Belize Adventures

Friday, June 13, 2008


Oi—that’s my most used word these days. It’s a little more lighthearted than the big sigh I want to give all the time and Lord knows I need a little light in my heart!

I leave Belize is a little less than one month. Everything is more final, more dramatic, more ‘everything’ these days.

Sarah left yesterday. She’s the first of the steady stream of us that’s to leave this year She’s home; we’re here; this isn’t happening.

We now talk about leaving all the time—at home, at work, on the street, in church—and my phrase is: ‘I don’t want to talk about it’; as if I don’t talk about it, it won’t happen! Right.

I will be devastated to leave my life here---my friends, my work, the people, the culture, the beauty, all that I have worked hard to know and love these past two years. This is really my home now, and thinking of leaving makes me very very sad.

However, I’m not so stuck in the muck that I’m not able to still laugh (at myself and others), appreciate the moment, take a deep breath and look around. That’s a step.

This weekend I’m supposed to go to my football game in Pomona (a few hours south of Belize City) but Ms Cherry invited me over and to me, that’s more important. It’s father’s day, and they are having a rough time these days with holidays, as their son Emilio, died less than a year ago. We might go to burial ground, we might not, we might just sit and watch television---but whatever we do will be right and will be enough. I’m just pleased that she invited me.

I had my last session last weekend—these sessions are a pain in my butt. They’re for work and they’re held pretty much every other Saturday . I disliked them because they were from 2-4 in on a Saturday—right in the middle of the day and the weekend, prohibiting me from doing much of anything. However, these sessions were so good for the Hand in Hand folks. We started to slowly build community and this last session proved that. We had the BEST session---talking about how we’re all family and how family helps each other, we pledged to help each other paint, clean, do jobs that would normally require hired hands and money. We spoke of the connection we all have and the power within us to teach, learn and help. I told the folks that I truly couldn’t have ended on a better note. Then there were lots of hugs and goodbyes, which was sad. I feel like I’m abandoning people, which, I guess I am. Great.

It’s hot. Always. We just turned the lights off in the office because we’re not even moving, we’re just sitting here and we’re sweating. Ugh.

Recently, but strongly these days, I’ve been wanting to rip the bandaid off. That’s my term for knowing that the pain of the transition is coming, and just waiting to do it all in one fell swoop and to do it soon. It scares me that I have strong feelings of wanting to leave---it’s not that I want to cut my time here short, it’s just that it’s going to be SO hard and it might as well start now! However, instead of ripping off the bandaid, I’m kinda doing the opposite. . . .

Some exciting news is my upcoming travel plans. I’m, as my mom says, taking the ‘Maria’ way back. My roommate and I will bus through Central America, stopping in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama. We have places to stay in all countries except Costa Rica, so if you know anyone that would like to host us, PLEASE let us know. We’re trying to do this on the budget that JVI gave us for our tickets back to the states. After Panama, I will fly to Boston to go to Lakeville for a bit, then make my way to Philly, then fly to Milwaukee to see Cherry Abbey folks, and then finally to Portland. Phew. I think that travel time will allow me to decompress and to be grateful (rather than resentful) when I arrive on familiar soil.

I don’t really know what else to write. How to encompass two years that were amazing, challenging, lonely, difficult, joyful, confusing, full of so much love, and everything in between!?! I’m sad these days, but I’m happy too; I’m terrified of leaving and returning to a culture that I’m not thrilled about, but I’m excited about the possibilities that await me; I don’t want to leave the friendship of my roommates, Ms Cherry, and others, but am thrilled to think about seeing family and friends again. It’s an up and down time. But, (thanks to our Spirituality night last night in which we sought to look for the Christ in each other) I’ve been thinking about Jesus today. He had ups and downs; I’m sure He was sad about stuff and His transition wouldn’t have looked too good from His point of view. But thank goodness He did what He did, and because He did, we can too. So, there’s that.

We’ve got exciting plans before we go: a farewell BBQ, adventures within and outside of the city, and just ‘being’ while we still have the time and luxury to do just that.

I hope you all are well, joyously loving yourself and others, and reveling in this one life we’ve got.

Strange to say, but. . .See you soon!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

This and That

Well, earlier this month I went on my last retreat in belize! So sad! We affectionately call it ‘re-o/dis-o’, which stands for re-orientation for the first years and dis-orientation for the second years (as in, the opposite of orientation, which I went through two years ago before coming). Well, a friend asked me if I felt ‘dis-oriented’. My reply was ‘dis-oriented, like, having no sense of direction about life in general and only having questions but no answers. . . .why yes, yes I do feel that way! But, dis-oriented, like, feeling some sense of completion and conclusion to my life here. . . . .um, no, not a chance!’

Retreats are always nice---we get away, we eat great food that we don’t have to cook for ourselves, we sometimes have hot water---it’s the little things. This retreat I felt a bit disconnected from my fellow jvs; I’m not sure why, but it was sad for me, as I knew that this was our last retreat all together. However, I did revel in the strength that I always feel when the 9 of us are together---the unquestionable presence of God that I feel when we are in a room praying together, when we discuss our lives and our struggles in living the 4 values, when we look at the covenant and recommit to each other and to its principles, and when we interact, as we do, as JVs, friends, and brothers & sisters. Sadness crept in periodically as it would all of a sudden hit me that I will not be surrounded by these people whom I have formed my life around for the past 2 years. Oh, sigh.

I did get in a few good ‘runs’ though. When did I ever get to a place where I can call a run good!?!?! Anyway, a change of scenery on a run (and please know that I use the word ‘run’ ever so loosely) does wonders, apparently! I have been running the exact same street for almost two years now---wow, what a new environment will do! One run, though, could be categorized as not-so-good. I went down a path and through a river (only up to my thighs) to get to a road off the property of the place where we were staying. It was our day of silence and so I wanted to go on a long slow run. I made it to the next river crossing and saw that they were burning both sides of the road beyond the river. They were burning them to clear the land, but the smoke and debris made it not as enticing to go either ‘long’ or ‘slow’. I already had it in my head that that is what I wanted from my run, so I went a bit further, feeling the heat from the brush fires RIGHT next to me and trying to not breath in too deeply. Shortly, I saw a big ol’ snake directly in the middle of the road (this road, mind you, is a rocky dirt road, not anything sophisticated or paved). I freaked out and sprinted past it---great thinking, true, because then I had to go BACK past it to return home. After sneaking past the snake (as though that would do any good at all), I beat feet back towards the retreat place. I was going really fast because I was convinced that the burning was going to bring all the snakes out of the bush to get me! I got to the ONE house on the road that I had passed several times in the previous days. I am always wary of dogs, you know, since the dog bite incident of 2007, and in situations like that, I run with a rock like I was taught at orientation. To my surprise, TWO huge dogs come snarling after me at this house! I had passed that house multiple times with no dog attacks---why after i see a snake and am tired and shaky from sprinting and running through fire do dogs decide to come get me? So, I dutifully throw my rock at them and start screaming STAY (as if that will do any good!!!). I learned from previous mistakes and didn’t turn around and start running (thank goodness) but stood my ground and continued to feign throwing rocks and alternately actually throwing a few (though I was worried this would make them more mad!) while screaming as loud as I could ‘stay’ (don’t laugh, it’s the only thing that came to mind!!). I was really scared. I kept thinking that if the dogs came and bit me on my legs (for some reason, that’s where my mind would allow them to bite me) I didn’t know how I would get them to remove their jaws from my limbs, nor how I would then get myself back home. Thankfully, none of that happened, as I slowly backed up (throwing and screaming all the while) and finally backed down a slope and the dogs stayed up on top. I made it back to the retreat center both bursting with nervous energy and utterly exhausted from the sprint/run/adrenaline rush, but could not share a thing with anyone because we were still on our day of silence! GEESH.

