Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Enough saving the world; time to clean house

I was inspired by the Unalaska blogs this morning.  We have sunshine, clear blue skies, and a lovely calm, windless day.  While this is the first day I have actually felt pretty good since arriving home from San Pedro, and I have sooooo much to do in terms of cleaning house and unpacking from the San Pedro trip, it is just too beautiful a day not to at least take a mini appreciation of it.
Rex diligently stalking the cat.  I said "no cat."  He stopped, and stayed perfectly still, not advancing toward the cat, but never taking his eyes off her.  Rex does not want to hurt the cat, he just loves to stalk her.  She tends to get a little bent out of shape over the game, however, she never runs from him.
"Hey, dude, leave me alone.  I was taking a nap in this sunshine!"
In numerous places in the yard, the jonquils are starting to emerge.  While someone who was here long before me planted most of them along the driveway, there is one spot in the yard where there are just random clumps of them.  Randy diligently mows around them for me each spring until they finish blooming.  I have actually transplanted some of them to more opportune places, but there are still quite a few in this location.  I am thinking perhaps someone once had a flower bed in that spot, as there is also evidence of some kind of root from a bush of some sort, long dead.
One of the transplanted clumps--these are usually the first to bloom.  Clearly, I need to clean out the flower bed from the winter.  Soon, butterflies will drink at this little water spot, the morning glories that go to seed will start to climb up the fence again, and the whole yard will be a profusion of yellow and white jonquils, and one or two of my irises will bloom.  The irises are the ones I brought from Texas that came from my Grandma's place.  One finally bloomed about the second year we were here, and last year, several bloomed.  I am hopeful one of these days that they all will again.

Maybe I really don't understand

Well, so much for principled stands.  I did it: I put my "money where my mouth was" and honored my conviction.  Then I find out that the whole big issue over which I am so concerned about that "bigger picture" and our narrow short-sited view?  The "other side" acquiesced and gave in to the narrow short-sited view and everyone is happy.  That is the story, at least.

Now, it isn't about my needing to be happy; frankly, I choose being happy most of the time, and I am not currently unhappy.  It reminds me of "Games people play" and when you feel confused suddenly, that's when you know you have been "switched on."  I just keep thinking about how there is a greater meaning in this than just the event itself, and I keep reaching for what that is under the issue.

In families, when we are doing family therapy, we try to look not at content, but at process.  What are the patterns in the communication?  It is not what is actually said, or what the issue is about, but the meaning that underlies that communication that is of concern.  I started trying to do that, and suddenly realized I did not care about the patterns; in this situation, I cared about the content.  

I give up.  I just need to make a phone call and tell someone thank you for changing my flat tire.  Let him figure out what that communication means. :)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Coming soon: "Not being from Mississippi is such a burden."

Reminds me of Alaska and how the assumption of some people is that if you are not native, you cannot know how to provide services to natives.  So, here we are in Mississippi, and yet again, since I am not from here, I apparently do not have the ability to look at the situation, make an assessment of the situation, and decide on an appropriate plan.  Apparently--in spite of my advanced training in the use of these techniques, as well as a long experience of what I would term reasonably successful work using those techniques and skills I have acquired (including in Alaska by the way)--my not being from here is limiting my ability to see the issue in the same way that native Mississippians see it--a hopeless repetition of the past that is not going to change unless we just bulldoze right through and damn the torpedos.  Once again, "You cannot convince someone of something with facts when the resistance is emotional."

I need to explore this topic in greater detail.  I feel a new research project coming on for my global south research.  Thanks, Mississippi dude.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

On the Edge--Marching to a Different Beat--Whatever...

First, thanks to my little Libby for keeping me company this week while I have spent so much time in bed.  She loves it when I am in this room as she gets to come in all by herself and take a nap on the bed. 

It was great to see the sunshine finally today, and have a warmer day.  With no wind, it made it feel really nice.  I am also a little better today, so that also helps.  And the final good news, since I have been ill, I have lost over 10 pounds, so that was at least one good side effect.  I noted my belly was flatter today than it has been in a while, so decided to hop on the scales.  While I don't recommend this "plan" I must admit that coupled with my new focus of no sweets, limited breads and no wine, I appear to be losing some weight.

