Sierra Nevada Airstreams: MemoriesTravelogues

Clint and Kathy Norrell's Belize Adventure

July 2009 -|- September 6, 2009 -|- September 25, 2009 -|- October 2, 2009 -|- October 15, 2009 -|- Belize page 2

July 2009

I wanted to give you an update on the latest Norrell adventures. Our biggest news is that we have been going through the application process to become Peace Corps volunteers. It is usually a year long process, and we started in early September of 08. After the extensive application, interviewing, attending meetings, medical screening and waiting, we finally got our invitation to serve in Belize (most likely not the part you may have visited!) We will be leaving August 19th, and serve together for 27 months as teacher trainers. I will land in Belize on my 60th birthday, a pretty great way to celebrate the big six-oh!

September 6, 2009

I am still trying to get pictures on facebook and open a blog. Internet is extremely sketchy and there is always a line of PC people waiting to use it, so I can't take time to figure things out, which is what I need. We have no internet in our village. Here is my latest newsletter, until I figure out a better way. Still, no pictures, because they are on the laptop, which we can't seem to connect. I miss you all, but we are definitely being immersed in the culture, and it is beautiful here. It has been extremely hot the last 2 days, and last night we had a birthday party at our host mom's. If you don't know what the Garifuna punta dance is, check it out. It makes MTV look like kid's stuff. Even the 3 year old was doing a version, and it is the most provocative dance I have ever seen!

Below is the newsletter. Love,


Hello from Central America! We have been in Belize for 2 weeks as Peace Corps Volunteer Trainees. Our experience has been so rich with language training and cultural immersion that it seems much longer. We are living in the village of Georgeville, a village of about 550 people. The village is about 22 miles, or 45 minutes by bus, from Belmopan, the country’s centrally located capital. Our host mom, Ms. Hortence, is a 64 year old woman who has been living in this house for over 30 years. She has seven grown children and 19 grandchildren of all ages, many living in the area, so our little home has visitors frequently, and is a happy place where people feel welcome.

We spent one morning doing laundry in the wash tub, which is more high tech than many. This one is electric, so it is filled with water and soap with a hose attached to a spigot, you put the clothes in, and it circulates one direction, then stops and reverses direction. It has a dial for up to 15 minutes. When it empties, you take the clothes out and put them in a big basin filled with water and fabric softener to rinse them. Then you ring them out and hang them on the line. As I was hanging them out, Ms Hortence was following me, making modifications to my hanging technique. The biggest trick with laundry is to get them dry before the thundershowers come! It surprises me how quickly they dry with the extremely humid weather.

We are learning Kriol during our language classes, which are intense, but fun. There are 6 education volunteers in our village, so we are getting to know each other quite well. Clint and I are the oldsters of the group, but we all get along and have the same ups and downs. Our technical classes are teaching us about the Belizean education system, and it makes us excited to see we might be able to make a difference here. We have many assignments to complete when we are out of class, so our days are filled. We go to class from 8 to 5, with an hour to walk home for lunch.

There are dogs everywhere here. People have them more for security and garbage eaters than pets, and there are stray dogs (potlikrs) wandering around as well. Most are very thin, and I rarely see them interacting with humans. They are looked on as objects rather than companions, and for the most part seem to be treated accordingly. We begin our rabies vaccines next week at the PC office.

It is hot, humid, with a chance of thunderstorms, just as we were told. We are somewhat wet most of the time, but it is tolerable, especially with a portable fan. Luckily we have electricity in our village. We are having the experience of our lives. “Elderly” people are treated with respect in Belize, and we get greetings of, “Gud nait, mum,” and, “How yu doin, mum?” as we walk along the street. We love the people here, and it is a beautiful country. We couldn’t have asked for a better placement with a host family. We are very well taken care of, and our host mom diligently follows all of the advice the Peace Corps gave families to keep us healthy. We have had some great discussions, lots of laughs, and have felt at home from the moment we arrived. I love it when the grandkids come over, and two of the granddaughters have become our good buddies. We have been fed well, and the possibility of losing weight at this point isn’t likely. The local diet includes a lot of white rice, chicken and beans. The fruit has a flavor unlike anything in the states. It is picked ripe and so delicious! Even the bananas have a richer flavor.

