Tuesday, March 13, 2012

How I have come to love Belize!

A reflection by me...Kathryn

So our time in Peace Corps is rapidly coming to an end and in the last couple of months instead of feeling complete excitement for our return home I have started to feel a squeezing in my chest reminding me of how in love of Belize I have become.  For a year in Peace Corps we struggled on a daily basis with our work, our relationships, and all the other changes surrounding us. There where many times in that year I could honestly say I did not like being in Belize. Then something happened and things started changing. Next thing I know it and my work is moving forward and not only are my work partners trusting my advice but they are becoming my friends.  I suddenly didn't have to fight for every penny because I am white instead people either already know me or I can talk just enough Kriol for them to realize I have been here awhile.  And one of the most helpful changes happened when a few boys in our neighborhood showed up to Cisco's ultimate frisbee game on Sunday and suddenly all the 19 year old boys that gave me trouble in my village were my best buddies.  How is it possible that in the last three months of Peace Corps I suddenly feel completely at home, and now it is time to go? Well that being said I want to share something about Belize I will miss the most including the stories of when I have felt the most at home.

One of my favorite memories in Belize is when we just returned home from spending almost two weeks in Mexico, meeting Cisco's family, over Christmas break. The taxi pulls up in front of our gate at around 7 at night and we get out to pick up our baggage.  As soon as we exit the car screaming children come from all over the place yelling our names and cheering that we are home. Immediately we are immersed in hugs! Then the kids all start grabbing our bags and helping us open the gate. They all walk us to our house and put our stuff inside as I look around to assess the damage. Since our homes are very open, the windows are barred shut, and there are just screens separating the inside from out. Our table was covered in dirt and I was started complaining about how dirty it was and the little boys started wiping the table down for me.  I go to walk them all out because we need to get settle in and one of my favorite little boys, Tito, who was seven at the time stops me puts his hands on my shoulders, looks me straight in the eyes and says, Katarine, I am so glad you come back! Talk about the best way to come home from vacation. About a half hour later our neighbor Zoila sends some Escabache, onion soup, over because she knows we don't have any food in the house too. This is what it feels like to be part of a community.

Another story that is much shorter and completely random is to me a prime example of Belize.  The other day I was staring out my front window, as I tend to do alot, and I saw a little girl on her bike. This girl was probably 5 riding a little kids bike, which she probably had been riding since she was 3.  She was dressed in a very fancy strapless red gown, she looked like she was going to a wedding. She of course was barefoot and as she passed the house the chain on her bike slipped off.  Well unlike any kid I know in the States, and I grew up in the country, she hopped off her bike leaned over it and fixed the chain in seconds. In her adorable little gown and bare feet she quickly hopped back on and went on her way. Love it!

Every Sunday at 3 pm Cisco has organized an Ultimate Frisbee game on a field about a mile from our house. He sends out flyers and texts to people all over Belmopan.  The game has not surprisingly become one of our favorite times during the week.  But to our surprise one day when we were playing a couple of older boys on bikes were watching and hanging around while we played. After we finished and Cisco and I were packing up they came over and asked to throw the disc around and we of course said yes and quickly realized these were our neighbors, the boys that lived directly around our home.  Well in just a month or so three 19 year old boys, their 17, 15, and 14 year old siblings all regularly play Frisbee with us each week and have become our best pals on top of that.  Now whenever there is a holiday we all go to the closer field right behind our house and play sports together. With the older boys we are always talking through the fence, playing games, and one has become my Spanish tutor. This has proved to be a monumental change for us, I no longer get harassed on our street because all of the boys know me, and for once we feel like we really have a Belizean family. A couple funny stories have come out of these games and interactions as well…

Probably the third time we played Frisbee the three 19 year olds wanted to play against Cisco, myself, and my friend Bart.  Cisco and I are the best and most experienced players and we tried to explain to them that the teams weren’t very fair, but they insisted. At about the same time I was picking on one of the boys about how I’d like to see him cook because I was sure he couldn’t. This was just one of many “discussions” I have had with these boys about gender roles.  He insisted he could and said he was going to make me dinner and blah blah blah. Well these two conversations ended up molding into a bet that the losing team had to cook a barbeque for the winning team. Well of course Cisco and my team won and the three boys promised to cook for us the next Friday.  Well the BBQ was meant to start at 5:30, I was coming late from an event at 6, and the food was supposed to be ready when I got there. Each boy had their own responsibility making tortillas, cabbage salad, beans, and most importantly the chicken. I arrived at 6 and nobody was even around except Cisco. Needless to say we didn’t eat until 8:30 and there were two trips to the shop for beans and charcoal during the process but I have to admit it was some of the best chicken I have ever eaten.

One of my other favorite moments in Belize happened just a few weeks ago right after Cisco’s sister arrived.  Cisco and I had been away for a conference and only had the morning of Alicia’s arrival to clean up the house and get prepared. I was doing chores and grocery shopping all morning when I heard the guys hail me from the fence. I had been having trouble with my bike tire for weeks, Cisco kept patching the inner tube but it still kept going flat and I had to go everywhere with a pump. We were gone for a few days and I hadn’t had time to fix it again and this time it was flat flat!  Anyway the boys called for me and told me pull my bike up front to the gate to fix it for me. I did as I was told and they told me my whole tire was no bueno. The one boy Victor told me to give him $20 and he would go buy me a new tire and replace the old one. He went halfway across town and fixed my bike for me, and gave me change. A month ago these boys wouldn’t even talk to me and now they are taking care of me like a sister. I have never felt so appreciative of something so simple.

Other random things I will miss…

The constant sounds of nature, I don’t know if I can sleep without chickens, geese, dogs, and blaring reggae tone.

Food being the greatest offering of friendship and love. It seems every day now someone gives us an orange, banana, sweet bread, or soup just because that is what they do. I made 60 cookies the other day and distributed them out around the neighborhood and it is the best feeling in the world.

Riding my bike everywhere, the exercise, the opportunity to see things, to feel the sun, it’s a blessing.

Watching out my window and seeing a carnival every second of every day. Snotty geese bullying all the other animals and chasing down poor bicyclists, hardworking guard dogs barking at everything that moves and the smaller the dog the louder the bark, chickens just scavenging for anything edible, children making use of every movable object to create some kind of game or entertainment for themselves, gossiping ladies, men working hard and drinking hard, domesticated turkeys (which I will never get used to), one annoyed pig, an occasional free roaming cow, 5 minor bicycle accidents a day, a women carrying 3 kids home on her bike, a man carrying a weed eater, can of gas, and other equipment on his bike, a 5 year old using a machete to cut the grass, the ladies washing their laundry every day in the outdoor sink, rain or shine, and of course the kids incessantly throwing rocks at each other despite our frequent warnings.

Everyone singing and dancing all the time unapologetically and without fear that they look or sound bad. I love that music is constantly flowing through their daily lives.


Fighting to get on the bus like a herd of cattle and all easily finding a seat

The snacks... ideals, cold cups, wagon wheels, fruit in bags, fruit with lime and salt in bags, ketchup on everything, nachos with cheese, meat, and hot pepper, tacos, panades, and believe it or not rice and beans!

Kriol and its beautiful rhythm. Spanish and everything about it!

Hearing fireworks at 4 am and knowing its somebody’s birthday.


Churches in session at 10 pm with the worst singing I have ever heard in my life!

Walking into a classroom and watching all the kids stand and say together Good Morning Miss Kathryn and welcome to Standard 6.

School Uniforms... it's nice to know where the kids go to school, it's a conversation starter.

Waking at 6 am, running, coffee, reading, eating, getting ready to go to work. Yes 3 hours to prepare myself for the day is just the right amount of time.

Hour long lunches at home.

Buying dvds from the market a week after they come out.

The weather, sweating 9 months a year is really a beautiful thing.

The landscape and fauna, green, pink, purple, red, blues everywhere it is just beautiful. 

Going to the beach whenever we want.

Taxis, water taxis, sailing, buses... I guess I love public transportation.

Things I will not miss...

Wearing a helmet when nobody else does, lol

Fire ants... little bastards.

I guess all in all somehow in the last year Belize and I have become friends and I am going to miss her.

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Monkey on My Back

I remember the car ride well. Dad drove, and Alicia and I sat in the back seat--both because we were too small to sit in front of an air-bag and because we would fight over the privilege of sitting "shotgun". We rolled up and down the hills of US-58, and dad, casually as if it were the weather, asked us if we wanted to learn Spanish. That day will live forever in my mind.

Kathryn and I are spending the Christmas holiday in Mexico this year. We arrived at the airport in Mexico City on the 19th and will depart on the 30th. In the meantime, we have been traipsing across the country-side surrounding the city, seeing the sights and meeting/visiting family. Thankfully, dad made the trip as well and has played tour-guide and travel agent. We've had a fantastic time thus far and are incredibly grateful to finally spend a holiday with family (unfamiliar as they may be).

As a result, the past week has put my linguistic inabilities in stark relief. Obviously, I play spectator to most conversations. Dad interprets important parts, but otherwise I do the best I can. Kathryn, after dedicating herself to Spanish classes, studying, and a week of immersion school, participates a bit as well. She would tell you it's not that much and that it's all wrong, but I'm a connoisseur of self-deprecation. When she wants to, she can almost always communicate what she's thinking. Her Spanish skills have come along by leaps and bounds in the past year, and this week has shown that.

I, on the other hand, am limited to observing. I'm rarely a talkative person, so that's nothing new; but this is a whole new experience. Despite Peace Corps language training, a half-hearted attempt at Spanish class, and sporadic self-guided study sessions, I can say only that I usually get the gist of what's happening. And this is why I mentioned the car ride with dad.

Riding down the road, hit by a ton of bricks, I answered no. If memory serves me, Alicia did, too. We were probably 7 and 5, respectively. At the time, the only Spanish we'd been exposed to was either on TV, at the convenience store our parents owned, or when dad called our "Abuelita" at Christmas. I can say with absolute certainty that we had no idea of the gravity of our decisions. I can also say, however, that since the moment I answered, I knew I made the wrong choice.

Since then, I've been Francisco Fernandez, the English-speaker; Francisco Fernandez, the white boy. I cannot begin to count the number of people who have looked at me quizzically when confronted with this bit of information. It's like, for a split second, I opened a third eye in my forehead. And then comes the inevitable, the dreaded, "Why?".

