Life after the Peace Corps. The next chapter begins.....

...At My New Home at Heritage Point

Monday, March 5, 2012

Meanwhile almost one year later....

It's been a quite a year, and there's just no way to make this short and sweet, so let me just begin. I started working at the Bliss Theater a year ago, and couldn't wait to go to work every day in that wonderful, artistic, creative atmosphere. I enjoyed working there more than I can say, but a big reason was the people I worked with! Every single person who works there is wonderful, especially my boss Karen. They work hard and make it lots of fun while they do it. I would have enjoyed staying there throughout the remainder of my Peace Corps service, as every day was new and different. One of the highlights was working with Aurelio Martinez, a singer, song writer and musician who blends the Caribbean and West African roots of the Garifuna culture into punta rock. He played several concerts throughout the country, and a free concert for 600 kids at the Bliss, exciting and inspiring them through his music.
But, in December I was offered a wonderful opportunity to work at Heritage Point Condominium. It is a brand new development that was built by my "good friend" Mark Miller. Mark and I met in the Cancun airport when we were both returning to Belize after the Christmas holidays last year. He is a builder, also from Florida, and came to Belize the same month that I did in March of 2010. He was brought here as a consultant for Heritage Bank to finish a development that they assumed through foreclosure. Everyone who knows me, knows how much I love construction, so I tagged along with Mark as much as possible in the last year, taking in the smell of freshly poured concrete and watching as the building was completed (and throwing in my two cents whenever I could, of course). We also adventured to a lot of really neat places in Belize, and had a wonderful vacation with Tom & Joan Heinz last November.
As the construction began to come to an end, Richard & Julie Sutton, Mark's good friends and bosses, offered Mark an opportunity to move to St. Martin to work on another one of their projects. So, Heritage Point needed someone to oversee the finishing touches and convert a few of the units into furnished condos/hotel rooms. I was offered the job (after much groveling and begging), and went to Cancun right after the holidays for two weeks of training at one of the Sutton's beautiful time share resorts. I had a blast and felt like I finally found my calling, OK, so it's when most people my age are thinking of retiring! I did everything from working with housekeepers, outside maintenance, front desk staff, bellboys, sales, and even spent time in the wonderful,crazy chaos of Richard & Julie's days. But trying to always surprise the resort guests by making their experience even better than they imagined, is so much fun and I'm sure what I was meant to do in life (in addition to buying shoes!)
So, I've been furnishing and decorating five of the units, applying for a hotel license, designing signage so people can find their way here, showing the units to potential buyers, washing about 50 sets of sheets and towels, scraping paint off the floors, maintaining the pool, and everything in between!
I've got my hands full, trying to sell condos, and accomodate vacationers and guests who stay in the hotel, but I'm looking forward to tackling each challenge and making Heritage Point a success. So, come see me in Belize!!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Last week was amazing at the Bliss Theater! NICH (The National Institute of Culture and History), which is the umbrella for the department I work for, ICA (the Institute of Creative Arts) sponsors an annual National Festival of the Arts for students and youth under the age of 29. Every school in the country has competitions for visual artists, musicians, playwrights and actors, poets, dancers, musicians, and even fashion designers and culinary artists. Gold, silver and bronze winners from each school move to the town, and ultimately district competitions. The winners from each District come to Belize City and perform on stage at the theater.
Monday was the Opening Ceremony, or Launch, as a kick off is called in Belize. The Minister of Ecuation spoke, and a great speech was given by an 11 year old boy whos face was on the poster promoting the Festival of Arts this year. I told his father that I think I was listening to the future Prime Minister of the country! The ceremony was followed by a parade through town - and guess what was the most popular song that the bands played, Bad Romance by Lady Gaga! All the kids who attended the opening ceremony were in the parade and they represented all the Districts in the country. There were clowns and stick walkers, garifuna drummers and dancers of all sorts. All the kids came out of school to watch the parade as it passed by. Then it was back to the House of Culture, a beautiful old colonial building on the water, for lunch for 500! followed by a concert after lunch featuring the winners from the district competitions and some local artists who are very popular. What a surprise as I saw these performers come out and realized several of them are the people I work with every day at the theater! Jackie Castillo even works in the same office with me! She quietly and efficiently gets her work done everyday, but there she was on stage belting out a beautiful song and engaging the kids in the audience to sing, dance and clap along with her. Then the rapper, Nello Park, who's songs I listen to, is introduced and it's my friend Kernelle, a fabulous graphic designer I work with at the Bliss!
On Tuesday, the kid's performances began and youth from the Stann Creek and Toldeo Districts rode in buses for up to 6 hours to get here. Their arts are influenced by the West African andCaribbean influences of the Garifuna culture and included drumming and native dancing. Wednesday was Orange Walk and Corozal Districts. They are in the northern part of the country that boarders Mexico. So their music, dancing and plays were influenced by the Spanish culture, with the girls in colorful costumes and flowers in their hair, and Vaqueros, or Mexican cowboys with the boys dressed in cowboy hats and bandanas. Thursday was Cayo District, in the western part of the country, boardering Guatemala. So they had a little different Spanish influence, and the Mayan influence. On Friday were the students from Belize District. Of course, Belize City is in this District, so we had some rap music about street violence, killing, and a number of plays dealing with domestic violence and police corruption. How sad that these are the omnipresent themes that influence their lives at this early age. But, just outside of the city are some very small and extremely strong Creole communities. Creole is home to punta dancing and Brukdown music, so the Belize District was also diversly represented. The Bliss has a great Facebook page and they have posted photos and video footage of the Festival so you might want to check it out at: Institute of Creative Arts.
So, over the course of the week, thousands of youths came through the doors. They had a wonderful time performing in front of the other students, friends and family who made the journey to see them on stage. Then they were all fed lunch before they got back on their buses for the long trip back that some had to make. But they all had a great experience and loved being on stage with sets and lights and microphones amplifying their performances. But I think I enjoyed it more than all of them! To see the excitement and joy in their faces was a thrill, and even when the performance was just a tad painful, the pleasure they got from performing outweighed the missed ques and off key singing. The future of this country lies in the youth and there is a lot of talent in the future in Belize!!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Derby is Alive and Well in Belize!