What else---well, I did not get accepted to UW for my MSW. What a huge disappointment. It wasn’t terribly shocking; I knew I had an average chance and that the program was extremely selective. But it was still disappointing. So now I’m looking at other options. I’ve applied to Seattle University for a Masters in Pastoral Counseling. In some recent external processing, I found myself saying that the degree I think I want is an MSW, but that program I think I want is with Seattle U (Jesuit school, theology and spirituality incorporated in a degree program). I don’t think I need an MSW to work in the social work field---I do think I need a masters degree and want that masters degree to benefit me as much as it can. So I’m still deciding (and waiting to hear if I’ll even get in) about Seattle U. I know that I always want to be working for social justice and I know that I always want to be doing something faith based---so now my dilemma is how to meld the both of those. In some sense, my options are endless, in others, I feel limited. One of my concerns is that a masters in pastoral counseling will be too limiting. But if I know that I want a program that incorporates the things that a MAPC does, then why not go for it? I’m still grappling, and I’m definitely open to any thoughts or advice. My poor family and some close friends have heard (err, read) many many thoughts on this, (ps, thanks again guys!) and I’m happy to expound more to anyone who thinks he/she might have some insight.

It is HOT HOT HOT these days. No, I know I always say that, but I’m totally serious. It is so blinking hot (Bernie always says that). I don’t even know what it is like not to sweat every hour of every day. UGH! My friend Ines says that he’s never felt Belize like this before. Awesome.

I hate that my time is winding down here and that from here on, everything is starting to be ‘the last time ____.’ I try not to think that way, but it seeps in, you know.

Similarly, my mind has started to wander to what life will be like in the States and has started to concretely visualize things that I will do/eat/make (bagels&cream cheese, cottage cheese, vegging out in front of the television for as long as I can stand it, picking up the phone and calling someone because I just want to, washing my clothes in a machine, seeing people I LOVE. . . .). so, I’m starting to kind of get excited about things like that---but then my mind instantly makes lists of things that I will miss here and that tends to be more drastic (the relationships that I know I’ll never have again, the greatest job ever) and then I can’t figure out if I should be excited or sad or anxious and it all leads to lots and lots of overwhelming feelings! ugh.

Gosh, it will just be really really hard to leave here.

One of the saddest things that Fr. Dan said to us was this: he was talking to us about when we get back, we'll think about Belize all the time, but then soon, we'll start to think about Belize less and less and then there will be a day when we don't think about Belize at all. I can't imagine a day when I don't think of Belize, but I know it will happen. So sad.

Yesterday, I had to go with Bernie to pick up his vehicle at his house. He drove me on the back of the scooter so that I could then drive the scooter back and he could drive his vehicle. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that I drive a scooter around the city, true? If not, how cool is that!!! It’s a cross between a motorcycle and a moped. I have to switch gears, but I don’t have a clutch. Regardless, it’s a whole lot easier (and way more fun) than biking around the streets. Also, riding on the back of one (as in, when I’m not driving) is somehow SO fun that I can’t stop smiling. I love it when Bernie has to carry me somewhere and when our route goes past the sea---yeah, I’ll miss that! Anyway, as we got to Bernie’s house, we saw a horse in his yard. I asked whose horse it was, and he said he didn’t know but that someone always ties that horse in his yard! Can you imagine arriving home and finding a strange horse in your yard? Alternately, can you imagine not asking, but just tying your horse to graze in someone’s yard? yeah. . .so Bernie did what he always does, according to him, which is to untie the horse and lead it into the street for it to then graze in someone else’s yard! The whole thing was so funny to me. I think you had to be there.

My friend Mel just came to visit---that was really great. I love that some people get to have some sense of what my life is like here. Thanks Mel. Plus, it’s just so fun to be around people that I love!

These are all very random thoughts---sorry---that’s why I titled it ‘this and that.’

This past Sunday, I went to a birthday party. Last week when Mel was here, I had Ines do his garifuna drumming for us at this little bar called los cocos. We've been there a few times --it's so cute, I'm sad I only discovered it this year. To get there, you turn left on Currasow Street and stop a few feet from the dead end and then walk up a little path and the bar is right there. It's an outside bar and there's palm trees and it's just great. We 'know' (to the extent that you know a person that you see at a bar a few times) most of the folks there. So last week, this woman named pearl told me that she wanted me to come to her birthday part next week. Sure! Of course, why not! I promptly forgot. Weeeeellll, Sunday morning at the 2.25 hour long confirmation mass, THIS WOMAN was sitting next to Monica (the girls they were sponsoring were the same height). How random is that. oh belize. She’s not a Martin’s parishioner and we definitely would not have remembered about her birthday party---that night! gosh. She again told Monica to come to the party and gave the directions as 'my house is right before complex'. Um, okay. That could be, just about anywhere in the mess of streets in that general area, but that’s cool. She said Ines knew where it was. I tried Ines two times and his phone wasn't working so Monica, Kate, and I decided just to bike 'around complex' to see if we could find it. We had the help of one guy named 'Moses' who is related somehow to my client ms althea. He didn't want us riding around by ourselves so he came with us. We biked around, asked a few people (we didn’t know the area, the street, or even her last name, but that didn’t stop us!) and we ended up finding the damn party!!! I could NOT believe it. She's from Barranco, which means she's garifuna and so they had all the drums and instruments and it was totally awesome. I played the turtle shells all night! Turtle shells---who plays turtle shells! I loved it!

Okay, I think that’s all the thoughts I have for now.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

El Salvador

instead of trying to write about my trip to el salvador (which would take pages and pages--and believe me, you neither want to read all that nor do i want to write all that), i am just going to put a link to my pictures here:

i have tried to write long descriptions on the pictures to describe things, but of course, i didn't take pictures of EVERYTHING---if you still have questions or want to know more, just let me know and i'll do my best!

happy april everyone!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

lessons, always

let's see--when i walk to work, i compose these great compositions in my head (trust me, they are witty and touching and funny!) and then when i find the time during the day to type some things on the computer, i can't seem to put the words back together in quite the same compelling way.

here's a try--yesterday, i went to visit a woman name lisa. on my run monday morning, her common law stopped me and told me: lisa's in the hospital; she thinks she was pregnant and lost the baby. well, sadly, my first thought was, AGAIN!?!?! because this woman has 9 children already!! my next thought was, ooooh--is it for you? (meaning, was the baby duran's) because they have been 'separated' for a while now. and last, finally, i came to: how is she--when will she be out--when should i come visit?

i went to go visit yesterday. she's fine. she was, in fact, pregnant and had a very early miscarriage. she seemed incredibly nonchalant about it--maybe having 9 other kids does that to you, or maybe knowing there is absolutely no way you can feed and clothe another child does that to you----or maybe she just didn't want to share with me the agony she was actually in---who knows.