Over the years, I've created a lot of different reasons--particularly since I decided not to take Spanish in school. A common answer attributed the decision to the stubbornness I inherited from my father. If he tried to teach me, we'd butt heads and suffer for it. Then there's, "I just never needed it." And, most recently, I've convinced myself that if I have to learn to read French and German as well as Hebrew, Spanish will only make things worse. The more I listen to myself, the more I realize I'm simply making excuses.

This week has eaten away my excuses like acid (hydrochloric "eat-your-face-off" acid, as my high school chemistry teacher would say). It's easy to write-off a bad decision when you don't have to face the consequences. Here, on the other hand, I'm confronted by a host of family who want nothing more than to share their love and their lives with me, and I'm simply incapable of doing so. Nonverbal communication only goes so far. I'm embarrassed because I can't communicate, but I'm afraid of embarrassing myself by using what little Spanish I know incorrectly.

So why have I done this to myself?

Because I want to be right. I want to remember that car ride and know that I didn't lose 20 years where I could have been learning Spanish. Unfortunately, I did lose that time. And in that time, I've also lost the chance to build relationships with aunts, uncles, and cousins. I'd like to say that it's never too late for those things, but going to my grandmother's grave tomorrow, I know that's not true. Now all that's left is embarrassment, shame, guilt, and jealousy--of Kathryn and my dad and every other multi-lingual person who has taken advantage of the opportunity I squandered. The only upshot is that this cocktail of terrible emotions just might serve as motivation enough to get this monkey off my back.

I apologize for the narcissistic nature of this post. The past two night's I've been unable to sleep thinking about Spanish, so I'm hoping that the least I'll gain from this is a little rest. Also, I feel I owe it to all those whom I've answered insincerely when asked about speaking Spanish. In any event, if you've made it this far, I'll reward you with some brand-new pictures from our adventures south of the boarder. Whatever the tone of this post, we're loving Mexico.



Arrival at the airport with dad and Tio Rafael.

Kathryn stretching between Izta and Popo, the volcanoes overlooking Mexico City (inactive and active, respectively).

Kathryn and the young cousins celebrating with sparklers shortly after midnight on Christmas Eve.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rina, Following-Up, and Dexter

First, to set your minds at ease: Kathryn and I are safe and sound. Hurricane Rina has passed us, moving north to the Yucatan peninsula. It's been downgraded to a tropical depression and might shower us with precipitation for the next few days, but it shouldn't disrupt our travel plans for next week's beach trip. Nice.

Next, I'd like to give you a brief follow-up on my last blog post. I read this earlier today. I'm disappointed and perturbed that the mayor would claim that "the man pulled a fast one on us,"--the man, I assume, being my fellow Peace Corps volunteer. I'd also like to point out that rainbows are now, apparently, offensive, so be careful fans of colorful t-shirts and Care Bears! I'd hate for you to be mistakenly agitating those around you.

All of this discussion leads me to Dexter. I read another interesting article here, about one of Kathryn's and my favorite television shows. For those of you unfamiliar with Dexter, he's a serial killer serial killer. At first glance, it's gory and risque in a way we've all come to expect from HBO. However, after a period of desensitization, Dexter begins to grow on you. You begin to realize that by following his train-of-thought, he makes logical conclusions. Eventually, you begin to root for him--or at least we did.

This season, Dexter comes face-to-face with a new spectre--religion. As a scientist, he's the archetypical analytical mind that requires empirical data and hard evidence. Except now, his world collides with that of two deeply religious individuals: the born-again ex-con and the Revelation expert responsible for the latest string of killings.

So what does this have to do with rainbows in Belize?

I could not be more excited for this season of Dexter because it creates the space for dialogue. Open-mindedness and tolerance are shaping up to be main thematic elements. By exposing the viewing public to these themes, I hope that society at-large can begin to think more critically and speak more openly when encountering the religiously other.

When I read news--whether Belizean, American, or other--my eye gravitates towards the religious topics. The unfortunate truth is that religion rests at the heart of some of the most heated debates of our time--abortion, sexual orientation, evolution as public school curriculum. Furthermore, history is peppered with instances of religious groups oppressing and enacting genocide upon others--the Crusades, the Inquisition, Israel/Palestine, to name a few. Even to this day, there remain religious undercurrents in many of the world's armed conflicts. Religious differences continue to divide humanity.

Currently, Dexter shows the varied levels commitment to one's faith and the potential for misinterpretation and misuse. For Dexter, religious experience is a last resort in a time of desperate need. For the character of Brother Sam, it's the motivation for a new life and an explanation of the otherwise inexplicable. And for Doomsday killer, it's a rationalization for death and violence. Highlighting these differences in men with similar personalities only shows how little divides disparate religious views.

It's instructive to remember that Jesus was most critical of those of his same faith. He did little to truly proselytize, but rather let his actions speak for themselves. Apart from the tables of certain money-changers, the only violence in Jesus' ministry was that done to him. Like God saving the pagan city of Nineveh, Jesus spoke a message for all humanity. And, in the context of the current discussion, if Jesus had to choose a serial killer, he would choose Dexter over the Doomsday killer any day.

When the season ends, I really hope Dexter remains agnostic. I think he'll bridge the gap from pure atheist to the agnostic, "I can't count it out," perspective, and that will be a win for me. The world needs to see positive models of discussion of religious differences. If that can happen, then hopefully demonizing rainbows is the next thing to go.



Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Response

Blogging is a funny thing. I'm under no delusions that I'm good at it--I wait long periods of time between entries, I tend to ramble, and I'm not all that convinced that my subject-matter is terribly interesting. As a general rule, I'm simply better at writing about an issue. So today, instead of writing about the things I miss most from home, I'm going to write about a situation which has put one of our fellow volunteers in Peace Corps Belize in the proverbial hot-seat.

For context, this article is today's news coverage of a mural painted on a wall at Orange Walk Town Hall. The article focuses on the use of the rainbow as a symbol of the "homosexual agenda." Much discourse has occurred recently regarding the constitutionality of Belize's sodomy laws, and, unfortunately, the use of the term "abomination" characterizes the predominant opinion. As for me, I cannot make any judgements on political matters as a Peace Corps volunteer, but I can add my voice to the ongoing dialogue between the faith community and the LGBT community. To that effect, I'd like to talk a little bit more about the rainbow.

My most vivid memories of rainbows are from my childhood. Pulling off to the side of some unnamed road, my parents, sister, and I would stare awestruck at the beauty of this natural phenomenon. And, inevitably, we would all think about what it meant.

Genesis 9
12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Obviously, those were the days when my worldview didn't include a place for homosexuality, and my only experience of the symbolic meaning of a rainbow came from church as a sign of promise.

Most people growing up in the Judeo-Christian world know the story of Noah's ark (for a hilarious but graphic representation, see the Brick Testament). The world as God created it had descended into debauchery and moral decay. God finds Noah, an upstanding example of righteous piety, and charges him with the task of building an ark and gathering pairs of all the animals of the world. The rains come, the water rises, and all but Noah, his family, and his ark full of wildlife die. In the aftermath, God speaks to Noah and creates the rainbow.

I guess it goes without saying that the rainbow, to me, is a reminder of this story, not a symbol of LGBT rights. However, if LGBT activists want to appropriate this sign of God's love, faithfulness, and commitment to all of humanity, who am I to stop them? Aren't peace, love, tolerance, and equality implicit in God's covenant? And if we really look at the heart of the matter, isn't that what LGBT people are looking for--acknowledgment of their humanity? We afford all sorts of people a full range of human rights--from the cheating spouse to the misogynist to the back-stabber (the figurative one, not the literal one) to the drug dealer. Why should homosexuals be any different? And why should they be any less welcomed by a church body of dysfunctional misfits?

This is where Jesus becomes such a powerful figure to me. He surrounded himself with Jews, Greeks, Samaritans, adulterers, tax collectors, fishermen, brothers, sisters, neighbors, and enemies. He implores you, whether you consider them brothers and sisters, neighbors, or enemies, to love the LGBT community. Similarly, the antagonists in the story of Jesus were the religious authorities--the pastors, bishops, elders, and deacons of our day. His legacy to us, again from my perspective, is an inexhaustible pursuit of justice, equality, peace, and tolerance--in short, an extension of God's rainbow covenant.

I know that my views and opinions on this matter are far from orthodox. But in spite of our stances on the ethical/moral implications of homosexuality, we must advocate on behalf of those who have been marginalized by society. In biblical times, these would have been the widow, the orphan, and the alien. Today, they are the starving and underfed, the victims of human trafficking, and the lesbian, the gay, the transsexual, the bisexual.

Finally, if you have read this far, I hope you would remain open-minded regarding this topic. By inflaming others, we stifle the possibility of finding a mutually beneficial resolution to this issue. In that vein, I am more than happy to answer questions or discuss this topic further with anyone willing to do so in a respectful and productive manner. I hope you enjoyed this food-for-thought!



Sunday, October 2, 2011

Phew wee, we are behind!

Hello Everyone, we have not dropped off the face of the planet. As I am sure you could guess we had a busy summer directing several camps, studying and taking our GRE, and are now in the process of applying to graduate schools. Therefore, we have had difficulty trying to muster up the will to do more writing in our spare time. I know boo hoo for us we should have been keeping you better up to date and now I will attempt to catch you up!

Summer Camps

Cisco was responsible for organizing and directing two different P.E.A.C.E. (preventing, engaging, addressing, conflict, effectively) camps, yes he came up with the name. Both camps were from 9-12 each morning and for two weeks long, so essentially Cisco had camp every day for one month straight. The two camps are divided into age groups and the first one is the middle school aged kids and the second is the high school aged kids. I had the opportunity like last your to assist leading the second camp with the older kids and from just my perspective things went great.  Cisco prepared this beautiful binder full of plans and activities, even a table of contents, and his organization made the camp go extrememly smoothly. The activities covered all manners of conflict resolution techniques and scenarios as well as topics like discipline, understanding our feelings, conflict in the news, and conflict resolution through ultimate frisbee. The camp was a lot of fun and extremely successful, they will miss him next year!

I was responsible for assisting in the week long morning day camp at the library which was slighty unorganized but in general a great opportunity for the children that participated. We had approximately 50 kids show up each day and the topic this year was agriculture. I planned a field trip to the local 4H show grounds which was the highlight fo the camp for many since alot of these children never get to travel far from their homes.

