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One Day at a Time

Somewhere around the first or second week of February, I received an unexpected phone call from my Program Manager, Valentino.  His question for me was “do I want to be a tv star?”  At first I was a bit confused, and giggled “sure!”  He then further explained that as part of the Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary celebration in Belize, a local morning show would be filming a segment on the day in the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I believe that my selection has nothing to do with my amazing personality, rather more to do with the fact that I lived in a village in close proximity to Belize City.  The film crew was scheduled to come out the following week.

Since I had returned from my Christmas vacation in the States, I had been tutoring some of the local school children typing on my old laptop that I had brought down especially for this project.  Most of the children were excited to get the opportunity to use a computer, but I could tell that their enthusiasm diminished with the non-exciting task of typing asdfjkl; over and over again (to be fair I download Internet typing games to supplement the lessons!)  The day before my scheduled interview, I received word from the local primary school teacher – via a third party – that the appreciated my time with the students, but they no longer wanted me to work with them, citing allegations against me that were untrue or taken completely out of context.  Anyone who knows me, knows how sensitive I can be, and this hit me harder than anything else.  Here I am, giving up two years of my life to work in Belize, and at that moment I felt unwanted and like a complete failure.  I began to seriously question whether I had it in me to finish out my service, but I knew that I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I had quit.  Loneliness was immediately added to the mix of feelings, as I realized that I had no true confidant around to express my feelings.  And although I normally call my parents when things go wrong, I felt it may be best not to worry them and wait until I became a little less… hysterical.

All the day before I had to go on Belizean national television and proclaim how wonderful Belize it, and how welcoming the people have been.

And it’s true.  Belize is wonderful, and the people in my village have been very gracious and kind towards me, but I just wasn’t feeling it that day.  But I put on my big girl panties and tried to get over any hurt feeling and resentment I felt.  I got through the interview like a champ, and I hope I represented Peace Corps Belize to their satisfaction.  The following day I decided to go spend the weekend with some of my friends up north.  This helped with my mental clarity more than any other possible conversation I could have had.  Two of my friends had gone through difficult periods, where their primary projects did not work out, and had to find different organizations or schools to work with.  It made me realize that I am not alone in this, and that it’s best to seek support from those that truly understand how difficult it can be here.  That’s not to say I don’t appreciate all the support from family and friends back home.  On the contrary, I’ve received some of the best advice and pep-talks, but until you live this life, no one can truly know what it’s like.

Thankfully, my life has readjusted and I’ve decided to just take it day by day.  Everyone is allowed to have a bad day every once in a while.  If I’ve managed to have only one really bad day since I’ve arrived in Belize, I’d have to say I’m living a pretty good life.

Without further adieu, my 15 minutes of fame (I come in at about the 45 minute mark, but if you watch the whole thing you get to see some pretty amazing Belizean commercials!)  http://vimeo.com/channels/78545#20533529

Operation Shower

My house is a converted restaurant.  There are some positive aspects to this, such as having a spacious kitchen, yet there are some things like not having a shower, that has made it difficult to make my house feel like home.  Thankfully, campers and backpackers frequently stay at the Community Baboon Sanctuary, and therefore we have bathroom facilities, complete with showers, to accommodate them.  Thus, I have been using a semi-public shower for almost nine months, and to this day, I still haven’t been able to figure out how to lock the bathroom door!  I have had to work my shower schedule around guests, which isn’t that big of a deal if I shower early in the morning or in the evenings, but sometimes on the weekends I just wish I could shower after a mid-day run.

I decided to splurge and remodel my bathroom to include a shower, complete with hot water.  Partly because I wanted guests to feel comfortable staying at my place, but mostly because I want to shower without having to trek 25 yards across my backyard.  After consulting with my local “Jack of All Trades”, we compiled a list of everything I would need to move my sink and toilet and put in a shower, with hot water.  After two separate trips to Benny’s Hardware in Belize City, and transporting over 60 feet of pvc pipe on the bus, I can finally enjoy a hot shower in my own home.