after questioning why three of her five children that were home were not in school (today i had to go to the school and deal with all that stuff), she asked me about her sister. hand in hand is going to build for her sister and we've been pushing it back and back with groups that have canceled their trips and other folks that have come up. i told her that this last house we built was for a man with no home. she replied, extremely seriously, 'poor him'. i know i'm going to have trouble conveying this, but that was the most touching thing she could have said. this woman just lost a pregnancy, has 9 children who she can't consistently feed and clothe, lives in a house that is falling apart itself, struggles every single minute of every day, and yet she musters enough compassion to respond to me respectfully. her sister's baby had to go to the hospital because the house (ha, house) that that family lives in is so rotten that it leaks and is infested and the baby got horribly ill. and still, STILL, she doesn't respond with anger or frustration that we haven't yet made good on our word, but with understanding, because she, too, has been both in a situation like that and knows that you can, in fact, survive in terrible conditions and also has been a recipient of a HHM house and knows it takes time.

part of me still expects what i was used to in the states--if i had agreed to build a client a house and kept pushing her back and back while her baby got ill and went to the hospital, i likely would have been yelled at, cursed, and insulted, which are all understandable responses when dealing with a situation like hers. instead, what i often find here is understanding. most people i deal with have been there, will be there again, have friends and family who are still there, and know what it's like.

i am so thankful for lisa and my other clients (even though they never sends their kids to school and don't follow through with all the things we've talked about) because just by being themselves, they teach me things. they don't need an education or a resume----in fact, if they had those things, i wouldn't learn a lot of what i do from them. thanks lisa, andrea, emilio, vincent, tiffany, loretta, and others.

oh, and thanks to You too God! You're the one behind this all!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

my walk to work

I am in a great mood. Perhaps it is due to the fact that I am leaving for El Salvador tomorrow for a bit of adventure and respite. Perhaps it is due to a successful Ruta Maya, paddled by my roommates. Or, perhaps it is due to my lovely walk to work this morning. Who knows.

This morning, I made it about 50 feet from my house when a car pulled up next to me, the window rolled down, and the driver said, “hello beautiful.” I was about to dismiss it as another annoying come on, when I took the time to actually look at the driver and realized that it was our friend, Robert. His father, Mr. Lizama was in the passenger seat. This is wonderful in many ways. Mr. Lizama had been in the States for MONTHS with his wife who was being treated for cancer (there is no cancer treatment in Belize). Seriously, months. I hadn’t seen him in a looooooooooong time. It was surprising and just really great to see him in the passenger seat. They pulled over and Mr. Lizama jumped out and gave me a huge hug. He said I must come over and see Mrs. Lizama, which I can’t wait to do. He said it was nearly terrible and he almost brought her home in a box (crude, but very true), but then he gave me a ‘pound’ (very Belizean) and said how good God is. He was so happy to see me, and the feeling was mutual. He said, ‘I’m so happy you never left before I came back.” Wow. That made me so happy—whether he truly meant it or not, he made my day by saying that. I’m often amazed at people here who enter friendships and relationships with us KNOWING that we will be leaving in 2 years. Think about it---it’s not too frequent that you enter a friendship with someone with a finite ‘end’ date, because unlike the states where a person might move away but communication can remain frequent, when we leave here, we leave. Our friends and loved ones here don’t all have phones or computers or even know how to use or access those things. Mr. Lizama is one of those people who continuously, generously, selflessly enter into relationships with us (the Pantons are also those people, along with Ms. Cherry and all others who give their hearts to us and allow us to give them ours).

Anyway, Mr. Lizama had made my day and I smiled as I continued on my way to work. Next, I passed Ms. Pamela, the ‘wife’ (well, the common-law wife) of a co-worker of mine. We exchanged ‘mawnin’s’ as we both walked on. Shortly after passing the fish market, I saw Pops for the 2nd time this morning! He said, ‘all right’ and I waved in response. Even the habitual ‘hey sexy lady’ and ‘beautiful white gal’ comments didn’t get me down this morning. I was enjoying the people around me, the pace at which I walked, the smells of Belize, and the lazy bustle (if you’ve been here, you know this isn’t an oxy moron) of life in the mornings.

It made me think of our last retreat which was on simplicity. Too often, I equate simplicity and living simply with ‘stuff’ like using less resources (water, gas, electricity). This retreat was on the simplicity of life and how that relates to all our ‘other’ stuff---time, memories, relationships. We talked about how having all that other stuff complicates our relationship with God and walking closer to God is, indeed, living as simply as we can. Simple living, walking with God, all these lead us to living ‘just’ lives, which is what we strive to do but somehow we let ourselves get lost in the clutter of memories, appointments, obligations, and life. I say I want to live ‘justly’---I need to rearrange my priorities. Yes, using fewer resources is wonderful---we all should try to consume less, use fewer things, recycle, unplug, and all that---but also I need to slow down, walk to work for the sake of seeing Mr. Lizama, Ms. Pamela, Elvis (yes, his name is really Elvis and I normally pass him every morning as he says ‘mawning miss maria’), and the other myriad of folks who I know and love here. I need to not cling to memories of past times. Having memories is great—truly, but ‘clinging’ to them is living on the dangerous edge of letting our possessions posses us. It’s not just material possessions, folks.

This is what I fear I will do when I get back—cling so fiercely to my memories of Belize, be protective of them and not want to share them. That’s not ‘just’; it’s not letting my stories and memories speak and teach and give; it’s not letting the people in my stories and memories speak and teach and give, either. But, still, I know I will do this. I will do this because I worked so hard here and no one else will know truly what it is like. I will do this because I will feel that I am somehow protecting my friends, their lives and reality. I will do this because I will feel that I don’t want to exploit Belizeans or be a poverty tourist if I tell true stories that I know will shock and humble others.

I’m not proud that I will do this, but I know I will. So, I ask for your help and prayers that I can remember that I strive to live ‘justly’, live simply. I ask for your help and prayers that I figure out the how to allow Ms. Cherry and Mr. P to inspire folks in the States they have never met. And I ask for your help and prayers to never let me forget that we are all brothers and sisters, that we belong to each other, and to let my actions spring forth from there.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

the election

well, we just (feb 7th) had the elections in belize to determine who would be the prime minister and who would be all of the area representatives.

i'm happy to go further into belizean politics and the election process if anyone specifically asks, but for this short post, i'll just stick to the main stuff.

there are two primary parties:
PUP -- people's united party (blue) -- been in power for the last 10 years
UDP -- united democratic party (red)

the political signs on the roads have been phenomenal. a few of my favorites that i've passed on the my around the city this past month:


and then in retaliation to that sign, a next one was put up a few days later)

FI U, FI ME, FI ALL AH WI (udp's slogan; there was even a catchy jingle that went along with this!)

(the 'him' they're referring to is Said Musa, the prime minister with the PUP party)

GODFREY, FI ALL AH WI (this one is only good because it's accompanied by a huge, and i mean huge, picture of godfrey with a REALLY old lady and it looks like he's helping her cross the street or something. it's so ridiculous that it's awesome!)