Friends in Florida know that going to Karen and Denny Somers' house on Derby Day is a tradition I look forward to, and have enjoyed for many years. So, it was very bitter sweet when I got the invitation to this year's party and knew I wouldn't be able to go. Then, I thought, "Why not bring the Derby to Belize?" So, I invited a few friends and began planning my Derby party.
But wait, no one in this country even knows what the Kentucky Derby is, don't even think about finding any Derby decorations. I couldn't even find anything with a horse on it - and forget red roses!! So, it was a bit of a challenge, but I perservered and finally found some small plastic horses at a school supply store. I put on the numbers of each Derby entry, so we could draw them out of a hat for a dollar chance to pick the winner. I drew a horse on poster paper, colored it with crayons and cut out tails to play pin the tail on the horse. The third game was a grid for a pool to bet on each horse to win, place or show. Now, remember most of us are Peace Corps volunteers, so the stakes were just a little light - 10 cents US for each square, but we had fun none the less. The next challenge was the traditional Derby arrangement that I always take to "Somers Downs" for the party. Since real roses weren't an option, I found silk roses and made a "respectable" arrangement for the table, but it was definitely lacking the Derby horse that always adorns my arrangement wearing a blanket of roses around his neck. I also found some bright pink roses to make my hat. I had encouraged everyone to make a hat, but honestly I don't think many of the Peace Corps volunteers knew about the traditions of the Derby, so I wore the only hat this year. However, all the girls said they would be working on a hat for next year's Derby. (So I guess I'm down for the party again in 2012!)
We had Burgoo Stew, Hot Brown sandwiches and Southern potato salad - all Derby traditions I found on the "Official" Kentucky Derby Party website. And one of the volunteers brought chocolate covered Bourbon Balls for desseert! A friend of mine made a trip to the US and was kind enough to bring back two bottles of Makers Mark from the Duty Free shop. I went to a nursury and bought a mint plant, and voila, one batch of simple syrup later, we had Mint Juleps!
Just before the race began, one of the volunteers went outside to have a smoke, and a bird pooped all over his arm. He came back in the house in a fit, of course. But after a good laugh, we told him it was good luck, and sure enough five minutes later, the horse he had drawn out of the hat won - and he took home the big prize for the day - $9.50 US! Now Pat is wondering if he should bring his own bird to the party next year!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Tour d'Belize

