belize: San Pedro – just wish it wasn’t so darn expensive
Best experience with the pikni: Pikni running at you full speed, latching on with tight hugs, and refusing to let go; Being hailed from the street by my host brother as we arrived at the house (he’s only 4yrs old)
One experience you’d like to forget: The bout of E-coli I picked up somewhere in Honduras
Overall favorite: The daily 5 minute bike ride to work
Name one modern convenience you look forward to having again: Bookstores
Name something you learned you can live without: Television, Washing Machine, Vehicle
Name one thing you will miss most: Hearing Kriol on a daily basis
Name one thing you will miss least: unavailability of great books
Name one thing you look forward to in the USA: Seeing my wonderful family and friends again
Name one thing you do not look forward to in the USA: Weather that fluctuates more than 15 degrees over the course of a year
Share a lesson learned: Human Beings never fully know what they are capable of, how they will react, or how they will truly feel, until living, breathing, and experiencing a walk in someone else’s shoes.
Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; Indeed it is the only thing that ever has."
Favorite Belizean meal: Boil Up!
Favorite place in Belize: Most of Cayo District
Most frequented shop: K-Park Quick Stop & SaveU (Belize City); Fansico & New Capital (Belmopan)
Favorite dining establishments: Ko’ox Han nah & Cayo Twist (San Ignacio); the noodle guy (Belmopan Market); Sumathi & Mama Chen (Belize City); Gomier’s (Punta Gorda)
Favorite Kriol phrase: Right now
Favorite Kriol proverb: Weh no kill yu, fatn yu
Most memorable moment: Opening the library at Trinity Methodist School
Most surprising experience: Sweeping a tarantula out of my house by myself
Funniest experience: Camp GLOW and the every meeting with the GLOW girls were pretty fun and definitely funny!
Weirdest experience: The shower head exploding when I was in the shower – I got out before the explosion, but experienced the pre-event with the scalding water and steam
Favorite bus story: When a man’s $20 bill flew out of his hand as he tried to get it in his pocket and everyone around helped find it and get it back to him
Favorite getaway in Belize: a day or two on a caye
Best experience with the pikni: all of them J - the hugs that come as soon as I walk onto the school compound are a pretty great start to any day; Lindy’s daily check-ins and Moleisha grabbing my hand to show me something she has done
One experience you’d like to forget: One morning when the principal lashed 6 boys for being rude to me
Overall favorite: accomplishing my goal and helping the school and the programs at YES to accomplish some of theirs
Name one modern convenience you look forward to having again: a refrigerator with a separate freezer (internal freezers stink especially in a hot climate where they freeze over and then make it so the fridge is not actually keeping things cool)
Name one thing you learned you can live without: a TV, a washing machine, a car (although, my preference is to have the availability of a motorized vehicle)
Name one thing you will miss most: hearing Kriol every day and people hailing each other as they pass on the street
Name one thing you will miss least: extremely loud music or loud anything at all hours (I like noise ordinances; these levels are definitely beyond the allowable decibels back in the US)
Name one thing you look forward to in the USA: paved roads and sidewalks and climate control (but not at the extreme temps that I noticed the stores and some homes keep it – how about a comfortable 78-82?)
Name one thing you do not look forward to in the USA: Coca-Cola made with high fructose corn syrup instead of real sugar
Share a lesson learned: No matter how little a person has in terms of money or possessions, they can be extremely generous and give of what they do have to help their neighbors and their friends and that people are people no matter where they live. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean we can’t do it and the people who invented the washing machine really did something to save hours of time for others – if only such a machine were accessible to all people who need one it would be so nice!
29 November 2010
Any-who, back to the farewells (we’re not calling them goodbyes because with such a connected world, we have email, facebook, phones, and airplanes to keep us together). We visited with our first host family in Armenia Village for a nice lunch and some time to chat and thank them for taking such good care of us when we first arrived in Belize. Maira let me help in the kitchen so I sliced the plantain and patted out some corn tortillas. I can manage the tortillas fine when she makes the dough, but neither Ant nor I has been able to get that perfect combo of masa and water for our corn tortillas. Ant is the master at making whole wheat flour tortillas that are soft and pliable, though! Julissa and Daniel came home from school and we ate with them and the baby, Angel (he is 3, Maira was pregnant with him when we stayed at the house). Angel is quite the problem solver, his sausage (fried hot dog) was too hot, so he got up and held it in front of the fan to cool! Too cute, and he loved that we all laughed, so he was sure to do it with every piece of sausage. We gave some gifts of games and a build-a-bear we made on a trip home and some items for Maira. As we left, Maira said, “I will never forget you, you can always come back here to stay with us.” We both always feel so thankful that she shares so much with us when there is little available to begin with. It reminds us of how important it is to remember basic generosity toward others. We love being in the village and being with Maira and her family – they live so simply (by American standards, but they do have a lot in comparison to the rest of the village) yet they are the happiest and most generous people we have known and we will always love them and consider them our family.
