Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas!!!!

The Trio River

Me and my friend Ilberso on our hike down the Trio River

Look in the middle--one of the many toucans we saw

A little bit fo the jungle we hiked through

Trio River


Trying to climb the spikes on this tree

Trio River: Beautiful

The tree on the hill beside Trio that looks just like a hummingbird. I look at this everyday from my back porch

Me and my former host brother Douglas on our trip to the Snake Cayes

A couple of my new friends from the Ya'axche Conservation Trust. Lee and Ekat (and some students, teachers, and boat drivers in the back). I've really enjoyed getting to know them and they have even visited me in my village a couple times! I help organize a trip with them and some students from the Trio School to see some of the islands, go snorkeling, and learn a bit about the coral reef protection.



My neighbor buddies Mateo (left) and Humberto

Some of the fruit that I've gotten from my friends in the village. Bananas I can just go to the huge banana farm and pick up off the ground (they cut the ones that are too small or don't look as nice and let them rot!)

Me with my buds, Malory, Matt, and Dan

Greg, Matt, Me, and Joel after making bread, cake and pumkin pie for our Thanksgiving celebration.

One of the maps my parents just sent me!

Jessica, Omar, and Ersilia (my wonderful next door neighbors)

Students on Culture Day waiting to start singing La Bamba

The latrines we are building (they are now up to my head)

Before we cleaned out the holes for the latrines. Dirty!

After me and a couple other guys threw everything out of the the holes

Some of my village friends working on the latrine project. Cesario (blue shirt) has been leading the building project.

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Hope you're all doing great! Due to the holiday season and some helpful reminders by my friends and family, I wanted to send a greeting and give you all a little update for the Christmas time.

Its a bit hard to believe that Christmas is upon us here in Belize. I feel like I'm stuck in an endless summer. The other day I was watching the news about snow storms in Northern California and England, etc. and I it made me shiver just to look at. It's actually gotten "chilly" hear at night with the temperature reaching down to the 50's! My village friends laugh with me because I tell them that I feel cold here sometimes--they wonder how I could possibly live in a place where it is freezing and then come here and be cold. I guess I've grown accostomed to the warm weather.

It's amazing how time is flying. I arrived in Belize just about 9 months ago and I've been in my village almost 7 months. Things have never been bad for me in the village, but they are continually getting better and better as I grow closer with the people in the village and get involved in more projects. Lately, I've been running around working with the Ministry of Health and Vector Control. We're trying to get a hold on the high number of Malaria cases in the village so I've inputed GPS coordinates of all the Malaria cases and have been taking blood samples for those with malaria and their families. I've also been really enjoying the pen pal project I'm working with with the standard 6 (8th grade) class in Trio and Mrs. Carol Yeagley's 7th grade social studies class at Mount Nittany. It's awesome to see the students here learn more about the students their age in the US and to be able to share some of the culture and life here with the students at Mount Nittany. Another big thing we've been working on here is to try to make a proposal for grant support to build a Community Center/Health Post/Hurrican Shelter/etc. The community I live in has a lot of needs and our hope is to address as many of them in one building project as possible.

Some of the fun things I've involved in here recently:

-Singing: I've been able to lead a number of singing groups for events like Culture Day and the School Christmas Party. For the culture day here I lead a group in singing and dancing to the song "La Bamba" (Para bailar la bamba se necesita una poca de gracia...). Needless to say it was a lot of fun! For the Christmas party, one of the groups I led sang the song "12 Days of Christmas." This group was a bit of trial to coordinate/control because of their age and English speaking abilities, but they came together for their performance (in front of about 200 people) and sang a heart warming version of the song.

Hiking: although I live right next to the jungle and have woken up to howler monkeys and thousands of other nature sounds in my village, I don't usually have alot of time to go hiking. However, about a week and a half ago I got to go exploring with one of my neighbors into the jungle that is behind the village. We hiked for several hours crossing the Trio River and following it down river. Although we didn't reach the Mayan Ruins that we were hoping to arrive at, we did see a number of toucans, 2 scarlet macaws, and lots of other birds. We also so the tracks of lots of wild animals and found several piles of feathers were birds had either been killed by animals or hunters. We are planning to go again and spend the night in the jungle so that we can explore the ruins that are in the vicinity of Trio.

Another fun thing I did recently was to borrow a projector from the health clinic in Independence. I was able to use this to show some videos at our school Christmas Party and also to show the Mask of Zorro, projected on a bed sheet behind my house for a bunch of my neighbors. I'm hoping to be able to borrow the projector again so to do some more community events.

