So I was digging the last of this set of latrines last week, on Wednesday, when a kid runs over to me and says "Mister Rob! Yu Na de reach!" (this means, rob! your mom is here!)
Slightly curious, I walked to the community center, where I found a group of white people. Not my mom. Close enough. This was a medical mission team from the southern states, with whom I had made good friends last year. I spend the next two days assisting them as a kekchi translator as they did health assessments and treated the sick in our tri-village area.
It was great to have some familiar American people around for a few days; I never take that for granted. It was ALSO great, but not necessary, that they drove me to Caye Caulker on Friday morning, and put me up at their VERY nice hotel on the water. It was a great birthday weekend for me; full of snorkeling, workin' on my gringo tan, and 8 dollar lobster dinners on the beach, watching the sunset over the Caribbean Sea. I ran into Matt Callahan and Nicky Gregerson; I love them.
Sooo, thanks peace corps. For a nice assignment. I mean... I could be in Bulgaria or Azerbaijan or something right now, so, that's something to be Thankful for.
It's 7 AM and I've spent the last three hours on a bus, with my friend Olga...it's kinda heartbreaking, but she's 16, has a 2 month old baby, and the father, 17 years old, left the village in the middle of the night on sunday and hasn't been seen or heard from since. So I'm here with her, she's going to talk to a government representative and see what they can do for her, financially. She's not married, and she's a minor. Her family is the poorest in the entire village. But on the other hand, they're not belizean citizens, because their parents were born in Guatemala... it's hard for me to help when I'm so unfamiliar with the law here. But I'm just gonna walk around with her today and go to the government offices and ask questions. Her english is terrible...but then again so is my kek'chi. Wish us luck!
WASHINGTON, D.C., September 11, 2008 – U.S. Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter is saddened to announce the death of U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer Bertie Lee Murphy, 71, who was found in her home in Belize on Tuesday, September 9, 2008. The cause of death is yet to be determined.
“Our entire Peace Corps family is saddened by the loss of such a devoted and energetic Volunteer who made a lasting impact on the lives of the Belizean people,” said Director Tschetter. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Bertie’s friends and family during this very difficult time.”
Bertie was a vivacious and dedicated member of the Peace Corps family and served with distinction as an Education Volunteer in Belize where she was an elementary education teacher-trainer in the southern village of Hopkins. Universally loved and respected, Bertie had recently repurposed a local building into a library filled with personal and donated books. She became a Peace Corps Volunteer in June 2007, following a distinguished career in both the corporate world and in public service.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I think I'm still kinda in shock about all this. I'm not used to experiencing death so far away from my family. I send all my prayers and sympathy to her family, her daughter Laura, whom Bertie could never stop talking about. It turns out that Bertie died naturally, in her bed on a beautiful Hopkins beach. She had accomplished so much in one short year, and touched so many lives. Love you, Bertie.
I'm no economist (though I do look nice in a bowtie), but Belize's economic condition is a MESS. Government is soooo corrupt here, and both parties seem to be extorting millions and millions EVERY year. On the local level, I don't really see much other than mayans, who are self-reliant in their subsistence farming, so they're not going hungry, but they have no INCOME, no savings, no direction financially, no chance for growth. This means children are less likely to continue school and get jobs and start making money. So everything is just stuck. When I come to Punta Gorda, the streets are full of hustlers, just tryin to make a quick buck from a tourist, some mayans make handicrafts and the like, and try to sell them on the streets. This is not how to make money. There've been some gimmicks getting pushed around, tilapia farming, etc...I'm leery. My belief is that the key to success here is organization. No belizeans want to work together for a common goal, unless they're paid for it immediately, or mandated by the government. The Mennonite community and the Chinese-Belizeans have an innate knack for organization and working communally, and it has led to their capitalizing on the whole economy of the country. And of course the Kriol population all balk and resent their presence and success, as some Americans have done (though not on such an extreme level) with the urban Orthodox and Hassidic Jews, but should just stop complaining and take a hint
Mennonites make things that everybody needs (dairy products and farm supply goods especially) and have become the only people who supply such things. They have immaculate production practices, are always very clean, friendly, and make quality stuff!
I'm thinking of bringing some of our village farmers on a fieldtrip to a mennonite community like spanish lookout in the Cayo district, and show them about safe pig farming and how they do so much work without electricity and the like.
This week is an exciting one, as the NEW Future volunteers arrived in country!! Several toledo volunteers, including John, Mica, Mitchell, Rachel and I took the bus up on Monday to Belize city. We stayed with volunteers in the city, who...have some pretty nice digs, if I may. Virginia and Anthony, beautiful people that they are, and some of the hardest working teacher trainers I know, found a fantastic house in the city with tile floors, a big beautiful kitchen, internet, and free cable tv. AND they EVEN have a toilet. INSIDE The house!! We went to the World famous Princess Casino and hotel, and spent our evening, cheapos that we are, playing nickel roulette and mooching the free beverages that the exasperated waitresses were carting around for our broke butts. Haha
The next morning we took the bus out to the airport in Ladyville and waited in the waving gallery as the newbies got off the plane. We screamed and jumped up and down as they hit the tarmac, and then ran out to the front entrance to yell again when they cleared customs.
There are forty four new trainees - a LOT. Three married couples, and about fifteen volunteers over the age of fifty! I loved to see the energy in the room when they arrived at the belmopan office, and stayed for a couple days to answer questions, and give my perspective after being here for a year. I really love meeting new people and showing them around and sharing my knowledge. I'd love to be a nyc tourguide or something. I felt all my RA, OA tourguide excitement coming out haha.
