Where in the world are we?

Where in the World are We?

29 November 2010

Final Visits with Belizean Friends and Family

It’s never easy to leave a place, but it seems much harder leaving Belize since we have no idea when we will be back (we know we will be back, but we can’t give a definitive answer when people ask). The other challenge is that we are once again entering the unknown – when we left for Belize, we knew it would be a challenge to immerse ourselves in an entirely new culture and way of life so we expected it to be difficult at times. The struggle with returning to the US is that we are again entering a new culture, but it’s one we once knew so well but from which we are now fairly removed. Peace Corps does its best to prepare us for the challenges of the readjustment process, but a lot has to do with the balance of the old way of life and new way of life and expectations from people in the US that we will fit right back where we were when in reality each of us has changed in 3.5 years and that isn’t realistic. So, we ask our friends and family for patience and it would be awesome if you could think of us as new to the culture and inform us about what’s been going on – sort of like what our host families did for us when we arrived in Belize. And, please, we ask for your patience since we live a much slower pace of life and we like it and we are not rushing back into the nonstop, on-the-go lifestyle; literally, we walk more slowly which both of us really noticed on trips to the US, where's everybody going in such a hurry? We’ve lived without access to many things for 3.5 years, so we will face a lot of sticker shock. Not to mention our socializing has focused around home cooked meals and hanging out in homes while living in a country with a population around 300,000, so being out in crowds is a bit overwhelming of an idea! Bear with us, we know RPCVs all go through it, but it is something to work through on all our parts and we hope you’ll welcome our stories and viewpoints and will share the events of your life so we can become reacquainted!

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

Maya in Belize

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 Eat
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 Eat
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 Bedtime
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

Where have we been these past six months?!?

The past several months have been super busy, with ginnie studying for the lsat, Anthony transitioning the leadership of the HIV/AIDS committee, and the major project review at Peace Corps, we have not put any time into blogging. So, here is a quick recap of the past few months.

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!
~ We said farewell to our friend and Spanish tutor, Diego
~ Ginnie also attended her fourth Belizean wedding for her friend from YES, Earleth – it was a beautiful day!
~ We took a mini-holiday to our favorite town, San Ignacio, and rested, swam, and shopped at the best market in Belize
~ 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
~ We got to see some fun live shows; a Belizean version of the play The Miser, called Treasure, played at the George Price Center and we saw StepAfrika perform at the UB gymnasium
~ 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)
~ Several teams of PCVs and Embassy staff competed in the LionMan Triathlon in Belize City so ginnie went out for some team support and photos
~ 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.
~ PC and the Ministry of Education and Youth got together to hold a meeting and connect PCVs with District Education Officers and to share our new project plan for the future role of PCVs in the education project - they'll work more as co-teachers and mentors and will work on extracurricular activities and out-of-school youth outreach and literacy education and training. Exciting times!
~ Anthony worked with the leaders of the HIV/AIDS Committee to hold training for new members and interested persons from the PCV Class of 2010-2012 and prepare them to work successfully on outreach and advocacy campaigns and training events
~ 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.
~ A Belmopan PCV, Kathryn, held a fun school-wide Global Handwashing Day Event (15 October) and Anthony went to take support the event and take photos
~ Hurricane Richard blew through Belize with 90 mph hour winds taking out trees, roofs, power lines, water, and leaving behind a lot to clean up
~ ginnie took a photo of the electronics vending machine at the airport because - well, really? ... an electronics vending machine? yikes!

~ 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.” :)
~ ginnie’s also completing the education section of our country’s annual report for HQ while anthony’s been writing reports for PEPFAR and HIV/AIDS activities and working on his description of service
~ 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!
~ We enjoyed walking through our neighborhood the day after Garifuna Settlement Day (the 19th) to see the Christmas decorations and trees were up! not time wasted
~ The rest of the month will be spent clearing out the house, closing out our projects, and saying our goodbyes.
~ We have also enjoyed a final meal with our Armenia family, visited Miss Udeen and Miss Lilith, sent Maya on her way to Philly, PA, and will spend our final Belizean weekend sharing delicious treats with friends and packing up the rest of our things (it's almost all done already - Ant is a great (aka seerus ;) ) move-out coordinator

**disclaimer: if this post has typos or the formatting is funky, well, we just have to live with it this time because there is only one week left to get these things up and it is taking quite some time to try to perfectly align the photos and text and it looks great in the compose box, but moves itself once it is previewed and time is just not with us to play with html. so, we hope you enjoyed the recap and some photos!