Saturday, January 16, 2010

Welcome to my home on Mile 25!

MIle 25 sleepover.... no biggie..
Lilly and Erica waiting for the bus to PG
Kevin, Lilly, Erica and Emily waiting for the bus to PG
My dining room.
Hammock in storage
Kitchen w/ my Hammock!
My room
Laundry drying in the sun!
My sink and washing station!
Shower-- errr pipe--- built for 10!


Backyard, just burnin' my trash, no biggie.

Backyard View

It occurred to me that I have not shared with all of my fine readers any photos of my home on Mile 25. In a previous post, there is a picture of the front of the house, but here are some photos of the innards. I finally have my hammock hanging in the middle of my house and have gotten the washing outside thing down to a science! Life is good on mile 25! 5 other PCVs came to stay the night with me on Thursday night.. We had a great time making pizza and Dancin’ to those Belizean Jams in my lee house! This coming week I head to Belmopan for 3 days of intensive classe de Espanol! These coming months are filling up with trainings and travels! Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas on Mile 25

Christmas Day on Mile 25!
Sunny Christmas!
Heather enjoying her Christmas Dinner
Enjoying the wine Heather picked up for us in the city!
My house before heading out for New Years

All of my village friends were really impressed that I was going to “pass Christmas right here” along side of them. Leading up to Christmas, everyone would ask me: “Miss Emily, and where will you pass Christmas?” They seemed elated and confused that I was actually staying in Mile 25. I think it was an important time to stay in the village and build some trust and credibility. Everyone said they cook something special and shoot off “fire works” for Christmas. People made Tamales, BBQ, Cheese Dip, Ceviche, etc. Many people will buy a crate of soft drink for the family to celebrate too. Then, they bring these “popshots” over from Mexico, which are just little fireworks that make a loud noise when you light them. They are super annoying and loud, but that is the thing to do around here. People have be bursting popshots since September around here!

My friend Heather, a PCV in Belmopan, came out to my village on the 24th to spend Christmas with me. Living in a bigger town, it was not as important for her to have a presence in her town for the holidays. In fact, no one would even know that she was not there. It is a different dynamic from living in a small village, filled with different challenges and perks. We spent the night cooking with a friend of mine in the village, Beto. We made Pizza, Chicken wings, and Nachos; All of the American favorite dishes. Everything turned out great and we had a fun time cooking together. Then on Christmas, we watched a Christmas movie on my laptop and stayed in bed until noon. Then we went across the street to Pedro’s house and indulged in some BBQ Chicken and Gibnut with his family and friends. Heather and I spent the day visiting in the village. Later in the evening, my counterpart sent over more BBQ and 2 soft drinks for heather and I. Heather had also brought a bottle of white wine from Belmopan. Wine is a real treat as it is very expensive. So we ate our second BBQ of the day from a Styrofoam box, on my plastic table, in my cement house, beneath a beautiful bouquet of wild flowers we had picked the day before, and complete with a bottle of white wine. It was a good Christmas overall, despite it not even feeling like any Christmas I had known before.

New Year’s trip to Yo Creek, Mexico and Caye Caulker

Edrei at my first Home stay family in San Antonio, Cayo. I went back for a visit.
My favorite Mayan dish.. PirishPak!!! Glorified tomato soup with boiled eggs and flour tortillas
Visit to the family farm. I was sent home with 2 bags of fresh veggies!
My host mom walking barefoot in the clay earth!
Our feet after our walk to the farm
Mile 25 Christmas celebration. Cute Mayan babe!
Some of my fave boys in the village grubbin' on rice and beans and stew chicken
Evil Santa bwai!
Women's group Christmas dinner!
Christmas for the kids on Mile 25
Kevina and Heather after a day of snorkeling on Caye Caulker
I got my hair braided... whoops...
Sailing back.
Before the trip
Sea sickness is setting in

On the 26th, Heather and I woke up early and packed our bags to catch a bus in to Belmopan. I dropped Heather off there, as she would be joining all of us in a few days and caught a next bus on to Belize City. There, I met up with another volunteer, Adam, that lives in Belize City. We walked around for a bit, but most of everything was closed on the 26th. We then walked back to his apartment to check out his new digs. Volunteers in Belize City live the most Koosh life!!! They receive almost twice as much money for their living allowance as those of us in the village receive. Yes, it is a bit more expensive to live in the city, but not twice as much. Adam has a hot shower, which is unheard up anywhere else, a washer and dryer in his apartment, which is the first dryer I have seen in this country, cable TV and it came fully furnished. Tough life. He brewed up some eggs and beans for Breakfast and then I went on my way to catch a next bus up north to Orange Walk. I was heading up north to visit Kevin in his village. He met me in Orange Walk because there were no village buses on the 26th and we had to hitch 6 miles to his village, Yo Creek. This is something everyone up north does because of the lack of village buses. There is one intersection in Orange Walk where everyone stands to hitch a ride. It took mere minutes before we were bumping along the pothole filled road in the bed of a pickup truck. There is no experience that mirrors the experience of riding in the bed of a pickup truck, feeling that fresh Belizean breeze, and surrounded by lush and scenic Jungle. It may not be the most comfortable ride, but it is unique each and every time. In the 4 times we hitched to and from Yo Creek, we met some very interesting people that either lived in Kevin’s village or the next one over.