It was quite a process.  I have to say, not having a necessary plumbing part, not having a vehicle readily available and not having a store selling said part within an hours drive makes home improvement projects really trying.  I will never again take for granted having a car and a Home Depot right around the corner. But three weeks and multiple leaks later I have a functional bathroom. Now, obviously I didn’t purchase a hot water heater.  That would just be crazy talk!  I use an electrical showerhead that heats the water in a little compartment.  Normal people would question: electricity and water? Those don’t go together! And normally I would say you are right, but if you use enough electrical tape to cover the exposed wire ends everything is fine.  Many Peace Corps Volunteers have the beloved shower shocker, and they claim that the electrocution that occasionally comes from this wonderful object only feels like tingles.  I can handle tingles.  Just as long as I have hot water for showers on those chilly 68 degree nights!

 

Red Carpet Style

Every once in a while this gyal needs to get out of the bush.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my village and the simple living, but sometimes it’s nice to see some familiar faces, go to a restaurant, call a taxi, etc. Last Sunday was our regional VAC meeting, thereby requiring me to travel to Belize City on Saturday afternoon.  Thankfully, one of my friends in the city was willing to put me up for the weekend, and off-handedly suggested that we attend the first annual Belize Music Awards on Saturday night.   My form of entertainment in the village is well…. pretty nonexistent, so I was all hyped to go!    That evening I got some sad news that for reasons beyond her control another friend of mine would end up leaving the country the following Tuesday, so I suggested she make her way to Belize City for the weekend for the BMAs and a farewell bashment.

As I arrived at my friend’s beautiful little apartment the three of us girls immediately began hurrying to get ready.  It wasn’t until this moment that I forgot how much I cherish close friendships, and how isolated I sometimes feel in my village.  One of the best parts of the entire evening was fixing our hair, selecting our outfits, and putting on makeup.  It really reminded me of my friends back in the states.  We decided to head to the “fancy” (i.e. the most expensive) restaurant in Belize City for happy hour, and managed to make it with just minutes to spare.  We quickly drank our massive pina coladas and margaritas (and some tasty tasty french fries) before heading off to the BMAs.  Arriving in style in our beat up taxi, we entered the Bliss Center – probably the nicest building I’ve been to in Belize – and walked the “red carpet”. The show was scheduled to start at 8:00 p.m., so we decided to arrive at 7:45 p.m. so we could grab some good seats.  Well, as it turns out, like everything else in Belize, they didn’t start until 8:30 p.m.  They pulled the “tell them it starts a half hour earlier so they’ll actually be on time for the real start of the show.”  However, we’re Americans and therefore this memo never registered with us.  Needless to say we were one of the first people to arrive.

Now, my expectations going into this show, was that of something like a high school talent show.  Not that Belize doesn’t have any talented musicians.  On the contrary.  But I was still a little doubtful….  I was actually pleasantly surprised!  The acts were pretty amazing!  I think my favorite part about the musical performances were the positive messages in almost all of the songs about rising up against poverty and adversity and ending the violence in Belize City that makes headlines in the news on a daily basis.  So much better than American rap music about drugs, drinking, and whores.  The only downside to the whole show was the lack of participation from the music community.  Many of the artists receiving honorary awards or winning their category never showed up.  There was a lot of “I’d like to accept this on the behalf…” speeches.

After the show we headed over to Thirsty Thursdays to join up with the rest of the Belize City PCVs, for my first official night out in Belize City! I know, shocking, since I’ve lived here from almost a year! We danced, drank Belikins, ate street meat, and stayed out past 2:00 a.m.  It was a wild a crazy night – at least in comparison to my normal Saturday nights of my running, make dinner, and watching an episode or two of the West Wing before falling asleep at 10:00 p.m.  All in all it was a fun-filled night and the perfect way to say farewell to one of my closest Peace Corps friends.