BELIEVE IN BELIZE (pup's slogan)

well, after lots of signs and songs and rallys and all, belize has a new prime minister and a new ruling party.

Dean Barrow of the UDP was sworn in yesterday.

this is my take on it all--the last prime minister 'redirected' a lot of money (in belize, they say he teefed it) and did lots of nothing while promising lots of everything. no, wait, at the end, there were roads pushed and loads of fill delivered, but that was only to get people to vote for him. SO, this new prime minister---well, if he doesn't do a darn thing and if he steals a lot of money, then, so be it. that's what has been happening for the last 10 years so everyone is pretty much used to it and the country runs as it does with all that going on. BUT, if he manages do to something, anything, well then---PROGRESS! great! so, i'd say his chances are pretty good for a high approval rating (ha, like that even have that here) just by doing ONE thing!

pray for dean barrow and pray for belize!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

maybe a more accurate description about my trip to Nica

this is an email that i wrote to JVI about my trip. i think it more accurately captures some of the emotions i was trying to convey in the prior post.

i went with my work, hand in hand ministries, and spent a week 'building a house' in a neighborhood not too far from the dump. i have 'building a house' in quotes because we all knew that that was not really what we were doing; we were building relationships, opening our eyes and our hearts, learning lessons we may never verbalize, and experiencing joys, struggles, challenges, gratitude, and love in a culture not our own.

however, without a doubt, the best part of my trip with hand in hand ministries, was the part spent not with hand in hand ministries. i went two days early so that i could spend time with the nica jvs. wow. i thought i was overwhelmed by the process of getting there---saying goodbye to my roommates, getting on an airplane (what!?!? the last time i was on an airplane was to arrive in belize), getting OFF the airplane and having a minor panic attack at the busy-ness and modernity of the san salvador and then managua airports, and then touching down in a country not my own (and yes, i consider belize my own). yes, i thought i was overwhelmed. however, as i walked out from the gate area, i was more than overwhelmed--i was overcome--as i saw ed & barb from the HHM office, whom i expected to pick me up, but then i saw 4 other sets of hands waving and jumping from in between the crowd of expectant people. i might have caught a glimpse of the sign that was made for me (JV MARIA), or i might have turned away too quickly, having so many emotions at once and not knowing what to do with them. i inadvertently bypassed a security checkpoint person in my haste to rush into welcoming arms of JVs that i knew, and one that i didn't know.

the feeling was amazing. it didn't matter that i had not seen these people in a year and a half, nor did it matter that i had never met their new first year roommate. what mattered was that we were JVs and we were so happy to see each other and hug each other and just 'be' with each other.

we spent the rest of the night talking, sharing, catching up, telling stories, and saying things like: "you do it that way? we do it like this" and "no way, you have _____. you're so lucky!" and "in _____ we say this, not ______". what i wanted to say over and over was, "i'm so lucky."

indeed, i felt so lucky to be there, to be hearing these stories, to be sharing my own. i stopped often, took a deep breath, and reminded myself i was blessed for all i was experiencing. i was so happy.

it seems cliche, but i don't know how else to describe it, other than, it was almost magical to be there. it was instantly re-energizing and re-inspiring to merely spend time with them; the time spent conversing about the 4 values and later the challenges that came from those insights seemed like extra bonuses.

we spoke dreamily of a joint nica/belize retreat. having the joys and renewed spirit from seeing another country's jvs and wanting the rest of the belize jvs to experience this too, i was (and continue to be) strongly in favor of it.

without much more to say, i'll close by reiterating my gratitude to the JVs for all they brought me.

enjoy the pictures, the day, and each other!

blessings, maria

Monday, January 21, 2008


Last week, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Managua, Nicaragua. I was joining a group from Kentucky for a week long Hand in Hand Ministries immersion trip. First, though, I arrived two days early to spend some time with the Nica JVs. I was so nervous when I got on the plane—I haven’t been on an airplane in a year and a half after 25 years of pretty consistent airplane travel. There are no direct flights from Belize to Managua, so I had a layover in San Salvador. Oh my gosh—the second I walked off the airplane into the modernity of the airport, I almost stopped breathing! It was, well, developed. There were stores, people, metal walls, glass window, everything you would think an airport would have, right? True, true…….but the Belize City airport, with its 4 gates lacks the modern conveniences one would expect. I kept repeating in my head, ‘this is what it is going to be like Maria, this is what it is going to be like…….’ thinking of my return to the states. Thankfully, my gate was two gates away and I didn’t venture far because I was overwhelmed. A next short flight and I had arrived safely in Managua where I was greeted with a sign (JV MARIA) and many sets of waving hands. I completely bypassed the security stop and went straight to the JVs whom I hadn’t seen in a year and a half, yet with whom I felt an instant connection. We went back to their house and talked for maybe 4 hours about the differences between my community and theirs! Oh, and we drank beer too---and it wasn’t Belikin----ahh, Managua!

The next two days I bummed around with the JVs, loving every minute of it. I had to stop several times to catch my breath and recognize that the bursting feeling inside me was because I was just so happy. I don’t know that I can truly explain it—it was almost magical to see them, hear their stories, see their workplaces, pray with them, listen to them (& sing along) while they played guitar, go to the market with them, and just be. It was really fun to share stories and talk about all the tidbits that we’ve heard along the way from all our other JVs that are all over the world.

Sunday night, I went to the airport for the third night in a row! I arrived there Friday, went on Saturday to meet Josh’s dad & sister, and went Sunday to pick up the rest of the HHM group that I would be with for the week. We went back to a really lovely ‘guest house’ (a hotel, basically) where we stayed for the week. The week consisted of going to the work site every day where we attempted to construct a cement block house for Martha, Josue, Estevan, and Enrique. Throughout the week, there were many side trips to Hand in Hand sponsored sites, families’ houses, a pool with the sponsored kids, the dump, the boys’ home, and a ‘leper colony.’ I learned so much. I met amazing people. One can never really share everything from a trip like this. I probably can’t even recognize all the lessons I will carry with me yet.

The group from KY was amazing. I loved them! If I had done nothing else that week, they would have taught me more than I ever would have expected. They were a riot—in the very best of ways! I, often, witnessed their boundless kindness & generosity, mostly because it was directed at me! Quite unexpected.

I kept pinching myself because I had come from two magical days with the JVs to a ‘guest house’ equipped with hot water, a washing machine, hot coffee and cold milk, and a cooler full of beer. Does it get much better than that?

I think the neighborhood kids stole the show, though. Each day when we pulled up in the big red mini-bus, 30 or so children came RUNNING to the bus screaming our names. One of the group members said that he felt like a rock star, as he tried to navigate the short walk from the bus to the house with 10 children hanging on him. They were beautiful, energetic, sassy, silly, and loving children. Most of us walked away with notes or tokens that the kids so generously gave us. They were pretty special.

Ed & Barb (& their daughter Jacquie) run the HHM office in Managua. They are AWESOME. I really love them! In fact, I want to be them when I grow up. They so seamlessly negotiated 13 demanding Americans, 30 Nicaraguan children, multiple families, language differences, learning gaps, the pilot house building project, questions, concerns, problems, and everything else in between. They are humble, caring, genuine, and inspiring. And I told them just that!

