Belize Adventures

Friday, September 29, 2006

this and that

i wish i could just be writing down the constant stream of thoughts that run through my head, because let me tell you, they are darn funny. i have so many stories and insights that i want to share, but by the time i get to sitting down at a computer for long enough to compose something, they have all dissapeared. ugh. so, this will be the few stories i can remember---a little of this and that.....

i found this quote while reading an article about HIV/AIDS in Belize: Belize is a small country with a total population no larger than a mid-sized city, yet with all the responsibilities of a nation.
that is so good for me to remember and certainly helps me frame my thoughts about how this nation functions! when reading this and all the following posts, keep that quote in mind!

let's see....i guess i'll start with football. i LOVE it. mainly, i just love the game itself. i love getting out there, running around, feeling like i'm part of a team....well, okay, maybe i don't exactly feel like actual member of the team. pretty much i feel like a poser, but still i love it. the reason i feel like a poser is that everyone speaks kriol (creole---i haven't quite figured out how it is spelled...i've seen it both ways) and i don't. sometimes someone will say, 'speak english for maria!' ha! at practice it's hillarious because the coach will say something and i can gather the gist of what he's talking about but then people will start moving in some formation and i realize i have no idea what is going on or what i'm supposed to be doing! mostly i just wait to see what everyone else is doing and then i fall in behind them. however, sometimes when it is plain that i have no clue what the coach said, he will squat down, pick up a rock, and draw x's and o's in the sand to indicate what the drill is! isn't that so funny! the field is half sand, half grass with a big patch in the middle that apparently is the spot to throw all your beer caps. (haven't figured that one out either) well, that's the field we practice on. the field we play on is ALMOST all grass...almost. we won our last game 3-0. we're a pretty good team! i can say that with no confidence at all, as i've only seen us face one opponent. our first game after i joined the team turned into a scrimmage, as the other team didn't show. regardless, football is such a release for me. it's a chance to get out there and just play. it is a great escape from work and community. the times that i actually talk with my teammates (when they are kind enough to either slow down in creole or speak in english) i feel like i'm slowly forming relationships with belizeans and i have other people to talk to besides the 5 folks i see day in and day out. when i was playing last weekend, i was so wrapped up in it that i forgot that i was THE ONLY WHITE GIRL on the field! i looked around at one point and was like, oh my gosh--i'm in belize! two of my roommates came to watch some of the game and they actually had trouble finding me on the field!!!! i find that hillarious. they said because of my dark hair, i kinda blended in. i also think it helped that i was wearing soccer socks up to my knees, shorts that came down to my knees, and an XXL jersey---meaning my white skin was mostly covered up. i'm still delighted that i was hard to find on the field though! we've got another game tomorrow....hooray!

remember when i wrote about the immense pressure i feel to be the perfect social worker? that has not subsided. at all. there was a stressful situation at work in which one of the parents was upset over some things that had happened and the director of the center dealt with it. afterwards, she came to me and told me what she had done. she then said, "what would you have done (dramatic pause) as a social worker?" ha! as though there is a secret social work code that works in every situation. hey, if anyone knows that code, clue me in! just a day following that conversation, the director of hand in hand (my agency) said to me, "you have your MSW, right?" WHAT!?!? who started this rumor!?!? i don't know what the big joke is, but i am not licensed, i don't have a master's, and i don't have all the social work answers.....but i certainly do feel a tremendous amount of pressure! isn't that fun!

work related---i had a conversation with my supervisor and the director of hand in hand today. we actually wrote down short term and long term goals. fantastic! now i have a BIT clearer picture of what i'm supposed to be doing. it is pretty much the same as what i described before, with some changes and some additions. again, when i'm clearer on things, i'll let you know. this is all for the outreach part of my job. the center with the kids is the same---kids running and screaming and not listening to a thing i say. although, i've really thought about this. i would not listen to a thing i said either: i'm only there two days a week, i'm white (quite unusual in their lives), and i don't speak creole. in school, kids are forced to speak english, but these kids are not in school yet and the ONLY thing they hear at home is creole. so why would they listen to this random white girl who talks funny? like i said, i wouldn't either! so, i just keep trying. i do speak a little creole to the kids because it's fun to try and sometimes it works. i don't speak any creole if there are adults around though because it sounds so funny to my ears--i imagine it sounds HORRID to their ears!