Later we went to St. Luke to see all the staff and students and deliver some teaching supplies we still had at the house. Anthony visited every class and said a brief thank you and wished them all well and let them know he was proud of them and lucky to work with them. We made cards to give to our friends and family and we delivered those and many teachers seemed not quite ready for this to be the time for us to go. It was hard, but good to be able to see everyone one more time. We’ll go back to Trinity to deliver the cards; ginnie began the farewells when we visited the current PCV there but it was just a little too soon for that to be the last visit, plus Ms. Gillett and Ms. Miriam are on long leave and both return just before we go, so we want to see them too.
We were lucky to be able to see Miss Udeen and Ms. Lillith, too. Usually Miss Udeen might be in the states by now, but it so happens her daughter will be here for Christmas, so she is still around. We spent some time reminiscing and catching up on future plans. These women were truly our Belizean mom and auntie and really made us comfortable and integrated into the life of Belize City.
Top Photo: Miss Lillith; Bottom Photo: Miss Udeen
This weekend we made dinner for Mellisa and Dyon one final time before they visit us in the US and we had a nice long evening chatting and hanging out. We also had our annual holiday treats day (a bit early) with the local PCVs and enjoyed spending time with them and wishing them well on their continued time in Belize. It's been fun to clean out the kitchen making good food for good friends.
In our final week, we will get to see all the education volunteers at an in-service training and will wish them well and will say goodbye to the amazing staff who has been our extended family throughout the many stages of our experience in country.
We have been so fortunate to become Belizean residents and Belize will always be our home. Thank you to everyone who has made this experience the best of our lives, we will be in touch and will see you again!
PS - Just for good measure on our final Sunday morning in Belize we were awoken at 5:30am to extremely loud music for about an hour - large speakers aimed right at our bedroom window... oh, Belize! Not to mention we also had our first experience hearing a pig screaming in fear (we have avoided the pig slaughter as "city folk"), that is not a sound you want to hear, it's heart-wrenching and if I did eat pork, that would stop me for certain.
28 November 2010
Oh no, not those Maya, the dog Maya! Sorry if you came to the site looking for information on the Maya people in Belize because this post is about a miniature dachshund, Maya, who came to Belize in August 2009 and her adventures since. However, I will say the Maya people are a wonderful group and the ancient Maya have a fascinating history being so advanced and intelligent, claimed to have developed the first writing system of the Americas. We've enjoyed learning about them and visiting many archaeological sites. Anyway, back to the dog (whose name was picked well before we knew we'd be in Belize, so it is just a really random coincidence).
Anthony and I missed Maya so when I took on a staff position and we moved to Belmopan into a house with a huge gated yard, we knew it was time to reunite the family. We were all so fortunate that Maya spent our two years of service in the exceptional care of her auntie, who I know misses her despite her eagerness to get Maya on the plane!
Maya arrived quite traumatized from the plane ride; I’m a bit sad we had to put her through it again the other day. Nevertheless, as soon as she reached her new home, she was ready to explore, and explore she did. The exploring and hunting and sleeping that ensued lasted her entire 15 months in Belize.
We thought we’d share the highlights and a funny film of Maya’s Belizean life. I think it’s pretty fun that our dog has traveled further than some people we know! What a life she has had; when we adopted her, she was rescued from a kill shelter that found her huddled beneath a tractor on a rainy night in Arkansas. She then was sent on a big truck with other rescue dogs up to Massachusetts, moved to New Jersey, then Pennsylvania, onto Belize, and now back in PA. Where else might she live? I expect there will be more international homes in her future (I hear doxies can live to be 16, so she’s got plenty of time because we think she might be 8 now).
