Thursday, April 7, 2011

Week 2 in Belize

On Friday, April 1 we Peace Corps Trainees were driven to our Community Based Training sites.  Four of us in the education sector will train in the village of Blackman Eddy for the next eight weeks.  The Peace Corps SUV pulled into my new little village and dropped me off at the home of my host family.  I was welcomed into the home of Diana and her son JT,  a rambunctious 6-year-old whirlwind of a boy whose smile brightens up the room when he enters.  Shortly after meeting JT, I brought out my deck of UNO cards and he quickly caught on to the rules of the game.  We’ve played about 50 games so far, although we have to alternate between sessions outside playing ball and swinging.  Spending time with him brings me back to my fondest moments with Michael when he was six.  He has the same energy and level of engagement with adults. 

His mother, Diana, is equally energetic.  She’s a political and civic powerhouse in this little village, where she grew up and where most of her siblings, cousins, and her parents still reside.  She studied at the University of the West Indies in Belize City, and spent two years studying at a university in southern Illinois, and is now committed to working in her community to improve conditions and services for all.  She is the village chairperson, (a little like a mayor), and she is extremely active in her political party.  Many people of the village drop in to visit her throughout the day, and it seems she is a kind of village Solomon of sorts as well, and intercedes on behalf of families who need advice or assistance.   I had the privilege of traveling with her all afternoon on Saturday, April 2, observing as she met with leaders in various villages of her region in preparation for her party’s convention the next day.  On Friday evening and Saturday morning she conducted meetings with various women in her village and all took on jobs organizing, stapling, labeling, and dispensing materials for the convention, which determined the party’s candidate for Regional Representative in the next national election.   On Saturday evening we drove down to San Ignacio to pick up a large van that was used to transport voters to the convention, and we drove to the village of Roaring Creek so that Diana could pick up several hundred t-shirts in her party’s color (red) that prominently displayed the name of the candidate.  Diana, the tireless political activist, barely slept and then arose at 4:00 am to begin her day’s task of transporting and feeding as many of the registered voters as she could bring to the convention in Roaring Creek.  I guess that’s one way to guarantee a large voter turnout.  Diana said that 1/3 of the possible voters came out to vote.

Around 4 PM Diana’s brother picked me up and transported me to the convention so that I could witness democracy in action in Belize.  It took a while for me to locate Diana among the hundreds of voters and vociferous supporters of the 3 candidates.  Diana’s candidate had the largest number of supporters, and was by far the most vocal, booing when the rival candidates attempted to speak to the crowd, and almost coming to blows with supporters of the other candidates.  And this is all within one party.  I wonder how the behavior would be if they were in the same vicinity of the rival party.   While we were waiting for the votes to be tallied, I had the opportunity to meet and speak with the Attorney General of Belize.  He taught me a great deal in a couple of hours about the political system of Belize and its two major parties, which seem to be just as far apart from one another as our Democrats and Republicans, and treat each other with just as much animosity.

Our site training began in earnest on Monday, April 4.  We four trainees meet at the community center Monday through Thursday from 8-5, and travel to Belmopan to the Peace Corps office on Fridays.  Our wonderful Kriol language teacher, Shernadine, teaches us for half of the day, we walk home for lunch, then return for “tech” training to learn the specifics about doing community work and teacher training in the Peace Corps.  Training is incredibly intense and the work load is very heavy, but luckily I have plenty of time in the evenings at Diana’s house.  On two occasions we trainees went to the local primary school to meet with the principal and teachers.  We were each assigned to work with a classroom during the 8 weeks we are here in Blackman Eddy.  I’ll try to get some pictures of the school up soon.

We are required as trainees to work on a special project with the school, one that can be competed in our off hours or weekends.  Miguelina, one of the other trainees, a former principal and teacher from Upstate New York and I are planning to help get the school’s library in order.  At present there are a few piles of books in a little room that has already been decorated with paintings on the wall.  It seems that it just needs some organization.  The principal expressed a desire for help with this project.  I may soon be requesting children’s book donations from some of you.  This little rural school has a dearth of decent children’s literature.

On one of our school visiting days, I was assigned to observe a Standard 2 (3rd grade) classroom.  The teacher has 30 years of experience and she does wonders with very few materials.  The kids are crammed in a little space of a classroom, but they all eagerly raise their hands when the teacher asks them a question.  I followed the 17 smiling, curious 8- and 9-year-olds (and one 12-year-old) outside to observe them acting out a little folk tale they had read in their readers.  Little Brian got down on all fours to portray the donkey, while Tyrique stood with his arms out depicting a tree.  My favorite little one, Eva (for obvious reasons!) read the narrator’s part with great expression.  The kids all call me Miss Ava (sounds like Mees Ava), and are eager to show off to me.  About half of the class comes from Spanish-speaking families, but all speak Kriol and English.  On Monday the 11th I will return to the class and the teacher has asked me to read a story to them.  I searched on the small pile of torn and well-used books that she had for them to choose from, and found one possibility, but I also hope to get up to Belmopan this weekend to try to find a picture book to read to them and donate to the class.  When I think of all the gorgeous picture books we had in the schools I taught in the US, I wish I could give these Belizean kids even a tenth.  After the students finish their written work they eagerly search for any kind of reading material they can find and read voraciously on their own—without anyone even forcing them to do so.  They even read ahead in their boring, dull textbook readers just to have something to read.  Oh, and there’s no public library in the village.

I’m having great fun reading aloud to JT at home at night, and telling him stories.  He has some stuffed bears, so our first story was “The Three Bears”, which he asked me to tell him over and over again.  He is a very articulate and bright 6-year-old who is affectionate and engaging.  One night I completed my language homework by conducting an interview with him in Kriol, which he kindly pronounced as “very good.”  I found a Kriol version of “The Wheels on the Bus” and he now wants to sing it a thousand times. 

The greatest pleasure I have experienced here so far has been meeting, getting to know and spending time with the Belizean people.  The most challenging aspect of my work here so far is the amount of projects we’re expected to complete.  And the most physically challenging thing has been acclimatizing to the extreme heat we’re experiencing.  However, the temp today is a little milder than it has been, 86 degrees, and 66% humidity.  Maybe I’ll actually be able to sleep tonight!

I send love and hugs to my beloved friends, students and family.      Ava


  1. What a wonderful description of all your new adventures, projects and community in Belize!! I can just SEE you reading aloud to JT and the children at school... there's no doubt you will be a wonderful asset to this village and the numerous projects that are in your future there!
    MUCH LOVE AVA!!! Please take care of yourself... I can see it would be easy to get overtired in this job!!!

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog. I even more, enjoyed having you as one of my best students while you were at Blackman Eddy Village in Belize.