So my parents recently visited me and it was really great to see them. As we were riding in the car they were asking questions about different things we were seeing and I was explaining to them different cultural and economic things about the village I live in and some about Belize. My mom asked “why don’t you write about these things in your blog?” Since then I have been thinking about that question and I have come up with some kind of an answer, good or bad, I am still not sure.
I do mostly write lighthearted blogs with the amusing and sometimes awkward moments that lead to laughter that come along with trying to fit in in a completely different culture, or I write about fun events. Those things are easy for me to write about. I feel like coming up with words to adequately describe daily life here, the people, the traditions and culture that won’t lead you to misunderstandings or give you the wrong impressions is really hard for me. My thoughts change daily, things that once surprised or amazed me I don’t even notice anymore. Everything is becoming pretty routine and normal. Thankfully I have about 600 pages or more of journaling from the last 7 months to look back on when I want reminders. I will do my best to give a little bit of insight into what I have learned to love and grown to tolerate in the last 7 months here. I hope that you take these thoughts and realize my impression will or could differ greatly from any other volunteer you find in Belize, and that they are just that, opinions.
I have been in this village about 6 months. Now that I say that, it kind of freaks me out that I am already ¼ of the way through my placement here. I am slowly feeling like I have a home here. There are several of the 30 houses I feel completely comfortable going to visit, sitting with them, talking, laughing or even just having comfortable silence. Something that has taken me a while to get used to is the way visiting takes place here. You can visit with absolutely no purpose, you don’t have to be bringing a message, or really have any reason to visit someone. It is perfectly acceptable to go and sit with someone and enjoy their company even if that means there are periods of 5 minutes or so that are (what I used to feel was awkward) silent. I am working on making myself comfortable visiting the rest of the houses here, but sometimes it is just hard. It is really hard sometimes to convince myself to go to a house where I know our ability to communicate will be minimal and cause a lot of confusion. I have to remind myself, though, that these are the visits that usually turn out the most amusing, most beneficial, let people see that I am trying, and help me to learn the most K’ekchi.
I don’t remember what I have written in the past about this village, but here is a bit of a description. I would say about 15-20% of the adults speak some amount of English. All of the community meetings and everything are held in K’ekchi and most women only speak K’ekchi (With the exception of my host-family who speak beautiful English). So while Belize is an English speaking country it is necessary for me to learn K’ekchi. Even if everyone could speak English, wouldn’t it be more respectful to try and communicate with them in their first language rather than having them make accommodations for me? Most all of the families here are subsistence farmers, their food comes primarily from their gardens, plantations or hunting. So typically we eat a lot of corn (I never knew there were so many ways to prepare corn) usually tortillas, beans, eggs, sometimes rice, and a few vegetables here and there. Thankfully, there are a lot of bananas, coconuts, sweet limes, oranges and some mango trees around so we aren’t short on fruits. As far as income, there really isn’t much. Several families have someone that works at the nearby banana plantations where they make about 9USD a day and are gone about 12 hours a day. We have 3 people that work with the school bus taking kids to the high school in town, and they make about 14USD a day, but they only work about 2-3 weeks a month. Some ladies go to nearby tourist areas to sell crafts and jewelry now and then. The majority of income though is just odd jobs here and there.
The families here are large; most have between 4 and 9 children. People are starting to get married at older ages (18-20), but it is not too uncommon to see someone who was married at 14 or 15. Families tend to stay close together and build houses next to each other. As you can imagine all of these things leave me hard to understand; 24, not a wife, not a mother, and far from my family.
There are three churches here that many people attend, but they all are blended with traditional beliefs and practices as well. Sometime I will have to write about some of them, they are pretty interesting to me. We also have a healer or bush doctor that a lot of people visit when they aren’t well, or they don’t get better after visiting the clinic.
My Typical Day
People ask me what I do, and this is why I don’t consistently have updates. On a normal day I wake up about 5 or so in the morning. About 6 or 6:30 I will open my windows and doors, depending on when I am ready to have kids playing in my house. As soon as I open them they tend to come visit. I make breakfast, read/play with kids for a bit. When I see ladies going or about 9am I will go to the river to wash clothes and bathe. I usually go with my host-sisters, but there are always a lot of ladies down there. It is an awesome time for socializing with the ladies in the village. Usually that takes an hour or two out of the morning. I am convinced my house always needs to be swept so that happens at least once a day. Usually there is a period of spider killing as well. After lunch I usually go to visit a few houses and spend some time walking around and visiting. The unfortunate part of a small village is I can walk around the whole village in about 10-15 minutes, but at least I know everyone. Everyone seems to always know where to find me too. When school is in session I usually go in the morning or afternoon a few times a week to help out in the “library”, help with some special projects or in the garden. I also teach after school 2-3 times a week storywriting and math to help with standardized testing and high school entry exams. Yes, eventually I will work on some kind of project related to my masters, or a bigger project that maybe will seem to have more of a point for those of you at home. For now, though, I am just getting to know people, working on a plan with village leaders, learning, building relationships and teaching them a bit about where I come from, like “Yes we do have trees and rivers in the US. Really, I promise.”
Alright I have been sitting here writing by candle light for about 8 pages right now so I think I should quit. (I didn't even manage to actually type it all up, maybe another time I will add some of the other sections I wrote about :) I am sure you have had enough anyway. Hopefully it will give you a bit more of an idea of where I am and what I am doing. I miss you all and look forward to hearing from you soon!