Walking the red carpet at the BMA's with the host, Miss Belize

I'll miss you gyal!

 

So many of you may (or may not) have been wondering, “How does Shannon do laundry in Belize?”  I HATED doing laundry in the States.  I felt it was more of an inconvenience than anything else.  I particularly hated sorting laundry and putting it away because I felt that these activities took away precious time from doing other things.  With my first host family, I was privileged to have a real honest to god washing machine.  No dryer, but I could easily handle the 15 minutes it took to hang my laundry on the line.  My second host family had a spinner to wash their laundry, and although it’s much more time consuming, my host mom and sister would always help me, so it never really felt that long.  (Often times I would could home from work and find a nice pile of freshly laundered clothes on my best…. My host mom would sneak and do my laundry for me!)

Flash forward to my current situation.  I purchased my very own spinner.  What’s a spinner you ask?  It has a tub similar to a washing machine, but no center column, and kind of swishes your laundry around “cleaning” it.  It also has a little compartment that spins (hence the name) your clothes “dry”.

Now, not everyone in Peace Corps Belize uses a spinner.  There are those that have to do their laundry by hand in the river, beating it against a rock to get it clean (I kid you not!), while those living in Belize City have theirs washed by a laundry service at $20 per week.  There are the lucky few (or one?) that have a washer and dryer in their house, but then again they also have air conditioning in their bedroom.  What I wouldn’t give for a dryer to help my clothes regain their shape.  I swear my clothes haven’t fit exactly right since the first few weeks I’ve been in Belize. Maybe I’ll just bring ALL my clothes with me when I go home for Christmas…

Step 1: Separate laundry into piles: sheets, towels, whites, colors, darks.

Step 2: Gather buckets.

Step 3: Fill the buckets with water, from the faucet 50 feet away that is S.L.O.W. (It takes about 7-8 minutes to fill one 5 gallon bucket.) It takes about 3 buckets of water fill the tub, and the water needs to be changed at least 3 times, for a total of about 9 buckets of water.  Additionally, a large basin (whose purpose will be explained later) must also be filled.

Step 4: Pour water into tub.

Step 5: Add soap powder.  I’m too cheap to spend $40 on Tide.  I find Purex powder detergent sufficiently cleans my clothes.

Step 5: Add laundry and turn on machine.  Run for 15 minutes.

Step 6: While clothes are swishing around, I add fabric softener to my largest basin filled with water.


Step 7: When my laundry is finished “washing”, I must pull them from the soapy abyss, wring them out and throw them in the black basin.

Step 7: Rinse clothes in basin.

Step 8: Place clothes in spinner basket, put on plastic cover (to prevent excess rattling??), and spin clothes “dry” for 5 minutes.  This leaves clothes “dry” in the Belizean sense, but they are basically as damp as when you pull clothes from a washing machine before throwing them in the dryer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Step 9: When the machine is finished spinning, remove clothes and hang on line.  In the hot Belizean sun, sheets literally dry in a matter of minutes.  But you always have to be careful during the rainy season when it can spontaneously burst into a torrential downpour!  And thanks to Conway for hanging a clothes line for me, which means I no longer hang my laundry to dry on the barbed wire fence.

Oh, and for those of you who wonder “Where does the water go?”  Well, the huge gap in my front door (that is never to be opened) that I incessantly complained about is the perfect size to fit my little hose!

 

Happy Thanksgiving to unu! (Ai di work pan mi Kriol!) This was my first Thanksgiving away from my family.  Even during college I was able to make the trek from North Carolina to New York for the short holiday. But alas, it is a lot further (and expensive) to travel from Belize, so I spent the holiday with my Peace Corps family. There was much contention about this year’s Thanksgiving, given how it used to be in the past.  In previous years all volunteers would gather in Belmopan for an All-Volunteer Conference and celebrate the holiday as one big group.  This year’s festivity broke away from tradition and allowed each of the six districts to host their own.  This upset many volunteers, but there wasn’t much PCVs could do about it.