Overlapping a day with this camp was my 4 day 3 night Cub Scout camp at the national cub scouts campgrounds.  Wow! This was an amazing experience and an exhausting one. It is so interesting to be on the other side of the fence as the leader instead of the scout and I have a new appreciation for what my leaders went though! Even though it was challenging this was one of the most meaningful experiences I have had so far because it truly gave me an opportunity to get to know the kids and learn a lot more about cub scouts in general. I had a wonderful time and I wish I could do it again... Oh wait I am going again just a few weeks from now:) This time it will only be an overnight and a Olympiad (or track and field event) but nonetheless I am looking forward to it.

Finally Cisco and I were invited to the annual GLOW (girls leading our world) camp to present on healthy relationships. We also were asked to do this last year and were able to use a lot of the same materials. It was a lot of fun to talk about relationships with the girls and they always ask us interesting questions during our annonymous Q and A session. Things like... Did Cisco ever pear pressure other girls? Is Cisco respectful of you? Did you have sex before you were married? Like I said it's annonymous so they don't hold back. We finished this year with something we had prepared for Cisco's PEACE camp related to the topic of communication.  We acted out the classic Abbott and Castillo sketch, "Whose on First" which they had a great laugh about!

Kathryn's Vacation

Shortly after the summer finished I went on vacation with my Peace Corps friend Elsa to Antigua Guatemala.  The purpose of our trip was to attend a spanish immersion school for five days, studying 6 hours a day with one on one tutors, and staying with host families that only speak spanish.  Because we have been banned from certain regions of Guatemala do to safety reasons to get to Antigua we had to do about 13 hours of traveling by bus, boat, bus, bus, shuttle, and taxi. That is no exaggeration. The trip there was very smooth though and its was very exciting to arrive in Antigua because to my surprise it is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been! 

To draw you a picture the city is surrounded by volcanoes so it has a very green and mountainous backdrop. The streets are made of cobblestones and the houses are all connected to each other differentiated only by their individually bright colors, none being the same as the next.  The walls of the homes are covered with lavish ivy and flowers of all colors a testament to the temperate climate.  The architecture is that of the colonial era giving it a bit of a European feel in my opinion.  All in all it is impossilbe to describe how beauitful it really is.

Elsa and I lived three blocks from one another with different host families. We dropped Elsa off first and her host family consisted of an older single women who had decorated her room with signs and card welcoming her to Antigua. My family consisted of Abuela Clara Rosa, Don Elder, Dona Marina, and nieto Kenneth. It also included the four high school students that lived there during the week to go to school, it was a full house. My family was extremely sweet and patient with my spanish. They also had a nice room made up for me with a card welcoming me to Antigua. I was extrememly lucky because Dona Marina was an amazing cook and I was well fed during my time with the Elder family.

During this time I had two teachers one in the morning and one in the afternoon. With my teachers we would sit at a small table with a white board and my teachers huge pile of books and we would do exercises and mostly talk. It was very helpful and it clarified things that I have been confused about for two years now.  My teachers didn't speak very much English themselves so it really was a great way for me to improve.

Each afternoon after classes Elsa and I would explore the city and do different activities.  We would go to the market and shop which was a different experience in and of itself. We have to negotiate prices in Belize but things are even more negotiable in Guatemala and sometimes they will drop their price by up to 60 percent it is hilarious. You will go back and forth for awhile then they will sense you are about to leave and they will ask, "Cual es tu precio", what is your price, once you name it they hesitate, look annoyed, then agree, it is a fun process.  At the market Elsa and I also got a woven cloth decoration put in our hair, finally we could be tourists instead of having to appear integrated!  We also had the opportunity one afternoon to go with a bnuch of other students to the mountains and bath in a large naturally fed hot spring. Guatemala has a lot of volcanos and the seismic activity heats the water in certain places.  Another afternoon we took a 45 minute bike ride with some students and a guide to a coffee plantation where we were given a tour of the plantation and how they grow and cultivate coffee and of course at the end we were given free samples of coffee, followed by the ride back.  One afternoon we took a self guided walking tour of the city with two friends from the school and discovered the most beautiful Macdonald's I have ever seen with a beautifully landscaped courtyard and fountain. That day my friend Elsa got her nose pierced and I got my tragus (a part of the ear) pierced, something we had promised two other Peace Corps friends we would all do together, but unfortunately they had already returned home to the States.  To finish that day Elsa and I went on a very wet tour of a local museum that included tombs, ruins, local art, a grourmet chocolate making shop (which we couldn't afford) and a candel/pottery making shop.  We had the opportunity to take a salsa class which was fast and furious but a lot of fun! To make use of our skills we went out to a few of the local clubs one night and danced some salsa with the locals but then quickly transitioned to some reggae-tone and hip hop which I think we are more suited for. The final, and my favorite, activity we had the opportunity to do was climb the Volcan Pacaya small but active volcano.  The climb only took about an hour and a half and the view from the top was breath taking.  The volcano was active enough that heat radiates from the holes and crevices and the guide brings us marshmellows that we can roast by the steam of the volcano.

We did a few bumps in the road which I think are worth mentioning to provide you with the big picture of our story. We had one incident one night when we had gone out for some dessert and during our time at the  restaurant it started to rain, no big surprise since it was the rainy season, we started walking home at about 9 pm. We had been in the city for a few days and never had felt unsafe so we didn't think there was much of a problem to be walking around at that time because it is usually pretty busy with people. Because of the rain it was much darker and there were very few people out when Elsa and I had to separate at the corner a block from her house and two from my house the incident occured. Apparently a man came up behind Elsa and tried to pull her skirt down, when she turned she jumped away and started screaming profanities, apparently the only thing she could think to say, and he ran off in my direction.  I was just putting my key in the door and turning my body inside when this guys face appeared in the doorway and he reached in and grabbed my arm.  I was taken completely by surprise and started screaming like a banshee, I quickly began shutting the door on his arm repeatedly until he pulled it out and ran away. By that time I had woken up 6 of the 7 people in my house and they all came running. If you can imagine I was very shaken up and I had to try to explain what had just happened in Spanish, basically we played a ridiculous game of charades until they got the picture and I had calmed down.  It was a scary experience that had me sleeping with my light on for the night but we survived and nothing terrible came of it, thank God!!

Our other problem resulted in a series of miscommunications and I believe untruths from the bus company we used to return home.  Basically our ride back to the port city where we needed to catch a boat home took twice as long as we expected and we missed the last boat that left earlier then we had expected anyway. At this point we arrived late it in city that most people don't choose to hang around in, without a place to stay, and here's the kicker we were almost out of money.  Suffice it to say my friend had a bit of American money that we could use for the hotel, which was actually not a terrible place to stay and we took refuge for the night.  The next day we got a boat home and it all worked out but for a variety of reasons it was a very difficult end ot the trip, but it certainly did not spoil such a wonderful time!


Wow I am already tired of writing but I am going to catch you up if it takes all day!  Four days after I returned from Antigua Cisco and I left for Atlanta, Georgia where we stayed with the Eysters and we took the GRE.  We were only in the States for four days so it was a very quick trip. Fortunately Mom F. came down and brought my baby, my first chance to see her in a year in a half. Needeless to say a very emotional experience but it was a blessing to get to see them both.  Zach and Britney gave us a wonderful time showing us around their city and taking us to a couple fantastic bars where we had the best beers we have had in a LONG time.  We got to do some much need shopping and spent some time as the local parks as well as one trip where we hiked up a mountain. It was a great trip. We took the GRE's and it was a relief to be finished. We don't have our official results but my unofficial score was fine, not great and not terrible, I had hoped for better but the more I look around my scores will be fine. Cisco on the other hand did remarkable and we are lucky that most likely we won't have to pay for one of our graduate schools because they should be fighting over him!

On our way home we spend three days in Playa Del Carmen the city nearest to Cancun and spent the time relaxing at the beach, eating delicious dinners, and rebooting for our bus ride home.  To futher explain this it is much cheaper to fly into Cancun then to Belize so we take a bus to and from Mexico to make the travel expenses less, although the travel time is much much more!

Graduate Schools

We have finally determined the schools we will be applying to for graduate school and what we are hoping to do. I will start with Cisco! Cisco will be applying to University of Virginia (his number one choice) as a Masters straight through to PHD student of religious studies, Princeton University, New Jersey, Duke University, North Carolina, and Emory University, Georgia, Eastern Mennonite University, Virginia, and potentially one more.

I am applying to the University of Pennsylvania for their Master's of nonprofit leadership, James Madison University, Virgina, North Carolina State University, Georgia State University, University of Georgia all for Public Administration with a concentration in nonprofit managment. 

We are working for diligently on this process and plan to be finished before Christmas. We intend to both return as full time students but hope for assistships and/or fellowships to help with our tuition while we study.  we will keep you posted on our progress and information on where we will end up when we return home.


We only have 8 months left in Belize and time is flying by!  If any of you are still planning on coming to visit you need to do it before March so better start planning, as we are expected by the Peace Corps to stop travelling and accepting visitors in the last three months. I will also be posting another post very shortly with one last wishlist. This wishlist will be things for my library, our neighbors, and a few things we could use in our last few months. Thank you for everything you have already sent and as always don't feel obligated to send anything these are just requests for those interested. We hope you are all doing well and we will be seeing you in no time at all! Thanks for your continued support and we are sorry this is long overdue.

Con abrazos y besos,

Friday, July 8, 2011

PEACE Camp Part 1

Commentary coming soon...

Friday, July 1, 2011


This past week has had many ups and downs.

An up: Kathryn's over-night scouts adventure was enjoyed by all.

A down: she was sick for the duration (and most of this week as well.

An up: finishing my masterpiece of a lesson-plan document for next week's camps.

A down: spilling water on my computer, seemingly short-circuiting it before I had a chance to back-up the file.

An up: Kathryn's suggestion that I use rice to absorb the moisture, which let me extract the document the following morning.

A down: taking my computer to the repair place and paying to have it fixed.

An up: hanging out with Alyson and Clifton at one of our favorite restaurants.

A down: having our bikes stolen while we were eating. The thieves cut the locks and everything.

I could probably continue this list for a while, but I think the novelty is probably wearing off already. So you must now endure prose for the duration of this post.

As demonstrated above, this week has been up and down. Fortunately, the ups have by far outweighed the downs. This week Kathryn and I also celebrated our four-year wedding anniversary, which astounds me because time has passed so quickly. We took the opportunity to treat ourselves to a(nother) dinner out and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The mountain of chocolate cake and cherry-covered cheese cake were particularly tasty.

