Tuesday, July 20, 2010

How do you spell slumber party in K'echi?

So my friend Lilly asked me if I would mind hosting her and five preteen girls from her village on their way to a girls' empowerment camp in Camalote. Of course I said yes, cause I love Lil and I'm a helper- it's what I do.
Bright and early (for me), the girls show up and it's a quick hello or 'oos' before I have to head to work. Keep in mind by this time the girls have already traversed a flooded river and taken a long walk through the jungle to catch their bus, that could not reach them in their village. This was all done by 4 a.m.
The girls were not phased at all. Partly, because it's not uncommon and partly because this was their first time out of the village without a family member. (They live a 3 hour bumpy ride by school bus from the nearest town)
After I get off work, I have a few minutes alone before the girls arrive. Not long after that Lilly leaves to get a foam mattress from a friend of ours for some of the girls to sleep on. So here I am, alone with five Mayan tweens. It is worth mentioning here that I speak about ten words of K'echi. Luckily, the girls also speak English and Kriol and some Spanish. So I try to entertain them. I paint some fingernails, try to explain UNO (fail). Ultimately, I give up because they are content all crammed in my bathroom, in front of the mirror doing their hair.
Soon Lilly comes home and we start planning dinner. The girls all agree on spaghetti and as a treat we plan to make cake with chocolate frosting. Lilly and I aren't 100% about the spaghetti. I mean these girls basically live off of caldo, corn tortillas and whatever animal was caught and killed that day- chicken, pig, iguana, armadillo, gibnut- you know, the usual, but they assure us that they've had it before so we go with it. Lilly needs a couple of things for the cake, so I offer to go to the store and the girls want to go along for more snacks.
So, here I am being trailed by the girls. I tried to fall back and let them catch up, but Mayans walk slow and young girls like to chat without supervision. Luckily, I'm not paranoid cause they weren't speaking English, except to ask me a question or two, and they seemed to giggle whenever I'd turn around. OK so maybe I am a little paranoid.
After that we made dinner. Big surprise that the girls did not like spaghetti with sauteed eggplant. So Lilly and I went to the store and got some Ramen, which the girls have had and do like. Avra stayed behind to keep an eye on everything. Thanks Avra!
So we got dinner made, they loved it! Got Shrek started, they loved it! Made the cake, They loved it and I loved it twice!
All in all, the night was a success. The girls had a real slumber party with flashlights and late night gossip and they all fell asleep- two on the sofa, two on the foam on the floor and one in the hammock. I mean it is still Belize after all.

Oh, Ants

Ants are usually the bane of my existence, but lately I have become fascinated with them. I mean they can lift about twenty times their own body weight and they are so fastidious. I mean as a bit of a neat freak how could I not love an ant.
Well the fact that they are the one insect that bites me more than any other in this country and they regularly schedule raids on my food, I guess that could make me not love an ant. But like anyone else, I've learned to adapt. Now when ants get in my food, I eat them. Seriously when I look into my peanut butter jar and see a small platoon of ants stuck in the peanut butter like some modern day dinosaur trapped in the La Brea tarpits, what am I supposed to do? Throw away the jar? Heck no! You eat those little buggers and tell yourself, 'It's just more protein'. As for the biting, sadly or amazingly I've gotten to a place where I can be standing in a mound of fire ants and get bit a dozen times before I look down, wipe off the little guys and go about my business. I think that there's a rule somewhere that you have to have at least ten bug bites on you at all times or you're not really integrating.
But I digress. So I why am I amazed by these little tanks of terror? Ever seen an ant dismember and dispose of a bug 200 times his size? Amazing. So I decided to see how long it would take an army of ants to clean out a near empty jar of peanut butter. Why? Because there is no recycling in this country (except of glass bottles, but I'm pretty sure they just rinse and reuse those), so I try to find a use for everything and peanut butter jars are a pain to clean out.
Right now, we're on day four. They've done a pretty great job so far. The lid is spotless and the top inch or two of the jar has been licked clean. There was a big setback on day three. Torrential rains caused serious flooding in the jar and sadly lives were lost, but the remaining ants didn't give up, they sent in reinforcements and this morning they were bringing out the casualties.
I figure they'll have it cleaned out by the end of the week or I'll become bored with this and clean the rest out myself.
I've gotta start another secondary project.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Long time, no blog

So recently some of my 'blog-tastic' friends have commented on my pathetic blogging skills. I have no argument. It's not like I haven't done anything in the last 5 or so months that I haven't blogged, I have, I've just been lazy. So here it is the last few months in review. (Pictures to come!)