The Belize District held its celebration on Thanksgiving Day in Belize City, at the home of Pat and Keri.  I began my journey Thursday morning by heading over to Heather’s house to bake one of my fabulous dutch apple pies.  I soon realized that I didn’t have a rolling pin to roll out the crust, so I thought back to how my host mom would roll out tortillas with a beer bottle, and I headed over to the nearby gas station.  Clearly you cannot roll out a pie crust with a full bottle of beer, so I cracked it open at 9:45 a.m. and enjoyed a tasty Belikin while I finished preparing the pie.

Around noon we headed over to Pat and Keri’s and joined the rest of the group in stuffing ourselves until it physically hurt.  There were about 14 of us in attendance, including our beloved taxi driver, Mr. Gomez – however, rumor has it the Hoff made it to Punta Gorda’s Thanksgiving, so our celebrity status was outdone. Every imaginable traditional Thanksgiving food was there: the stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese. Although the 15 lb turkey was the main event, the highlight of the meal was the chocolate dipped chocolate made by Allison, was the highlight of the entire day!  After dinner, the men sprawled out on every available comfortable space, while the rest of us chatted and caught up on PC shush.  Heather and I headed back to her place around 7:00 p.m. where she productively edited on some reports for work, while I fell asleep.  Thankfully, I set my alarm for my 9:00 p.m. phone call home, and promptly fell asleep afterwards until morning.

The next morning I made my way to Yo Creek, a small village outside of Orange Walk Town, and the location of the northern districts’ Thanksgiving.  I was the last one to arrive at George Lebard’s house.  George was a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Yo Creek 30 years ago who started the Agriculture High School and ended up marrying a local women.  He and his family live in the States, but they have a beautiful home in Yo Creek that he let us graciously use.  It was wonderful spending time with so many people that I rarely get to spend quality time with.  And if I’m being honest, I think the north has some of the best chefs in Peace Corps.  Plus, we were graced with the presence of some of our favorite Peace Corps staff: Matt, Daniel, and Stanley.

I ended up staying the night at George’s house (in one of the 8 beds) with about 7 other people.  (There may or may not have been some late night binge eating of pie…) We all woke before the crack of dawn to catch the 5:50 bus – with blaring Reggaeton music – to Orange Walk, were most of us were helping some fellow volunteers work a chess tournament.  I (foolishly) volunteered to man the face painting booth.  Earlier that morning I was practicing my rainbow, flower, and cat face painting skills, but I knew I was in trouble the minute the first kid asked for a king chess piece to be painted on his face.  I spent 4 continuous hours painting multiple chess pieces on every inch of space on every participants’ face.  But, I managed to keep a smile on my face, and really enjoyed seeing so many kids (there were about 80) excited about chess.  I finally made my way home, collapsed on my bed, and remained there for the duration of the nigh

 

Hurricane Richard

Being in a village with limited communication with the outside world, I never know when severe weather is approaching Belize until I get the call from Peace Corps.  That call came on Thursday morning.  I was put on alert that a tropical storm was approach Belize very very slowly.  On Saturday I had to travel to Belize City for our Volunteer Action Committee (VAC) meeting at noon.  Thankfully, I quasi-planned ahead, and decided to pack a bag with a few essential items just in case we had to consolidate to Belmopan for the storm. (I really forgot some necessities – i.e. passport, flashlight.) We were given the notice to head to the capital first thing in the morning, as the storm was to hit Sunday evening.