I spent the last day with the JVs while the rest of the group went to the market and to a lagoon. We took a lot of pictures and made a few videos for my community to watch upon my return.

I am unsatisfied with this rendition of my week, but I know that I won’t ever be able to capture it all. I hope this gives just a small glimpse of it.

And always, questions, thoughts, and comments are appreciated!

And as Margaret said often, God bless you!

Friday, January 04, 2008

Christmas Poem

My roommate Molly wrote us a nice little Christmas poem. Clever, no? I thought so. Hope you enjoy it. Even though Christmas is over, the holiday spirit can still be around!

Off to Nicaragua. I'm going with Hand in Hand Ministries--just like HHM runs trips to Belize, they also have week long trips to Nica. I will be meeting up with a group from Kentucky in Managua. But first, I get to hang out with the JVs there! Yea! I'll try to write a post about it in a few weeks.

Thanks for all the thoughts, prayers, cards, and little presents throughout the holidays. All, truly all, have been appreciated. Thank you.

‘Twas the day before Christmas, when all through Belize

Not a raindrop was falling, not even a breeze;

The palm trees were decorated in yards with detail,

In hopes for a lee bit o’ shade while enjoying some ale;

The JVs were a-lounging, all sweaty and hot,

Sharing family holiday stories, which perhaps they should not;

Trey’s on the sofa, guitar in hand,

And Mon’s out on the verandah surveying the land;

Maria is sprawled, reading a book,

And Kate’s in the kitchen: the talented cook;

Molly is sipping a cup of hot tea,

While the lights shine colorfully from the fake Christmas tree;

When out on the lawn there arose such a yell,

Just Frankie, they thought, and neglected to dwell;

“Now, white people!” he exclaimed, through the burglar bars

“let me in, I bear gifts,” his eyes shown like the stars;

A broken fan in one hand, a flower pot in another,

They let dear Frankie in—after all, he’s like their brother;

After some drunken stories about France and the army,

Frankie offered a lone swimmie plastered with “Barbie”

He was thanked for his thoughtfulness, generosity, and cheer,

But was helped out the door as the night drew near.

Next up the stairs was a girl named Angie,

Silent and scornful when Molly called her “Flangie.”

She sat at the table while the volunteers reminisced,

Recalling traditions, apparel, and movies they missed.

Angie left quickly, as fast as she came,

She wouldn’t even accept the Christmas cookie they offered—boy, that was lame.

The JVs settled ‘round the table, for a game of “Oh, Heck”

When, yet again, they heard a knock from their deck.

Oh Gosh, they thought, not another passerby;

It was growing late—they were tired—and Christmas was nigh.

Through the door they heard but a chuckle,

And around a big box, they saw a white knuckle;

It was Fr. Harrison, S.J., that jolly good fellow!

He was dressed in his fake Crocs, and a t-shirt of yellow,

A box of goodies, he held in his arms—

His eyes bright with love, hospitality and charm.

He looked a lot like Santa, the volunteers thought with glee,

With his white beard, box of gifts, and round-ish belly.

A wink of his eye, and a twist of my dread,

He conjured some crackers and a vegetable spread;

Some chocolate, some ice cream, some candy canes, too,

Some apples, some cookies, some wine of fresh brew;

And giving a nod, to the shocked faces around,

He smiled and turned to leave without a sound;

And behind him he closed gently the old metal door,

Lest they could hear, “at least they’re not Peace Corps!”

And to bed the volunteers headed, to be rested and ready

For the Christmas festivities scheduled already:

To Rosie’s, to Mrs. B’s, to Dawn’s, and Ms. Jean’s;

With great joy, good company, and plenty of rice and beans.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Another List

I feel like I have been writing lots of lists lately. Sorry for you, here's another one!

We had community night last night and we were given a piece of paper, pens, and the instructions to finish the sentence "Belize is..."

For community night, we could only draw pictures to depict our answers. Yeah. I'm a terrible artist. After community night, I went to my room and wrote out all the thoughts that were swimming about in my head. I wanted to keep writing and writing. I think I could (and will) keep adding to this list in the months to come, but here it is as I wrote it last night.

Belize is…………..

  • St Martin’s, faith, growth
  • Rice & beans or beans & rice
  • Hugs from children
  • Community
  • Laying on a hammock
  • Smelly, dirty, full of garbage
  • Ms. Cherry, Jamila, Sal, Ms. Blanche, Ms. Althea, Ms. Loretta, Ms. Ruth
  • Mr. P, Mr. Bowen, Beto, Fonso, Abel, Castro, Pops, Flav, Mr. Lizama, Glenroy
  • Relaxing on the PG veranda
  • Loud
  • Hopping in the back of a pick up
  • 8 bananas for a dollar
  • The sound of Ms. Gweny methodically macheting the dirt next door
  • Giving and receiving, but mostly receiving
  • 2 jars of Peanut Butter every week
  • Beating the Garifuna drum at church
  • The palm tree outside my window
  • Coffee every morning
  • Biking everywhere
  • Miss, please fi wah shilling
  • Music blaring from buildings, cars, homes
  • Ms. Ruth bringing me food & Ms. Cherry always feeding me
  • Running on Princess Margaret
  • Eating dinner together at 6:30 every night
  • Washing clothes by hand and hanging them to dry
  • A trillion mosquitoes
  • Lots of oh heck, cribbage, and spades
  • Visiting people in their homes
  • Smiling faces, happiness
  • Sweating all the time
  • Crabs scuttling across the street
  • Paddling a dory from the Guatemalan border to Belize City
  • Books books books
  • Hailing everyone you know
  • Love
  • Armies of ants in the kitchen, my bedroom, the bathroom
  • Singing & dancing to garifuna music in the office
  • $1 plantain chips bought through the window of the James Bus
  • Football games starting 4 hours late
  • Potholes, rain, puddles, bad roads, and dirt specks all over my clothes
  • Laughing a lot
  • Questioning my privilege
  • Hurting
  • Traditions, stories, lore
  • Grinning all day when I get to wear long sleeves
  • Gibnut, armadillo, and iguana served over rice
  • Hudut, cowfoot soup, stew beans & tortillas, escebeche, black dinner, relleno, ceviche
  • The dead cat in the backpack on our corner
  • Shacks, board houses, cement houses
  • Begging the minister for fill
  • Denying Jesus at the door
  • Pigtail buckets
  • Check-ins at BTL park
  • Throwing our compost over the veranda
  • Cat calls and hisses
  • Wooden buildings rotten, leaning, and on the verge of collapse
  • Roaches, roaches, and more roaches
  • Drinking our rain water
  • Beautiful
  • Hearing the songs from church while sitting in our living room
  • Backpacks full of vegetables from the market
  • Letting go
  • Reading 3 month old Newsweeks
  • Bed chats
  • Leaving for work 5 minutes after I am supposed to be there
  • Flooded streets
  • Phone calls on your birthday
  • Black cake, white cake, rum po-po and turkey dinner for Christmas
  • Chacos every day
  • Speaking Kriol very poorly
  • Our solidarity rings
  • Morning cries of “Dorla, Dorla”, “Tamales, Ducunu, Tamales, Ducunu” “Meat pie, meat pie, hot meat pie”
  • Playing feech with the guys at the shelter
  • Disappointments
  • Awkward
  • Feeling unable
  • Children in uniforms
  • Sometimes knowing the answer, most often, not
  • Running out the back door with Jam to watch a parade
  • Living without because I have a choice next to my neighbors who live without because they have no choice
  • My first ever road races
  • The happy truck
  • Calendars on the walls
  • Family, of all sorts
  • Singing along to the guitar
  • Silence
  • Prayer
  • Grace

