I should really update this more often

10 May  
I wanted to tell everyone about the awesome time I had when my DAD came to visit me a few weeks ago.
He arrived a few Fridays ago, and I took the bus up to Belize City to meet him. On the way I stopped in and stayed with my friends Ginny and Anthony, who live in a beautiful house (and deservedly so, being beautiful people). J These guys are so chipper and upbeat and optimistic, well; let’s just say they put ME to shame. They shared some great classroom supplement materials and teaching resources which our school is currently using! We had a good day, shopping at a real live supermarket (Save – U), featuring items that I never DREAMED of having access to in this country, including pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, priced at a meager $20 each. Aisles of whole foods, tofu, organic happiness in a 100% post consumer recycled fair trade nonbleached heaven.
Well, maybe I’m exaggerating, but that’s how I felt at the time.
Anyway!
So, dad. I got to the airport road and decided to take the bus and walk a mile, and save a $50 cab fare, and found myself walking next to some guy, about my age. We got to talking and it turns out we grew up within BLOCKS of each other and went to different schools in the same areas. Weird
I ran through the airport and got to the “waving gallery” overlooking the tarmac. There were only two flights that day (small country), and dad got off the plane and I started screaming, waving, and jumping up and down uncontrollably. Of course he couldn’t see or hear me, and the neighboring people in the gallery were backing slowly away to a safe distance. I shot down the stairs, and after several long moments of anticlimactic waiting for him to clear his baggage and customs, I JUMPED in his arms and I was so happy and almost crying and it was so wonderful and great.
“Don’t block the door, please.”
“Oh, sorry.”
 Soooo dad and I began our week long drive around the country in a Suzuki Jimmy, which decided to gradually crap out on us over the course of the seven days. It was little stuff at first, struts rattling, gears sticking, then by Wednesday the ignition froze shut and we had to take off the whole casing and pop out the ignition. For three days we started the car with a screw driver, aaand, it was pretty awesome.
On the way BACK to the airport, first gear stops working. Then second gear stops working. Then third gear stops working.
We drove from Belmopan to Belize City, to the airport, about 2 hours of driving, in fourth gear.
I miss DAD!!!
Our general itinerary, Belize city the first night, where we just crashed from tiredness:
Dad: “Hey, man! It’s only nine o’clock! Let’s hit the casino baby! Gonna play some blackja---zzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..snooooore,” as he collapses on the bed.
 
Next day, a long drive to San Ignacio, where we saw the excavated Mayan city of Xunantunich, then a few days in beautiful relaxing Placencia, the Garifuna beach village of Hopkins, and back down to my village! For a total of 12 hours in Corazon creek. We eventually left because dad had to go to the bathroom. BUT everyone got to meet him, and Rob is happy. Pictures are available on http://www.myspace.com/robbalamma
 
 
  • Current Music
    NONE!!! WAAAHAHAHAAAA

the crazy gringo strikes again

So I should probably tell this, though it's embarrassing...

Many of you know that I've been somewhat of an amateur entomologist after taking a college survey in insect biology. Excited, I brought my bug net and collection materials to Belize, as I've heard of the great deal of biodiversity that can be found in the semitropical climates.  
I did some minor collecting during training and found some really awesome stuff, but had to put most of it on hold as a lot of my collection began to rot or become infested with parasites and detritivores. In addition, work started to get the best of my time and the bug net found its place under my bed for awhile.
So last month I was sitting with my host mother Catarina and her daughter Shona, whom I love. It was about 7 at night and I had just finished eating my caldo with lovely corn tortillas when SUDDENLY she flies in; a tropical emperor moth (Pavlovia pavlovia) Thee size of my FACE, and starts fluttering around the single bare lightbulb in the kitchen ceiling. I start freaking out with pure joy and excitement, and my host mom is just trying to kill the thing. I tell her to stop and run like the wind to my room and dig out my bug net. In a flash I'm back, planning the perfect swipe to capture the moth like the jedi that I am. 
Then I have it, perfect position, right where I want her. I take a good wind up and swing -
SWING!
And ya know, as the lightbulb started to shatter to pieces I shot a glance at my host mom, but by the time my eyes met her it had gone pitch black, and the three of us were standing in darkness.
Count a few beats of silence, as I assess the situation...somewhere a dog barked.
I'm standing with a bug net in one hand in the middle of a thatched kitchen with a dirt floor, shattered glass everywhere, and the other two people in the room have no shoes on. It's dark as pitch thanks to the new moon, and the moth has long since flown out the window.
Cut to five minutes later, my host fmily is sitting on chairs with their feet raised in the air, shining flashlights all over the floor as I meticulously search the dirt for fragments of lightbulb with a palmleaf broom and a pigtail bucket.
I felt really really bad. But I would have felt worse had they not been laughing uncontrollably the whole time.
So...that was a consolation, I guess.
Ya know, sometimes I feel that when I go back home, my village will be mostly sad that they're losing their primary source of entertainment.
The end!

