Saturday, April 24, 2010

First Month in Belize

March 24, 2010 day one of Peace Corps

Arrived in Dallas at 11:45 am. Was so excited on the flight I did not even listen to my ipod. A lot of thoughts were running through my head. I Grabbed my luggage and waited for the shuttle to arrive. I met Molly a fellow PCV. It was reassuring to met someone. We boarded the shuttle and met 3 other PCV. Upon arrival we had to quickly drop off our luggage and report to staging. I did not have time to eat and was hungry. After getting all the paperwork filled in we had to get a H1N1 shot. After getting the shot everyone reported to a hall and the training started. We had various “ice breakers” filling out giant pieces of paper with our anxieties and things were excited about. It was refreshing to know everyone was feeling the same things as everyone else. We played a dot game where we had to organize ourselves without talking. A lot of parallels existed between the dots and racism, some people only had 1 dot while others had 2 and one had 3. One person quit less than 12 hours before staging started., 2 others quit 2-3 weeks before. After training everyone felt less anxious and more excited about our new job.


I had my last chance to use my cell phone to talk with my girlfriend and family before heading out. It was a highly emotional day with all the new and saying good bye to the old. The plane ride was only 3 hours and full of turbulence. The landing was really rough and as soon as we landed everyone started to clap. The pilot knew the plane had 38 PCV on it and made a special announcement to the plane about us. It made me really proud. When we started walking off the plane we could hear a giant group of people cheering for us. Around 40 current PCV showed up at the airport to cheer for us when we arrived, it made everyone excited to be in Belize. The dinner we had was rice and beans and chicken. I met a PCV from Minnesota and had some traditional Belize soup with his neighbors.


We had our first full day of training. Luckily during training breakfast and lunch are given to us. We had some delicious eggs, fried bread and refried beans. Training was intense but everything was timed perfectly to not get overwhelming. We learned about expectations, the PC core values and what to “expect”. We also learned about Belmopan. I drank around 3 full water bottles and was still thirsty. The nurse is a wonderful woman full of life. It was interesting to hear about the various sicknesses one can get. After class we went to a internet café and played on internet and ate sandwiches.


Cultural day.

We went to a howler monkey nature preserve. It was amazing. We got to feed wild monkeys bananas and go for a nature walk. So many plants have healing purposes, it is amazing to think of all the healing the rain forest can do. We also had a brief history of Kriol and the locals. Belize is a melting pot with a giant range of diversity. I learned how to make a fly swatter, kiss kiss and beat rice. It is hot here and the sweating never ends. The dancing from the south is very expressive. We will know what language we will be learning by Thursday. I am excited to know.


We went swimming in the river. A lot of great pictures and played kick ball with other volunteers. I had cereal for breakfast nice change from rice and beans. I enjoyed the day off. I have enjoyed getting to know everyone because they are all so open minded and free spirited. I can tell the peace corps will be truly amazing.


Training. Lots of training. I am completely impressed at how coordinated and thorough the training is. A lot of people have talked highly about the training and it is easy to see why. Even though I have experience abroad being here is unlike anything I have ever done and there are new feelings and emotions I have never felt. I am feeling overwhelmed and stressed out while feeling the happiest I Have ever felt. All of the group exercises we do calms my nerves. I have developed a theory that what ever I am feeling someone else in the group is feeling as well if not the entire group. All of the workers at the Belize office are full of compassion. Everyone wants everyone to genuinely succeed. It has been nerve racking not knowing where I will be living for the next 5 weeks. We have a nurse named Jackie she is amazing! She was able to talk about taboo topics like sex and diarrhea with a smile. The conversations were professional and informative. I feel very confident that if anything happens to anyone of us PCV we will be perfectly fine under her direct care. We have to be careful in what we eat and drink. They hand out Imodium like candy here and everyone will eat something wrong at least once during their service. I have learned a lot during my training and am excited to read the literature and start my business training.