Saturday, November 24, 2007

application essay

well, i am at the parish on a sunny satruday afternoon, and i am supposed to be working on my social problem analysis for my application for the university of washington. yikes. instead, i thought i'd post something because it has been far too long since i have updated anyone on things.

as you may have guess, i have decided to apply to earn my masters of social work from the university of washington. yikes! i'm a bit stressed out trying to coordinate all the details of transcript requests and reference forms from belize, but everyone so far has been so accommodating, flexible, and encouraging. that has really helped.

i'm going to post a version of my application essay. it's certainly not a typical 'autobiographical statement.' i'm slightly nervous that it's not, but i can't seem to get away from this version because it encompasses so many of my true thoughts. i know it needs a lot of work before i can submit it and cross my fingers that the admissions committee thinks i am a stellar applicant. i'm open to thoughts, critiques (kind ones, please), and questions. i know i'll have to add things here and there to give it more context and have it make more sense and that will detract from the power that i think it has right now, but i recognize it has to follow some sort of guidelines. anyway, here it is. let me know what you think.

Why do I want to be a social worker?

Because this is it, right here, right now. I sit surrounded by others whose desire for social justice is so predominant that it compelled them to leave everything that was easy and comfortable for a place that is confusing, harsh, and completely different. For a place where we get harassed on a daily basis, where we are in a minority whose skin color stands for wealth and privilege, where we are completely dependent on those around us, those whom we have supposedly come to serve, where we don’t speak the language or know the customs but are warmly accepted into people’s homes and where those same people share food with us that was supposed to feed the family for a week.

Because my passion for social justice has had me to the corners of the earth so that I can hear people’s stories, sit with them in their homes, clasp their hands, and carry that, all that, in my own journey, my pursuit to understand and to serve and to work with those who have less than I.

Because after days and days of no results, or worse, major setbacks, Ms. Ruth shows up at my door handing me five Belize dollars towards her savings for a sink; her total is now 20 dollars.

Because even though Patrick was asked to leave his housing the day before, he finally received his first disability check from the V.A.

Because the achievements and accomplishments in my days are when Alice Mae attends the educational sessions, when Ms. Loretta finally talks to the primary school about their feeding program for Kalim, when Chiara, a 4 year old infected with HIV, plays with Amaya and K’zjon and gets a bath and a good lunch.

Because Christina, a 14 year old girl whose grandmother applied for a new roof for their mobile home as a present for her completion of 9th grade, taught me that ‘need’ isn’t strictly economic and that poverty exists in many forms.

Because these stories are from Belize, Oaxaca, Italy, Appalachia, Ecuador, Mauritania, and Seattle, where I have spent time in roles such as case manager, social worker, counselor, mentor, teacher, and friend.

Because not a day passes in which I am not shouted at, laughed at, or verbally harassed sake of my skin color and my gender and because I can say with certainty that I never want others to feel how this feels.

Because while working with developmentally disabled adults in Italy, the work and mental challenge was so great that I thought about leaving every single day for the first six weeks and because I stayed, I can say now that I would do it all over again for the chance to tie Vito’s shoe or chase Paolo down the path.

Because my clothes grow mold, cockroaches are the size of cell phones, and I don’t have enough money for milk, and at the end of the day, this is my home and these are my neighbors and if I have made one person feel valued then I have done well.

Because we’re all the same; we’re all human and we’re all deserving and because being a social worker and furthering my knowledge and my education in that field is the best way I know how to honor that.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

turning off?

so, i was writing a letter to my friend kate (hi kate...if you read this, then you'll read it twice because it's in a letter on it's way to you in england!) and i was sorting out some of my thoughts on Belize recently.

lately, i think i'm starting to shut off to the discouraging reality surrounding me. belize is pretty violent lately (gangs, killings--especially bike-by killings...i'm not kidding and it's not funny) and unfortunately, i know a lot of people affected by it all, on both sides. so, it is getting increasingly more violent here while at the same time, the situation is not getting better in terms of my clients' access to food or resources. it is generally just a bad situation now. and i suppose this is not new, but i think the increase in violence has made me look at my community and belizean society differently.

just today, my supervisor came to me and said, 'you know who died?' my first response was 'who else?' being that i know a few people who have died recently. he explained that the son of one of our recent recipients of a house was in a 'chiney' (little shops owned by chinese people...that's for another discussion!) with a black mask on, armed, and intending to rob the shop. instead, the owner pulled out a gun of his own and shot the young man in the forehead. he died on the spot. as my supervisor and i both sat there in silence, i think he thought i was trying to digest this while what i was really thinking was, 'yep, another killing by someone else connected with my work; wonder when it's gonna stop; is it? hmm..., well, what can we do, not much, okay, moving on....' that is what i was thinking. that's not okay with me.

anyway, because i don't have the answers, nor can i fully grasp ALL the implications of this, i think i'm just shutting down to the reality. and this scares me. it scares me because i don't want to be someone who sees violence, poverty, & hunger and who accepts it -- OR WORSE -- who ignores it! but i also know that for various reasons (the most pressing of which is that i am not belizean, did not grow up here, and don't/won't ever REALLY 'get' it) i can't entirely understand this place and thus get frustrated with my inability to affect change here.

i console myself with my belief that for right now, at least, what i can do is love one person at a time until i love as many as i can, and hope that love permeates throughout the community. i think that's all we can do sometimes.

my community is also involved with a local faith and justice organization (the only one, i'm pretty sure) to organize a candle-lit walk and prayer service to end the violence. the theme is 'stop the violence. dees streets da fi all ah wi'. it will take place oct 20th. we hope to have parents and family members of the victims come speak. we hope it's powerful. we hope it helps. and if it doesn't, i'll just keep loving one person at a time, and hoping that others are doing the same.

Friday, September 14, 2007

yep...some more...

some things about the pics: a few of the marathon....the pretty absurd medal ceremonies and all....and a few of the great flood of 2007 we had a 'tropical depression' in the midst of all the hurricane madness, so for a day or so, EVERYTHING in belize was under water. people were saying they hadn't seen it that bad in 10 years. thankfully (as in most cases) we were fine; it was our neighbors who bore the brunt of it. one of these pics shows how people were getting around town...on inflatable rafts (and canoes and the like....) also, the bridge that goes over the drainage ditch outside our house (that we like to call the moat) washed away down our we either had to swing on our gate across the moat (see picture) or just go right through...which is what i ended up doing and had water up to my mid thigh...not so fun.

the ones in the next post are silly ones of us in community night and one of the sunrise over the water last saturday morning.

some more pictures...

hey guys--here are some more random pics. i put a few more on the picasa site, so when you have a chance and want to take a peek, go here:

Thursday, September 06, 2007

time of my life?

