Back to Work

Trip Start Jun 16, 2005
Trip End Jul 24, 2007

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Flag of Belize  ,
Monday, April 17, 2006

The time has flown by (lately, at least). We're finding it hard to believe that in June we will be the "senior" PC group in the country, with the '04 arrivals finishing up and the new group coming in. Ten months in Belize has given us both a chance to reflect on our work and life to date.

Here's the latest:

For me, reflection has meant yet another slight change. My work with the literacy program, while interesting, hasn't really been keeping me very busy of late. So, with the encouragement of my PC manager, I have formally switched my assignment to the YWCA. I'll be continuing with the literacy program as a secondary project, working on bringing authors, poets and literature professors into the schools to serve as role models. And at the YWCA, I'll be building on my work on project development and fundraising with an eye towards better positioning the organization to appeal to regional and international donors.

The fundraiser for the YWCA's swimming pool that I was working on took place in March and made almost BZ$3,500! It's a pretty good result, especially launching a brand new event where no one really considers swimming a sport (yeah, we also think it's odd for a country that borders the Caribbean). There was talk of scheduling this every three or six months, but I've been trying to explain that anything more frequent than annually might actually cause us to lose some of the appeal of a "special" event. Wish me luck.

I've also been asked to do a couple more presentations on proposal writing, to which I always add in project planning. Interestingly, the project planning parts have been getting a better reception these days. Perhaps my argument for planning before writing is making sense! I didn't really ever envision making these types of presentations, but - as a Belizean pointed out to me recently - ANY experience you have in an area tags you as an expert, especially as an American. So I've decided to just go with it, honing my Power Point and presentation skills can't hurt!

I came back to Belize to find that my Ruta Maya teammates pushed on without me to a respectable finish in this grueling four-day cross-country canoe race. I am very proud of their effort, and thankful fellow PCV Greg was able to jump in my place at the last minute. (It was certainly a huge step up for my team!)

My shell collecting endeavors have been quite successful this month; we are now the proud owners of a large West Indian top-shell whelk, with cool zebra stripes around its whorls, and a rare Triton's trumpet, about 10 inches of spiraling brown, white, and tan. I collected these specimens during a recent monitoring trip to Ambergris Caye when the seas were too rough for diving and counting fish. The blustery weather also afforded me some much needed practice time for my dominoes game.

During my trip home, I packed up my good chess pieces and some books and have begun some serious study of the game again. Peace Corps does afford a lot of down time, and some of mine now will be dedicated to some real improvement in my chess skills. Now if I could just find some competition down here...

Well, we have a new stock of good coffee and sun-dried tomatoes, thanks to Amy's dad! He came for a six-day visit just before Easter. It's always interesting to have visitors as it gives us a fresh perspective on Belize. Plus, we've finally gotten to the point where we think we can actually give a pretty good tour and decent information about the country!

We headed up to Lamanai, a Mayan ruin in the Orange Walk district, where all three of us climbed the aptly named High Temple. At a steep 110 ft., it posed a challenge to Amy's fear of heights. But the view from the top was amazing and everyone patiently waited while she virtually crawled down.

We also took a cave tubing trip on the Sibun River. After a walk through the bush that took us in and out of caves, we reached the start of the trip and hopped in our tubes. About 1/2 of the trip was in caves, where we had to wear head lamps and watch out for shallow bottoms. The years of wear and tear on the soft limestone have left some interesting formations that the Mayans saw as signs from their gods. We saw one that looked like a lizard, another that was jaguar-like and a couple of birds.

In one of our last postings, we promised results of the municipal elections. Here it is: the People's United Party (PUP), which is currently in power in the national government, took a pretty harsh beating. The United Democratic Party (UDP) won 63 of the 67 municipal seats nationwide, including 6 of the 7 mayoral posts. The PUP Prime Minister has another two years left before he must call elections (he's definitely not calling them early now) and it looks like he has a full plate. Just last week, he shuffled his cabinet for the 6th time since taking office in 1998 and the 2nd time since we've been in the country. The next few months should be interesting.