In other news, camps start next Monday. I've been talking this up for a while now, but I remain as excited as ever. These kids are going to have fun whether they like it or not! Likewise, Kathryn will be helping with the library camp for the first few days of the week before leaving for four days to help with the annual scouts camp. We'll be busy, so I cannot promise to continue my blogging streak, but I will certainly try. And for those of you non-facebookers, I'm posting some photos as well--just in case you've forgotten what we look like.

Peace and love,


This is us with Roma and Elsa at the 2011 Peace Corps Swearing-In service, representing Succotz training class 2010. It's the first time all four of us have been together in months.

From Tim and Erika's visit, here are Tim and I enjoying a friendly game of Settlers of Catan--if that's not an oxymoron, and it very well may be.

Also during Tim and Erika's trip, Kathryn and I posing during our sunset sail.

Kathryn and I on our canoe tour for her birthday. I got major brownie-points for that, especially when we saw the toucans.

This is our most recent photo, taken last night after our anniversary dinner. Don't we look lovely?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Trip to the Cayes and More

Let me being this post by responding to some of the comments I received from the last post. Apparently, I came across a bit negative in my description of things. I'm not going to argue that everything is perfect here--or anywhere for that matter--however, Kathryn and I are very happy being here in Belize and have overcome the vast majority of difficulties we experienced in the first year of our service. So please don't worry.

On to current business. Last weekend, Kathryn and I got away to a small island off the coast of Belize called Tobacco Caye. It's about a quarter-mile squared and literally a stone's throw from the barrier reef. We made sure to go with our friends Clifton and Alyson since they recommended the caye to us and because their service will be ending in the next month. Also, in planning for our trip, we found out that another volunteer, Jenna, was planning a trip at the same time with her visiting mother. So the six of us spent an idyllic weekend together hanging out and enjoying Caribbean sun (and by the way, it looks like it will take the remaining year of my service for me to spell Caribbean with the appropriate number of b's and r's). Speaking of the sun, part of the reason we relished it so greatly was because of its absence during our trip to the caye. Friday morning we caught the water taxi in the rain and enjoyed a good soaking during the 45-minute ride. However, the rain didn't last, and we took the opportunity to snorkel later that afternoon. The aquatic life we saw--from fish to coral to sting- and eagle-rays--was astounding. It's hard for me to fathom that I share the same world with them. Another excellent part of the weekend was the lack of distractions. The caye's size forced us to relax. So apart from snorkeling, looking for conch shells, reading, and talking, there really wasn't much to do other than lay in the hammock and listen to the waves hitting the reef. Blissful.

Returning to the workweek, things are simply plodding along--for me, at least. I hope to finalize the lesson-plans for my first camp this week, and Elsie and I visited some of the schools to do some advertising. All in all, nothing terribly taxing. Kathryn, on the other hand, worked as the lone librarian on Monday before tutoring two students, planning and directing her reading programs, meeting with the scout parents, planning this weekend's scout overnight camp-out, meeting and planning for this Sunday's party for the girls at the children's home, and, spectacularly, going with our neighbor to the hospital when she went into labor yesterday. Apparently there was no one else that could stay with her, and Kathryn simply jumped in the back of the pick-up truck and went. She said the entire process, from leaving to baby-being-born, took about 30-45 minutes. Talk about in-and-out. I spend more time than that waiting at the bank! I'll spare the details, though, and let Kathryn recount this tale in her own words.

Finally, an update on Erebos. The little monster terrorizes us on a daily basis and generally adds excitement to our down-time at home. In the past few months he has spent about as much time outside as he has in. Recently we've been leaving him out at night in order to avoid him waking up bored at 2am and pestering us until we let him out. It's working well, except the rainy season finds me getting up every time there's a shower to give him shelter. Anyway, last night I put him in the space above our ceiling where we've been hearing rats rooting around. They don't come inside anymore, but they're still a nuisance. Well, not only did the gato negro kill one of the rats, but he also learned how to climb up and down the ladder leading to the crawlspace. Finally, owning him is paying off!

I think that'll about do it for this edition. Thanks for the comments; keep them coming!



Thursday, June 16, 2011

And We're Back

So I'm not going to make a big fuss about the lack of posts here. Instead, let me just say I'm going to try to be diligent about writing more frequently but less quantity. Anyway, you're not too concerned with that, I'm sure.

So May was a trial--less "trial and error" trial, more "trial and tribulation" trial. I ran into a variety of disappointments and felt a bit cynical as a result. However, following Elsie's return from vacation, the start of the rainy season, and the swearing-in of Peace Corps Belize class of 2013, my spirits are rising. Likewise, Kathryn and I both are gearing up for summer camps, and the thought of working with youth really excites me.

On the personal front, we spent Monday having our mid-service physicals. The good news is that we're healthy. The bad news is that we have some work to do on the dental front. Coming into Peace Corps, I had never had a cavity. Monday, the dentist found two. I guess my record still stands, though; technically, I have never had a (singular) cavity. Kathryn had a similar dental record--her first two cavities were discovered during out pre-service dental check-ups. Unfortunately, this time the dentist found six more, on top of the fact that she lost one of her previous fillings. I don't know if it's the water, the Coke with real sugar, the pastry shop across from my work, or the copious amounts of chocolate people send in our packages (I'm looking at you, Dad), but we need a bit of a change. So, two dentists appointments, five fillings, and four hours later, we were both cranky and vaguely numb from the whole experience. I hate going to the dentist.

On a separate note, in less than 15 minutes, I will be traveling to the primary school where I have my girls soccer team to gather them for our end-of-year party. We'll come back to the centre to watch a movie, eat popcorn, and generally celebrate the time we've spent together. They have been one of my greatest joys and my biggest disappointments thus far. Playing with them is fun, and talking and joking with them has been cathartic on many levels. However, due to poor planning on the part of tournament sponsors, their tournament, which was meant to be in May, was finally scheduled for this past Tuesday. Unfortunately, because of exams and graduation practice, none of the girls were able to attend. I'll end my time as their coach without ever seeing them play a game. C'est la vie. I don't regret a moment I've spent with them, and I hope this party will cap a wonderful time for us all.

I think that's all I have time for, for now anyway. I do need to pick the girls up soon. If you're still checking the blog, thanks. Your patience and steadfastness is much appreciated. Look forward to hearing from us again soon.



Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A not so concise catch up

     So once again I have not had the chance to share with you everything that has been going on in our ever changing life in Belize. I do feel like I have a better excuse this time for being late in my post, I am in the process of completing two relatively complicated grant applications for the library and all of my writing energy has been expended through this. Now that I can finally share some of my writing time I want to briefly give you some of my thoughts on the Ruta Maya, the big canoe race, before I focus on new events.

     I don’t know how to explain the gravity of this event for me except to say it was nothing short of a spiritual experience. I have been hiking, camping, running, playing sports, rock climbing, and canoeing my whole life but this was by far the most difficult physical thing I have ever done and one of the most difficult mental things I have ever accomplished as well. When my fellow paddlers Kaitlyn and Heather agreed to do this race with me everyone kept telling us how difficult it would be and several people told us they didn’t think we would finish. I never expected such negativity I grew up with friends and family that always told me I could do anything if I put my mind to it. Well in this case both groups were correct. We had no idea how hard this event was and our training was completely inadequate. Although, as an aside I am proud of myself for being so unprepared and impromptu about the whole event because it is a testament to my work at relinquishing some control in my life and going more with the flow. I now know that halfway through my team’s first day of traveling we were all thinking how the hell are we going to finish this race. Excuse my language After we finished the first day things started to happen to our bodies that we couldn’t control or understand. One of my arms became unusable, my lips were blistered even though I used sun-proof chapstick, Kaitlyn’s right shoulder didn’t feel right, Heather was exhausted, and the list goes on. We camped that day and the only option for bathing was in the river and I almost skipped a bath because I was so tired but at the last minute I went with the girls to the river and at some point in the cold water my body started to return to normal. Thank God I took that bath because the cool water and flowing motion over our bodies was extremely therapeutic and a lot of our aches in pains went away. Now don’t get me wrong I was still in an incredibly about of pain and I am pretty sure I took more Ibuprofen in those four days then I have in all of the rest of my life. The next morning as you can imagine was terrible because we were in a lot of pain and we were preparing to paddle for the longest day of the race 56 miles in one day. Surprisingly, as we started paddling our bodies started to feel normal again and we realized that paddling had become the natural motion for our arms and was the only way they felt ok. I have to mention that if you can imagine sitting in a canoe all day long with two other girls in the hot hot sun knowing you have two more days to go you would think you would want to kill one another. Well this is why I feel like this experience was more spiritual than physical. The three of us communicated and worked so well together I can’t even begin to describe how proud of those women I am or how blessed I feel for getting to share this experience with them. I could not have had this wonderful an experience with any other team and this behavior and communication lasted until the moment we went under that finish line. We became masters as battling rapids, eating full meals in seconds, and peeing in a moving canoe into a small bucket. We sang the only two songs that we all knew the words, Alanis Morsette’s “Isn’t It Ironic” and Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” (our theme song), I know that is a little pathetic but give us a break we were tired I’m sure we must know more songs than that. We finished our second day in 9 hours and 30 minutes, next time you go canoeing don’t stop paddling for five minutes straight then imagine 9 hours and 30 minutes that is the only way I can explain how that felt. Ironically our third day which was only 7 hours and 40 minutes was by far the most difficult. We were expecting that day to be faster and we were very tired already but knew we had a whole next day to complete. The last day was simply magical, I think we must have been delirious. I have never tried hallucinogenic drugs but I think four straight days of paddling in the hot sun may have a similar effect. When we got in the canoe we looked at each other and all decided the same exact thing, we have nothing left to hold out for so let’s finish this! Kailtyn and I didn’t go to the bathroom, none of us hardly ate or drank, we just paddled as hard as we possibly could. We sang and joked and literally acted like crazy people but all the while paddling our guts out. When we saw the finish line we screamed go over and over and paddled with everything left we had and finished the 175ish mile race. I have never felt quite so proud of myself and my two other paddlers. It was an experience that tested me on a million different levels and I will never forget it!