After getting stuck in town, I had to grab a change of clothes from my village before my trip up to Belmopan for a Chess Coaches conference. Problem is, buses don't run very often, so after I got off the market bus in corazon, I made up my bag, took a bath, and proceeded to ride my bike from Corazon creek to Punta Gorda town. Yes, I am crazy but it was a good experience. For those unfamiliar, Punta Gorda is a port town on the Caribbean Sea, and my village is about three hours inland, close to the Guatemalan border. So my ride was about four hours long, on an unpaved road through the jungle. BUT I made it, and got to Belmopan with time to spare. It was a great week of camp, chess leadership activities, and I got some great resources for continuing with our club in September.
I'd like to extend a great thanks to the people who have made our chess club possible: Anita Dutrow and Donna Austin et al from St Louis, MO. Love you guys. Also my generous family members, Tommy and Vickie Magee, my mother Rosemary, and my Aunt Dolores whom I miss very much. Our current sponsor is the Snack Shack in PG, a fine dining establishment if I've ever been to one. Open every day except sunday for breakfast and lunch : ) Best fry jacks in town!!
I've started a new exciting side project, if not for humanity's sake, then for my own sanity. My friend April's mother just got a piano, and she asked me to come over to PG once a week and give her a piano lesson! I started two weeks ago and it's been so much fun. Not only being around a piano after a year of horrible musicless existence, but also being able to TEACH piano again means so much... Mom says I should start thinking about grad school now, because when I get back home, I might have to start right away because I'm coming home in the late summer. The prospect of med school seems so daunting to me, and honestly I'm having my doubts. Do I really want to be a doctor? Can I get into med school with these grades? Why is MCAT prep so #$%@#$% hard? If i didnt, can I really have a career in music?
Okay, so Belize has gone from six months of drought and unbearable dryness to three weeks of massive flooding and unstoppable thunderstorming.
My best friends, the second year volunteers, leave Belize this week for the States. I'd just like to say that they've been so important to my adjustment and service in this country. They made me feel so welcome and Ive made a ton of new friends. So to Jeff, Shella, Jenny Soto, Norbeck, Maggie, Ryan, Nicky, and everyone else who's shoving off, you'll missed by everyone very much, and next year, you all have a place in New York to stay : D
I am currently stuck in Punta Gorda, our district town, since FRIDAY; as there have been no market buses in or out of my village. On the plus side, Peace Corps is paying for my hotel stay, where I am enjoying some lovely wireless internet, air conditioning, cable tv, and real, electric overhead LIGHTING!!! WOOHOO, Did I mention the flush toilet? I also get to talk to my family online, including my little cousin paige whom i MISS a whole lot.
Last week I directed a really successful summercamp for our village chess club. Fellow volunteer Liz Pitrof came down from Belmopan and I enjoyed having her in my little house for five days. : D Thanks liz! A word on chess: This activity, though taken for granted by many kids, taught to us by our fathers for generations, holds a lot more merit than many probably think. Through our work with Ella Anderson and the Belize National Youth Chess Foundation, we have been able to expose hundreds of rural and urban Belizean students to this new cerebral outlet that fosters creativity and strategy, as well as giving youth a new opportunity for non-soccer competition, AND includes our so often neglected young women, especially in Mayan communities.
Tomorrow I'm going to do something a little insane. If I survive you'll hear about it later.
I received a bit of brilliant information from my brilliant cousin John Paul, who did his PhD research on Chaos Theory and its applications in the El Nino weather phenomenon. Not knowing much about Coriolis and his crazy effect, I am happy to reprint this for all of you:
That bit about, "toilets and sinks swirling in the opposite direction," in the Southern Hemisphere? It's actually a myth.
Take it from your cousin with the PhD in climate physics. ;) The Coriolis Effect only has an effect on motion at the scale of say, oh, Rhode Island. Or in other words: the water (or wind) would have to move several miles before the Coriolis Effect deflected it more than a foot or two.
Which means you really do need a toilet bowl the size of Rhode Island for the Coriolis Effect to make it spin, "in the opposite direction," one side of the equator vs. the other.
Water down a toilet or a sink spins whichever way the shape of the bowl and the direction of the water causes it to.
So, the Coriolis Effect really only causes hurricanes and weather systems (but not tornadoes; they're too small) to spin the other way 'round in the Southern Hemisphere. More interesting: The Coriolis Effect drops to zero as you near the Equator (and, I think, the poles).
So THANKS John Paul, I miss you alot, and you're super cool.
Soooo, I finally made it out of my village. Really far out of my village. In fact, I'm in Argentina!!
I landed very early this morning in Buenos Aires' Pistarini airport, and gave mom and grace a big hug. Then I walked outside, in my shorts and shortsleeved shirt, realizing that I should have paid more attention in Miss Hartill's third grade science class in 1993.
A brief science lesson: Argentina is located in South America, on the other side of the equator. This is the part of the world we call the Southern Hemisphere. This carries some interesting consequenses; namely the reverse Coriolus Effect, which causes toilet and sink water to swirl in the opposite direction that they do above the equator. Another interesting effect is that when the North is enjoying a nice warm summer, ITS a COOOOLD wintertime IN THE SOUTH.
I um, seem to have overlooked this minor detail when i was PACKING for the trip, and now i'm sitting in the apartment and I'm very cold. oh well. the city is absolutely beautiful, like a cross between paris and new york. We're staying in a beautiful apartment in the palermo district. Pictures to come soon!