The first annual Battle of the Bands took place a few weeks ago with marching bands from schools and communities parading through the streets of Belize City before heading to the Marion Jones Sports Complex for a competitive show. Most of the groups were outfitted in bright, colorful costumes to match the kaleidoscopic flag spinning, fancy dancing and thumping drums.

We also spent a fun weekend in San Pedro, capping off Rob's week of monitoring on Ambergris Caye. A couple of other volunteers happened to be visiting the caye too and we made an outing of it. Luckily, one of the PCV's who lives there (Stacey) spins fire in one of the popular nightspots, so she got us all in for free and we got to watch her perform. Stacey is the one who started this whole "poi" craze among the volunteers (see pictures from previous postings and this one) and she's quite good. (Not to name names, but if one of *us* tried it, she'd surely light herself on fire.)

And just this last weekend, the Holy Saturday Cross-Country Cycling Classic (yes, that's the official name) took place for something like the 73rd year. No one has been able to tell us exactly how long the race has been run, nor have we been able to find it through our own sleuthing, but it was definitely happening before the road was paved. Cho!

After a windy March (when kite flying is popular), we've had mostly crystal clear and cloudless skies in April. Coming back from San Pedro on the water taxi, it was amazing to watch the subtle gradations of color change in the sea. From a milky blue near the shore, it morphed to a deep teal blue. Contrasted with the powder blue to cornflower shift in the sky, it was a vibrant example of nature's endless palette. Sometimes it's good to just sit back and soak in what's around you.

We found that being in the states recently for a few weeks led to fresh observations on life in a different country. Here are a couple:

* pitchers are called mugs. Coffee mugs are also called mugs. Go figure.
* never or "neva" is often used to mean "didn't." We are familiar with uses such as, "Ah neva noh dat." (Meaning: I never knew that.) But, it's extended here to uses such as, "Ah ahmos neva kum fa dis meetn." (Meaning: I almost didn't come to this meeting.)
* all but the smallest of shops have cash registers, but they're rarely used. Most have a calculator sitting on the counter that is used to add up multiple items instead.
* continuing on the theme of ripping off names and ideas from the states, we found an ad for one of the biggest home wares stores here that mentioned a "Bluelight Special." We're not trademark experts, but we're pretty sure that K-mart would have a good argument for infringement.
* a big community party here is not called a festival or fair, but a bashment. As in the "All Day Country Fest Bashment" in the village of Double Head Cabbage. This one had music, competitions for softball, cricket, and dominoes and was offering local delicacies such as hicatee, iguana, and cow foot soup. (Vegetarians might want to skip the following explanations: that first one is a type of turtle, the second is what you think - aka bamboo chicken - and the third is something like pot roast, but with a cow foot rather than a piece of brisket.)

We've also gotten to sample a few more Belizean specialties. In addition to our weekly bag of oranges from our landlord's farm, they sent over some tambran juice a few weeks ago. (Tambran is also known as tamarind; we'd only had it in a sauce with Indian food, but it's a popular juice here.) It's quite sour, so you have to add a lot of sugar. And Amy got to sample some homemade blackberry wine. We thought it was too hot here to grow berries, but learned that they do grow in some cooler parts in December and January. It was potent, but was refreshing over ice on a hot day!

So as you can see we are learning a bit more about culture and the way of life, trying to become part of our home and work communities. Daily life continues to bring little surprises, both joys and disappointments, all of which help us try to figure out how to make an impact without leaving too big a footprint.

For those of you who write often with updates from your lives, please keep it coming! For anyone who has news to share, please feel free to drop us a note and/or send pictures to fill us in.

And, as always, if your travels find you in Belize, please drop in! (Mangoes and avocados will be in season soon...)

Til next time,
Amy & Rob
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