Maya’s Belizean Adventures:
~ Daily Schedule
Ø Slowly stretch her way out of bed (a pillow covered with a homemade case using fabric from Mikado)
Ø Run into living room and immediately check the big window to see what’s happening and look for lizards and geckos
Ø Walk through the neighborhood and sniff the grass and mark every spot every other dog marked, too
Ø Sleep, hunt, maybe kill a critter (the evidence is eaten with spiders and some other jumpy bugs, but she leaves the gecko and lizard carcasses for us, which is fantastic), sleep, sleep, stare out the big window (her field of vision cannot be very wide, but she still manages to find things at which to growl), bark at passersby and bikers, sleep, and drink lots of water throughout
Ø Walk around the neighborhood
Ø Nighttime hunting – stare at the ceiling intently waiting for that gecko she knows was there earlier; walk in circles; jump up the wall thinking she can catch that gecko that is up 100 times higher than she; kill an ant or spider by tossing it around and frantically slapping at it but never actually touching it with her paw
Ø Roll around on her pillow
Ø Repeat the process
~ Geckos – she is obsessed with them. Maybe we made her so because the first time she spotted one and attempted to capture it by jumping up the wall made us laugh hysterically and we may have encouraged it (that was a huge mistake because now she is a bit too intense about it!)
~ Lizards – see geckos above
~ Spiders, ants, and other crawlies – occasionally she attacks and will get one in her mouth and then toss it; the torture continues until the creature is dead and she either eats it or leaves it; others she sniffs and turns away
~ Moths – same as crawlies
~ Other dogs – she has become a much better peer; she never really did like to see other dogs on walks before, but now she has made some friends in the neighborhood and even sniffs politely and acts like a normal dog with normal dog behaviors; I’m so proud. We’ve named the neighborhood dogs to describe their interactions – they are “puppy” (who has a name and it’s Cougar, but he was a puppy who followed us everywhere annoying Maya endlessly with his attempts to play), Oso (that is also the real name of the dog whose bark sets Maya barking even though she doesn’t know why), Frankendog (he is a mute dog who I used to call the mute dog, but he has these two twists of hair that stick straight out from his neck on both sides, hence Frankendog), Sir Limpsalot/Mr. Gimpy (turns out it’s Madam/Ms and she is mean – she charges Maya; she is clearly some sort of dachshund mix and has the same bark as Maya; her name stems from the fact she evidently hurt her back paw and always limps), the gray one (that’s the mid-size dog who lives with Frankendog and Limpsalot and barks a lot), and the little neighbor dog (who walks around the same time as Maya in the evenings and whose owners are quite friendly with us).
~ Molly – this is our friend’s dog, she is a great dog with the best demeanor; sometimes she and Maya play, but mostly when they are together they sniff and then ignore each other. Fun fact: when Molly wanders over to our house on occasion, she obeys every command I call to Maya, which makes Maya jealous because Molly gets attention from me, so then Maya copies Molly. One time Molly came over and they ran around the backyard, then Maya got distracted by a lizard, so Molly did laps around the house, it was hilarious. Maya and Molly should play more…
~ Veterinary Care – awesome, way less expensive than in the US and the doctor comes to our house! He’s super nice and Maya has done well with him
~ Walks – Maya sniffs everything! The smells are clearly more interesting here than in Massachusetts because her nose barely leaves the ground. With all the stray dogs, she has a lot to sniff and a lot of marking to do (funny story, unrelated: once on Caye Caulker while Anthony and I sat by the sea a dog came and marked a plastic bag, then a next dog came and marked, then a next one…) Maya barked at a pit bull who was unleashed; thankfully that pit bull’s owner is super friendly and responsible and trained his dog well, the pit bull calmly ignored Maya’s rant and finally she cooled off and they sniffed in greeting. Maya needs to not bark at any more loose pit bulls, they aren’t all loved!
~ The Backyard – Maya loves the yard – she runs and hops and jumps to chase butterflies and lizards and whatever else is back there.
~ Sleeping – it’s hot in Belize, most of the day Maya just finds any spot she feels is cool and lays herself down and sleeps. She periodically wakes to find a new cool spot and immediately returns to sleep! Occasionally, she will get up to drink water and then return to sleep
~ Fear of dogs – many Belizeans are afraid of dogs, it’s great to have a dog whose bark is so loud she sounds ten times bigger than she is; one day as Maya and I waited for Anthony outside of a store we stood a bit too close to a man’s bicycle, he did all this side-stepping to get around us and avoid the scary miniature doxie
~ Pikni – they say the funniest things when they see Maya: “Man dat da real saus-eej!” “How you call that dog?” “Chihuahua!” once as pikni approached and Maya barked we heard, “watch out for the mad sausage.”
It was nice to have Maya with us; she certainly provided plenty of entertainment! Enjoy the show.