The bugs in Georgeville are no worse than at home, although we do sleep with a mosquito net and take weekly malaria pills. When we go out to our permanent site, if we go south, the mosquito population will increase along with the increased rain. I did take a picture of a tarantula that was on the stairs when I came in from doing laundry. It was about 3 inches long. The geckos are frequently on the walls, which we welcome, as they eat the bugs. They make a distinct sound which I thought was a bird at first. My bird book and binoculars were left at the PC office in storage, as we could only bring 1 piece of luggage to our host site, and I needed clothes more than extra books. We will have lots of time for bird watching when we get to our permanent site at the end of October.

Today we are taking a 2 day trip to Punta Gorda, in the south, and then visiting about 6 different school sites as we travel back up the “highway”. We are really excited about the trip as we will see more of the country and see some more remote villages and schools. There will be 10 education volunteers going on the trip, and we will be staying in a motel one night when we arrive there. It is about 4-5 hours away.

Hopefully I will get pictures to you before long. The combination of sketchy internet service with my lack of technology skills don't go well together!

September 25, 2009

Hello from Belize,
We have one more week with our host mom, and are somewhat sad to be leaving her. It will be good to know our permanent site, which will be in one week, but we have been treated so well, and will miss Ms Hortence.

It is finally raining today, so the bridges down south are probably again washed out, but people are glad since the "rainy season" has been so dry. They also tell me that it isn't the hot season yet. A handkerchief is a daily requirement to wipe the sweat off throughout the day, and I usually never sweat!

All of my major projects have been completed, so unless something unforeseen happens, it looks like we will be swearing in on Oct. 22. We had to each give a 30 minute presentation, and the education group gave a workshop to teachers from 2 different schools. Both presentations went well, and it was really fun to interact with the Belizean teachers.

We will return to the Garden City Hotel next Friday, and since one couple got bed bugs from there, I'm not real excited about returning, but oh well....could be worse.

Their Independence Day celebration could have been 4th of July, as the colors of red, white and blue are the same here. Of course the words were different, but the kids still ran for the candy at the parade!

One huge cultural difference is the lack of "we can do it from within", but rather looking to others for assistance. This may be an outlook common to developing countries, I don't know. But working with the education system to try to teach teachers that children can have their own ideas might be a beginning. A culture that does not want confrontation at a personal level, but rather teaches compliance to anyone in authority, can get it its own way. It seems education is where we can start.

Being here also makes it so clear how protective we are in the states. I know most of it is a result of a sue happy population and resulting insurance regulations, but it isn't as clear when we are in the middle of it. Here you see merry-go-rounds and see-saws in parks. You see children playing ball at dusk with no adults around. You see people packed in the back of pick-up trucks and two or even three people (including children and babies) on one bicycle. When we rode to the parade, we had 7 people in a small car.

When I was little, we didn't have seatbelts, and I could go with other neighborhood children to go to the field to play in a cool tree that long ago was replaced with a housing development. And my mom would leave me in the car to run into the bank. Society has changed, and I want my grandkids to be safe, so I'm not advocating that the safety measures be followed. This culture just makes it clear how much protection we do regulate. I do fasten my seatbelt, even if there are 7 people in the car.

Class is starting now so this is again short. My next email will probably have our assignment in it. I can hardly wait!

Laada, Kathy

October 2, 2009

Hello to everyone,

We just received out site assignments, and Clint and I will be going to Dandriga, in the Stann District. I will be working at the Garifuna Community School, which is the first school in the world to embrace and teach the Garifuna culture to children. It is also the first nondenominational goverment school in Belize. I will be in charge of working with teachers and the school community in Early Childhood Education. They have a large preschool, withfew trained teachers, so I am really excited to meet my new school community. It is a bilingual school, but our Program Manager assured me that the children were coming from Garifuna, Spanish, and English speaking homes, and that I would be learning the language right along with them. We will be provided with a tutor after we swear in at the end of October.

Clint is assigned to the school, but also to the Garifuna Museum, which is right next door to the campus. We are both very excited. We will meet with our counterparts on Monday, and then take the bus to our new host home in Dandriga. Our host mom is a retired teacher. We will be there for two weeks, then come back for a week to be sworn in as legitimate PC volunteers. It is a big affair, and an exciting event. Then we will head back to our host family for another month. During that time we will be searching for a future home.