Happpy Easter

Yeahhh, everybody, I'm extremely exhausted today.
I didn't get much sleep last night, because of a hammock incident; I walked outside yesterday for two seconds to hang my wash out, and a dog RAN into my house, tore aNOTHER big hole in my hammock (I had just finished patching the last one); and made off with an enTIRE loaf of bread. I was too tired to chase it, because I had just gotten back from fishing.
Well, not really fishing.
Cuauom.

Cuauom is one of the many Mayan hunting techniques, discovered through hundreds and thousands of years of living in the bush. I went out with the Che/Cus clan, about 10 of us in total, for a 2 mile hike along our small river, into the jungle. Included in this was a 2 year old, and an 8 week old baby slung to his 15 year old mother's back. 
Ruben started with his machete, hacking down pieces of a thick jungle vine hanging over the creek and collecting them into a bag. We got into the water and the boys taught me how to pulverize the vines with a stick on a rock (very advanced technology, you wouldn't understand) and wash the pulp in the water. After about 1 hour of this, the water became too cloudy to see through, with soapy bubbles floating on the surface. This is of course toxic to the fish, who consequently began to float up to the surface of the water, as the whole family (myself included) proceeded to dive wildly for these fish, putting them in baskets, hats, pockets, anything we had.
So...that was a new experience.
Returning to the village the nurse's aide and I gave a nutritional seminar to the ladies in the village, and also began a community mapping tool. Everyone really loves drawing their village, as many of them have never seen it drawn on paper before.
 Dinner was ramen, with some carrots and onions from the school garden; I was too tired to try anything more complicated.

ANYWAY, back to this morning;
I woke up at two am and helped my neighbor slaughter a pig and two chickens; this is never something very pleasant, but I'm starting to get used to it. Then I got on the bus for PG town and got invited (read: roped in) to a P.L.E.N.T.Y. gardening workshop training. It was like 110 degrees and i was working in the hot sun in a garden that wasnt even MINE for like 4 hours. jeez.
now i'm going back to mike's (god bless that boy, I don't know how he puts up with us), he lives in town and has graciously invited us wacky village volunteers to crash when we need to. 

Anyway, trying to work out dad's trip...I'm going to sleep well tonight.

  • Current Music
    La Campanella - Rachmaninoff

Good Friday

Good Friday

 

This is a big travel weekend for the volunteers; and rightfully so, as we get almost two full weeks off from our ‘jobs’. Many of our friends decided to backpack through Mayan ruins in Guatemala, fly to the jungles of Costa Rica, or snorkeling in Placencia or San Pedro island, but NOT Mr. ROB! He and the lovely Carrie Bottcher could think of no better getaway than Mike’s house. Mike and the boys (Danny, Josh, and Nadov) are in Tikal and Flores this weekend, so she and I decided that we should just hang in his living room from Wednesday ‘til Monday, eat junk food and watch movies. And it’s just as well, because I was nervous about being really homesick, as I am around every holiday around here.

 

            It’s been so great so far, dad sent me some pictures of the family and a sweet note (and some other little green notes : D ), Miss Anita from ol’ MO sent me the cutest Easter Card, and my awesome friend (and noted up-and-coming photographer) John Dolan sent me a THUMB drive with entire seasons of my FAVORITE shows, The Office, Family Guy, Futurama, and Arrested Development, as well as the movies Clue, and Little Miss Sunshine. Wow, John is awesome. Everyone should check out his work too!  http://www.johndolanphotography.com

 

            Last night Carrie Shella Liz and I went to meet up with Liz’s family who is visiting from Albuquerque. They took us to dinner and then we went to a party at Nurse Donna’s house. She’s this awesome lady who reminds me of my Aunt Ellen. She used to be a Peace Corps nurse but moved back to the states when her granddaughter was born in January, and has been doing Americorps in Colorado. This tiny lady is friends with everyone in PG, and is just so understanding of what we’re going through, and crazy, and an activist, and I love her and miss her a lot.