     Not too long after the race Cisco and I had another wonderful thing to look forward too, my Mom and Danny my step-brother were coming! They stayed for ten days and we had a fabulous time. I have to say this was a pretty busy trip and I even had to cancel some of my plans but I really wanted Mom and Danny to get to see as much as possible on their first big trip out of the country. We went to Pine Ridge and visited Caracol the largest Mayan Ruin in Belize it was our first time getting to see it. We stayed at the Five Sisters Lodge a beautiful resort in the jungle overlooking three small waterfalls, it was beautiful. We spent a day there at Big Rock Falls and had a picnic packed by our resort and swam and jumped off the rocks all day. We also got to explore the small Rio Frio Cave and I can never get enough of the beauty of the caves. After returning our rental car we spent a day relaxing in Cayo and of course eating at Hannah’s. We travelled farther west and introduced Mom and Danny to our host family in Succotz. We spent the evening talking and visiting the Succotz fair, that we unfortunately didn’t get to experience last year because we were on a site visit. We played some overly expensive games and won some stuffed animals and I rode on a very spinny and creaky ride with my host brother Marlon for which I wanted to vomit on out of spite for making my ride the stupid thing. The next day we visited the second largest Mayan ruin in Belize good ole Xunantunich and took our host brother with us. Afterwards Marisol and Cruz made us a delicious lunch and it was a lovely day. Marisol and Cruz spoiled me on this trip making sure to have all of my favorite foods including tambrans that I made into juice, fried plantains, curry chicken, and her pasta with salsa. I am extremely grateful for this family and so happy that my Mom and Danny could spend some time with them. We returned home and after a brief reprieve in sleep Belmopan we started some slightly more relaxed trips. We took Danny and Mom to the Belize Zoo which I can’t get enough of and that I was happy to see didn’t look to bad after the hurricane damage. Another day trip was to ATM caves and this is probably one of the coolest things we have done in Belize. ATM Caves is a large caving system that takes an entire day to explore. We organized a trip with our guide, my family, and three friends from Peace Corps, Allison and Clyfton Klaverweiden, and Elsa George so we had a pretty big group. To explore the cave you start by hiking to the cave and once there fixing helmets and headlamps to our heads. You proceed by swimming into the mouth of the cave and walking through a shallow creek of water. It didn’t take us long to realize that albeit knowledgeable of Mayan traditions and the cave system our guide was a surly old man that spent more than enough time reminding us to follow his every word and to adhere strictly to all of his rules. That aside, we explored the cave while our guide explained the different uses of the pottery artifacts that had been left in the cave, the history behind the ashes from fires, and showed us different ways the shadows played off the walls to create monster like creatures, once believed to be usedby Mayans to scare off unwanted visitors. We had to climb, swim, and shimmy through small spaces which made the whole thing very exciting. The last stop before turning around is a climb to a high section in the cave where a perfectly preserved women’s skeleton lay. This was pretty amazing to see in real life and not on the History Channel. This was an exciting day and one of the coolest things to do in Belize so if any of you ever visit make sure to add this to your itinerary. The last few excursions were a little more lazy and relaxed, such as spending one day at Guanacaste Park swimming and eating fried chicken at the river, and playing with the kids that skipped school. The next day we spent at Blue Hole National Park swimming again, it’s hot here by the way, and jumping off rocks that say Don’t Jump, I haven’t changed too much It was incredibly hard to see them go but all around we had a wonderful visit and I hope they feel they got to truly experience a new piece of the world.

       Not too long after Mom and Danny left I had a birthday! I am now 26 years old heading towards 30 and I am realizing age is really what you make of it because I don’t feel a day over 18, lol. Cisco surprised me with the one of the best birthdays I have ever had! Cisco invited several friends to join us and go canoeing for my birthday. He magically kept all of this a complete surprise and I am not lying until I was practically sitting down in the canoe. We even had two of those friends stay the night at our house and until the next day I had no idea they were travelling with us for my birthday, sneaky little buggers. We ended up with six friends joining us to paddle upstream to Chaa Creek. One friend that couldn’t come with us joined us briefly that morning to drop off homemade pancakes and a bag of mangoes for our breakfast in the canoes, it was incredibly sweet! When we got to Chaa Creek we explored the Medicinal Trail Museum and the Butterfly Farm. We then shared an impromptu and overly expensive lunch at the resort and headed back downstream to paddle home. Each of us was in a canoe with a guide which was something we rarely used because it usually costs more money. This was actually a great experience because our guide was very nice and he shared with us the different names of birds and things we normally wouldn’t have been able to pick out on our own. For me the most exciting moment was when the guide told us the bird sound we were hearing was that of Toucans, and I have been trying to see a Toucan in the wild for a year now! We paddled to shore and from our canoe sure enough we saw a family of four Keel Billed Toucans playing together in the trees, it was awesome! This was truly one of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever planned for me. I had been missing canoeing since the Ruta Maya, which is strange because I thought I may never want to see a canoe again but honestly I just fell in love with it and Cisco knew this and made it a perfect reunion.

      Most recently we had more visitors! Have I mentioned how unbelievably lucky we are? Our friends Tim and Erika from North Carolina came to visit us for a week. This was a whole different type of visit and equally as wonderful. Most of our time together was spent being lazy, talking, and of course.. playing 11 games of Settler’s of Catan. We spent the first part of our week together in Caye Caulker laying in the sun, shopping (buying another necklace from my favorite jewelry maker in Belize), and swimming. We spent one evening taking a sun set and full moon sail. It was gorgeous I have never seen so many stars! There were only nine people on the boat ourselves, another family, and our two guides. We spent the time listening to Reggae, drinking Caribbean Rum mixed with an extremely sugary juice concentrate called squash, that incidentally ended up making me puke, and eating chips and salsa. Other than the fact that the nasty drinks and the choppy sea made me vomit a few times it was a wonderful experience. The next day we rented sea kayaks and went paddling for an hour. I had forgotten until this moment how much easier it is to paddle a kayak then a canoe, they go so much faster!! Cisco and I were in singles and Erika and Tim were in a double. My kayak was extremely streamlined and fast, it was very exciting and Cisco and I didn’t realize how far out into the sea we had paddled until we eventually look back and realized it was going to take a lot long to try and get back into shore then out. While we were noticing this I saw fins 6 feet ahead of my kayak and after being a little freaked for a moment I realized two Dolphins were swimming and playing right in front of our kayaks. I think one may have actually swam under Cisco’s kayak it was amazing, when we told Tim and Erika they didn’t believe us. It took awhile to convince them we really did see them. The whole trip with Tim and Erika gave us the boost we needed to be prepared for another year here but all the while made us really look forward to coming home to our friends and family.

          I will briefly mention that our work here is going very well and is exceptionally busy. As of right now my primary project is the Belmopan Library where I have three main goals. First, to search and apply for funding opportunities for a sign, building expansion, children’s section, technology center, and of course books for the library. Second, to promote awareness by the community to the library through monthly family oriented events. Third, to add and restructure after school programs at the library for children. Like I said before I am working on the first by applying to different grants. To address my second goal I started by having a family movie night at the beginning of April on the library yard where the movie was projected onto a sheet. About 120 people showed up and it was a wonderful and successful night. We earned $200 from selling snacks that went straight to the library and promoted the library and our desire to see families spend more time together. The most demanding and rewarding thing I am working on right now at the library is a reading program that has already went above and beyond by expectations. At one point I had 120 children show up for the reading program in a building that comfortably seats 35-40 people. I have now re-structured and I am directing the program over two nights with a total of 60 registered children. In addition to my responsibilities at the library I still direct the choir at Our Lady of Guadalupe Primary School and I Co-Lead a Cub Scouts Troop there also. My newest secondary project is at a young girl’s children’s home where myself and my friend Sylvia lead a one hour a week GLOW Club (girls leading our world). The purpose of this is to cover a large variety of topics such as HIV/AIDS, sexuality, self esteem, leadership, stress management, future planning, friendship, fashion, peer pressure, healthy relationships, responsible use of Facebook, and so on. As of right now I will continue with all of these groups until summer but I have reverted to some old behaviors and am afraid I have bitten off a little more than I can chew. I am hoping to start finding more Belizeans or new Peace Corps volunteers to take over some of my secondary projects.

      So there! I hope that makes up for my absence! Just know we are happy and busy but that even though we get to do amazing things here it is often very difficult and we miss you all tremendously. Love you all and hope you are doing well.

Con Amor,


Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Canoeing Adventure from Dry Land

Hello again, one and all. There's just something about this blog that draws me to it on exact one-month intervals (or at least beginning to write on said intervals). In any event, here I am once more, for your reading pleasure.

Last month when we left off, Kathryn had begun her work with the Belmopan Library and I had just overcome a bout of strep throat. Following these events, we absconded for a Valentine's weekend at the beach in Placencia. We enjoyed good food, sea breezes, an arts festival, as well as cloudy skies, chilly swimming, and lodging that smelled like feet. Oh well, you can't win them all. We did enjoy ourselves, though, and were quite happy to have some one-on-one time without the usual day-to-day interruptions.

Following our little excursion, the month flew by with little to report. Kathryn took a day-trip to visit some other libraries with Ms. Mary (the librarian) and some members of the library board. They results were a mixed bag. On one hand, both libraries are well-stocked, facilitate computer labs, and enjoy plenty of space to meet their needs. On the other hand, the Belmopan library is struggling on each of these fronts. So, as per usual, Kathryn has plenty of work to do. On a positive note, Kathryn began her after-school reading program last week and has enjoyed participation of ten students. And that's even before she began promoting!

On my end, I've been scheduling and occasionally presenting workshops for the conflict management program. I say "occasionally presenting" because I have postponed three in the last few weeks, which has been quite bothersome. But we persevere, and I'm determined to make sure these schools hear what I have to say. Also, I attended a meeting with some other Peace Corps Volunteers to create a volunteer support network. We're still in the development stages, but I'm pretty excited to be a part of it.

And finally, the single most time- and energy-consuming part of the past month has been La Ruta Maya. Each year for the past 14 years, people have come together to participate in this four-day, 175-mile canoe race on the Belize River. Kathryn and I have been hearing about this literally since we arrived last year. "Grueling," "painful," "exhausting," and "friendship-destroying" are just a few of the descriptions we heard from friends and other volunteers. But Kathryn decided, despite the words of caution and warning, to participate. And so our adventure began.

In the beginning, it was simple. "Cisco, if I race, you'll be on my support crew, right?" Of course I would. I'm supportive. I don't have any other plans that weekend. I can watch the race and cheer you on. But then, as race day closed in, responsibility set in; "You and Elsa are going to be in charge of getting food," "Can you help ask around to find sponsors?" and "When we're on the water, you're in charge of...". Then, two weeks prior to the race, Kathryn went up north for a training weekend with the other two racers, Kaitlyn and Heather. The three of them, and two more support crew members, made a girls weekend of it, and Kathryn came back pumped. They spent five hours on the lagoon that Saturday and got the feel for how they would work together during the race.