As I mentioned before, its been a little hard to feel in the Christmas mood because of the drastic temperature difference from every other Christmas I've spent in my whole life. However, I've been doing my best to get myself in the mood by listening to Christmas music and watching movies like Elf. Christmas is celebrated in Trio by making tons of tomales, so I'm gonna be ready to feel sick of those by the end of the day. Well, I can't write more now, but I will try to update you all again soon. Thanks so much for the encouragement I've recieved from so many of you. Please keep in touch and please pardon my slow responses. Lots of love and Merry Christmas,

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Finally an Update!

Sunrise on the Carribean Sea in Punta Gorda

River in Crique Jute

A pond and some houses in the middle of Trio

Antonio, Me, Carolina, Pedro Fransisco, and Anna Bella Tut(who I've nick named "Banan Tut")

Me with a few of my village friends that like to call out "Hello Mr. Owen!" whenever I ride by their house on my bike. They also like to sing

Me and Mr. Choco the teacher for Standard 6 (grade 8) at the Trio Primary School. I'm doing the pen pal program with his class and a Mrs. Carol Yeagley's class at Mount Nittany Middle School in State College.

Taylor, Cali, and Mallory

Some of my wonderful volunteer friends jumping into the river by the banana farm in Trio after we had a soccer tournament with the village team, farm team, and men's and women's Peace Corps teams.

Sergio, Charlie, Me, and Douglas

Me and my host brothers in Placencia

Gladys and Felipe Rivas, my host parents for the first 4 months in Trio, on their first trip to Placencia during the 20 years they've lived in Belize. Me and Zander took the host family in August to this beach resort peninsula that is only about an hour from our village (you have to a boat to get there and many of the things are more expensive there because of the large expat population--for this reason, very few locals ever make it to this "paradise.")

Me with my buds Dan and Matt at the river below Dan's house in Crique Jute.

Mateo: My neighbor and buddy. He is to young to start school so he comes over to hang out whenever I'm around. One of the cutest kids on the planet.

Me and Zander just before he headed out from Trio

Before painting St.2 classroom

Classroom after painting

Hammock and thatched roof

My back porch with some of the benches I've recently made

Fridge, gas stove, gas tank, George Foreman grill (on top of the fridge) etc

My bed and table etc

Me with a few of my neighbor kids before watching Spider Man

Dear Family and Friends,
I hope that everyone is doing great and enjoying the fall weather back in the States. Lately the weather has been changing a bit here. The rain has tapered off considerably—especially in the night. During the last few months it rained most nights and was very hot and sweaty during the day. Right now it is still hot in the day, but the nights have gotten considerably cooler—even found myself shivering a few times.

It’s amazing how time flies! I’m now approaching the 7th month since I left home and my 5th month as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Trio Village, Belize. I really must thank God that everything has been going very well for me so far. There have been some ups and downs, but the majority of my time here in Belize has been without anything to complain about and plenty to be thankful for. Lately there have been a lot of changes happening for me. In the beginning of this month, the previous volunteer in Trio, Zander Johnston, finished his 2 year commitment and headed home. While many volunteers come almost blindly into their sites, I had the privilege of sharing my first 4 months with Zander who helped me to understand more about the community, meet the majority of the people, find counterparts and projects to work on, and just have a fun time hanging out. I’m really very thankful for the friendship he showed me—though he could have just been annoyed at having another volunteer interrupt his last few months, he did everything he could to help me get a good start in Trio. But now, although I’ve lost a good friend, I’m enjoying the start of my time as the only Peace Corps volunteer in Trio and have begun to find my place in the village.

For my first 4 moths in Trio I lived with a wonderful family called the Rivas. Since Zander left, I was bless to inherit the house that he built while he was here. My house consists of one room (about 12 by 14ft) and a deck about 6 by 14ft. The house is made entirely of wood and is elevated about 5 feet off the ground. It has a thatched roof which keeps it incredibly fresh and cool regardless of the temperature outside. In May, Trio was first connected to electricity and in August I installed electricity in my house. So, although I have no bathroom or latrine or private place to bathe, I know have a little fridge, a George Foreman grill and can watch movies on my computer (I’ve inherited about a hundred movies from other volunteer’s computers) and charge my cell phone. Although a number of people have begun to connect their houses to the electricity (it’s a little bit too expensive for most people to connect until they’ve saved up for a while), the majority of the village still lives without electricity.

Now that I have electricity, it makes my life easier in a number of ways but also more difficult as I have frequent visitors trying to take advantage of the opportunity to charge their cell phones, watch movies, and just observe my every day activities (I’ve gotten so many visitors that I often have to politely turn people away). I kind of feel like Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, when he complains of having too many visitors, well wishers, and distant relations visiting his house. On many occasions I’ve had up to 30 people (kids, babys, mothers, fathers, grandparents) crammed into my house to watch movies like Avatar, Forbidden Kingdom, Ironman, Spiderman, August Rush, Last Samuri, Gladdiator, etc. One thing I’ve found is that most villagers care very little about plot and only want to see fighting and action.