I met my host family and they are very inspirational. The mother Pearlette, the father Robert, Robert Jr and Travis. They treat me like family. The parents both work full time jobs and the mother also does catering. Some days she wakes up at 3:30 am to cook before work. The house is a 3 bedroom one bathroom house. I have a nice queen sized bed and a fan. It is already in the high 80s or low 90s I sweat a lot. Belize is truly a melting pot. On one street you can have numerous restaurants: Indian, Chinese, Taiwanese, African, Mexican and local cuisines.. Walking in a market and you can see just about every culture it is truly impressive. Most locals eat rice and beans, I am happy I love rice. A local favorite spice is Marie Sharps habanerro sauce very spicy and delicious.

Our last day our director Jamie cried as she gave a presentation she was so happy for all of us. It was heartfelt to see her so passionate about her job and helping all of us. A big struggle everyone faces when trying to help people is to prioritize what is the most important for the recipients not what the volunteer feels/thinks is most important. An example given was in a village without running water a volunteer wanted to get running water for all the villagers. Money was raised but the villagers really wanted a football field. We talked about how change can only happen when someone wants to change and to only pursue a project that is sustainable by the community. If a volunteer engages in a project that no one will pursue when the volunteer leaves then it is a bad project to do. We want to engage in activities the community is passionate about and the community will engage in. By empowering the community they will be able to accomplish anything.


I found out I get to live in Belmopan. I was upset at first because I wanted to learn Spanish badly but I quickly got over it.


April fools, luckily I did not get fooled. Today was an emotional day, we finally met our host families. It was hard to pay attention in class because everyone was so anxious about meeting their new families. Jamie our supervisor had tears running down her eyes as she closed up are initial training. Her compassion is inspirational and heart warming. I have never met someone who loves her job as much as Jamie does. Actually, every PC staff I met is just as compassionate. I felt secure seeing her cry because I could feel how badly she wants us all to be successful. I was the very last PCV to be dropped off at my house I was so anxious. My teacher walked into the house with me and gave me a giant hug it was comforting. I quickly fell in love with my new family.


Had delicious fish with my family and a lot of fresh vegetables. My host father took me to visit his friend in the village. The house was on high stilts. The story of his friend is tragic with a happy ending. 5 years ago his friend fell off her house and broke her back. She was told she would only live 5 days because her body experienced so much trauma. She became very sick with brutal bed sores. She started to recover and then her husband left her because he couldn’t handle taking care of her and during this time their daughter was placed in foster care. A week later her husband came back and told his wife “there is no where else I would rather be.“ They prayed together that they could get there daughter back. 3 years later they got there daughter back. The family has a lot of faith in Jesus and believe he has given them a lot. Though this woman is bed ridden she lays on her stomach and cooks with a crock pot and helps make bread and cake. There is not enough room for her to get around in her house because the size. The strength the family has, sent tears to my eyes and gave me inspiration and strength for myself. We said a special prayer for the family. It was an amazing experience.


Woke up at 7am to go see the annual bicycle race. A lot of people showed up to see it take place. The race starts in Belize city and goes past Belmopan then loops back through Belmopan to Belize City. At various check points throughout the race the racers can win sums of money. At the Belmopan crossing the rider could win 1000 BLZ dollars. We drove out to Spanish lookout it’s a 45 minute drive from Belmopan. We swam in the river for a couple of hours. It was so beautiful and refreshing. During the drive I heard a interesting story on the radio about a group of people who feel no pain and how it is detrimental to their health. A preacher was telling the story and said how pain can be warnings and remind us of various things. I started wondering what it means to be me with being the opposite of the group of people since I am so sensitive? I told my family about my diseases and my host father placed me on a prayer chain and is going to introduce me to his pasture. I am very excited to meet him. After the river we went to the fair. It was not organized well. The gate staff told us we couldn’t enter at the entrance we were at so we walked away. We came back 5 minutes later and the same people told us we could enter and then proceeded to change their mind. We ended up getting in. I got to try Iguana meat and eggs. It looked suspicious being fair food but it was delicious. The eggs are soft like a pouch and the entire egg tastes like yolk from a chicken eggs.