27 November 2010
June - July
~ PC held a major test of our Emergency Action Plan (EAP) with fake Hurricane Zeus and got all 100 PCVs consolidated in record time
~ An actual Tropical Storm (Alex) hit Belize right after we sent everyone home and we had to activate the EAP once again!
~ Ginnie also attended her fourth Belizean wedding for her friend from YES, Earleth – it was a beautiful day!
~ Anthony co-facilitated Peace Camp at the George Price Center
~ Camp GLOW 2010 (3rd annual) was held and Ginnie served as a supporter and session facilitator for her favorite health and nutrition topic and on self-esteem
~ Anthony took his home leave and Ginnie found a last-minute affordable ticket to spend a week with him – it was glorious, we rode our bikes daily, enjoyed really good soft serve ice cream, and just relaxed (and ginnie’s major study plan began)
~ The Close of Service Conference was held for the 2008-2010 class and the vehicle I was in got a flat on our way out of Hopkins! Glad Sharmaine knew these gentleman who noticed us and stopped to help - it was like our own little pit crew getting us back up and running
~ We also hit some milestones in July – 10 years of no McDonald’s (we gave that up after too many times getting sick and having “mysterious” chicken) and 1 year of no TV (well, that’s a big one for Ginnie because she has a history of just hours of mindless TV playing even if not paying attention – it’s also been great to have so much more free time since we’re not caught up watching a full day of food network or something)
~ Peace Corps Belize undertook a major review of our projects and rewrote our project frameworks reducing from four to three to ensure best quality of service between volunteers and community partners
~ ginnie took part in the review and conducted interviews with Belizeans and PCVs to help gather data compiled to determine what activities are important to ensure a focus on youth are a major aspect to our work
~ For several days we worked in project teams to write and revise our project frameworks (which include our major goals, objectives, task analyses, and volunteer/counterpart activities)
~ We presented our new projects to Belizeans and PCVs to rousing approval and agreement!
~ We took the frameworks and developed KSAs (knowledge, skills, attitudes) PCVs need in order to be successful in the project and which are used to write our learning objectives for the PCV service training activities from PST through COS
~ ginnie studied every day for hours and all day on Saturdays and some Sundays – it was not exciting and it carried through until leaving for the est in October
~ Celebration Time! This is Belize’s big celebrations month with the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day, Independence Day, and ginnie’s birthday (well, we just throw that in for the sheer fun of it)
~ The 2010 class held entry-into-site events (when they present their plans to their community and also do a little Goal 2 by sharing anything about themselves and where they are from and staff gives a brief overview of PC and our mission, goals, and project work in country). ginnie headed north for visits to the PCVs in Orange Walk and Corozal districts. Anthony came along for the first one, but had a lot of stuff to do back in Belmopan on the other travel days.
~ Another tropical storm threatened Belize and all the PCVs were consolidated when Ginnie was in Orange Walk, so while the EOC was in action, she was missing all the details. Fortunately there wasn’t too much rain for her to drive through and the storm didn’t end up hitting us.
~ We co-facilitated the Designing for Behavior Change (DBC) in-service training workshop for PCVs and their counterparts from the Cayo and Belize Districts. We definitely put together a great program and work really well as a training team – it was fun.
~ Since the HIV/AIDS Committee conducted a full DBC study of the issue of why teachers are not teaching the sex and sexuality portion of the Health and Family Life Education curriculum in the upper primary division, we used our experiences with the process to put together the major points for the entire DBC training program for the post!
~ ginnie spent a glorious week in Texas with Joe, Alex, Siena, and Barron to take her test and to enjoy some down time and relaxation
~ The HIV/AIDS Committee began implementation of its activities to address the Behavior Change activities and began holding teacher training workshops with upper division primary school teachers to provide resources on teaching sexual and reproductive health using a teaching guide developed and published by the committee (Anthony was one of the major writers of this manual!). The first sessions were held with the Cayo District government school teachers and the Toledo district teachers.
~ We began the process of wrapping up projects and preparing documents for the new staff who will replace us.
~ ginnie served on the hiring committee for our new program manager for the healthy environment project, the new focus of which will be on nutrition, HIV/AIDS outreach and education, and improved personal sanitation and water safety, as well as some work on vector control measures.
~ We started the month off by celebrating our fifth anniversary, thankful to have fulfilled our dream of spending our first married years in Peace Corps with a delightful dinner of nachos and a Coke float with coconut ice cream; yes, that is correct and it was delicious if entirely not nutritious
~ ginnie facilitated her favorite aspects for the Project Design and Management workshop held the first week of the month – budgeting and writing proposals
~ Anthony worked with the new PCVL, Joel, to help prepare him for his extended year of service in this leadership position. We’ve changed our model and now PCVLs will work regionally as a local support person for PCVs, so Joel will be based in the south.