 

            I hope everyone’s having a really great weekend; I’m happy to be out of the village for a few days. 

Also, new pictures on my Myspace!!   http://www.myspace.com/robbalamma

 

           

(no subject)

Happy March everyone!

I was supposed to do some travelling this weekend but that all fell through so I'm just hanging out in town. I'm looking at the Carib Sea; very gray today, storms coming in. This weekend is the annual Ruta Maya; a FOUR DAY long canoe race spanning half the length of Belize. A few of our volunteers registered a dory (Belizean name for a canoe) and we're pullin for them! : )
It makes me think about the ol' college days, paddlin' on the Susquehanna [dark] and early in the morning, in some of the most CRAZY weather.

My house is finally up and running, and I'm still trying to furnish it a little; My good friend Liz came from Sta Teresa to visit me last night, it was so much fun; I made tortellini puttanesca with a chickpea salad : ) and we went to church and sang kekchi songs. Now the whole village thinks I have a wife; which is fine with me, cuz it's a perfect explanation for everything. Mayans get married very young, and the Catholic Church is really starting to be more strict about only marrying eighteen year olds. This causes 15, 16 17 year olds to be having babies out of wedlock, but this is a totally normal thing for them. So naturally it was very strange for me to show up in a village, 23 years old, without a picture of my girlfriend or wife or babies or anything, and any woman who comes within a 10 foot radius of me is a potential ixk, or wife, for the village to set me up with. Needless to say, this gets tiresome very quickly.

I'm trying to plan Dad's trip to belize; I have never been good with itinereries. 

As you've read before, my whole village has gotten solar power, consisting of a panel for each family, hooked up to at least two lightbulbs per thatch. I was NOT outfitted with one of these babies, so my power options are limited to a gas burner, mess tin, and candles/kerosene lamps. I am officially at a lower level of technology than the village of corazon creek.

Don't surf. There is no water (there is no water!)

Last night I met a French man. 

He was on the couch of my PC friend Mike, whom he met through a website called Couchsurfing.com
On this website you can finally have the opportunity to meet tons of strange dirty people who are travelling through your part of the world, and invite them to spend a free night on your couch, hammock, duvan, ottoman, kitchen table, or what have you. This man in particular was in his 30s and planned to hitch hike through belize to guatemala, and travel for another two weeks before heading back to Europe. He was nice and played bossa nova music on his guitar; I didn't get too close. I would have only broken his heart.

Wow, I got some amazing mail this week. Aunt Vicky, THANK YOU, Elke (basically my cousin) THANK YOU, and my dear long lost friend Talitha Phillips all sent me some beautiful tchotchkes, candy (!), music, and other accoutrements of happiness. Talitha and I were colleagues in the music department at Binghamton, and she's studying theology in California to eventually become a minister. She plays a smashing double bass (especially henry eccles), writes beautiful original songs, has a pretty voice, and I love her and miss her a lot. 

Today I'm in town to talk with the Sustainable harvest international about possible assistance with a pig penning cooperative  our village wants to start.

More good news, my new house is FINALLY completed, pictures will be up on my myspace soon!

Also I just got news that my DAD will be visiting me in April, from the 11-19; we're going to have fuuuuun!!
  • Current Music
    The way I am - Ingrid Michelson

Searching for Bobby Fisher-Cal

Yeahhh, chess. 
This weekend I took 13 kids from our school chess club to a tournament in Punta Gorda town. We took the regular market bus in at 3 am and were the first ones there (not surprisingly).

This was the biggest primary school chess tournament in the history of Belize (over 80 students showed up to play), and our students definitely surprised Coach Mr. Rob. Most of them won at least three of the five games they were expected to play (it was not an elimination tournament). Our girls did very well also, and a special kudos for them; as women tend not to be as involved in extracurriculars or education in the mayan culture.  
We had a lot of fun, and though we didn't get any high scores enough for an award it was a much needed learning experience.

Cross Cultural Experiences

for posterity I'll leave my eyewitness account of a dying cultural phenomenon.

Last week our village organized a Mayhac; which is the most contemporary form of the Ancient Mayan sacrifice/prayer ritual/all night vigil.

For three days the elders of my village were out preparing the Catholic church with flowers and candles. They constructed a makeshift altar outside using slabs of quarry stone and cement, and set up a chickenwire fence to keep out dogs and pigs. 