Before we knew it, the race was upon us. Despite some last-minute scares, we found enough people willing to chip in and a vehicle-owning friend kind enough to drive us all over the countryside. Thursday morning we finished packing, and a little after lunch-time we were on the road in two separate cars headed to San Ignacio. I went with our driver-for-the-weekend and some other volunteers; Kathryn went with the canoe and the kindhearted friend from church who agreed to transport it. We made it in town early in the afternoon, setting up camp with another volunteer friend, and I finished off the worst of the grocery shopping. Buying food for eight people over 4 days is no small task. Kathryn and the rowers left at 4:00 for the pre-race meeting that was scheduled to start at 4:30. When they returned at 6:00, they informed us that the meeting was being pushed back to 7:00. So all the supporters began dinner preparations, knowing full-well that we wouldn't have things ready before they left for the meeting. In any case, they left shortly thereafter, and returned at 7:30--we just finished making dinner, and the meeting still hadn't started. They did find out, however, that the race would begin promptly at 7am, which meant leaving no later than 6:00. We hit the hay pretty early that night.

The next morning we arrived under the Hawksworth Bridge shrouded by the early-morning mist. I would have worn my track jacket if I hadn't given it to Kathryn. We prepped the canoe--securing the extra paddle, tying down the paint bucket with their lunch, strapping in the seat-cushions, duct-taping foam on Kathryn's seat since she was the odd-one-out. The girls were in the water by 6:30, nervously paddling around the congested waters. We later found out that more than 80 teams had entered the race. It was a sight to see. Despite my knowing better, the support team decided to hurry down the road to the second bridge in San Ignacio, only a couple hundred yards by boat but half-a-mile by car, to watch everyone pass. We heard the starting gun as we pulled out of the parking area, and I barely saw Kathryn pass after running from where we parked towards the crowd covering the bridge and areas around it.

Following the chaotic start to the race, we sped back to pack our things into the vehicle. It was only then that we realized that we had taken multiple vehicles to get to San Ignacio but only had one to leave it. After much shoving, cramming, swearing, and general frustration, we finally packed everything into the car and hit the road. We waited for the girls to pass Spanish Lookout around noon, tossing them some fruit as they sped by. Then we were off once more, heading to the final destination of the day to set up camp--this time, with tents and all.

Kathryn, Kaitlyn, and Heather crossed the finish line that day a little after 3:00, after more than eight hours on the river. Definitely tired, I think that evening they began to truly understand what this race would require of them. The sun set by about 6:30, leaving us to dine in darkness. We ate well, tried to attend to the needs of the paddlers, prepared the next day's lunch, and were in bed by 7:30.

The next morning began right around 5am. We rose to cold like none of us had ever experienced in Belize (don't worry, not cold enough to frost or anything). We realized that we didn't have time to get our grill burning to make a decent breakfast, so the girls made-do with some burritos provided by the race. Not ideal, but passable. The race began at 6:30am, though I don't know how any of the competitors could keep their eyes open. The crew went to Belmopan to pick up a few sundry supplies we had missed and then took off for Bermudian Landing. There we stayed at Shannon's home, which was incredibly kind considering the amount of time she was already dedicating as a member the support crew. We unloaded, relieved that we would be spending two nights there and not have to repack everything. The girls finished the second day around 3:30, clocking more than nine hours on the river. That evening we were all feeling the beginnings of exhaustion, but we made time for dinner, shower, and massages for the paddlers before bed.

Day three was the one Kathryn describes as the most difficult. After finishing the longest day, she had the impression that it would be smooth sail-... er... paddling for the last two days. Unfortunately, most of the current of the river dies out for the third day as it widens and winds slowly toward the sea. We on the crew were able to see a decent amount of the action, and as I mentioned, were able to continue using Shannon's as home base since the 40-miles of river only cross about 10-miles of land. I also discovered how stressed I get when I have to wait. At each spectating stop we made, I jittered around nervously in anticipation for about 45 minutes to an hour before we finally saw the girls. What I mess.

By the final day of the race, we had all reached the point of resignation. We resigned ourselves to finish in spite of the way our minds and bodies screamed. After watching the start, the crew ran back to pack all our gear for the journey home. Ugh. Then we raced to Belize City, trying to decide what to do next. We began by scoping out the finish line. Unlike the rest of the race, which occurs near the river in very rural areas, the finish is right in front of a bridge in the middle of the city. There was absolutely no shade whatsoever. We also realized we had to drop off some of our things before the girls finished if we were to have a chance at fitting the canoe equipment in the vehicle. So we took the opportunity to get out of the heat. We did see the first teams finish. They finished in a cool two-and-a-half hours. It was incredible to see, though, since the overall results for the first two teams, separated by seconds at the finish, were decided by a matter of seconds as well. Can you imagine racing for four days within seconds of the same opponent?

The "Three Little Birds" arrived just before one o'clock. The joy and elation of the finish was inspiring. It almost makes me want to try it next year. Of course, I spent most of my time letting the girls celebrate and taking care of the canoe and equipment. It all ended rather quickly, really. They wanted to shower before doing anything else, and, due to bus schedules and work commitments the following day, everyone was quick to depart. Kathryn and I were a bit tense on the way out, leaving it until that day to find a ride home. We normally have no qualms with taking the bus, but given the extreme quantity of belongings we had to return, we had to go for private transportation (By the way, the US ambassador and his family are wonderful, down-to-earth people to whom we owe a bit of thanks).

And that gives you some inkling of what it's like to support a Ruta Maya team. Apologies for the play-by-play nature, but it's really difficult to boil down all those days in any sort of concise narrative fashion.

Anyway, by this point Erebos is four days neutered. After being disturbingly over-dosed (not overdosed), to the point that he went to the litter box, missed, and passed out, he recovered incredibly well, and we can no longer tell any difference in his behavior. So much for this calming him down. Also, Kathryn's mother and step-brother Danny are arriving tomorrow. We have an action-packed schedule for the next week or so, so that should be exciting indeed.

Finally, thanks again to all of you who read about, think of, and care for us from afar. Despite loving our experience here, we miss you all very much. For all the emails, facebook messages, wall posts, blog comments, letters, and packages: Thank you. Until next time.



Thursday, February 10, 2011


I just happened to notice that Kathryn's most recent post on this blog was dated exactly one month ago today. My how time flies. While many of our most faithful followers might be wondering what's going on and whether or not we're falling off the face of the planet, we're actually quite well here with relatively little to report.

In the past few weeks, the biggest news is Kathryn's. She has finally found a re-placement for which she will work for the remainder of our time in Belize. She's working with the Belmopan Library; a small organization with two employees, a few thousand volumes, and the reputation of prompting the statement, "I never knew there was a library in Belmopan!"

It's true, Kathryn's new project will require no small amount of toil and endeavor, but she seems truly happy to be there. The head librarian appears every bit a wonderful, thoughtful woman who is absolutely thrilled to have Kathryn on-board. To put it succinctly, Kathryn is finally doing something she truly wants to do.

More on Kat: her garden is growing by the day. She has some fair-sized squash, and just the other day we discovered pea-pods and cucumbers. It's amazing what can happen in 35 days' time!

Our monster, Erebos, is still causing all sorts of ruckus. He finally had his first vet visit and is now scheduled to be fixed next month. After that, he can wreak havoc any and everywhere he pleases. Heaven help our neighborhood!

As for me, I stay intermittently busy with workshops and other engagements. I've finally completed the full 6 training courses for our conflict management program, so now I can really focus on implementation and streamlining our summer programs. Sounds exciting, right?

And on a personal note, I spent the weekend laying in bed, reading, watching movies, and eating ice cream for lunch. Is this paradise? Am I on vacation? No, sillies, none of these is correct. I had strep throat. I led a miserable existence for no less than 48 hours before starting on antibiotics. Funny how long one can go before realizing he should call the Peace Corps nurse. In any event, I am 85% recovered and looking forward to actually vacationing this weekend on the beach of Placencia. Kathryn and I hope to take this Valentine's weekend as an excuse to get some much needed R&R.

I hope this message finds you well. I know it's not the most detailed or carefully crafted, but hopefully it relays the most pertinent information. We sorely miss home and everyone there. No matter how long we stay, we're constantly met by the stark realization that something is missing when friends and family are so far away.



Monday, January 10, 2011

Have you missed us?

We've missed you! First off Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Second thank you thank you thank you.  We can't even express how deeply grateful we are for the pictures, gifts, letters, emails, and comments on facebook and here.  I know how hard it is to be a good pen pal and cannot claim to be very good at it but you have all done so much for us here and we feel incredibly blessed.

So how do I catch you up? Well right before Christmas we got busy with our work and holiday planning.  On December 4th. My choir of kids ages 8-12 roughly had a big Christmas presentation.  It was a program starting off with a 45 minute variety show featuring the different expressive arts at our school followed by my choir presenting the holiday musical, "A Caribbean Christmas". The show turned out to be standing room only and we made $800 for the music program. The kids did a fanstastic job and this was the first concert for many of them and I was incredibly proud. I also got to sing a song by Jaci Velasquez, "Lay it Down" as part of a faculty performance and it was nice to get to perform a little again myself although we weren't very prepared.  The other big development that came out of this program isn't as positive depending on how you look at it.  A few days before the show there was a difference of opinion between myself and the lady I work with, in Peace Corps terms my counterpart.  This resulted in a meeting with her, myself, and the Peace Corps which then resulted in the mutual decision that I had been misplaced and I am no longer volunteering at this school.  Cisco and I had a debate about whether I should mention this at all for fear of being politically incorrect or offensive to anyone and I decided I felt it was important to share. This has been a big part of my experience in Belize and I wanted my family and friends to know. Out of respect for everyone involved I encourage you to refrain from commenting questions about this and if you want to ask me more details do it in email. Anyhoo moving on... now I am looking for a new primary project. I have a few ideas but nothing worth mentioning until I make more progress. I am still keeping my choir at the previous school and I have started a cub scouts troop that meets once a week. Both of these projects I absolutely love and the kids are really fantastic.

I also want to mention since I am talking about work at the moment that development work is really hard. The Peace Corps is constantly encouraging and reminding us that sustainability is one of the main goals we should be remembering in our projects. But it is hard to find projects and people that are willing to partner in truly sustainable work because it takes so much more effort and time. I could really use your prayers to find a new project where I will find this partnership and a way to make my work something that will continue to benefit people when I am gone.

