Diana & Jay TCompleting CBT meant that our permanent placements would finally be revealed. After 8 weeks of nervous speculation and anxiety, all 38 of us were uneasy the night before Placement Day, and when our sites were at last revealed, we hugged and cheered and were incredibly relieved. To my surprise, I was not placed in a specifically designated Spanish-speaking community, but instead have been assigned the charming coastal town of Dangriga, a veritable cultural melting pot, with a sizeable Garifuna community, many Creoles, a few Maya and a smattering of Spanish-speakers who sell vegetables in the market. Dangriga is known as the cultural center of Belize, and although not a popular tourist destination, it is known for the artists and musicians who make the town famous, such as Supa G, the punta rock superstar, and Pen Cayetano, founder of the Turtle Shell Band and a painter of some renown.
Map of Belize indicating our placement sites
My new host “mom” is Alejandra Castillo (otherwise known in all of Dangriga as Miss Cas). She sports a baseball cap that reads “Garifuna Mom”, and proudly wears her beautiful Garifuna dresses that she makes for herself. She is 72 years old, has 4 grandchildren living with her, and 4 grown children in the States. Her son’s Chicago restaurant, Garifuna Flava, was recently featured on the Food Network. The grand kids are sweet, and love being read to as much as Jay T does. We’ve also enjoyed playing hundreds of games of Go Fish and Uno.
DangrigaNow I have another language to try to master. The first Garifuna expression I learned was “buiti binafi”, or good morning. When I have used this one phrase while walking down the streets of Dangriga on my way to the Education Center, I have been met with big smiles from the elderly Garifuna women just returning from morning Mass. Most younger people prefer to speak Kriol, but Miss Cass’ generation is doing its best to try to preserve the language and culture of the Garifuna people (for more information on this fascinating culture, refer to my March 31 blog entry). My goal is to have weekly classes in Garifuna with Miss Cas. The first night I spent in Dangriga, Miss Cas asked me to accompany her to a wake. The women sang religious songs in Garifuna, and the drums beat long into the night. I look forward to learning about this rich culture, their traditions and language.
DangrigaWe were sent to our new sites for only five days to meet our new host families and our Belizean counterparts, before we were expected to return to the capital to complete our training. My counterpart is Dushinka Lopez, a woman who was a vice-principal at one of the Dangriga primary schools, but is now the coordinator of the Literacy Center in the District of Stann Creek, of which Dangriga is one town. There are over 40 schools in the Stann Creek district, and eight in Dangriga itself. Although it’s not clear to me yet what my specific role will be as her partner, my understanding is that I will help to train new or struggling teachers throughout the district, especially in Language Arts, or reading and writing. It is now almost the end of the school year, so I will only be introduced to some of the schools and teachers, and then get started on workshops that will take place over the summer. All teachers in Belize are required to spend the entire month of August in workshops and preparing for the school year.
The two days I spent with my counterpart were a special treat. Instead of sitting in meetings discussing my job description, to my delight, we instead traveled with her boss, the head of the Education Center, to Belize City, 2 ½ hours away, to watch Stann Creek students participate in the annual National Festival of Arts. On Monday we watched the opening ceremonies outside the House of Culture, sitting along the waterfront of Belize City. We also took part in a parade through the streets of the city, while the students marched and danced to the beat of the Garifuna drums. Each of the six districts of Belize was represented by marching bands or other musicians in the parade. On Tuesday we returned to Belize City for the second day of the festival to see our Stann Creek students sing, dance and act in short plays in the Bliss Performing Arts Center along the waterfront. My counterpart and her boss came to see their own daughters perform on stage. I felt so honored to be able to accompany them and witness the talents of the Belizean students.
After only five days in our new sites we returned to Belmopan for the remainder of our training. As I write this, I am in the Peace Corps office, with one more week left of training. On Friday, June 10, we will swear in at the Governor General’s residence, then attend a reception at the American Ambassador’s home. On Saturday June 11 we will all be dispersed to our permanent sites to begin serving as Peace Corps Volunteers.