~ We continued the celebration with a trip to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye for relaxation and great dining! We also purchased our first original work of art by our favorite Belizean artist, Walter Castillo; it’s a perfect recuerdo for our Belizean experience.
~ Mid-service site visits are underway and we checked in with a few of the local volunteers.
~ The goodbyes really started to hit when we visited Trinity and told the teachers we have just 3.5 weeks in country – some thought we’d be coming back after the holidays. However, ginnie was reminded that it’s certain we will be back because “we done drink de wata.” :)
~ We celebrated Thanksgiving with a fabulous feast made by each of our coworkers – we brought pumpkin pie cookies and ginger-garlic green beans; we also decorated the office for Christmas!
~ The rest of the month will be spent clearing out the house, closing out our projects, and saying our goodbyes.
29 October 2010
In the midst of Hurricane Richard, we are safe with our headlamps! (When the lights went out, we were bored and thought it would be funny to take pictures; that occupied us for 5 minutes...)
The new look for the lime tree after Hurricane Richard blew through the neighborhood at 90+mph
Our EAP (Emergency Action Plan) test in June kicked off a season of three additional real activations of the EAP, none of which resulted in a storm hitting Belize. The most recent one, TS Paula, only resulted in alerts to PCVs and nothing more. When reports of Tropical Storm Richard came to the staff email, we had to wonder, would yet another emergency be averted? or was this time going to be the real thing? The latter it was and here's our Hurricane Richard report from the eye of the storm.
On Thursday, we opened up the EOC (Emergency Operation Center) at 1pm and contacted the PCVs via their wardens (PCVs who serve as points of contact to other PCVs in their districts - Anthony was the warden in Belize City and recently assumed the role of warden for Belmopan when it became clear one warden for all of Cayo district was not enough) to alert them of the storm. Perhaps they wondered as did we whether this would result in anything more than a little rain.
On Friday, we remained on alert because Richard wasn't moving. His projected paths continued to move southward, though, making us wonder if it really would just stay away from Belize. We stayed on alert and discussed potential plans for the various PCV locations. By Saturday morning, Richard's slow speed and time spent brewing in the Caribbean just outside the Bay Islands of Honduras made him grow and predictions were for a category 1 hurricane to hit between Dangriga and Independence on Sunday evening. Anthony and I were the EOC crew with our SSC Daniel for Saturday morning so we put out the call to the various districts - we had all Belize City and Dangriga PCVs prepare to consolidate to Belmopan first thing Sunday morning (in hopes they would be on the buses before the other local evacuees and get seats) while our southern and northern village PCVs were already in their district towns and told to stay put. The folks out west (seemingly out of the line of the storm) were also told to stay where they were and all were told to keep off the roads.
Saturday night we listened closely to the radio (LOVE FM did an incredible job working nonstop to keep the country informed) and things seemed to stay on track with predicted paths. Mandatory evacuations were called by NEMO of particular areas in the south and we went to bed expecting the storm would come through the south Sunday evening with some rains from the outer bands hitting our area.
Rogue chicken running frantically around our yard; clearly it knows a storm's on the way!
On Sunday morning, we cranked up our radio (literally hand-cranked it! thanks goes out to Eric and Karen for this wind up radio that does not need batteries or electricity and even has quite a bright light) for the latest update. We missed the storm path info. by minutes, but the discussion clearly indicated that the storm was heading closer to Belize City by the comments related to sheltering and evacuations. Our phones were no longer working by this time (or at least were receiving messages at quite a delay from when they were sent) so we had not heard from PC (which we wondered about since Ant is a warden). We reached some coworkers after a few calls and were asked to come in for a meeting with the consolidated folks and bring the Belmopan PCVs in a half hour! That led to calls and texts - not many getting through since the phones were not working - and then a walk up to the hotel. It also led to a stop at the ATM since we realized we had not done all our hurricane prep expecting the storm not to hit... oh, and we filled up our laundry bucket for water storage in case it went out and we needed it to bathe and such. On the walk to the hotel, both our neighbors asked if we needed anything and we could sense the rising concern and fear in our Belizean friends, and were so thankful in their preparations and worry they still wanted to take care of us, too.
