Monday, August 8, 2011

Homesickness, Camps and August Workshops

Every Peace Corps Volunteer experiences homesickness at one time or another, but I was foolish enough to believe that I would be immune to that particular malady.  When I was much younger and was an exchange student in Costa Rica and then in Mexico City, I did not experience homesickness--not even once--so I did not recognize that black cloud when it descended upon me here in Belize.  It felt at times as if I were mourning the death of someone dear to me.  It was a physical pain in the pit of my stomach that caught me off guard at the most random moments.  Tears dribbled out of my eyes and I was powerless to hold them back. 

Today, as I write this, those inexplicable feelings are no longer plaguing me, but when they return, at least I will not be broadsided and perplexed.  I dealt with those uncomfortable feelings in various ways, and some of my methods were actually successful--temporarily.  I called, texted and emailed family in the States or I contacted Peace Corps friends here in country.  That was a temporary salve.  I walked, rode my bike and did my zumba exercise, and all those physical activities were exceptionally helpful in transforming my melancholy, although it slithered back into my thoughts as soon as I sat somewhere alone for more than five minutes.  I wrote in a journal, which gave me some perspective, at least on an intellectual level, even if the heavy feeling in my body continued to overwhelm me at times.  I finally kicked the blues away after spending lots of time with Peace Corps Volunteers who have been here in Belize for at least a year.  Their empathy and patience helped me to begin to feel normal again.  But “normal” is a little different from the “normal” I brought with me to Belize.  I feel myself changing.  Perhaps that is what is meant by adjusting.  I am just beginning to connect with some of my Belizean colleagues and acquaintances, and that is helping to transform those inexplicable pangs of sadness.   I am also spending more time engrossed in good novels and even movies that we Peace Corps Volunteers pass around on DVDs.  I am sure those uncomfortable waves of ennui will return in future episodes, but I will have more weapons in my arsenal to fend them off.

Although the Peace Corps does not allow us newbies to spend the night away from our site for the first two months, because of work obligations, I was given permission to spend some nights away.  This change of scenery probably contributed to the dissipation of my homesickness.  Also, I stayed at the homes of two experienced Peace Corps Volunteers whose recounted experiences provided me with a wider perspective and gave me hope.  My work with the Ministry of Education took me to Belize City for two days and nights to attend workshops to instruct me in the manner in which the Ministry expects us literacy Volunteers to train teachers in our sites.  The workshops were excruciatingly long, but valuable.  I spent two days with bright, committed Belizean teachers who were also being trained to mentor their colleagues.

A day later, I traveled with my Peace Corps friend Barbara to a small camp outside of San Ignacio to participate in Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World).  The camp was organized by a committee of Peace Corps Volunteers who had been planning this camp for over 11 months.  There were 20 girl campers, most of whom had never spent a night away from home.  They hailed from two different regions of the country, so it was a marvelous experience for the girls to make friends with girls from different cultures.  Barbara and I led the campfire songs and assisted the other counselors with games and activities. We even ate smores!  I look forward to participating in the planning of Camp GLOW for next summer, and I hope to start a GLOW club in Dangriga.

Learning to dance at Camp GLOW
Barbara and I led the campfire songs

After helping out at that camp, Barbara and I traveled to Georgeville, a small village where another Peace Corps Volunteer, Jenna, was conducting a Reading Camp.  We also helped Jenna with singing and games.  I came away from Jenna’s camp with ideas that I hope to use this coming school year either in classes, or in summer camps

At Jenna's reading camp
Fun games at Jenna's camp

I was grateful to have the opportunity this month to be invited by my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, Cathy and Steve to help with their projects.  I facilitated a workshop with a group of dynamic and involved community women, POWA (Productive Organization of Women in Action) on Non-formal Education.  They are being trained to work in the community promoting literacy.

Workshop with the POWA women on Non-formal Education

On one Sunday Cathy and Steve invited me to go with Steve's counterpart and a nurse from the Dangriga hospital out to a banana farm about an hour from Dangriga.  Our goal was to measure blood pressure and blood sugar levels in the Spanish-speaking migrant workers and their families.  They had asked me to go along to translate.  It was wonderful to be able to use my Spanish.
The banana farm

During the first two weeks of August teachers throughout Belize are required to attend workshops in order to maintain their licenses.  In our town of Dangriga we have been conducting workshops in the rooms of Ecumenical College for all the teachers of the Stann Creek District.  I was asked to facilitate a workshop for primary school teachers on teaching the writing process.  From feedback that I received, it seems that the workshop was practical and helpful for them, and I truly enjoyed interacting with an enthusiastic and committed group of primary school teachers.

This week I am helping out another of my colleagues here in the Education Ministry.  Therese, the Preschool Coordinator, has been so warm and friendly to me since I arrived in June, and she asked me to help facilitate workshops all week with 26 of the preschool teachers from the Stann Creek District.  I conducted a short workshop on reading aloud to children, and will do another one on storytelling tips and techniques.  Next on the agenda is a two-week “camp” at the public library.  I’ll report on that in the next installment of this blog.

I hope all my friends and loved ones are surviving the heat of this year’s summer in the US, and that you’ll continue to write to me and keep me in your thoughts…


  1. Ava, I'm thinking about you! See you at Zumba :-) Cathy

  2. Hi Ava,
    I guess it's only natural that some dark clouds will be part of your fantastic PC experience... I'm sorry to hear about them though. So glad that you learned some new ways to get through those low times... as you said, next time won't be as confusing and scary. Hugs from NH! xoxo

  3. Ava, I really appreciate your writing about the experience of homesickness and how you dealt with it. It seems very real to have the not so good acknowledged with the good.

    'But “normal” is a little different from the “normal” I brought with me to Belize. I feel myself changing.' That is what acceptance is about--and so hard to achieve sometimes. Keep on writing!