I’ve begun to get very busy in and out of Trio. Now that school is in full swing I’ve been helping some with the first grade (infant 1) class in Trio. I also started a pen pal program with the eighth grade (standard six) class and a 7th grade class at Mount Nittany Middle School back in State College (my mother helped tremendously in getting it going- Love you Mom!). I think the pen pal program will be a ton of fun for me and the students here in Trio as they get to learn some about where I come from. I’ve also painted several class rooms in the school and attempted to teach ultimate Frisbee to a couple classes. The other day I substitute “taught” for a few hours when one of the teachers was sick. I’ve been hoping to get some sort of singing program started, but my schedule has been too busy lately to get anything regular going.
I’ve been working a lot with the Trio Water Board (the 7 man committee of volunteers that oversee the water system in Trio), teaching them how to do their financial reports and how to encourage the people to pay their water bills ($5 US for 2000 gallons of water). I’m also working with the village council and Parent Teacher Association to try to help them get some projects moving. In Independence I’ve been working with the Polyclinic on a manual for the village health workers and we’re hoping to start training my village health worker soon in some basic first aid and health education skills.

This summer Trio had one of the highest (if not the highest) Malaria rates in the country. We had about 40 people with malaria and one with Dengue. Part of the cause of this rate is the drainage problem in the village, where a lot of land gets flooded (including the school soccer field and my back yard) and stays under water for the entire hurricane season (June to November). Helping the village fix the drainage issue is one of my hopes while I’m here. We’ve had discussions with the Ministry of Works and Vector Control, but regardless of their good intentions, a lot of programs in Belize have little funding and have to address issues in order of priority in the country--so the plight of a bunch of Guatemalan, Honduran, and El Salvadorian (and one America ;)) immigrants in Trio might be a tough sell. Nevertheless we’ll keep pushing for some sort of help in Trio.

I’ve been in Belmopan (the capital of Belize) at our Peace Corps office this week for some Spanish training. Out of all the Volunteers in Belize now, I think I am probably the most immersed in Spanish in my village. It’s almost as if I’m not a volunteer in Belize, but some other Central American country. Although about half of my village speaks Q’eqchi (K’ekchi) and some English, almost everyone speaks Spanish and those adults whose first language is Spanish do not speak any English. This has been wonderful for me and I definitely feel like my ability to speak Spanish is improving a little bit everyday. I can only imagine what a year and a half more will do!

One of the most surprising things to me about my experience so far is how busy I’ve been. I guess I assumed coming into the Peace Corps that along with the work and adventures, I’d have a lot of time to read and think about life while hanging out in hammock. Although there have been times of relaxation and a lot of reflection, the majority of my time I have felt like I am just going from one thing to the next and don’t have enough time to do all the things I’d like to get involved in. I think part of it is my location—right now I’m the only village volunteer in my area. Most of the other volunteers that are in villages are in exclusively Maya Mopan or Q’eqchi villages several hours farther south and their villages contain only a couple hundred people. Trio, on the other hand, could have up to 1300 people and, as I mentioned, is largely Spanish speaking. While I love speaking Spanish, the language issue creates a number of problems for the people because the Government runs exclusively in English. When representatives from the government come to Trio they rarely know how to speak Spanish and therefore end up only being able to communicate affectively with a few people and the rest of the people (including village council member, water board members, and Parent Teacher Association members) hardly know what they are saying. I’ve been able to help translate on numerous occasions, but I find my Spanish vocabulary stretched thin when government officials talk about political policies, etc.

Overall I’m having a blast. The Peace Corps experience has been wonderful. I miss all of you back in the States (family and friends), but I haven’t felt like I really need to come home yet. I started to miss American food about 4 months into living with the Rivas and eating corn tortillas and beans every meal, everyday. But now that I am living on my own and have a George Foreman grill and fridge, I’ve been eating, pretty much the same things I ate in college (pasta, tuna melts, pizza sandwiches, French toast (almost everyday), mac and cheese, hotdogs, etc). I do, however, often get to eat tortillas still as, my neighbors often share food (including armadillo, gibnut, and other wild game) with me.
So far I’ve had a scorpion walk up my arm and not sting me (thank God!), come across several tarantulas, seen a large jaguar in the wild, seen monkeys, toucans, tropical storms, rainforests, beautiful beaches, Mayan ruins, and encountered a number of other fun and exciting adventures and I’m not ready to finish yet. Things are just getting interested.

Again I hope that everyone back home is doing great! I love and miss you all. I hope this update gives you a little better idea what I’m going through down here. I’d be happy to have visitors or anyone that is interested in partnering with a project down here. So keep in touch and God bless,


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Life in Trio!

