I was re-energized for this New Year by traveling to the States over the December holidays. I visited my mother and cousins in California, spent a couple of days with my close friend, Maureen, in Binghamton, went to a Syracuse basketball game with my son Michael and his girlfriend, Maeve and spent the rest of my vacation with Michael and all my beloved in-laws in the Catskills. Before this visit to the US I had been dealing with recurring attacks of homesickness, and this short trip was exactly what the doctor ordered to give me strength to keep going. The love of family and friends, and their excitement and interest in my experiences here in Belize were like water to my thirsty soul. Loneliness and homesickness are very common experiences for Peace Corps Volunteers, and we appreciate every letter, email, phone call and package sent our way to help buoy us when those feelings threaten to overwhelm us. Thank you.
My mom and I visit the Getty Villa in Los Angeles
Maeve, Michael and I attend a Syracuse University basketball game
Upon returning to Belize, there was still a week of vacation left before school reconvened, because schools are closed for three weeks during the Christmas holidays. So I used the time to begin preparing a workshop on phonics that I will soon deliver to teachers. I met that week in Belmopan with my Peace Corps colleagues who are also literacy volunteers and we shared ideas and materials and inspired each other. Then school began again in earnest. After several months in the fall of observing teachers in schools, attending meetings, and dealing with my own illness and hospitalization, I am finally visiting schools on a regular schedule, meeting with the same teachers every week at the same schools. In our training sessions Peace Corps had explained to us that it would take a good six months of observation and getting to know the principals, schools and teachers before we would find a niche. I now see the wisdom of taking it slow and establishing rapport. After Christmas vacation, when I returned to the schools, the principals and teachers welcomed me back with great warmth. Several teachers approached me to ask for help with ideas, testing, and intervention for students who are reading below grade level. At all of my schools I have groups of students I tutor in reading, while teachers observe, and I give the materials and ideas to the teachers so that they can work with the children when I am not there. I also work with parents in an adult literacy class in Spanish. This work is challenging and fulfilling and I hope I will make at least a little bit of difference for some Belizean children and teachers.
My exciting news for this month is an important move that I made: I finally moved into my own apartment. I enjoyed living for seven months with my host family, Miss Cas and the kids, but I was also eager to move into my own place with more room to move around and finally get my clothes out of suitcases. My new place is the bottom floor of a kind of duplex. Many homes in Belize are built with one dwelling on the ground floor and a second home in the upstairs part of the house. The previous tenant was another Peace Corps Volunteer, Kirstin, who recently completed her third year of service and has returned to the US. Kirstin served for two years in Burkina Faso, and then extended for a third year here in Belize. We enjoyed sharing ideas and activities with Kirstin and will miss her company. I am thankful to have the opportunity to move into the apartment that Kirstin used, as it is furnished.
Dangriga Peace Corps Volunteers Steve and Cathy Burnham, Kirstin McCabe Krudwig, Meghan VanDeventer and me at Kirstin's going-away party
The house is directly across the street from Alejo Beni Park, and just one home away from the Caribbean Sea. I can hear the waves gently lapping along the coast from my open windows. My new landlady, a widow named Sandra Garrett, is very kind and eager to share her knowledge of Dangriga with me. She has given me tips on where to shop for the best bargains for food. She has a dog, Sparky, who is really just an overgrown puppy, rambunctious and impossible to calm. Dogs in Belize are primarily used as watch dogs, and are kept outside. Sparky is kept on a lead and has a dog house to shelter him from the rain.
My house (I'm on the bottom floor)
My kitchen and living room
My bedroom and bathroom
Sparky, our "watchdog"
Alejo Beni Park, across the street from my house
Standing in front of my house, looking toward the sea
This is a new phase of my service here in Belize. Having my own place means cooking for myself and having the opportunity to host guests. Last weekend I hosted three people from the US, Canada and Denmark who facilitated a workshop for teachers on storytelling and creative writing. I enjoyed cooking for my visitors and assisting them with workshops that are beneficial for Belizean teachers and students. In my new home I also enjoy having the extra space to spread out the materials that I make almost daily to use in the classroom. Teachers here do not have many resources, and make most of the simple games, flashcards and charts that they use in their classroom, from cardboard, markers, glue and laminated with many strips of clear plastic packing tape. Every day I work on these materials to share with teachers and to use in my own tutoring sessions.
The following are more photos of my town, Dangriga. I hope you enjoy this little tour:
Dangriga's version of Home Depot, Habet's Hardware
Homes in Dangriga are either made of cement, like mine, or wooden, like this one. Most of the streets are unpaved.
The offices where I meet with my Ministry of Education colleagues
The Dangriga post office
Dancing to the Garifuna drums around the corner from my house at the newly opened inn, Sea Breeze
Full moon in Dangriga