The ceremony was flanked by eighteen evenings of catholic masses, presided over by the leity (meaning no Eucharist consecration), with the ritual starting at ten pm on the ninth night.
The whole catholic community gathered in the church and it looked like any other Sunday morning; until the pig was slaughtered. If you have never heard porcine death, I'll just tell you it's the most bloodchilling sound that will give you nightmares for weeks. The blood from the pig was splattered on the altar, and then we were bombarded with more incence than I've ever seen or smelled at one time. I literally could not see three feet in front of me after two minutes. This was coupled with much singing in Kekchi (catholic tunes), and a ceremony involving triangular arrangements of candles. then, at midnight, everyone went outside and gathered around the secondary altar and kneeled down to; ostensibly worship a burning pot of incense covered in pig blood and cacao drink. This went on for another hour or so; when everybody went to the community center to eat pig caldo.
Caldo is the basic maya dish; it's a spicy chicken broth (or in this case, pork) which is colored a bright red by a berry grown here, and with a big chunk of meat in the middle. This culinary masterpiece is eaten with corn tortillas, or on special occasions, potch, which is simply balled up masa (cornmeal) steamed in a banana leaf. Mmmm-mmm good.
          I'll leave it to you to decide whether I'm being sarcastic or not.
This shindig then moved to the hill at the top of our village where there is a deep dark cave filled with water. There was more candle lighting, incense burning, singing and praying. I was asleep at this point; but when I woke up at seven the next morning, I found the whole congregation still at the same spot, children passed out sleeping on the ground; nobody had been to sleep.

         It's fascinating to watch this ritual in conjunction with the Catholic Church, who is obviously none too pleased with the obvious pagan underpinning, but it was something cool to watch. I mean the missionaries who settled these villages converted everyone to their religion and thus bled Western ideals and trends to a culture; the best way we know how to kill an indigenous society. James Michener's Hawaii is a great read about this stuff.

Okay have a great day!
  • Current Music
    the Rach 3

I feel so much Spring

This has been a bit of a surreal week; much death and loss around me; primarily the death of my godfather, Joe Cauchi. I've never known a man besides my father who was so INTERESTED in my life and personal/academic development. A lot of people have godfathers only in the nominal sense of the title; but Uncle Joe really meant a great deal to me, and gave me much motivation to do well in school, at the piano, everywhere. I will miss him, definitely. But right now, I am dealing with an odd feeling of detachment from my emotional state. Being in Belize has somehow caused me to lose all sensitivity to many things at home; this being one of them. I have been unable to cry over all this stuff, and i hope it's not damaging me emotionally. 

My great friends Clare and Eric both ended their service in Peace Corps Belize this week, to go back home to Jersey and N.C. They had been two of my greatest sources of support during our staging/training/settling in craziness. Life is going to be very hard without them, and I miss you both already.

What else happened, Belize's great Garifuna recording artist Andy Palacio passed away this week, it was a great shock to the entire nation. Check out some of his music if you're interested in something different and cool.

okay, I'm sick of writing farewells and eulogies...so enough for me.

I could really use a letter or hug or something : (

  • Current Music
    The Music Still Plays On - Penny Fuller

My dear acquaintance

Happy New Year EVERYONE!!! SO sorry to have only written two entries last month, I'll try to be better, I promise.

After a great Christmas in Florida, I decided to stay in my village for New Years. Not surprisingly it was not the most exciting New Years' Ive ever had; no music, nobody to kiss. I considered dressing up a coconut like heath ledger, but eventually just decided to go to bed around 9 pm. I woke up at ten minutes to midnight by chance, walked out to the road, and watched the stars until my watch beeped. 
I felt like the only person in the entire world.

I've been keeping busy, as usual, Chess club is in full swing; we've had to install a SECOND club session for the overwhelming number of ADULTS who want to play and learn. My challenge here is getting women and girls to particiapate. Everyone seems to think that fun things should only be reserved for men, and that women should stay in the kitchen with the babies.

Gardening has become my new total passion. 

I know I'm becoming a successful volunteer when my journal entries get more and more boring; I guess it means I'm really starting to acclimate to the village life. 

Tonight's our village's Mayahoc; the ancient ritual sacrifice/prayer service, done at the mouth of a cave at midnight. Shoudl be really cool. Hopefully I'll have some pictures up soon.