At the hotel, the projector was up with the current path of the storm - right across Belize City and then traveling along the western highway! The predictions ranged from category 1 to category 2 and the eye was expected over Belize City in the early evening; so that meant the storm rains and winds would hit much earlier - the storm was moving at 9 mph with 150 mile bands of wind and rain. We anticipated the power outage that would eventually come (luckily not until around 7:30pm, it was out for nearly 24 hours in our neighborhood and until Thursday in some other parts, so the recovery is the longer haul) and watched some episodes of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (aside: this is a great program, I hope his revolution changes the way we feed our children in schools at the very least and opens people's eyes to the crap that is in processed food) and periodically checked in with the radio reports to hear how the storm was impacting Belize City. There were many reports of rain and strong winds and trees downed. The power went out there far earlier than in Belmopan. Unfortunately, we also heard callers reporting people trapped in homes filling with water and other people trying to break in to gas stations or other empty buildings (so sad, and during the storm? really, people?).
Smart chicken to find shelter from the storm (just not so smart to end up near my hungry neighbors...)
After making a delicious dinner of my healthy waffles and awesome vegan sausages, we returned to Jamie's quest and halfway through the power went. It had been flickering for hours, so we already had our headlamps ready. The rains and winds started to hit as well and we heard the full trash bucket go flying and the windows rattled while the trees blew sideways. It was intense, the winds are reported as 90mph, so that was some heavy stuff. Maya essentially slept through it all, only getting up to look out the window occassionally. We seriously have the most calm dog when it comes to storms, normal day-to-day she can be a bit loopy, but for some reason during storms she is calm as can be. We also had a visiting chicken who made its way into our yard in the afternoon and when it started raining before the major storm band, we discovered it sought shelter in the dog house in our backyard. Our neighbor saw it enter our yard and asked to make us dinner, we found it flitting around frantically until it discovered a safe haven. We checked on it periodically, but couldn't see it with our headlamps and through the wind and rain. Good news, my neighbor saw it leave the yard Monday morning, though I think she was disappointed because she said she saw her chicken leave... (update since original typing: the chicken returned while we were out, the neighbor's husband caught it, the chicken became soup (caldo); I was a bit sad for the chicken who'd managed to spare its life by hiding in the dog house only to become dinner the following day, but I understand such is the way of life for roaming chickens)
The expected loss of current; this was our view all storm long
Anyway, once the wind was at its peak, rain came under our front door and was leaking in through some cracks in our walls and by our windows and quickly pooled up. Anthony spent the rest of the storm mopping it out. Nothing worked to hold it out - two towels just soaked it up and then let it pass. We attempted to play cards, but Anthony's focus was on that water so I read my book and we just waited it out. The eye came over around 9pm, but there was still some rain, so we knew Maya would not take her nighttime pee break, but she just held it all night (she has some kind of crazy bladder!) and then had her walk with me as we assessed the neighborhood in the morning. Not too bad - a good amount of fallen trees, a few low hanging power lines and tons of puddles (but we get puddles every time it rains, so nothing new there). With the power still out, I used powdered milk with warm water for cereal, not the best, but it works and then took a freezing cold shower (I'm thankful the water is still on, so that was fine with me). When I came out, Anthony was checking out the backyard and called me to see it. I hadn't checked when I took Maya out; tree branches broke completely off the craboo tree and the lime tree is now looking like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and hanging on by a root-thread. I hope it makes it, but it's not looking great. The mango tree held up. There are pieces of a cardboard box from who knows where and coconuts.
After the storm - the craboo tree (right) took a heavy hit and the lime tree (left) is barely holding on
We are fortunate it was only a category 1 and wasn't traveling any slower. Houses have come down, roofs have blown off, and the power was down for a while, but there have been no reports of lives lost and that's a good thing. Though, a sad side is that since people survived the world won't even notice us and consider that the country needs help to recover. There isn't a magic pool of money that can cover the costs of repairing the damage and helping restore electricity and other infrastructure needs. It seems that's the way with aid money - people want to have hard numbers (how many lives saved, how many houses rebuilt) rather than consider that helping with basic needs may not be easily quanitifiable, but it is certainly more helpful in the long run of development; but that's another story for another day.
Another casualty of the storm was the drain pipe from the bathroom to the septic - eww; Anthony and the neighbor gave it a temporary fix holding it together with conrete blocks until the landlady's dad comes over to have a look
Tree debris pile gathered by Ant and our awesome neighbor who helped with his chain saw! Every home in our neighborhood had a large pile of tree debris out front for days.