One achievement I am particular proud of happened just before Christmas, I passed my 14 week long intermediate Spanish class.  I am now according to the Venezuelan Institute of Belize an advanced Spanish speaker. I will start my new advanced classes next week, and I have also signed up for individual tutoring with a friend from Nicaragua who will meet with me once a week to just have an informal conversation, entirely in Spanish, so I get more practice speaking.  I am nowhere close to being fluent but I am slowly making progress and I really love learning this language even though it is also one of the most frustrating parts of my experience here. 
On an entirely different topic in early November we invited a new member into our family. Our new kitty, his name is Erebos, in keeping with our pet theme of ancient deities Erebos is the God of primordial darkness. He is named this because he is an entirely black cat. He has not been to the vet yet so we are hoping we have been guessing his sex correctly otherwise he may have some identity issues in a few months when we take him to get snipped. I forgot how crazy kittens are, we got Isis, our kitty back home when she was 6 months old and had apparently calmed down a lot. Erebos is a terror! He likes to chew on human flesh, eat off the plates in the sink, grab your food off your plate while you are eating, walk all over the counters, and he takes comfort in the middle of the night in the crook of my neck while driving his sharp nails into the very sensitive nape of my neck. Despite all this he is incredibly entertaining and does love a good cuddle. It feels great to have a pet again and it is something we really can’t do without. Erebos is learning about the outdoors and has recently been experimenting with climbing trees. He is almost friends with the dogs in our yard and we can leave him out for awhile now without checking on him. Kids grow up so fast!

Erebos's first day in his new home and his first bath. 

My adorable boys!

Playing in the Garden and loving the outdoors!

Cisco and I had the opportunity to make our first trip with our friends John and Sylvia up to Chetumal Mexico. This is a border town close to Belize and where a lot of volunteers go for a taste of home including a mall, movie theater, new Walmart, and a McDonalds. I am a little ashamed of myself for taking such comfort in these things but man did it feel good to eat a quarter pounder and shop for several different types of things all in the same place, imagine that. I even got to see the new Harry Potter I theater with Spanish subtitles, lol. It was a lot of fun and a very expensive trip, we will go again but hopefully not too often or we will be broke.

Christmas and New Year’s Eve turned out to be a lot of fun despite missing our family. For Christmas Cisco, me, our friends John and Sylvia (landlords), their two temporary foster kids Miriam (2 years old, and Robert 6 years old, and Carol fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in Belmopan made a large dinner with the works including a turkey, pies, and several casseroles and we ate until we thought we might puke. We set off fireworks as is the tradition in Belize and spent the day relaxing in the beautiful 75 degree weather. I think this has to be my first Christmas eating outside on Christmas Day.

We travelled to a nearby town, San Ignacio, for New Year’s and stayed in the beautiful Tropicool Hotel. If only you all knew what the Tropicool Hotel looked like you would be seriously concerned about my judgment if that is what I think is beautiful these days. They closed of the main street and had a big party concluding with fireworks at midnight. It was a fun party and a great opportunity to meet a lot of travelling tourists, hear about their travels, and score free drinks!

Recently I got to travel to Melchor, Guatamala with some of my girlfriends to do some shopping in this border town. We finally purchased our own hammocks a very important thing to have in the Caribbean and one we had been waiting to do until we found exactly what we wanted. It was a nice trip with my friends but the town itself was not overly impressive and I will only go back if I need cheap clothes or more hammocks, the town if very inexpensive compared to Belize.

The last thing I am going to mention to catch you up in this blog is my newest love, my garden. I am not going to post any pictures this time or write too much about it because I am making a powerpoint I will try to include on the blog sometime soon. I know that is super nerdy, lol. My garden started as a bunch of deeply rooted banana trees that Hurricane Richard destroyed partially. Since then Cisco cut the trees down and dug up the roots then left the real work for me, just kidding those roots were like 50 pounds each. I have moved the roots, worked the earth, built a fence, lined it with rocks, made a cucumber trellis, made several plant stakes, and finally planted the seeds. Which have amazingly started to grow. It has been one of the most educational, exciting, and rewarding things I have ever done. I can’t wait to see what is next, each morning I go outside first thing to see what has happened over night and I am never disappointed there is always something new and exciting to see. I will keep you posted and soon I will add a link so you can see my nerdy but exciting power point. A special thanks to everyone that has sent me seeds I have used almost all of them!

Well that is the major stuff that has happened recently and I am glad to finally get to update you! We will try to be more consistent from now on. As always we love you and miss you all.


Friday, November 12, 2010

So what exactly are you doing?

This is one question I am faced with constantly--both by those at home in the states and those here in Belize. For any of you who want an answer, I'm pasting below the text of a presentation I gave this morning for the third form (eleventh grade) class at a local high school. Hope you enjoy it, or, even better, learn from it!

Good morning! My name is Cisco Fernandez, and I am here today to talk to you about conflict resolution and anger management. But before I do, I’d like to introduce myself. As I said, my name is Cisco. I am twenty-five years old, married, and a Peace Corps Volunteer here in Belize working with the George Price Centre for Peace and Development. So, to begin, I need to take a minute to thank you. Peace Corps is a US volunteer organization that sends men and women to countries all over the world, and without the hospitality of you and your fellow Belizeans, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to be here—either here in Belize for two years as a volunteer or here today speaking to you. And one more plug before I begin: I am spending my time here in Belize working with the conflict management program at the George Price Centre. I’m fairly certain that one or two of you attended the PEACE Camp there this summer, which I planned in addition to doing workshops for teachers and events such as this. And now, since you’re probably starting to getting a bit bored by me talking about myself, I’ll move on to why I’m really here: Conflict.

I’ve already mentioned the term more than once, but what is conflict really? First, I’d just like have some input from you. What is the first thing that comes to mind when I mention the word conflict. Unfortunately, I can only call on a few of you, so to make sure you all get a chance to participate, I’m going to ask that everyone please stand up. Stretch out a bit if you need to, I understand you’ll be here most of the day, so I don’t want you to get stiff. Now, sit down if you have ever: been in a fist fight (pause); talked back to a teacher(pause); back-bitten a friend (pause); yelled at a parent (pause); or done something that you knew was wrong. That should take care of about everyone. If you’re still standing, I won’t question your integrity and will rather congratulate you on your morally perfect existence. But seriously, all of those things I just mentioned, that we have all either done or had done to us, are the result of conflict. Conflict involves all of us—whether we start it, finish it, or just suffer through it.

But now, to answer my earlier question, conflict can be defined simply as a disagreement or a controversy. I cannot emphasize enough, though, the importance of the word “simply.” There is very rarely anything simple about conflict. Whether it’s between siblings, rival gangs, or disputing countries, conflict almost always has many layers, many parties with different perspectives, and many obstacles to overcome before it can be resolved. So, with all of that in mind, I’ll give you a little more complex definition of conflict. The background knowledge you’ll need is that when a person writes in Chinese, he or she writes with symbols, not words. Those symbols can have different meanings, depending on how they’re used, and some words are even expressed using a combination of symbols. The Chinese word for conflict is one such word. It has two symbols. One of the symbols is the symbol for danger. When most people think of conflict, they think of the dangers involved—they think of people fighting, arguing, and refusing to work together. The other symbol in the Chinese for conflict, however, is the symbol for opportunity. Rarely do we think about conflict as an opportunity, but it is; and it’s important to remember that it is. For example, whenever you face a conflict, you’re also facing an opportunity to solve a problem. Not only that, but you can also be preventing future conflicts—like I don’t know if there’s rivalry between schools here, but where I’m from, schools would have huge rivalries where one would always try to out-do the other with pranks and chants and so on. Sometimes those rivalries can get out of control, to the point of violence at sporting events. By solving the original conflict, by building understanding and camaraderie between schools, those conflicts could be avoided. Finally, one of the most significant opportunities that come from conflict is the opportunity to build relationships. You really know somebody when you can resolve a conflict with that person, but that’s because in order to truly solve a conflict, you must invest yourselves, work hard together and individually, and at some point let go of feelings that get in the way of your resolution.

Now that is the long definition of conflict: A situation that presents a person or persons with both danger and opportunity. Now that we have that settled, I’d like to answer the next question I just know you’re dying to ask: Why would we want to manage conflict? Or, even better, why would the George Price Centre for Peace and Development spend so much time and energy—not to mention money—on a program solely focused on conflict management? Well, for one thing, conflict is everywhere, like we already said. But even though it’s so prevalent, people are rarely trained in methods to deal with conflict. Despite the fact that experiencing conflict is universal, dealing with conflict requires specific skills that aren’t always natural to normal human behavior. To put it in terms of our definition, people tend to see the danger of conflict instead of the opportunity. Another reason to focus on conflict management is that we don’t want to eliminate conflict or even avoid it. Conflict makes life interesting. Whether watching a TV show, a sporting event, or even the news, you will see that conflict is what compels you to keep watching. I’m sure you’ve seen TV shows that have a guy and a girl that really want to be together, but something always comes up so that when one’s available, the other isn’t. You keep watching, hoping to see how the conflict is resolved! That’s why when a football game is 3-0 at half-time, you see so many fans leave the stadium; it’s not that they stop supporting their team, but rather that the conflict has been resolved in a one-sided victory. Another reason we manage conflict is because it won’t always just go away if we ignore it. It requires conscious effort to find positive means to resolve conflict—even if that effort just leads you back to deciding to ignore it. And finally, conflict can be dangerous. War, violence, and strife all derive themselves from the same origin: conflict.

But what makes conflict so dangerous? Why is it that a simple disagreement can escalate to the point of people dying? There are two basic reasons, I think. The first is that we must distinguish between reacting and responding. I’ll give you an example. If you threw something me, like a paper ball, my reaction would be to try to catch it. I wouldn’t have to think about it, I would just catch it. Likewise, when you go to the doctor, they knock your knee with the little instrument to check what? Your reactions. Reactions are things that we often do before we even know we’ve done them. A response is something different. A response to you throwing something at me would be thinking, “Man, I must really be boring to them,” or asking, “Who threw this at me and why?” or even me throwing the paper back. At the doctor’s office, you could respond that you think the doctor hit you too hard, or that you think the reaction test is ridiculous—I mean, really, they physically hit you! So the difference, then, is that a response requires thought; it is a deliberate action, something you do intentionally. A reaction, on the other hand, is automatic, instinctual. In the face of conflict, it is incredibly important to respond instead of react. By reacting, a person gives in to emotions and lets go of rationality. And what happens when you react to someone? They often will react back. And then you react to their reaction; they react to your reacting to their reaction, and so on. It’s a vicious cycle in which one reaction evokes another, until something or someone breaks.