just a side note--one of my roommate is a queen at killing cockroaches! i can stomp on the little ones, but the big ones still freak me out! kate sees them and stomps away! it's amazing. the other day she was in the kitchen and trapped a big one under our KLIM can (powdered milk---the real stuff is too expensive). she then got a pan, tipped the can up and beat the cockroach. i was quite impressed! i hope you all are too. those things are scary when they're huge!

we all take turns doing chores and last week my chore was the market. having the market chore means that you do all the week's shopping, normally on saturday morning. it's not a terrible chore, but you have to get up early on saturday to get to the market (and the few other places you have to stop as well). my market partner is chris. we're the only two in the house that religiously drink coffee. we didn't have our coffee prior to going to the market--not smart, but it was too early. we wandered through the stalls, asking prices from different vendors to make sure we weren't being taken advantage of, and checked off everything on our list (2 pounds beans, 5 pounds rice, 2 pounds + 4 tomatoes, 5 onions, etc.....) finally we finished and chris turned to me and said, "you know what would be nice right now? starbucks. hey, you think there's one around here?" okay--i don't know if you all can appreciate that, but i thought it was a riot. and then i was actually quite sad that i could not have it! ha!

one more story. one thing that makes me feel like a superstar here is getting hailed. to 'hail' in belize simply means that whenever you see anyone you know, you yell that person's name. seriously. it's fantastic. sometimes you might stop and talk or if you're on bike (which is when i'm mostly hailed) you just wave and ride on by. since belize is such a small place, everyone knows everyone. the other day i was hailed both on my way to AND from the track. it was great! i'm sure that it will soon get old, but let me tell you, right now it makes me feel like a rock star! people also hail you when you're at home. the way to get a hold of someone who lives fairly close to you is to walk to the house, stand outside, and then yell the person's name until the person comes outside. this is a phenomenon i don't quite understand. it translates into cars as well. any car that is coming to pick you up or even just say hi will pull up outside the house and then just honk! i'm serious. it's totally normal to honk and wait in your car for someone to come outside to talk with you. it's not like you're even picking that person up. you just want to talk to them, so you sit in your car and honk and make them come outside. but really, it is great to be hailed--it makes me feel like i know people, which i'm realizing that i do, but still....

it is fun to look around sometimes and see what i've created for myself here. well, i've not done as much 'creating' as 'participating'. i have formed some relationships on my own, but mostly i've stepped into the void left by the volunteer who came before me. i am proud, though, of the beginnings of relationships that i can see forming. that may sound silly, but it's a big thing to me. i really like to take a step back and see how far i've come in the past two months. it is nothing that i could list or write about--it's just the comfort level (not at peak yet....) and just general things and people that i know or have figured out. you know.....??

okay, that's it for now. as always, drop me emails or whatever with questions. i love to hear what is going on with everyone!

be well!

Sunday, September 10, 2006


phew---there is so much i want to write here. i've been thinking all week of how to explain my 'job' here and i'm not sure that i've got it all figured out, but i'll try.

so---i work for a non profit organization called hand in hand ministries. two days a week i am at an outreach center that is like a daycare/early education center for children affected/infected with HIV/AIDS. wow. those kids are something else! my first day, all i did was spend ALL morning saying "no kenlon, don't do that" "chris, stop that" "merlee, stop screaming" etc.....i have actually only spent one day at the center, so my impressions are new and bound to change. all the kids that attend the center are in need of a LOT of love and a LOOOOOOT of discipline. their home lives are not the best, as you can imagine. some of them would not eat unless they came to the center for morning and noon meals. the schedule as i understand it is this: breakfast, circle time, songs, free play, then snack! after snack, the littler kids head upstairs for baths and play and the bigger kids (ages 2-5) stay downstairs for some activity that is supposed to be educational. i think this is what i'm supposed to be doing, but i'm just not sure yet. and, as described above, my first morning was anything BUT educational! i'll have to work on some 'educational' activities that involve running as fast as possible around the room and screaming as loud as the kids can. apparently, that's what they are all good at! after some activities and possibly some 'free play', it is time for lunch. after washing up, it is NAP TIME! ahhh.....beautiful nap time. getting them all down for a nap is not super easy, but once they're down, it is actually quiet and we get some down time.