It was hard to say goodbye to our host mom this morning, but we will be coming back a day earlier than the other volunteers so we can attend her daughter's wedding. That will be a new experience, and I'm sure the Punta dancing will part of the celebration!

We continue to love Belize. It is so beautiful, and the people have been really friendly towards Clint and me. The only exception is when we are trying to get on a bus at the bus station. Our age and the fact that we are a couple helps with this too. They respect older people here. We continue to fit in with the younger folks, and probably our closest friend is a 22 year old girl (Christine) who is also in Education. She is already planning on coming to visit us, possibly for Christmas, since all of us will be away from family and friends. She is also from a city close to where our daughter Christy lives. It is a small world!

Yesterday, Christine and I were taking a walk through our village for one last time, and we walked down this beautiful road we hadn't been down before. By the time we had walked for 10 minutes, we had two little girls hugging us and holding our hands. We also took at picture of the Post Office (which doesn't sell stamps) with the Postmaster asleep on the outside bench, and two little boys (ages about 4 and 6) using machetes to clear their weeds from the front yard. We could hear the moms talking, wondering why in the world we were taking pictures of the two little boys! Needless to say, children are given much more freedom here!

We had our last breakfast this morning of scrambled eggs, fried balogna, a slice of avacado (which they call pears and are the size of a large grapefruit) and pancakes. Our dinners always include rice and beans, and often some kind of macaroni and cheese. When we get our own place, we will reestablish our healthy diet, and plan to get more exercise. It is impossible when someone else is furnishing and cooking all of your food, and you are in classes all day.

It looks like packages take between 8 to 12 days to reach us. We will again be able to pick up any mail/packages at the PC office between Oct 18-22nd. Then packages can still be sent there duty free until February. When I have an updated address, I will let you know.

I miss home, miss my friends, miss the food (and wine), and a warm shower and washing machine, but I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. We still feel so lucky tobe havingthis amazing opportunity, and are both grateful for all of the support our friends and family have given us.

We will have access to internet in Dandriga, so we will be able to receive and hopefully send out emails more easily. It probably won't be every day, but it will be often. And we will be able to plug in a fan! Dandriga is on the coast, so it will be a wee bit cooler!

Love, Kathy

October 15, 2009

Buiti Binofi (Good morning) from Dangriga-October 15, 2009

We have been in our new hometown along the Belizean coast for 9 days, and are learning the ins and outs of the community. Yesterday morning, at about 6:30, I walked with my host mom, Salome, to the market to buy the vegetables and fruits for the next 2 days. This is where I will also be doing the shopping for the fresh food when Clint and I are on our own. She also showed me where she goes to buy fish, but said it can also be purchased from the boats next to the pier when they come in from the day’s fishing. I could tell where pork was prepared, as the pig head that was sitting on the counter was a big clue!

After we got ready for work, which for me always means a skirt, we were met by Peter, a local Garifuna man who is involved with the Garifuna Council, and walked the town to meet principals at some other local schools. Some schools and the education resource center have oceanfront locations. My school is not located there, just for the record. Peter is a prominent man in Dangriga, so when we go anywhere, it takes twice as long because we stop to talk to everyone, and of course he hugs all of the women. We have found Dangriga to be extremely welcoming and friendly, so far.

I am continuing to learn about the school, trying to observe classes and see what is going on before I discuss or implement any kind of plan to help. The teachers also need to get to know me. Each year the school is adding one class. The school so far has the following classes:

Preschool (two sessions a day)

Infant 1 (same as our K, 40 students)

Infant 2 (same as our first grade-around 21 students)

Standard 1 (same as our 2nd grade)

Standard 2 (3rd grade)

Standard 3 (4th grade)

I spent a morning in the Preschool, watching and assisting. The room is a good size, but beginning next week (so they say-things don’t move quickly in Belize) it will be divided in half to share with an Infant 1 class (equivalent to our K.) The two classes will be separated by a portable chalkboard. Since the preschool has no toys, they do a lot of circle games and play music. It will be interesting to see how this will work in a room where children are trying to learn letters and numbers. The preschoolers did have the opportunity to get up from their table to play and sing circle games, and they made numbers with sand and glue, and confetti paper. They were happy and dealt with in a positive and developmentally sensitive manner. The teachers obviously enjoy being there. No toy kitchens to play in, no book center, no paints or blocks. When they are going to trace a letter or number, the teacher makes a dotted line on the paper, and the children are given one crayon each to accomplish the task. Then the crayon is put back in the big box. The teacher’s main teaching instrument is the portable chalkboard.

