This is my third night with my homestay family in San Antonio, Belize. Today I have felt the most comfort since arriving on Thursday. When entering a complete stranger’s home to live for 5 weeks, one must remember that it will take time to feel as though it is a home. I was very excited a first. In the honeymoon stage of joining a new culture if you will. Then I felt some crisis with the latrine, bucket bath, no electricity and flea bites all over my legs and bugs living in my bed. But then tonight I had a great evening with my host mom and the little kids. We played and talked all night long. I feel more relaxed in my new home.
San Antonio is located about 9 miles south of San Ignacio on the west side of Belize close to the Guatemalan boarder. San Antonio is a town of about 1800, yet it feels like there are more like 800 people. It is very small with only a few tiendas (stores), a tortiallria, an internet café with limited hours, and 7 iglesias (churches)!!! 7 churches for a town of 1800? Crazy. The jungle surrounds the town. It is very lush and green. It is charming and I have a beautiful view from my house as we live on top of a hill. I have class every day in the village chairman’s unfinished cement house on the far side of town. We sit in plastic chairs and speak Spanish. It is so hard to pay attention with the heat and sitting all day in small chairs. I walk 20 mins to class in the morning, walk home for lunch, walk back for class, and home again at 5ish. Everyone in the town is related and knows everyone’s business. There are the Tzip and the Canto families. That is it. Everyone is a cousin of so and so.. and everyone knows all about everyone else.
My living conditions::
I know you all thought I was a PCV, but in fact, I am not on a “Paid Caribbean Vacation,” I am a Peace Corps Volunteer. I live in a small cement house with rooms divided by wooden walls and bed sheets hanging from the ceiling. I have my own room at the front of the house with a window that opens to the front porch. There is a large double bed sitting on a bed frame and that is about all there is space for in my room. I have my mosquito net that covers my bed and acts as a screen to protect me from the bugs that come in my open window. The first night here, I woke up with bites all over my legs. Could be bed bugs, could be fleas, could be mosquitos, could be noseeums, could be nerves. But boy do they itch!!!! I was complaining to my fellow volunteers in town about my bug bites, and to my Technical Trainer, Valentio. He told me to not be bothered by them and to not let it pull me down. So he is right.. They are just itchy bug bites.. It could be worse, and it is worse for most people in the world. So itchy chicken pox legs I shall have for the next 5 months. Today I also got my first welcome by the red fire ants in the back yard. While trying to hang up my laundry, I became overwhelmed with a burning sensation between my toes, on my ankles and calves. Now, on top of itchy bug bites, I have burning fire ant spots.
No one in San Antonio has running water. I am a professional bucket bather and I rather enjoy it actually. Sure I miss a warm shower, but who could pass up the dumping of cold rainwater all over your body. The rain water is so soft that it doesn’t even clean all the soap off your body.. ever.
Electricity is limited. In fact, my room has none. I wear my head lamp around the house and my hostfamily thinks its funny. But I think it is rather efficient.
Toilets.. What toilets?? I use the restroom in an outhouse, of sorts. Rather, it is a wooden shack in the back corner of the yard with a hole in the ground. And boy is it delightful.
My host family::
I live with a Mayan family. They are simple and very humble people. My host mom, Carlita, is very nice and kind. She speaks great English and is an amazing cook. She wakes up every morning to cook and clean for the family and is the last one to go to bed at night after cooking and cleaning for the family. My host dad is a hard working farmer in the village. He raises crops and sells them at the local markets and in San Ignacio. I have 5 siblings. One lives across the street with his new wife in a small and cute green cement house. The eldest daughter is quiet and shy, and loves to paint her nails. Today we sat on the porch and painted nails. She is really good and enjoyed the time we spent. The youngest three are 7-9 years old. They are so cute. My best friend is Edry, he is 8 and has no front teeth. He smiles all the time, especially when we color on the front porch. We walk next door to his grandmother’s house where she sells candy for the kids. A shilling ( 25 BZ cents or 12 US cents) will buy you a lot of treats from Grandma’s house. This is grandma’s income, so I like to support it. Three generations live within a stones throw of one another on top of the hill. It is amazing.
The coming 5 weeks will be very busy around here! I am commuting into Belmopan at least twice a week, sometimes 3 or 4 times a week for days of Language instruction and Core training with all the other Volunteers on Fridays. The commute to Belmopan is at least 2 hours by bus and a 20 minute walk from the bus station to the PC HQ. On those days, I will wake up at 5 am in order to be a our local bus stop at 6 am. Wahoooo. I can hardly wait to enjoy the long, slow, hot, bouncy, bus rides!! Also, One weekend we are all going to stay with current Peace Corps Volunteers around Belize. This should be a good time! On October 2nd I will find out where I will live for the next 2 years. After reviewing our schedule for the coming weeks, it seems like the days will fly by! Peace and Love.
My Spanish Skills…
Seeing as my host family is Mayan, they don’t necessarily speak Spanish. They speak enough, but they also speak Kriol, English and Maya. Soooo, this proves to be challenging when learning Spanish. They also love to practice their English because everyone in Belize has stolen cable from some small towns in Middle America. It is funny because the local news in Iowa will come on the TV and it is quit the strange sensation. None the less, my host parents love to speak English.. Which is great when we are having in depth conversations about economics and rich Americans in the Hammock every night, but not so great when it comes to my Spanish. The young kids, Edry, Gleny and Susi all speak to me in Spanish and I pretend as though I know what they are saying. It is pretty cute. The next 5 Tuesdays will be spent in Belmopan learning Spanish from teachers who teach Spanish at the University of Belize. That is where we will learn more of the grammar and classroom Spanish. My language sessions in the cement building across town are more conversational Spanish. Who knows.. I will probably be placed in a Kriol village in the Jungle of Toledo, Belize., Where Spanish will do little for me.
Most PCV got cellphones last week so we can all stay connected via text message and call home of course. Calling is very expensive, so everyone uses text messages to coordinate visits and such. We are trying to teach the elder volunteers, ranging from 50 to our oldest, 71, Dicky P to text one another! ha.. Anywho, yesterday I got a text from my fellow PCV, Adam. He is also Business Organization ( BusOrg) but he is with the group that stayed in Belmopan to learn Kriol while 5 of us are in San Antonio learning Spanish. He wrote “ Warm shower, my own bathroom, my own TV, and internet” I wrote back “ Bucket bath, outhouse, no electricity but the best home made tortillas!!” So … that is the division in experiences already. I cant believe it has only been less than 2 weeks since I left Seattle. It feels like a lifetime away from where I type under my mosquito net at the top of the hill in San Antonio, Belize.