the other part of my work is actually doing outreach. don't let the 'outreach center' confuse you. when i'm at the outreach center, i'm with the kids. when i'm at the 'main office' i'm actually doing outreach. this is the part of my job that is really hard for me to describe because i'm not that sure of what i'm supposed to be doing. i think think think i can see the bigger picture and then it is up to me to take all the steps to get myself to where i think i'm supposed to end up. the bigger picture is this: hand in hand builds houses. they are tiny little wooden structures that american families would LAUGH at and would NEVER move into! the sizes are 8 feet by 12 feet for single people or a single mother with one child or 16 feet by 16 feet for EVERYONE ELSE. this includes families with five children. yep. they're tiny. hand in hand only builds the structure--no water, no bathroom, no electricity, nothing. but hey, these little houses are WAAAAAY better than what the folks had before, so everyone is grateful. okay, so hand in hand's mode of thinking is that they don't just build a house, they build a home. the difference is that they seek to provide support to the families after they have the house built. this is where i come in. what i will be doing is going to all the houses that hand in hand has built and conducting assessments. they have not had the staff to do any assessments, prior to my arrival, so i'm pretty much on my own for creating an assessment and deciding what, if any, follow up needs to be done. this is slightly overwhelming. add to that the fact that my supervisor has been going crazy introducing me to everyone as "this is maria. she is a certified social worker." seriously, everyone i run into says "oh, YOU'RE the social worker." i really do feel as though i'm supposed to have these magical social work abilities. i can't really describe the pressure i feel from all these introduction and expectations that have been placed on me! yikes.

what i, personally, have created in my mind as my job is that first i will go to initial assessments for all the families. i have to go with a belizean at first, as the families are skeptical of a white social worker just showing up at their doors. after a few visits with my supervisor, i hope to be able to spend my days visiting the families, sitting down, chatting, and most important, listening. that is where the important conversations will be held, about what they are struggling with and what resources i can possibly provide. right now, they are too proud to admit ANYTHING to me, even when it is OBVIOUS that they have no electricity, running water, and they barely eat. this whole process i expect to take a long time. i have only done 4 assessments, out of 58, and i expect that it will take a few visits with EACH family WITH my supervisor before i can just drop in for a chat. but, once i establish a relationship with the families, i hope that in our informal conversations, i will be able to suggest a few things, like, oh-hygiene practices and whatnot.

that is what i THINK my job entails....Lord actually knows what my days will end up looking like. i'm dependent right now on my supervisor's schedule, as he has to take me around to all the families. and, in true belizean fashion, nothing happens very fast. so, i spend a lot of time sitting around, waiting. yep. that's frustrating, but unavoidable.

so, that's what i've gathered from my first week. again, i have no idea what my job will morph into, but i will certainly keep everyone updated.

another very exciting thing is that i joined a football team! hooray! there is ONE female football league in belize, so it's not like i have a lot of choice, but apparently, the belize city team is pretty good, which is frightening, when you read the description i'm about to write. the team consists of one 40 year old, one 30 year old, a few 20 year olds, and the rest 17 year olds who may or may not have ever played soccer before in their lives. oh yeah, and by joining a 'football' team, i mean soccer. i have been to a few practices, and i'll go to the first game next saturday. that will be SO interesting!

this weekend is a long weekend because it is the celebration of st. george's caye day. now, i'm not exactly sure of what that all means, except that i don't have to go work tomorrow and that i went to st. george's caye last weekend! it has something to do with a big battle and there was a parade down central american blvd. yesterday. it consisted of mainly kids in animal costumes half dancing/half marching down the street. it was about a gazillion degrees and i felt so bad for the ones with elaborate costumes on!

this is about as long as i can come up with right now. throughout the week i have had so many more thoughts as to what i wanted to write (which of course were more clever and descriptive than this) but i am so tired and need to get off the computer!!!

again, as always, i would love to write more, so if you have specific questions about my job or life here, email away!

ugh---i had all these pictures ready to go, but the computer just STOPPED! so so so frustrating. well, one made it through anyway. it's a pic of my housemates at the waterfall. we're standing at the ledge where we all jumped off into the water below.

with more time and patience, i'll attach some more soon!

be well.