The Infant I class I observed, which will be splitting up into 2 classes, has 40 children in it. The classroom is about half the size as one of ours. They have a portable fan or two to help it remain tolerable. Several children had no pencil, one child needed to sharpen his pencil. He needed help because they use little hand pencil sharpeners and his pencil was only a stub of about 1½ inches. Most children have a workbook for reading and a workbook for math. I didn’t see manipulatives anywhere. There is really no room for anything right now, as the 40 desks take up almost the entire room.

The teachers here in Belize generally have less training than in the states. Most have a high school diploma, some have an AA degree, and many have no teacher training. Their only experience is what they remember from when they were in school.

The principal of my school is an acting principal. She started teaching last year. She teaches the Infant 2 class, which is equivalent to our first grade. I don’t know how old she is, but she is very young, probably around 22.

I am interested in finding out what funding the school gets, and what it is spent on. I believe this school gets workbooks provided, so I’m not sure why all children don’t have one. The teachers don’t have access to materials or resources, such as extra paper (plain or colored), pencils, crayons, copy machine, pencil sharpeners. There is no supply room or school library. From what I have seen so far, my first workshops or individual assistance might be with preparedness and organization techniques. I will also begin modeling lessons, so teachers can see that they need to teach and involve the students in the learning, before the workbooks are passed out. Workbooks don’t do the teaching. Another might be making homemade resources. There are a lot of possibilities and needs, but I need to finish visiting classes, talk with the school manager who is an extremely well known community figure, and go from there. A couple of teachers have asked about learning centers, which is a good thing and shows they want to learn and get better. Things need to happen within the classroom structure first, however, as a learning center is worthless if there is no organization as to when or how it will be used. This takes us back to organization and preparedness.

We were walking home from school yesterday, (Clint is mostly with the Garifuna museum which is next door to the school), and one of the frequent thunderstorms decided to come. Of course we had taken our umbrellas out, so they were dry and safe in our bedroom. By the time we had walked the mile and a half, we could wring out the water! I’m sure it was quite humorous to locals who passed us by.

After we swear in on October 22, we will be official Peace Corps Volunteers. Clint and I are getting a Garifuna outfit made for the occasion. We went last night to be measured, and the outfits will be finished tomorrow. There are few choices of fabric here, which is quite different from the states. After we get sworn in, we will be given money to get a bicycle. There are more bicycles in Dangriga than vehicles of any kind. It is a perfect place to ride. The PC has already issued us helmets. You can always tell PCV, as they are almost the only bike riders wearing helmets in the country!

We are eating good food at our present host family home, which consists of a retired widowed teacher. Our meals consist of fewer starches and fats, and more fruits and vegetables. We also are getting more exercise as we walk around the town and to work. Last week I actually walked 14000 steps on my pedometer, which is a first since I have been in country. Since then I am getting close or over 10,000 steps daily. Hopefully I will drop any extra pounds I have gained. If sweat really does help prevent cancer, then we are certainly cancer free!

Frequently local scenes will make us smile and remind us we are far from home. Today we saw a Mercedes pulling a flat trailer filled with tree branches. Over the weekend we saw a tractor pass a car on a bridge. And daily we pass the children with two or three riders on one bicycle. As we walk to school, we see the children in our school uniforms, and they smile and wave. We are easy to spot!

It is great to get news from back home, as people are asking about our experience but not letting us in on local tidbits. We did hear about Obama and the Nobel Peace Prize. Judy and Cindy told us about the fire in Auburn, and Laird told us about Doolittle’s recent exposures. Please let me know what is happening in the community, at school, etc. I am here, but I still care about the people back home!

Love, Kathy

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