Kevin lives in one of the nicest houses in Yo Creek. Complete with marble counter tops, a Crystal Chandelier, and tiled floors. An American that has since moved back to the states built the house. He just wanted someone to mind the house for a while and Kevin was having a hard time finding a decent house in his village when this fell into his lap. On top of that, the location is perfect for him. He lives directly next to the school where he works and across from his counterpart and best friend in the village. The history of Peace Corps Volunteers in Yo Creek is really interesting. There have been volunteers living there for many years. And a lot of them that lived there in the 70s and 80s have come back and build houses to live part of the year in Yo Creek. A few of them even married local Yo Creekian Girls. Kevin has a lot to live up to in the village, but I have full confidence that he can and will marry a Yo Creekian.

The thing to do up north, is cross over the Mexican border to the town of Chetumal. It is an easy day trip and many people do it because things are a lot cheaper over there and there is more variety. Also, it is like a whole different world from Belize over there. Chetumal sparkles in comparison to most parts of Belize. The lawns are manicured, there is an actual highway with onramps and road signs, the streets are clean and have sidewalks, there are choices and options of things to buy, there is mall with a movie theater, and there is fast food. I felt as though we had landed in Texas or something. It was amazing and so different from the daily scenery I have had in Belize over the past 5 months. We toured the mall, had McDonalds, ate Gelato… yeah I said it… GELATO, bought a giant bottle of Tequila for 9 USD and toured the local market. Chetumal was a successful day and a great escape from Belize. After returning to Orange Walk, we met up with two more volunteers that live in Orange Walk Town and headed to the famous Ceviche restaurant for dinner. Ceviche is a popular local dish that mirrors a fresh, home made salsa, but with the added delight of shrimp or conch. The raw shrimp or conch is saturated and ‘cooked’ with limejuice before added to the diced tomatoes, onions, garlic, cilantro, etc. It is then eaten with tortilla chips. We hitched back to Yo Creek for the night. The next afternoon, we impulsively decided to head to Belize City. We were planning on going the following day to head out to Caye Caulker with everyone, but we thought we would head in a day early and meet up with some other volunteers living in Belize City. Belize City isn’t exactly a place I would take visitors. It is big, dirty, and unsafe. Because many cruise ships stop in Belize City, they have built a tourist village that only tourists are allowed to go into. It is nothing special and for all they know, the tourist village could be located in Florida because they don’t go anywhere else in Belize. It is sad that this is the impression so many people get of Belize, because beyond the city, there is so much more culture and scenery than that.

After a night in Belize City, 5 of us headed out to Caye Caulker. We found a place to stay right on the water and set out to explore and reacquaint ourselves with the glory that is Caye Caulker. Nobody walks around the island with shoes on, and neither did we for the four days we were there. The following day, 18 more volunteers arrived to the Caye. It was so great to see everyone again and be in such a beautiful place together. We all signed up for the sailboat/snorkel tour that 3 of us did the first time we came to Caulker. We had the entire sailboat filled with only PCVs and our two Rasta Captains. It was like a private tour of the reef. We saw stingrays, sharks, turtles and tons of fish. It was great fun and the perfect day to end an exciting 2009.

Reflection on 2009

This last year I………

- Completed one year of my Masters in Public Administration

- Made some great friends in the MPA program

- Partied and enjoyed live music at Sasquatch 2009

- Lived in the same city once again as my best friend, Monika!

- Moved out of our beloved 6621 house in Seattle and left the city I have called home for the past 5 years

- Gave and sold a lot of my junk in Seattle and drove a Uhaul to Montana filled with my possessions

- Sent off my dear friend Katie to Peace Corps Niger

- Said goodbye to my Seattle Lovers

- Went on a road trip down the 101 to California

- Joined the Peace Corps, Duh.

- Learned Spanish and Kriol

- Moved to a new country that I now call home

- Made 40 new best friends in my fellow Peace Corps Belize Volunteers!

- Made some new Belizean friends that I know I will remember for life

- Changed my path in life forever

My work?!