I got an email the other day regarding my pictures saying that it certainly looks like I am having the time of my life. Certain days, certain moments, I suppose this is true. However, it gave me pause and made me wonder if I am portraying the wrong things to friends and family in the states. Also, it made me look at what I’m doing here. I’m not here to have the time of my life. Belize is not a two year vacation for me. I wear a black ring on my right hand made from a tree in Brazil. This ring was given to me (and the other JVs) by a priest in Punta Gorda. He gave it to us, not with the expectation that we would wear it, but with the hope that when (if) we did wear it, it would serve as a constant reminder of our thoughts and actions. You see, this ring symbolizes ‘solidarity with the poor.’ I am only supposed to wear this ring if I feel that I am choosing to be in solidarity with the poor. Does having a conversation with a mother who’s child is on the run because he murdered a man mean that I am in solidarity with the poor? Does sitting in my big cement house listening to gunshots indicating the string of violence lately but doing nothing about that violence mean I am solidarity? Does going ‘without’ when I have the choice mean that I am solidarity with those who go ‘without’ because they have no choice? I don’t know these answers. But I wear my ring. I wear it when I am sitting with someone talking about how she might be able to find food for her children tomorrow but I also wear it when I go to the caye. I don’t want to not play football and go to Cayo for a game, but I don’t want to not be in solidarity or forget the reasons I chose to be here. Can I do both? Lots of questions.

I think I’m not too good at expressing my ‘real life’ here. I have resigned myself to allowing others to think my Belize life is similar to so many others’ Belize vacations. I welcome questions about my job, my neighbors, my journey so as to have a better starting point for stories or explanations.

I am thankful for moments like that, a two line email or a flippant comment, that give me pause, that make me think about my time here, that make me actively choose to wear my ring.

Monday, September 03, 2007

hurricane felix...

hey guys...

another email about a hurricane watch here in belize....geesh.

hurricane felix currently looks like it is heading south. it may hit belize, but more likely it will hit honduras. however, as one can never predict the path of a hurricane, we will be preparing as best we can up in belize city.

we're supposed to get a tropical storm today and tomorrow AND THEN the hurricane (or the hurricane winds and rain) on wednesday. everyone is getting ready today, packing up, buying supplies, and heading inland.

i'm at work right now but just for the morning. soon i'll be heading home to get the house ready. ha. getting the house ready will, i predict, be embarrassingly simple, like last time. we will likely put the impenetrable black trash bags on our windows (note the sarcasm), move things up from the floor and possibly move mattresses and such in the hallway.

then, we will go bunk with the jesuits in SJC again.

like last time, we are in no physical danger and the worst that is going to happen to us is sitting in a concrete building with no electricity---meaning no fans or airflow, since all the windows will be boarded up.

again, like last time, the folks who need your thoughts and prayers are our neighbors and friends who have board houses and no place to go....also, the pg volunteers and their friends/neighbors, as it looks like they will be hit worse than we will.

if we do have electricity, i will try to email updates when i have them. otherwise, sit tight and know that myself and the other volunteers are safe and that we will email when we can.

on a fun note, my housemates and i participated in the BDF (belize defense force) running events yesterday and did really well. quite similar to last year, we decided very last minute to participate and thus had little physical or mental preparation.
kate ran the full marathon--crazy--and won! (again)--VERY crazy!!!
maria and monica ran the 1/2 marathon--why in the world we did that is beyond me--and placed 2nd and 3rd, respectively! what!?!?
molly ran the 10k, WON it, and immediately went home, showered, and went to work (she works at the parish and had to be there for mass at 9am.

so, that's good news in the midst of some troubling news.

i'll try to write more about the events above because, as you probably guessed, i have some pretty fun and funny stories about the day!

be well and pray for those who are going to be affected by all the rain and winds.

blessings, maria

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

oh yeah---

oh yeah--i cut my hair! i donated it to locks for love. good thing i can't come back to the states for a year....i hope by then it has grown! i don't love all...but i guess i'm getting more used to it. you should hear the comments i get about it though. perhaps it wasn't a terrific idea to cut my hair boy short while in belize....hmm.....

ps---i added about 4 posts today (i've been writing them and saving them to post when the internet turned back on) so make sure you scroll down to check them all.



i wish i could label these, but i'll try to describe them so you can tell which one is which.

the first three are in st. martin's at our commissioning mass. the group of 4 is the PG group. Susannah, fino, sarah, and bobby. (fino and sarah--2nd years; suzy and bobby--first years).

the next picture is the Belize City community--trey, monica, me, kate, molly, meghan.

the nicely dressed group of 5 are all the first years.

the three of us on the bed are the three 2nd year girls in belize city--myself, monica, and kate. we were on retreat at banana bank.

the two at the end with only 5 people in them are the 2nd years. one is at our house the night before the newbies arrive and one is waiting at the airport for the newbies to come through customs. the picture where we are all standing goes as follows: monica, fino, kate, sarah, me.

hope this helps for some mental pictures of my new (and old) roommates!

Summer fun and new roommates

Gosh. I have been meaning to write an update for a while now. I’ll try to make it brief, but a lot has happened, so no promises.

This summer I had two visitors—my friend Bridget and my sister! It is tough here to have visitors for a lot of reasons, but it is also so fun. It’s tough because my work is not extremely flexible in letting me take time off and the days that I am at work, there’s not much for the visitors to do around Belize City itself. Plus, having visitors means that we do touristy things, which is really incongruent with the way we live our lives here. We strive to live simply and be in solidarity with our neighbors who don’t necessarily have the means to take a day off to go hang out on the caye. That said, it is a tremendous relief to be able to do that, visitors or not. Plus, having visitors is a great excuse to see some of the country that I haven’t seen yet. I also LOVE having people understand what my life is like here, so having Andy and Bridget tag along and meet my coworkers, clients, and neighbors was so great. It’s also neat to show them things that were surprising and just downright odd to me at first because I can see how much I’ve grown and how much I’ve learned in the past year. I love hopping in the back of a truck with a visitor because I know it’s a novelty and kind of exciting for them, and it reminds me to be thankful for all the things I get to experience here daily.

I won’t go into too much detail about their visits. It was exciting to go places but it was also wonderful to have someone around who has known me for longer than a year. We talked about things important to us that happened more than 12 months ago! We went to Hopkins (a Garifuna village on the coast), Caye Caulker, Tikal (Guatemala), San Ignacio, and Placencia. Phew….what adventures. Bridget was here for one week in June and Andy was here for two weeks in July.

Also during July, the two PG volunteers moved in and ran a summer camp at St. Martin’s with Monica. It was such fun to have them. They’re silly and supportive and amazing. We had a wonderful time. It gave the 5 of us a chance to reflect on last year---to laugh, vent and tell stories. We played cards (a TON), danced in the kitchen, sang along to CDs….we bonded so much. We all had such different journeys last year and yet there were, on the brink of this next year when our roles as second years will be so different from the year prior. Those few summer weeks that I was dreading for the chaos they would bring, turned out to be life giving. Each time I looked around at the five of us, I was just so proud of us.

Our new roommates came July 31st—that seems like a lifetime ago! We got to the airport kinda late (how quickly we adjust to ‘Belize time’) and literally went running through the airport (good thing it’s the size of a postage stamp) to see them get off the plane. We screamed and waved and were bursting with nervous excitement. We waited downstairs for them to get their bags and get through customs. We waited….and waited….and waited. Afterwards, we talked about how great it was that they didn’t come straight off the plane because the 5 of us would have flattened them while rushing trying to hug and greet them. Turns out the not one piece of their luggage arrived! Oops. They were total troopers though, saying “well, we did sign up for simple living!”