  • The Saints beat the Colts! I watched from a restaurant in Belmopan and splurged on a $10 plate of fried shrimp to honor the occasion.
  • I attempted to Kayak for Haiti, a fundraising effort kayaking from Punta Gorda to Guatemala. I had never kayaked before and made it almost halfway thanks to my co-kayaker.
  • My Ipod and my external hard drive all died in the same week. I cried a little.
  • Lots of trainings for Peace Corps.
  • I attended my first Mayan wedding and bartended it, too.
  • Some PC friends I never get to see came to visit me!
  • Youth groups, youth groups, youth groups.

  • La Ruta Maya- a canoe race starting from the west coast of the country and finishing on the east coast over three days. We did HIV outreach at the event. I met a lot of great people and we did good work.
  • Dara and Lance came to visit me! I love visitors. We spent a day at Caye Caulker. Dara ran over me with a golf cart. Then we went to Caracol to see the ruins and the falls. A guard gave Dara an M-16 to pose with, seerus.
  • I started my SCUBA training. I am petrified of drowning and I am claustrophobic, but Emerson said if you're not facing your fears everyday, you aren't living.
  • My friend Kristen moved in with me.

  • My friend, Lilly, invited me to meet her mom on San Pedro. This is the island Madonna sang about and it is La isla bonita!
  • Next stop Mexico! I went to Chiapas with some friends. We went to San Cristobal de la Casas and Palanque. We saw a bullfight, parades and political effigies set on fire with fire works. Viva La Mexico! At the end of the trip I crossed three countries in one day by myself. Take that Emerson.
  • Youth groups, youth groups, youth groups.
  • Erica's cat died. I tried CPR on it. R.I.P. Piglet.
  • Trainees came to visit and stay with us for the weekend. I got Cassidy. That's one B.A. chick!
  • Earth Day. We did presentations at all the schools!
  • Community clean-up. Four satellite sites, 23 kids showed up. Boo!
  • Finished SCUBA- ish. Stress and a developing ulcer sidelined me on the last dive, but I had enough time in to qualify for scuba cert instead of open water. Only difference is I have to dive with a dive pro, as if I wouldn't anyways.
As for May, this month has been exceptionally trying, but I will get through it and maybe, just maybe I'll share it with the blogosphere.
Until then, try to be patient. They say it's a virtue.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Loneliness can make you tired, but it doesn't help you sleep

I try to make these things as uplifting or at least as mildly entertaining as I can- maybe that's why I haven't written one in a while. No, that's not true. I have been happy and I think more or less I'm okay right now. It just seems like everything around me is not so much.
I have this problem- it's a very selfish problem. I have a need to fix things, people, situations- if it's broken I want to fix it. Unless it's me and then I like to live in denial thank you very much- well maybe not denial just peaceful oblivion. I like people to be happy, especially people I care about or people who cannot defend themselves. I don't like people to be stressed out or to face undue hardships. So essentially I want to prevent life- well prevent life from causing pain.
I heard over the radio this morning, while I was having my oatmeal and tea, that Haiti was hit by another earthquake. I take time to absorb this horrific news, a moment of silence for those already suffering who will continue to suffer more, and then I eat my breakfast.
The other night, I spoke to my best friend from back home. Her boyfriend's mother is scheduled for surgery to remove part of her lung due to cancer. She absorbs all of his pain that he can't adequately express without making her feel like she is all that is wrong in his life. She knows he's just lashing out in pain, but she doesn't know how many more lashes she can take.
The night before last, I took a two hour ride to provide counseling to two young girls. I was supposed to convince them to stay in school and not run off with their boyfriends or go to work in the village brothel. They are thirteen. The average age to drop out of school and start a family is fourteen. They were nowhere to be found.
From there I was driven another hour to counsel a young couple who have become sexually active and are having issues with domestic violence. She is thirteen and he is fifteen.
Then, there was an emergency call. Three children were found abandoned. Their mother had gone drinking a few days before and never returned home. Nobody knows if there is a father to speak of. We drove them to a children's home two hours away. They seemed happy. They fell asleep on the ride. We held them to us to make them feel safe, to make us feel better about the sores and scars on their little bodies.
On the ride home, one of the women I work with asked me if I would like to go and volunteer in Haiti. I said yes before I could think about it. After, I thought about it, beyond the obvious reasons of wanting to help those so greatly in need, I realized I wanted to do something, anything to make it better- something tangible that I could see. So I could feel like I was making a difference. God, that sounds selfish doesn't it.
These are the times, when everything seems so hopeless and insurmountable, that you want to cling to those around you and be grateful for what God has given you. I think what has me so soul-sick, so lonely is the fact that everyone, that all of these people- the ones they cling to can't help them at all.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Excuse me, have you seen my comfort zone?