I’d like to show you an example of this, but I need four volunteers. Thanks. Here’s what’s going to happen: I’m going to give each of you a balloon and then read a story. Imagine the story is happening to you. If at any point you think you’d get angry or frustrated, blow into the balloon. Easy. Let’s begin.

• It’s Monday morning and you have to get up for school.
• You look at your phone and realize you woke up late this morning and will have to rush.
• You stayed up late trying to finish a science project, which you were going to get up early to finish, but now you don’t have time.
• You realized you are even too late to eat breakfast before you leave.
• You walked outside to find that your little brother took your bike to school because his has a flat tire. You’ll have to walk.
• On your way to school, a car drives by hits a mud-puddle just as it passes you. You’re covered in mud.
• As you walked into school, your teacher saw you and said, “You can’t come to class like that, you’ll have to go home and change!”
• You didn’t have any clean uniform shirts, so you had to wear a T-shirt instead.
• You finally made it back to school and your teacher told you he wouldn’t be able to accept your incomplete project.

Now you have some quite large balloons. Now what happens?

• Yellow – You go back to your seat next to some friends. You respond by whining about everything that’s happened to you today. (Pull ends of balloon mouth to make whining noise)
• Red – When you leave the teacher’s desk, another kid in your class points and laughs because you got a zero. You react by just letting go. (Let go of balloon and watch it fly). You get it all out, but now you’re sitting in the principal’s office next to a kid with a black eye, and you’re going to have to deal with the consequences.
• Blue – You respond by going back to your seat and taking deep breaths while counting to ten. Later you play football and get the last of your stress out. (Release air in balloon in your hand with as little noise as possible).
• Purple – You react by not doing anything. (Hold balloon still inflated). What do you think will happen is something else frustrating comes along? What if your teacher calls your parents because of your missed assignment? What if your brother wrecked your bike and now you have to pay to repair it?
Let’s everyone thank the volunteers. So how do you respond appropriately to a situation like that? I’ll give you more tips later, but one easy way is to just take one deep breath. Try it with me; we’ll breathe in for three seconds and out for five. How did that feel? From where I’m standing, that’s an interesting exercise to watch. I saw all your shoulders rise to take the breath and fall as you let it go. Did you feel your fingers tingle a little? Do you feel more relaxed? How much different is your body language now than if you had reacted? Deep breathing is so beneficial because in addition to clearing your mind, it physically relaxes your body.

The first danger, then, is of reacting instead of responding. The other danger in conflict is emotion. In talking about reaction vs. response, I’ve already mentioned it some, but the role emotions play in conflict is huge. Of all the emotions, though, the one that really takes the opportunity out of conflict is anger, and there are a few reasons for that. First, anger affects you physically as well as mentally—everything tenses, your breathing becomes shallow, sometimes you even start to shake, basically it does the opposite of what deep breathing does. Now, in addition to whatever conflict you’re facing, your body must also deal with the added stress that being angry puts on it. A second reason anger is so detrimental in conflict is that it clouds your judgment. It has nearly the same effect, in this respect, as drugs or alcohol. Plus, we just talked about the danger of reacting. Well, anger pushes all the work you do to respond out the window. Even worse, you’re reacting with your body pumping adrenaline, your body is already engaged by the anger, and now your body will want to participate in whatever your reaction is. The final reason, and I think the most important reason, anger worsens conflict is that anger is almost always a secondary emotion. I bet that needs a little explanation, but it just so happens I’m prepared to explain.

Who knows anything about icebergs—raise your hands? Where is the biggest part of an iceberg? Right, the biggest part of an iceberg is under water. Anger is like an iceberg. When you see anger, all you’re seeing is the part sticking out of the water. So what’s underneath? Underneath you have all the other emotions that lead you to anger. You could feel hurt, betrayed, or backstabbed. You could feel stressed, depressed, and alone. You could even feel scared, disappointed, or frustrated. More often than not, you end up angry as a result of feeling these types of feelings. Have you ever been mad at a friend but unable to remember why? That’s probably because you felt some emotion that made you angry, and then the anger lingered long after the event that caused the emotion. When we allow anger to take over without acknowledging our underlying emotions, we enter into a very dangerous situation where our anger begins to take on life of its own, because once angry, we won’t really care who we release our anger towards.

I’d like everyone to take a few moments to do a quick exercise with me. It’s a writing assignment, but it’s easy, I promise. First, take a couple minutes and think about the last time you can remember being angry. Write it down in one sentence. Next, because anger often evolves from another emotion, write one sentence saying what other emotion you felt. Now write a third sentence explaining why you felt that way. And finally, to end our writing assignment, write one way you could have expressed that emotion without getting angry. Once you’re done, I’d like to have you share what you wrote with the person sitting next to you.

People say that hindsight is 20/20—or perfect, in case no one has ever explained that expression—and that’s why this exercise is so useful. When I look back at the times I’ve been most angry in my life, most of them seem silly and senseless. Not only that, but it’s also pretty apparent that there was a better way for me to handle my emotions. All this is to lead me to giving you a few techniques to try to diffuse and harness your anger. The first, most important, and easiest we’ve already talked about. I cannot overemphasize the importance of deep breathing. Physically, psychologically, it undoes all the negative things anger does to you. Next, keep a journal. You can use the form of your little writing assignment to get started. The more you know about your anger and the emotions that lead up to it, the better prepared you’ll be to handle it when it’s happening. We have a little saying we use in handling feelings and anger that has five easy steps:
1. Name—put a name to the emotion(s) you’re felt or are feeling. This part is incredibly important, and I need to add a little to it. Most people use a very limited emotional vocabulary—happy, sad, mad; the ones you learn in grade-school. Well, I’d like to make a grade-school analogy. Some kids come to school with an eight-count box of crayons. You can draw a decent picture with eight different color crayons, right? Well, some kid always comes in with an enormous box of like 500 crayons. That kid is Picasso. Anything he does will almost always be more intricate and more expressive simply because he has more crayons at his disposal. That’s how emotions are. The smaller our emotional vocabulary, the less able we are to name our emotions. So start trying to name your emotions and collect more crayons!
2. Claim—take ownership of that feeling. There’s nothing wrong with feeling your emotions; it’s how you handle them that can be right or wrong. Many people often say that someone made them angry. I hate that expression. Your emotions belong to you, and you are solely responsible for them. You can’t feel a wrong emotion, you can only have a wrong reaction.
3. Tame—decide what you need to do to make sure your emotions don’t get the best of you. One emotion high school students are all feeling for the first time is love. Love is a wonderful feeling, but you have to control it. If not, it changes from being love and becomes obsession. There’s nothing sweet or romantic about being the object of obsession. Anger and other emotions are similar; you have to tame your emotions before they take control of you.
4. Reframe—look at the situation from a different perspective. So if you are disappointed and frustrated because you didn’t make the football team, reframe that situation by saying, “Now I have a chance to try out for the band!”
5. Aim—point your emotions towards something constructive. Those same emotions you feel after not making the team can be aimed at trying to get good enough to make it next year, or even be aimed at practicing to make the band.
Those easy steps can make a world of difference in how conflict affects you. For one thing, taking those steps is a response instead of a reaction. Also, it pushes you to find the root cause of your anger, instead of dwelling on it. And taking these steps encourages you to find positive ways to use your emotions.

Other things you can do to reduce or defuse anger are to play sports—again, this gives you a physical outlet for your body’s anger. You can do mental calming exercises. Imagine yourself in a relaxing, calm place. And if you like to draw, to write, to do arts and crafts, to sing, to dance, even to do carpentry or fix cars, any of these things can help you overcome your anger.

This stuff is simple, but don’t think it’s easy. The last bit I’d like to share with you is about a guy I went to high school with. His name was Delvin, and Delvin was a year older than me. He was a constantly joking, and everyone loved to be around him. He grew up in one of the poorer neighborhoods in town, but he was as comfortable with the kids that grew up on his street as the ones from the other side of the proverbial track. He was a star athlete too. He played for our American football team and won a few awards for his individual performances. He ran track as well. Apparently he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. That’s fast. I remember my junior year he competed in the district track event. There were about seven schools in our district that had about 700 students in each, so that competition was the best of around 5,000 high school students. That day he ran the 100 and won. Then he ran in the 200 yard race and won. Then he ran the 400 and 800 relays with the relay team, and they won those as well. As a direct result of his individual performances, our school track team won the overall district title. It was like he couldn’t lose. The next day, I woke up and saw Delvin’s picture on the front page of our town newspaper, running as fast as he could. The headline was something like “Martinsville take district crown”. I was so proud—of Delvin and of my school. But as I opened the paper, I noticed that wasn’t the only picture of Delvin in the paper that day. It wasn’t even his only picture on the front page. At the bottom of the page was Delvin’s graduation picture. The headline above it read “MHS athlete slain”. After the track meet, Delvin ran into some members of another school’s football team. They had gotten into a fight on the field during football season. They still held a grudge, and another thing about Delvin is he was the kind of guy who wouldn’t back down. The coaches of the track team had to separate them, but the guys from the other school followed the bus taking Delvin and the team back to the school. Again, the coaches came to the rescue by calling the police. They met the bus at our school, and the car following turned around. But later that night, the car came back. I can imagine Delvin walking around his neighborhood with five gold medals around his neck, showing off, and hanging out with friends. As he went home, the car probably pulled up beside him, and someone rolled down a window. Delvin again wouldn’t back down. Whatever they said to him, he probably reacted, saying something like, “Come on! If you wanna fight, let’s fight!” But they didn’t fight. One bullet in the chest was all it took, and 19-year-old Delvin died at the scene.

I don’t tell you this story to scare you. All it takes is watching the news to know that things like this happen every day—even in Belize. That’s of why I told it. Violence that occurred as a result of a senseless conflict affected my life, the life of my school, and the life of my community. Delvin might not have started the fight, he might not have gotten in a car and gone after anybody, but his anger, his reactions, and his refusal to back down were as much a cause of his death as anything those other boys did. So please, take control of your anger; claim your emotions; and protect yourselves, your school, and your community. I hope and pray that you do. Thank you.

That's it this time. Leave a comment, send an e-mail, and I'll talk to you soon.