The third goal of the Peace Corps is to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. So, I was very excited when Dad came to visit on March 11th. Having been here for a year, I thought I was finally prepared to give him a proper "Tour d'Belize!" The day after he arrived, I had a party for all the people I worked with at WIN Belize and other Belizean friends, so they could meet Dad. I strung white lights across my drive and put chairs outside, so everyone could enjoy the cool sea breeze and beautiful night. The next day we jumped on the water taxi and went to Caye Caulker, a cute little vacation spot about an hour off-shore. When we got back, we went to the Belize Museum, located in the old prison. The restoration is beautiful and we saw the new Mayan Jade exhibit that was in the process of being set up. The next day we went on a tour around the city in an open carriage, so Dad could see the different areas of town - from the very poor sections on the Southside to Buttonwood Bay, where the Prime Minister lives. We also saw many of the beautiful old Colonial homes that have withstood 100 years of termites, and 2 major hurricanes! We walked across the famous "Swing Bridge" that is turned on one central post with a hand crank before hurricanes, so the fishing boats can move up river. We visited the old Governors House that is now the House of Culture; St. John's Cathedral, the oldest church in the Caribbean; the Bliss Lighthouse, walked around the downtown area, saw the Old Colonial Court House, and of course, the Women in Art exhibit at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts, where I now work. We took the bus to the Belize Zoo, but we only saw a panther and a few snakes. I guess the other animals were on holiday too! Another morning, we had brunch with US Ambassador Thummalapally and his family. It was so nice of them to take the time to meet Dad and he really enjoyed it. Then on the weekend, we headed across the country to San Ignacio on a 3 hour bus ride. Dad was a real trooper, but it's a must if you really want to get the full Belizean experience! We went to Cahal Pesh, a beautiful resort at the top of a Mayan Ruin and stayed in an amazing "air conditioned" thatched hut overlooking the town of San Ignacio. The next day we went to the beautiful open market in San Ignacio, then a friend of mine who has a car, picked us up and we went on a great adventure on a very rough dirt road through the Mountain Pine Ridge to see the Green Ridge Butterfly Ranch and Francis Ford Coppola's resort, Blancaneaux Lodge. We had a wonderful lunch at the top of a mountain, overlooking a beautiful river and waterfall at the Three Sisters Resort, and ended up at another great resort called Caves Branch, where I had reserved a treehouse in the top of the jungle overlooking another beautiful river. The next day we took the bus back to Belmopan and spent the afternoon with the people I lived with during training when I first arrived in Belize. Then we were back on the bus heading home to Belize City. One of our last trips was with a guide who took us to the Altun Ha Ruins, one of the largest ceremonial centers with three restored temples. But before I knew it, Dad's vacation was over and we had to say good bye. We had a wonderful time and I hope I showed him a good sampling of this amazing country!

But I think one of the highlights of the trip for both of us was visitng the power plant in the Menonite town of Spanish Lookout. We spent about an hour with hard hats on getting a first hand tour of their 5 brand new Caterpiller Diesel generators. They were awesome!