Went to Church with Brother Rob. The church brother Rob goes to is a quaint room with 20 chairs about 9 were filled. The preacher was on an electric piano while his wife sang. It was a lively evangelical service. The entire sermon was in Creole and I had a fun time learning new words. Halfway through the service the pastor called me up to the front and had me tell everyone what diseases or as they say labels doctors have given me. He said a special prayer for me to heal and told me God has unfathomable powers and can heal anything. I was so touched and inspired that this man who has never met me felt inspired to pray for me. My host father came to the front of the room and told everyone that he knows in his heart that I am meant to live with him for 5 weeks and his family is honored to have me with them. I am truly blessed to be surrounded by such loving people.


Easter Monday. Everything is closed on Easter. Had a relaxing day with the family.


We learned about different Kriol greetings. We made a community map it is a great integration tool. You sit down with people and draw a map with all types of different places from the community. You can make a school map, resource map(have all the different stores) or any type of map you want to. This map will help show the town or village all the resources that are available to accomplish different goals throughout the community. Sadly, a lot of people do not realize the skills and materials they have and don’t realize all the things they can accomplish. One of the PC mission is to help everyone realize they are capable of accomplishing just about everything they need.


We went to the market for the first half of the day. We walked around Belmopan getting familiar with the city. We went to bakeries, internet café and the NICHE (was supposed to be a museum but the location and funding moved) it’s a cultural site. We learned to ask how much does this cost in Kriol. (how much disc cas) or (choo) as a excitement or I cant believe what I heard. Other words I like are vex (angry) Chancy—don’t chance me (don’t take advantage of me) facy –(brat)


We had a meeting with the assistant to the assistant of the Governor general. It was very inspiring to hear of all the projects the government is currently working on. One project is building gates around schools to control who comes in and out. As of now no one can track if people leave or if random people show up. Also, building parks in cities and promoting garbage clean up is huge. A lot of people litter in Belize and trash is prevalent on the streets and in rivers, man people are establishing education and easy access to trash reciprocals to combat this. Major projects such as ecotourism are being establish to preserve the sanctity of Belize. We took the bus to Goreville. We learned Creole.


We had the senator come and speak with our class it was very inspirational. Senator Hulse is a “rebel”. He has the best moral values and beliefs I have ever seen in a politician. He was the first person to lobby for a examination of corruption in the social security department of Belize. 14 people were found guilty of corruption and no one was charged with anything. I asked if he was worried about being murdered and he said not because he knows only one (god) controls whether he lives or dies no bullet, no man. He pushes hard for transparency and equal rights. He said he is happy with the American political system and like most things in life there are things that can always be improved. The history of Belize is amazing learning about how George Price helped Belize become an independent country. Jimmy carter was the first American President to recognize Belize as its own country and not a British Colony. Hence many Belizeans love him. Had culture talk with Brian. The United Nations is working on same amazing projects to help/push for development. Also, a big question is “should a soccer mom in Kansas be concerned with development in Belize”? That is a question everyone should answer. We went over business norms with Jamie and how Belizeans do not complement like Americans and if a Belizean is angry with you they become angry with everyone in your family as well (these are traditional generalization). We talked about dengue fever and Malaria and h1n1 or pronounced Hi-NE with nurse Jackie. We are taking Malaria medicine but there is now way to prevent Dengue (except for not being bitten).


Went to the Blue Hole national park. We had 2 lectures about Belize’s conservation efforts. Belize is trying really hard to maintain a lot of wildlife refuge areas and has the only jaguar park in the world. Some problems Belize faces with its conservation efforts is poachers, loggers, farmers and people illegally harvesting plants. The majority of illegal activity comes from illegal immigrants harvesting the protected resources and then selling them in their country of origin. Belize tries hard to patrol all of its land but lacks the man power and resources to do so. Farmers take advantage of this knowledge and are slowly encroaching in on protected areas. When people log and poach protected areas many unforeseen consequences arise. Not only is the harvested wildlife affected but the walking trails people create, the camps they set up and the trash they leave behind all have detrimental affects on the ecosystem.

Different NGOs along with government assistance has pushed for ecotourism. While ecotourism sounds like a great idea, it only works when perfectly implemented. A lot of the tour guides are not properly trained and some are not worried with keeping the integrity of the sites maintained. This has caused various attractions a lot of damage. For instance, high traffic scuba diving areas show coral trauma from people disturbing it. Also, the limestone caves are polluted with people tracking mud and a lot of various artifacts are missing or broken. These unforeseen consequences have caused park officials to stiffen regulations on training and place limits on the number of visitors each park can hold.