Well in my early days as a Peace Corps trainee, I would joke that Peace Corps has prepared me for two things- packing and waiting. It seemed that we were always going from one place to another, shuffling along the way- a hotel stay here, then off to training sites, back to the capitol, back to our sites, off to visit other volunteers. Here to there, back and forth- await further instructions slowly eroding at our self will coddling us into the false sense of security brought about with a detailed itinerary and then we were sworn in as Peace Corps volunteers and the schedule stopped...
So here I am with my second host family in a new town with a new, pretty undefined job description trying to figure out who I am and what the hell I'm doing here. Hello, comfort zone, where are you?
Cut to a month later... Comfort zone is still nowhere in sight, but sometimes that's nice. Don't get me wrong, I like to be lulled to sleep by the peaceful monotony of routine foreknowledge. I like to be able to go home and not have four pikni (kids) hanging off of me, all piling into my bed with their dirty feet touching all of my things. To be able to leisurely go to the bathroom without having at least one child knocking on the door would be nice. "Ms. Christine, what are you doing in there?" "Going to the bathroom." "Can I come in?" "No, honey, I'll be right out." "Ms. Christine, I want to come in." I'm sure my digestive system would benefit from a little peace. I enjoy not having to feign enthusiasm over fish heads and pig tails. I would love to take at least a lukewarm shower and shave my legs without goose bumps. Or to show up to work and have an idea of what I'm doing so that I can prepare for the day rather than be thrown into uncomfortable and sometimes unethical situations.
But that's not what I signed up for. I get 'The Question' pretty often, 'why did you join the Peace Corps?" and the answer is rarely ever the same. One of the main reasons though, one of the selfish reasons, is that I wanted to push myself as far outside of my comfort zone as I possibly could. I wanted unknown surroundings, people, places and things. I wanted, and still want to, evaluate my life without the haze of monotony. For me, it was getting to the point that who I was was defined by the people around me, by constructs that had been in place for years. Perceptions became truths that were accepted with minimal resistance. Those truths became tethers that kept me grounded, connected, but stagnant too. Kazantzakis said that everyone should be just a little bit mad, otherwise you'll never cut the tie that binds and truly be free.
So if you do come across my comfort zone out there, keep it. I don't need it anymore. I'm creating new comforts and new truths for myself. And when those truths become too familiar, I guess I'll just have to cut the string again.