Sunday was spent sitting around watching tv in our rooms on the third floor of the lovely Garden City Hotel with other volunteers from the Cayo, Belize, and Stann Creek districts, as our curfew was 2 p.m.  After our last consolidation for Tropical Storm Matthew, which amounted to about 20 minutes of showers and sunny skies, most of us weren’t taking this consolidation very seriously.   This time, the category 2 hurricane was heading straight for our evacuation point.  Around 7:30 p.m. is when things started getting a little crazy and the power went out.  When the storm picked up, all of the volunteers came out of our rooms to check out the storm that had finally arrived.  We ventured down to the open-air veranda on the second floor to have a more “hands on” experience of the storm.  When we finally went back up stairs, we noticed the ceiling of the “ballroom” violently moving up and down.  In aw, we stood (in the adjoining hallways) there wondering if/when the roof was going to collapse.  We went back to our rooms, and when the eye of the storm was approaching, and the winds picked up even more, hotel security moved us to the second floor.  With not much else to do, I went to sleep.

In the morning, while everyone was assessing the damage to their homes (the roof of the restaurant next door was completely blown off), I spent the day in the Peace Corps office with air conditioning and wireless internet and feeling quite guilty for my luxuries while so many people were suffering.  After some communications with people back in my village, I found out that Landing was safe from the hurricane with little more than down trees.  Tomorrow I get to return home and be thankful for what I have.

From August 23rd through the 27th Diana and I attended an OAS workshop on rural tourism near Benque Viejo in the Adjacency Zone between Belize and Guatemala. (For those of you not in the know, the western border between Belize and Guatemala has been in dispute for many years and has been the cause of much animosity between the two countries..) Thankfully Diana is from Santa Elena, which is near the western border, and was able to stay with her family for the week.  It was nice to get out of the bush and into civilization – complete with Internet and cable television with more than 25 channels – for a little while.  Prior to beginning the workshop, but after I had already signed up, I found out that it would be conducted entirely in Spanish.  Having taken Spanish for 6 years in middle and high school and a couple courses in college, I thought I might be get by okay.  Besides, I didn’t think it would be entirely in Spanish….

It was entirely in Spanish.

A couple of things I got out of this experience: 1) Spanish when spoken really fast by Israeli facilitators is really hard to understand 2) my reading comprehension of Spanish is exceptional and 3) if you at least look like you’re paying attention, you’ll fool people into thinking you understand way more than you actually do.

A major component of this workshop was working on a team project in which we create an innovative tourism package, complete with a presentation at the end.  With Diana and I put in separate groups, I became a little anxious, and on the first day I definitely held back on participating with my group.  By the second day I began to try communicating with my group members, but would become flustered and frustrated when I couldn’t eloquently translate my ideas into Spanish without sounding like a 3rd grader.  I became friends with some of the Belizeans in my group – who speak English – and had them translate my ideas to the rest of the groups.  I later figured out that while all the Belizeans spoke English, almost all of the Guatemalans did not.  My group’s tourism idea was a four day tour between Guatemala and Belize that included stopping and at Mayan tombs, canoeing on the Mopan River, and staying each night at a different resort.

We also got to take a field trip to Xunantunich – a Mayan ruin in Succutz near the western border.  We went, not as tourists, but rather as observers of how the site and facilities are run and make notes of any recommendations on how they could improve their services to guests.  Plus almost everyone had visited Xunantunich multiple times in their lives. (I secretly went as a tourist, as I had never been and had been wanting to go!)

Surprisingly, I felt that information I obtained from the workshop will be quite useful for implementing certain projects with the Community Baboon Sanctuary and the other community groups that I work with.  Surprising because I had a hard time following the facilitators, but thank goodness for extremely detailed PowerPoint presentations!!!  I’m sure I missed a ton of useful information that wasn’t on any slides, so hopefully Diana got that information!

Oh, I almost forgot about the food!  We ate lunch every day at a resort within the adjacency zone, and it was amazing!  I even had steak – granted it was about ¼ inch thick and definitely not medium rare, but it was the first steak I’ve had in 5 months and it was quite tastey. Turns out all the meals were Guatemalan, and Diana found the food to be slightly less than okay – she was really hoping for some stew chicken with rice and beans! All in all it was a really enjoyable week where I made new friends and learned to communicate outside my comfort zone.

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