Women in Art

I know it was over a month ago, but this is the event that has turned around my work, and life here in Belize, so I want to tell you a little about this art exhibit.
I had heard that there was an exhibit of women's art during March, which is celebrated as Women's Month in Belize. I met with Karen Vernon, the Director of the Bliss Theater, in early February and offered to help with the exhibit. She welcomed my assistance and asked me to contact the artists on her list, and find new female artists, to invite them to submit their work for the exhibit. She also asked me to obtain biographical information and pictures from the artists who were participating, and compile the information into a book that would be distributed on Opening Night. We ended up with thirty eight artists, who's ages ranged from 18 to "over 65", three of whom had never exhibited before. About a week before the show opened, Rachael Heusner, a long time resident of Belize who recently moved to Tobago, arrived to curate the exhibit. She and Karen had developed a great theme and design layout for the exhibit, and I had a great time helping Rachael set it up. As guests climbed the stairs to the gallery, they looked up to see clothes lines of women's clothing hanging above them - in pink, of course!
The Opening, or Launch, as it is called here, was a tremendous success, with about 200 people attending. The Opening Ceremony featured a wide range of female talent, including poetry, Garifuna drumming, dance and of course, the art. Rachael and her mother even made hundreds of cupcakes with icing in red, blue, green and yellow which we placed on a stand that held art palates painted the same colors as the cupcakes. A female DJ outside on the Palm Terrace, played female musician's music, while guests enjoyed light hors d'ouvres and rum punch. The picture at right is Rachael on the left and one of the new artists, Alessandra Berry, on the right. It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it so much, that I wanted more! I decided to discuss it with my Counterpart at WIN and I'm delighted to say that last week, I started working for ICA, The Institute of Creative Arts, here at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts.
I am still in the Peace Corps Business and Organizational Development group, so my job at The Institute of Creative Arts will be business related. I will be working on audience development for the theater, as well as at events, festivals and activities sponsored by ICA. I will also be working on the promotion of Belizean artists, trying to increase the sale of their work, both in the country and through exportation. I have only been here two weeks, but everyone has made me feel so welcome, and I am so excited about the work to be done here. I have already presented several ideas to Karen that she has encouraged me to proceed with and I am anxious to make them become reality!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

My Rough Life in the City

Hard to believe it's been a month since I moved. I've been working hard at WIN Belize and doing some volunteer work with with ICA - the Institute of Cultural Arts. In between, I took a weekend trip to Placencia, a beautiful resort town (about 5 hours by bus) south of Belize City, and have been working hard on my apartment. It was flooded last fall during Hurricane Richard and there was a big problem with mold and mildew. But, with a fresh coat of paint, 3 gallons of bleach and lots of scrubbing, new curtains and some new furniture to replace the furniture that rotted in the water, it looks beautiful. This is the old British colonial style house where I live in the downstairs front apartment.
I weeded around the front door, planted some palm trees and flowers, and like I did at Dad's condo, I've been scavengering rocks for the garden. It looks a little sparce right now, but with a little water, I'm confident it will be lush by summer, and the palm trees will provide some shade and privacy in front of the window. I have a living room, kitchen with eating area, 2 bedrooms and a bath. The living room is very sunny, and though she looks stressed here, Maya seems to be adjusting to her new home. The apartment gets a nice breeze all day and night from the sea, and with my new furniture covered in a palm tree design, I almost feel like I'm home - right down to a kite hanging from the ceiling of the kitchen, like I have on my porch in Florida. I flew it in the Kite Festival on Monday and won one of the divisions.

...and the view ain't that bad either! One last thing, I haven't shown you my latest art aquisitions. Every month when I buy a piece of art, it becomes my favorite and here are definitely two. "Wuri Suruso," or Nude Woman in the Garifuna language, is by Pen Cayatano, who is a very famous artist here. The "God and Goddess of the Jungle" is by a brand new artist, Alessandra Berry, and the god and goddess are actually her children. She showed her art for the first time in the Women in Arts exhibit that I helped organize. I'll tell you about the opening in my next Blog.