Monday, November 2, 2009

File this under adaptation

I'll start off with a little background- in Belize they are gearing up for Garifuna settlement day. This is the day when African tribes came to Dangriga, Belize and other areas of Central America. The Garifuna people were shipwrecked and escaped slaves. It is a celebration of Garifuna culture and heritage. So far there have been dance competitions and a pageant to select the young girl who will represent each district in the national competition.
The dance competition, a few nights ago, was to select a joncunoo or oniwaga dancer. This dancer is special because it is a lone male who sets the pace for the drums. Perhaps the most interesting part of this is the fact that the drummers must follow the dancers feet, but for me it was the fact that the dancers are all in 'white face'. From what I was told, it is meant to mock the dancing styles of the slave masters. I did not find this offensive or uncomfortable because I've never been anyone's master and I can dance. Even though I was only one of two white people in attendance, I felt, if not wanted than, accepted. I am fully aware of the fact that white people have done 'black face' and that this is no longer culturally acceptable, but the circumstances here are well 'special'. And to quote the puppet from Avenue Q, “everyone's just a little bit racist”.
So why am I even bringing this up? Why is this noteworthy? Where is the adaptation? Well that happened on the next night. On my way to the Ms. Garifuna Peini contest, walking with a friend, a man on a street corner yelled out to us various messages of hate.. “white devils, blue eyed devils (my eyes are brown, my friends are hazel), rednecks (surely he couldn't tell by the way I walk that I'm from the south) and then he said “you should pay for what your people have done to my people”. Those of you who know me can imagine that my tongue was bleeding at this point from biting it so hard. My friend asked me to please not say anything to make the situation worse, so I swallowed it.
We went on to the pageant and again I felt accepted. We joined hands for the Our Father and I felt calm again. Throughout the pageant the girls danced and spoke about their culture in the Garifuna language. The children from my friend's host family came to play with us and everyone was having a good time. Then it moved to the portion of the program where the contestants express their feelings about their culture. After each girl spoke the announcer would translate portions of the speech. The main theme in all speeches was 'we must stop the adoption of other cultures, we must not dilute our race, we must not allow inter-marriage'. This was met with a great deal of applause. Now on one hand I can understand cultural heritage and pride, but applause for racial purity, no matter what the race does not sit right with me.

Unfortunately, that day was fraught with racial ickiness as earlier in the day, while trying to find the cartoon channel for my host sister, I came upon 'The Longest Yard' . It was the scene where the white guard is being despicable to a black inmate and the line is something like 'you know why you all call each other brother? It's because most of you don't know who your daddy is so you might be brothers'. Hearing that made my stomach turn. Growing up in the south where racism is not as well hidden as in other parts of the country, I have been witness to this kind of hatred and cruelty. I have also been on what I considered the other side of it, a victim of reverse racism. It was not until the other night when I got a tiny glimpse of what that truly feels like- to not be respected, to not be wanted or accepted. I know that I have no idea what racism truly feels like. I know that my white skin born in the United States to educated parents will never feel more than a glancing blow of true hatred, but I can recognize it.
I would like to say that racism while directed towards people should not be taken personally, that it has been cultivated over centuries having been fed on fear and ignorance, but that would be too easy. There is a reason why most racist people say they have a friend of another color because they probably do because if you look at people on a personal level you can't hate or condemn them for broad sweeping generalizations. Regardless of your beliefs, whether you believe Big Bang theory or Creationism, we all came from the same place and we will one day return to that place.
So how have I adapted? I stayed. I remained present and will continue to be present and I will work to show the people around me that whether you like me or not it won't have anything to do with the color of my skin. By not retreating to a place that feels comfortable and safe, that's how I'm trying to adapt.

Friday, October 30, 2009


i have up until very recently been a hater of blogs. i rarely care to hear what people are saying in the moment so the idea of someone storing up all their little mundane thoughts only to share them with the world and feel that they had accomplished something was on par with a child recently potty trained wanting to show you what they just did. don't get me wrong to the blogger and the young pooper these materializations of what they have been working on all day are truly miraculous, i just didn't care to see them.
these aren't exactly the kinds of sentiments you might expect to hear from someone in the counseling profession, but if you'd let us talk for once you'd realize we are a pretty sick, twisted bunch. so why then, you might ask (i might ask who you are, but that's putting too much thought into this process) have i decided to join the rest of the blogging republic and further pollute cyberspace with my petulant remarks and tender reminiscings? because i want to feel special too damnit! that and because i have a couple of hours a day to kill and to be completely honest it's because this is a time in my life that i want to remember- so i can have the luxury of looking back on this time in my life and have a document that doesn't wither with the decay of old age.
and so it begins... my name is christine breland and i am a peace corps volunteer in punta gorda, belize. i have been assigned to work as a youth development volunteer for the next two years. i'll try to go slow so that you can keep up.