Me and my new friend Zander. He is the current volunteer in Trio village and will be leaving in September. Although we aren't identical, we both have blue eyes and similar haircuts so our village is convinced we're brothers.

The Mayan Mountains behind my village

Dan, Matt, Me, Alexander at Swearing In

The Armadillo we ate a couple of weeks ago

Me and my host brother Sergio on a trip we took to Punta Gorda

Me and the health team from the Bella Vista clinic on our trip to do a mobile clinic in Monkey River

The snake that greeted me in our latrine the other morning

The house where I'm living with my 4 host brothers until September

A few of the chickens and pigs at my host family house

Three of our baby parrots

My future home (I'll be moving in September)!Allright! This is what I signed up for!

Hey All,

Hope everyone is doing great and enjoying the nice U.S. summer! I'm doing really well here in Belize. Things are moving along and I've begun to feel at home in my village. I'm living in a village called Trio (or Trion as the spanish speakers call it). It is almost all immigrants from Guatamala, Hondurus, and El Salvador. About 40% of the community is Mayan K'ekchi (Q'eqchi) so I've been practicing the few phrases I know and have a couple books that I've begun to study on the language. I've really been blessed with a good village for me--alot of nice people, quite a few are interested in playing/learning guitar, church services every night (I've been going to a Pentocostal Spanish speaking church, but I'm also going to start going to a K'ekchi catholic service to help me learn K'ekchi and get to know them more). I'm able to communicate pretty well so far because of my Spanish practice in Ecuador, but I think the two years will help me to improve alot. Football (soccer) is a huge pass time here so I'm having to resurrect my skills from when I was younger and played a lot. I'm finding I can keep up pretty well, but all the boys have better ball skills than me so I'll definitely be working on that.

The day I arrived in Trio was the first day they had the street lights turned on in the village (which is a pretty huge deal). They just finished connecting the electric poles and wires along the 7 mile road into the village, but most people (including my host family) don't have electricity or running water. In September I'll be moving into my own little house (its on stilts, has a thatched roof and a back porch that looks over at the Mayan mountains--needless to say I'm pretty pumped.

I've been helped a lot in these first few months by the Peace Corps volunteer (named Zander) that has been in Trio for the last two years and will be leaving in September. Zander came to Trio 2 years ago when he was just about my age now. He didn't speak much Spanish when he came, but is pretty fluent now and also speaks a bit of K'ekchi. The house that I'll be moving into is actually one that he built with the help of some of the other villagers (I'll try to put some photos up). When he's been around he's helped to introduce me to a lot of people in the village and tell me about the projects, etc. I've begun to be involved with the Health Clinic in two local towns called Independence and Bella Vista. So far I've translated some papers for them from English to Spanish, helped with the mobile clinics that they do monthly in 3 different villages. A few different volunteers and myself (just getting started helping) are working on a new manual to help teach the village health workers on different health topics (such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, infections, etc) so they can better inform their villages. My main task will be to translate all the sections into Spanish because some of the communities are mostly Spanish speaking. In the village there are a number of projects that are either ongoing (need for latrines at the school, drainage for the soccer field, etc) or things that some people would like to get started (English classes, HIV education, etc). Projects in Trio seem to move at a relatively slow pace and since Zander is still the main volunteer there, I've been mostly focusing on trying to get to know the community and start to learn more names, etc.

Although I've been keeping relatively busy, there still has been some time for fun ;). Now that a few people in the village have electricity in their homes, alot of people have been watching movies and I've become known as the movie guy. A couple weeks ago I watched all three Lord of the Rings in about 4 days with a number of children from the village. My host family brother's now love to pretend they're smeagol and talk about the "precious." I also watched the Bourne Ultimatum the other day which everyone liked, but the dialogue and plot was pretty confusing for most people. The most popular movies in the village are pure action (Stephen Seagal, Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone, etc).

Just a couple days ago I had a great time singing with about 6 K'ekchi children. They sang me songs in English, K'ekchi, and Spanish. I sang a few in Enlgish for them which they loved. I was really surprised when they knew all the words to Joy to the World, If You're Happy and you Know it, and a bunch of other common American songs. The boys at my home (Ehlmer-17, Sergio-16, Charly-13, Douglas-10) that I share a room with love to listen to music. I have a little crank/solar powered speaker that they always hook up to an old discman that someone brought them from the US.

Well, there's so much more to say, but I don't have the time now. Basically, I'm doing great. I'm really enjoying the Peace Corps experience thus far. I really haven't had much time to sit around and think alot, but when I move into my own place I should have a bit more freedom. I'm sure there will be difficulties to come, but so far it looks like I've got a great place to be and it will be an awesome experience.