All 10 Belize JVs spend the beginning of August together for phase 2 of orientation, the ‘in-country’ part of orientation. This is planned by the 2nd years….yep, the 5 of us! We had a blast. The newbies are really great and of course, I’m in love with the 2nd years. How much fun was it to spend a few weeks all together…! We did pretty much the same things as last year, except it was so much more fun this year because I actually knew what was going on! Last year I was clueless, lonely, homesick, and disoriented. This year was GREAT! We have a retreat, we run a summer camp, we eat dinner in Mayan village, we all jump off a waterfall into a river (well we actually jump right beside the waterfall) we see Garifuna drumming, and we get talks on all different aspects of Belizean life. Good times.

And now, the Belize City community is back at home, after Hurricane Dean, trying to form some sense of normalcy. It is community building time, which is awkward, confusing at times, joyous, unexpected, and uncertain---all exactly as it should be. I really like my three new roommates. I know that in time, I will love them, and I am happy that for now I think they’re neat. They bring so many different things to our house.

One of the biggest challenges is trying not to compare everything to last year and to remember that this is a new community. It’s hard because I’m still in my same house and working at my same job and I expect things to be the same as last year and they’re just not going to be. That’s not a bad thing! I just have to get used to three new roommates, continue bonding with the other two second years, and accept life, changes, community day by day by day. And I have to pray. A lot. About transition. Community. Journeys. And the weather.

Phew. That should do it for now. I know there is no way to summarize all that has gone on over the past months, so please email with more specific questions or remind me to write about things I’ve left out.

hurrican dean

Hurricane dean…

Well, hurricane dean has come and gone and everyone I know personally is safe and mostly unaffected.

Thankfully, the worst that happened in Belize City was lots of wind and rain. There was enough thunder and lightening in the beginning to freak me out, but that subsided and the rest was just gusts of wind. A few fences were knocked down, some vendors stands were turned over, and rain puddled into houses, but that is it. And truthfully, that’s not altogether different from a regular storm here. The scariest thing for me, at least, was reading online and watching the news. At one point I read a headline that said “hurricane dean turns into a category 5 monster.” There were so many uncertainties and possibilities of disaster---my mind was reeling. The six of us were huddled around one computer looking at projections and wind speeds and damage already done in Jamaica and Haiti. One of my roommates finally said that we had to turn the computer off and go play cards or something because there was nothing to be done but waiting at that point.

Today everyone is thanking God and exclaiming how blessed and lucky we are. My supervisor said that if the hurricane had come one centimeter lower, it would have been devastating. I’m not sure where the centimeter comes in, but I can only imagine Belize City if it had been hit worse.

I haven’t been able to check up too much on Corazol and Orange Walk yet. I hear that families are displaced, crops were lost, and houses were ruined. I am anxious to learn the full extent of the damage.

My roommates and I made out like bandits during the hurricane, which was terrible and strangely great. We spent Monday to Tuesday with the Jesuits at St. John’s College (SJC). Minus lifting heavy boards to cover all the windows on multiple floors and moving things from the verandas, including the Jesuits’ entire collection of plants (seriously, who needs an entire rainforest in your house when you live basically surrounded by the jungle!?!?!), it was like a vacation for us. It was wonderful in so many ways. It is always great to get a break from our house, so spending the night with at SJC was fun. It was relaxed, unstructured time for us to hang out and get to know each other better without the pressure of being on retreat or having anything else that we should be doing. Ummm, also, the Jesuits have TV AND INTERNET, so while the power was still on, you bet we took advantage of that. And last, they fed us! Man, we ate so well. The Jesuits have multiple kinds of cereal (we have none) AND real milk (we have KLIM, powdered milk). Oh my gosh---we ate so many bowls of cereal. I think we finished each meal with cereal. We may have given the Jesuits the impression that we starve normally, which is entirely untrue, but our enthusiasm for the simple pleasures of hot water (oh yeah, forgot to mention that) and cereal were overwhelming! It was hard on the psyche though, to know that the hurricane was treating us so well and others so poorly.

That’s the update for now. Thanks to everyone for thoughts and prayers during the scary last few days. The people of Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico and northern Belize (and everyone else affected) still need those, so keep ‘em coming!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

just makes sense

[the pics...the picture of the island is goff's caye. hand in hand took staff and friends there for a day of relaxing and fun. it was GORGEOUS. next there are a few of my housemates, just hanging out. one pic is of mr. bowen who is one of my favorite people here. i think he's great--i tell people that on his bad days, he talks nonsense and on his good days he's incredibly difficult to understand. in the states he would probably be diagnosed with a mental illness, but here he exists with no diagnosis and lives on the goodwill of others, mostly a gentleman named santos diaz. the last is a picture of a bunch of kids at the worksite of the last hand in hand house. as it happens so often in belize, the recipient of the house is the aunt of some of the kids that live in another hand in hand house. i tried to figure out the connection, but there were too many brother in laws and aunties for me to accurately pinpoint the relationship. everyone here seems to be related any which way, so i just accept that!]

well. june is almost over. the boys are leaving soon, starting with danny's departure on saturday! adam leaves on monday and then chris leaves thursday. YIKES. when did this happen!! where did this last year go? i was talking with monica about how i remember a few things, like our thanksgiving retreat and christmas day, but really, we can't seem to figure out where the rest of the year went!

i'm getting sad that the boys are leaving. it's just more transition and change. i've grown so used to them--their companionship, the community we've built. now we have a month of ins and outs of visitors and we begin again to build a new community when the new jvs come in august. that's what i signed up for though! we know the names of our newbies and i'm excited at the prospect of new faces, new challenges, new ideas. it's just the losing of the old community that i'm stuck on right now.

the good thing about the all this transition is that is makes me look at my life right now more critically. i absolutely would not be ready to leave belize right now and that's such a great feeling. each day for the past few weeks, i've really looked around to appreciate what i have here....the friends i've made, the outlets i've found, the beauty of the city.

my life makes sense here. it makes sense to me that i'm here...with no hot water, with no washing machine, with no television. it makes sense that i live in community, that i carry the vegetables i buy at the market home in my backpack on my bike, that i walk two blocks to the corner to buy $1 bananas, that we celebrated mass in my living room last night with fr. dan. it makes sense that i hail or get hailed by at least three people each time i go running, that i play dominoes with a developmentally disabled man and a blind man who both stay in a homeless shelter. it makes sense that no matter where i am before i eat...sitting with my housemates at dinner, waiting on the bus with my football team, standing in the street in honduras... i stop and thank God for the food in front of me and all who helped bring it to the table.

it just makes sense.

and i love that.

that doesn't mean that i don't miss home. i do. desperately sometimes. but i'm so happy that i see this world around me--the people, the water, the palm trees, the dust and dirt, the bikes and houses and shacks--and can recognize that my desire to do what God wants me to do is evident in my contentment with my surroundings. and i can only hope that i'm able to reciprocate a fraction of the blessings i receive here.