Sunday, August 23, 2009

Cultural Day

Today was another fun filled Peace Corps Day.. I have done more in the past 3 days than I did for 3 weeks in Seattle. We woke up and met the bus at 7 am this morning. We had to leave 45 mins late because we were awaiting the arrival of johnnycakes. The best way to describe Johnny cakes are an extra crunchy biscuit with a slab of ham and cheese in the middle. They are not terribly delightful but were welcomed nonetheless. We then loaded into the bus and a van to head west to Benche. Benche is a boarder town with Guatemala. We visited a cultural center and then headed to an open air pavilion at a local high school where we spent the next few hours listening to local Mayan music, watching dance, and learning about the Mayan history. We were also served lunch. The first course was a soup with chicken, onion, lime, spicyness broth. It was delicious and said to be extra great for a hangover. We then had a tamale with peas, chicken, onion, and olives, as well as some spinachie and egg concoction. Dessert was a rice puree pudding. Everything in Belize is served in Stryofoam and produces a lot of waste. The roads and streets are littered with them. It is sad that such a beautiful country is tarnished by images of steaming piles of garbage with flocks of birds finding dinner there. We also had home made Horochata-- rice milk cinnamon drink. After lunch we headed to a mayan ruins. In order to get there, we had to take a ferry across a river. The ferry was wooden and hand cranked across the water along two wires only one car at a time. After that we hiked 1 mile to the ruins where we were met by tour guides. I also saw my first howler monkey in a tree today. They are cute little guys.

Tomorrow I have to do laundry in the sink or in the river…. I think I choose the sink while it is still an option.

I also found out UNOFFICIALLY that I will be living in San Antonio outside of San Ignacio for 5 weeks with a host family learning Spanish starting on Thrusday!!!!! WAHOOO… I have also wanted to learn Spanish and living with a host family will be the best way possible. But, there was a rumor that those who are learning Spanish will have to come in to PC HQ in Belmopan on Tuesdays to have an intensive day of language on top of coming in to Belmopan every Friday to have Core training with the rest of the Volunteers. It took about an hour to get to San Ignacio today by charter bus…. The public transportation here is really slow and unreliable…. So I cant imagine coming in to the city twice a week from San Antonio!! Crazy… But everything in Peace Corps is rumored until it comes out of the mouths of our trainers or country director. They OFFICIALLY tell us where we will be living and what language we will be learning on Wednesday and then drop us off at those sights on Thursday!! Crazy!!!

Staging in D.C. and First day in Belize!

PICTURES::: Me at 1:30 AM before leaving D.C., The ferry to the Maya ruins, and me at the ruins!!!Belize is amazing!!!!! I can’t believe this is only my second night in country! Travelling to Belize was an adventure in and of itself. We met in the lobby of the hotel in D.C. at 1:30 AM. I didn’t even go to bed because by the time we went into Georgetown to have our last supper in the U.S. and came back to the hotel to pack and shower, it was already midnight. So my roommate, Holly from Missoula, MT, and I stayed up. The PC D.C. crew put us on a bus, handed one person an envelope with tickets and official passports and sent us on our way. We arrived at the airport well before any one came to work at the airport. So we sat and chatted. Then there was Peace Corps Dominican Republic that arrived and joined our line of luggage in front of the AA check in desk. It was chaotic once the desk opened to finally check in 41 volunteers with two giant bags each. But we made it, on to the first flight to Miami. We all slept the entire way and had a short 2 hours in Miami before the final flight to Belize City. It was only 1 hr an 40 mins until we landed on Belizean soil. I was the second person to exit the plane and walk down to the hot tarmac. There were about 20 current PCVs cheering us on from the terminal entrance. It is so hot and wet!!!! WOW! Seriously… dripping sweat all the time. We walked in to the terminal and shook hands with the Country Director, Steve. Everyone gathered their luggage and went through customs. We then took a group photo and loaded onto a n AC’d bus. At this point, most of us had been awake about 30 hours. A quiet bus ride for 45 mins to a tourist joint for a sit down welcome lunch with current volunteers and rice. And guess what was served.. Rice and Beans, man…. It was actually good, served with fried plantains and watermelon juice! Every talks about the Marie Sharps hot sauce here and it is put on everything. I will have to get used to it, but sure enough, there was a giant bowl of marie’s hotsauce on the table. We then bused it straight to the PC HQ in Belmopan, about another 25 mins ride. The PC Headquarters is set up like a compound. It is a giant yellow building that is fenced in with a guard 24 hrs a day. Everyone walks through metal detectors and signs in when you enter. Alas, the building has AC!!! Woot.. spoiled for sure. But I don’t know how we could all sit through training sessions about health, security, language, etc without it. We had a brief intro to the team and some logistical info. We then, finally, at about 4 PM were dropped off at our hotel, the Garden Inn, about a 7 min walk from the PC HQ. The Garden Inn is run by Taiwanese, which there seem to be a lot of around here. Apparently it used to be really shitty with mold, and broken things, no AC, etc.. But they did some remodeling and every room has a little AC machine and no mold. Past volunteers likened the structure to a brothel. So we all had low standards and were pleasantly surprised. Spoiled in fact, as this will likely be the last AC we have. Still running on adrenaline, a group of us gathered in search of food and Internet. We ended up heading at this small burrito stand where for 2 BZ we had a burrito and for 1 BZ , four small empanadas. It was all delicious. Dinner for 3 BZ!! The BZ is pegged to the USD at a rate of 2 to 1… So cut everything in half here and it will be the price in USD. We made our way home and were passed out in bed by 7:30 PM.