I decided to go swimming in the blue hole. It is beautiful and first time I can remember being cold. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


Sick…my first bout of diarrhea. Imodium, Gatorade and a sandwich were all I ate.


Creole class was intense. We learned a lot of new words and phrases. Creole is hard because it goes against almost every English rule engrained in my head but at the same time easy because it sounds exactly how words should sound – for the most part.

After class Nate, Brooke, Shannon and I went to the Peace Corps office and watched a movie on NAVCO (a village council organization, oversees all village councils) and learned how a council works from forming bylaws to nominating officials. We also brainstormed what topics to cover in our meeting tomorrow. Were meeting with the Belmopan women’s group. The group wants us to help with membership drives, family activities and finding influential women to speak at events. We compiled a list of questions we will need answered before we can give any advice. We will be attending an event in May and we will be giving a lecture on how to do membership drives and how to promote leadership in the community.


We went to the Belmopan women’s group. Met with Erin and Shrenadine to talk about how I have been adapting to Belize. The secret to adapting to life is your perspective on life. If you drive a 1983 honda civic with 250k miles on it, you could say wow I drive a pile or you could tell yourself how lucky you are to have transportation that gets you to where you need to go. I have been told by many I wear “rose colored” glasses but I am constantly striving to notice the positives in life. I have days where it is hard to find the little good that might exist but you will be surprised that no matter how tough your day is I guarantee you have something positive to be thankful for.


Made boil up. Cooked at Erin’s house. It is a traditional Kriol dish where you boil numerous types of vegetables. Also the featured meat is pig tail. It looks like a phallic symbol. The pig tail is extremely salty but still tasty. We made fresh orange juice and had slices of mango for dessert. Boil up is the type of meal where you eat it and your not hungry the next day because its so heavy.


Priority Matrix, goal and objectives. A priority is a NFE –non formal education technique- where one can help a village plan/organize goals they want to accomplish. It is best to start with a small goal before moving to bigger goals. This gives the villages encouragement from accomplish their first goal and often drives them to be successful in many ways they might not of realized they were capable of. It is important to clearly and accurately articulate the goals and objectives people want to accomplish. It is important to not push your own values onto the village. If money is raised for a school and the village decides to build a football field it is important you help them accomplish their intended goals especially because we can not predict every underlying reason for building the football field. The village could be building the field to give the youth a positive outlet or to hold tournaments to bring outsiders/money to their village. A school might exist in a close neighboring village. It is important to keep a open mind to all situations because at the end of the day the villagers know what they want and will only change if they wan to change and it is in their best interest and not in yours.


Youth secondary projects. Meet with ambassador, hiv/aids awareness.

Talked with various PCV about secondary projcects they are working on. It is important to give the community what they need not want you feel/think they want. One PCV teaches yoga and found a building where she could teach for free. The women in the village perfered to pay her to be able to use the building they used with the previous PCV. She was flabbergasted they preferred to pay but she realized it was what they wanted so she ended up holding sessions at the building that charged.


Adam, Chris and I went to the Autobahn society AGM. It was a one hour bus ride from Belize city to a village called Crooked Tree. The village is named after a crooked tree that the British refused to cut down back in the logging days because the tree was crooked. The Nature reserve we were at was beautiful it is a sanctuary where thousands of birds migrate to during the winter time. I watched on three separate occasions osprey dive into the water and emerge with a giant fish. The tallest bird is the Jabaroo it is over 5 feet tall. We saw one and it was enormous. After the delicious grilled chicken lunch we took a truck road to a unexcavated Mayan ruin. It was being excavated for over ten years but then the group doing the excavation ran out of money and it hasn’t been touched yet. I was very scared walking around because 3 people are known to have die at the sight from the Fur De Lance snake. The truck ride to the ruins was 30 minutes of off road adventure. The scenery looked like something from Africa. We saw birds that were yellow, red, blue, white and various mixtures of all. Some of the birds we hundreds if not thousands of feet off of the ground and appeared as little specs floating in the thermals.