Many of you have been wondering about when it is that I work because this blog is filled with all the fun stuff I do. Well that is a very good question that I, myself, am trying to answer every single day here in Mile 25. My specific project description is to work with the women’s group to develop their business practices. Before I arrived, the women’s group received a grant to open an Internet café. They now have little idea on how to run the café so I spend a lot of time helping them improve the way they go about that. The women’s group is also incredibly interested in cake decorating and sewing. They have been to numerous trainings since I have arrived about both topics. Our plan is to turn that in to a business, but that is slow going. I also started an afterschool sports club for the lee pikni (small kids) of the village. Like I mentioned in a previous blog post, there is little capacity to get the kids together to play some ball in the village. So I agreed to take them to the field and make sure they get home. A big challenge is simply finding a soccer ball to play with. So I wrote a Kids to Kids grant to receive sporting equipment to play ball. We shall see if that goes through. I also asked my mom to send me a soccer and volleyball! I also plan to have a more active role in the local school. I hope to spend more time working with slow learning children, helping them to improve their reading and maths. Lastly, I am on the Belize wide HIV AIDS committee that is dedicated to doing AIDS outreach and education across Belize. No, I don’t have a 40 hour work week or a 9-5 job like some volunteers do in Belize City. BUT- that is not why I joined the Peace Corps after all. I am not just a Peace Corps Volunteer from 9-5 as I live in the center of the looking glass 24/7 in my village. Although it is challenging and frustrating too, I also wouldn’t trade it for anything. I am learning so much about how Belizeans live, think, and interact. It is so interesting to follow the process of me integrating into the way my fellow villagers live. I have slowed down a lot, am not as stressed and constrained by time and tasks. Belizeans enjoy a slower pace of life, and so will I now!!! Every day I am realizing more and more how much I have integrated in to my community. That, in and of itself, is my number 1 job right now in the Peace Corps.

Celebrity Status in Mile 25

After spending much of my adolescence completely engrossed in celebrity gossip, I finally can empathize with how they feel on the daily. Before arriving at Mile 25, we volunteers were forewarned that people would be extremely interested in our every move as we settle into our new homes. We will bring the most excitement to some small towns that they may ever experience.

Lives are simple in small villages. The men work hard in farms with the sun beating on their every move during the day while the women stay at home and keep the house. Let me remind you that your idea of keeping house in cushy America is vastly different than keeping house in rural Belize.

· While you drop your clothes in the magic washing machine, we carry a bucket of dirty clothes to the river and proceed to beat them against the rocks until all the of dirt is removed from the clothes and rise and ring them out before carrying them home to hang up on the line to dry- which if the sun is out, can be as little as 2 hours, but during raining season it could be up to 4 days until the rain stops enough to let the clothes dry.

· While you shove your dishwasher full of dirty dishes and watch TV while the magical future machine cleans your dishes until they sparkle, we first carry our water from the river or pipe in buckets and then proceed to tediously wash each dish while desperately trying to conserve water to rinse with so as to not lug more water. Then we set them in the sun to dry for a few minutes.

· While you let roomba vacuum your carpets and tile floor, we don’t vacuum- at all. What is a vacuum? That shit would blow these peoples minds. Armed with our broom and bucket of water, we drizzle some water on the cement floor and sweep the dust out the back door. If we can afford it, we buy the only cleaning product known to Belize, flash, and sprinkle it on the ground. I’m pretty sure it is only perfumed and colored water. Those of you who don’t sweep your house out 3 times a day would have no idea that there is a science to this sweeping thing. Slow, low to the ground, short and tight strokes, bend in the knees, elbows in, and wooooosh. Stuff here gets really dusty – which brings me to the next topic.

· While you casually remember to drag your trashcan to the curb once a week for the magic trash fairy to whisk it away to never never land, we burn it. Did you ever stop to think exactly where your trash ends up?? Think about it… I will never take trash and recycling services for granted again. There is little infrastructure set up to collect and deposit of trash in Belize. On the Western highway one will notice mounds of steaming trash on the sides of the roads that continue to grow and grow with no future plan. In my village, the trash tractor pulling a trailer passes by once a month to pick up trash, so they say. Nobody knows when exactly it will pass by. You just have to be home and armed with your barrel of trash to drag it out to the street when the horn blows from the tractor. As you can imagine, this is not functional. Thus, we burn it. Pile it up out back and light it up every few days. Cans, plastic, paper, food waste, the whole nine yards.. burn baby burn. It produces the rankest of smells when burning and spreads ash and trash around.

· While you hop in your cozy shower with the perfect temperate water, armed with 14 different products for each crevasse of your body, we grab our bucket of water and a plastic cup, armed with a bar of soap to bathe. I have grown fond of the elusive bucket bath as I discovered it is possible to boil a giant pot of water and make a warm bucket of water. To symbolize the constant flow of water from above, I place my fingers over the cup and jiggle to sprinkle said water down my head and face. I will admit that I carry my Shampoo, conditioner, face wash and bar of dove to wash while everyone else sticks to the bar of soap from head to toe. Some things I just don’t want to give up in the Peace Corps, especially when our PC Nurse will issue us Neutrogena Face wash J

· While you lay your head to rest on your $2000 USD box spring and mattress set each night, we sink deep into our 5 inch thick piece of hot spongy foam- if you are fortunate enough to own one. Families of 8 or 10 may only have a mat on the floor for their children to curl up on and sleep.