Day 1 of training was exciting, long, boring, and exciting again. It is all important info, but sitting in a room, in small chairs lined up to listen to a lecture makes it challenging to pay attention. Training highlights included a presentation by the Tech guy to fill us in about the Internet at PCHQ. Apparently it is really slow going, especially with many people on it, but it is wireless! We also had a talk with the Nurse. She is a local Belizean and has been the PC Nurse for 21 years in Belize!!! She was really great and funny too! We also had the acting ambassador for Belize come and talk to us. He is a RPCV from Kenya in the 60’s. He was interesting and talked a lot about working for the state department and the Foreign Service. I am really interested in working for the Foreign Service so it was nice to hear his encouraging words.

Important food info:

Breakfast: spongy tortilla with eggs in it rolled up, watermelon and cantaloupe, banana cake thingy, and OJ.

Lunch: piece of chicken, yellow rice, pasta salad and salad salad served with delicious LIME JUICE!!!!

Training was over by 5ish and then a group of us headed in to town.. Belmopan is the capital of Belize by the way! We walked along the road for about 15 mins. Once arriving in town, we were in search of the phone store. Yesterday I got a cell phone in Belize. Part of me immediately regretted the decision. Most volunteers in Belize have cell phones and use them to send text messages to one another to organize projects and trips because calling is really expensive. The cheapest cell phone was 65 USD and was an old Samsung flip phone. After enjoying my iphone for the past 1.5 years, this phone was similar to one that I had in like the 9th grade. Other phones that are say, maybe 5 years older, more expensive. So a few volunteers and I took the plunge. The cell phones here are like 10 years behind the US and apparently takes like 30 mins for a text message to go through within Belize. But texting is the cheapest way to communicate with fellow volunteers. Calling is pretty expensive within country. The phones work with pre paid phone credit so I also got like 40 BZ of that. I paid in USD that were left over from the money we received in D.C. for staging! Sweet! It is completely free to receive calls from any where in the world. So that is great for me, and bad for you all who call!!! But if you call from Skype, it is like 18 cents a min I hear.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Staging in D.C.

Today was staging at the George town Holiday Inn. I arrived on a direct flight from Seattle yesterday evening at 11 pm- completely exhausted from the past few weeks in Seattle, yet unable to sleep due to the simple time change from the West coast to the East. Today- I started my journey as a Peace Corps Trainee. I will not officially become a Peace Corps Volunteer ( PCV) until I complete the first 3 months of technical, cultural, and language training. We are a group of 41 people from all over the nation. I have never heard such distinct accents from all over America in one group of such amazingly qualified and interesting people. There are people from Texas, Louisiana, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Nebraska, Montana, California, etc. The age range is really wide too. There are about 10 of 'older' folks in their 50's and 60's. I believe there are about 5 couples serving together in Belize. Staging was interesting. The people that hosted staging are from the D.C. PC office and were very organized. We registered and signed a bunch of paperwork. We verified our info on our new official passports, we received debit cards, and did a bunch of ice breakers. It was a lot of generic Peace Corps info and not so much Country specific. I was reimbursed $40 for the price of checking my bags from Seattle to D.C. and $13 for dinner the first night that I arrived ( at 11 PM and consisted of an airplane sandwich. Then we got a debit card with plenty of money on it to last us until Belize. At the end of staging we talked about a lot of logistical info about leaving for Belize... Which, mind you, is happening in like TWO HOURS!!! We have a 6 AM flight out of Reagan airport.... This means we have to meet at the hotel lobby at 1:30 AM !!!!!!! 1:30 AM?!?!?!? ARE YOU KIDDING!!!!! No one is sleeping tonight!!.. arg.. I guess getting 41 people loaded up and sent off to the airport is a long process... Needless to say, I don't think I will be getting a single minute of sleep tonight.. We have a 2 hour flight to Miami, 2 hour layover, and a 2 hour flight to Belize!!! That's it!! Belize by lunch time... Super! Had a great dinner with 11 Volunteers in George Town tonight...
Im off to pack and shower and internet it.
Peace America... Home will always be a distant land beyond here. For the next 27 months: Belize!
love love love

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Packing Mania

Packing packing packing.....

I am allowed a grand total of 80 pounds of luggage ( flight restrictions) and thus far, each of my bags weigh (way) too much. No bag can be heavier than 50 pounds alone... I'm looking at 56 pounds and 37 pounds right now, which is >>>>>>>>> 80 pounds. So unpack, repack, weigh, unpack, repack, ditch items, weigh.... I think I have got it down now... But who knows as I find things laying around the house that I failed to pack but are clearly important ( read: laptop, dig cam, LP Belize, etc...) I hope to have an itemized packing list to post soon, but at the rate I am going, that may not be until after I land in Belize and am living without the endless distractions of friends, the internet, coffee runs, tv, Seattle, etc.

I cannot believe that in mere hours I will be landing in Belize, destined to stay for 27 months of living in a sauna. Think of me when you bundle up for a nice fall stroll, and when you frequent your gym sauna for 5 mins to open your pores. Belizeans say that once you step foot in their country, your pores will never close. They will just ooze sweat all day and all night... Did I mention that I will be living in between the same 10 degrees for the next 2 years? Between 80-90 degrees.. High of 91, low of 80; High of 90, low of 82; High of 92, low of 81.. etc. etc.

Off to the College Inn for one last night with Seattle friends!
Be well!