Cey Caulker was amazing. The water taxi costs 40bz for the round trip. It used to cost 25 but one of the companies bought out the other and there are no anti-monopoly laws in Belize. The boat ride was full of beautiful scenery. Throughout the 50 minute ride we drove past various islands and coral structures. The boats have no form of communication or running lights so they can only run while the sun is out. A lot of tourist go to Cey Caulker. Only one truck exists on the island all other vehicles are golf carts which make the air quality really good. A few years ago a hurricane came through and tore a hole in the middle of the island and now the place is called the “split” it is a nice swimming area. The water around the split is really shallow and we walked out about a quarter mile. We met some British guys who were jumping a bike off a wall into the water, they were funny.


Took bus from Belize city to Belmopan. Worked on presentation. Walking back from the bus station to my house I had a moment where I realized that Belmopan is my new home because I knew all the short cuts to get to my house.


Teaching accounting to small groups transparency,

W learned simple accounting techniques. A lot of the time in village councils not everyone has a formal education. We have to use non formal methods to help everyone understand the accounting process. Explaining things like income and expenses and then inspiring people to use a calculator. We then talked about what to do when we come across corruption. We are strictly advised not to say anything to anyone except our counter part or someone at the PC office. There have been instances where volunteers have switched sights to avoid conflict. Overall though we learned what is culturally acceptable and what is not.


As a class we went out to eat and ordered our food in Kriol. Most places understand English which makes it easy if your accent is bad. We learned about various articles of clothing. I am a big fan of watermelon, cantaloupe and tamrin juice.


Valentino is the Business/organizational development supervisor. Today he went over what exactly being a Bus/org Peace Corp volunteer entails. For the first time, I have a clear understanding of what we will be doing for the next 24 months. We will be engaging in activities such as:

After the meeting we went to Belize city to visit Holy Redeemer Credit Union. Holy redeemer is one of the largest banks in Belize and it is noted by many as the best because of its transparency and high business standards its hold itself to. Numerous banks and credit unions throughout Belize lack proper transparency which is a gateway to corruption, which affects various parts of Belize. One major issue facing Belize is the lack of micro financing available to rural areas. Most banks do not lend to people with out a credit history and no collateral. To combat this epidemic, the European Union has agreed to lend $6 million USD to Belize for micro lending. Strict guidelines have been created for the local credit unions to receive the money. Many checks and balances are in place to ensure the credit unions actually lend the money to the rural areas and not to urban areas. To combat the lack of credit history a “savings encouragement” program is being implemented where a person can get a dollar for dollar match up to 80 BZD and when opening their account they can get a dollar for dollar match on their initial deposit up to 120 BZD. The only stipulation is the account holder must have their money in the account for 5 years. The account holder can borrow on their account during that time to build a credit history. Having the money remain in the account for a minimum of 5 years will also help the credit unions build up their own capital.

We had lunch at Broadies-the Wal-Mart of Belize-I had a 6 inch sub the person making my sandwich made it giant and delicious. When I got back to Belmopan I went to Travis-my host brother-school, he had a science fair going on. When I tried to surprise him I found out he left early because he was sick. I had his classmates go over their project which was on hurricanes.

After dinner I went to my grandmas house because we had to go to Keith swift. He is a well known man in Belize, he was the news anchor for channel 7.


Rabies shot in the morning then went to Keith’s funeral. Keith Swift is my host fathers half brother. Keith was a news reporter for channel 7 and well known and respected in Belize. He was only 30 years old when he passed away. It was so sad to see someone who touched so many peoples lives pass at such a young age. The funeral was a beautiful service. Many news anchors and media personnel attended the funeral to give their respect. Most caskets are enclosed in a concrete tomb and the attendees sing songs while the tomb is cemented shut. It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. Watching the tomb close gave a big sense of closure because you were witnessing the end. After the funeral I went to the PC office and listened to Brian Dower talk about Cultural awareness. Checkout it is a amazing website with highly informative videos. We watched one as a class and I am going to go back and hopefully watch all the videos.


Went to kriol class at 8 did some review. It is hard to learn a spoken language when it is technically not written and basically no rules exist. We went clothes shopping to learn how to buy clothes when only speaking Kriol. It is very hot outside. I took a nap in my house and had the fan blowing on me and I was still sweating profusely.