That was the only good news of the day, so to speak.  As is everyone, we are in cut the budget mode here, too.  I had to go in for a meeting regarding how we cut 5% from our budget.  That is not a pretty picture.  We lost our travel, some contractual services (provides our copying, telephone, and internet services), student worker funds, and facing another round in a few months.  That means salary reductions and/or position losses at that point, as there is nothing else of significance to cut.  But ever optimistic, we are at least glad we have jobs right now; so many folks don't, or don't have work that is meaningful and supports them.

Now, about that on the edge part--I find myself wondering why sometimes I seem to be the one who sees something differently than others.  I am involved with a professional group here, and it seems that I am often the one who is the "no" vote on issues.  I think I am a reasonable person, able to hear information about as objectively as possible, and then make a reasoned decision based on the whole picture, not just narrow self-interests.  I suppose a lot of that is from the constant use of systems thinking as a social worker.  I tend to want to look at all of the system, and its suprasystem and its subsystems.  When I hear what sounds like a rational and reasonable approach to an issue, even if it may not be in the selfish interests of me personally, or my profession, I hope that I am able to acknowledge the greater good and greater benefit to others, even if it means a sacrifice to myself.  

So, here I am again, the dissenting voice saying that the other approach is reasonable, rational, makes sense, and will benefit the greater good, and ultimately in the long run, our profession.  I feel like what is happening though is that the assenting voices are putting their hands over their eyes and ears and shouting "nananana" in order to avoid having to consider my point.  I feel like I am being patronized for having "such a thoughtful response" and yet no acknowledgement that it (1) makes sense, (2) anyone agrees or disagrees, or (3) wants to even discuss it.  It feels kind of like "don't you worry your pretty little head about learning how to change a flat tire, honey; some big ole trucker will always stop and help you."  I sometimes feel like the question(s) placed before this group of which I am a member are just formalities, and I wonder why I take it so seriously and feel the need to say, "hey, what about...?"  This is not the part about making other people wrong and trying to be right.  It really is about is this the best decision, and I don't think it is, so how do I support that?  Bottom line is, I cannot--it is far too important an issue this time.  In fact, if it goes as it has apparently been decided to go, then I will not only have to be a dissenting voice and say "no" on the vote, I will actually have to actively lobby against it, and find support for that other outcome that I think to be for the greater good.

The thought of that is not particularly pleasant; one does not usually engender friends when one goes against one's own professional group; the potential for backlash is present, at the least, some sense of ostracism.  But, perhaps I misjudge the others who may be able to see the issue more clearly rather than in narrow self-interest.  Perhaps I will gain new friends or new support from others who see it as being willing to step out of status quo.  That has happened to me before.  Of course, I don't do the work I do to make friends and be praised: I do the work I do because I think it is the right thing to do.  And, I think the right thing to do is consider the bigger picture here, and the numbers of people who will benefit from that approach as opposed to the limited number who will benefit from the narrow view.

All I know is when I go to bed at night and try to go to sleep, I want to know I have done the best I can for the greater good, the welfare of all of us, not just some of us.  I hope that will be enough tomorrow night when I try to go to sleep.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Ultimate Reality Show

I know why Native Americans used visions to increase their understanding of the world and our role in it.  I have long used dreams and trance work to help understand things I need to know but cannot figure out at a conscious level.  Last night before I went to bed, I prayed:
  • for relief from the pain in my head and ears that have been omnipresent for the past few days
  • to be able to sleep for the first time in those same past few days without waking up with coughing spasms that feel like I am actually going to die from not getting a breath, or choking, and which feel like fire in my throat
  • and for the obsessive thoughts that had been plaguing me all day about an issue to get resolved in my sub-conscious, without my having to continue to dwell on it
I had two new medications in addition to the others that I had been taking for what the doctor termed 'asthmatic bronchitis'  yesterday.  One of them is a long-acting inhaler, but which really jacks up your heart rate and I already have a problem with that and take medication to keep it down.  As I drifted off to sleep, I began to feel a somewhat calming sense.

In the middle of the night, I awoke, aware instantly that I had been sleeping for quite a while, and that I had not been coughing and could actually breathe, that there was no pain in my ears, or behind my eyes for the first time in days.  I was in sort of a trance, coming out of a dream, and I was fearful to move, lest I set off the coughing spasms again, yet I knew I wanted to understand the dream.

I would drift in and out of awareness--literally comprehending the meaning of some aspect of the dream--and then into the dream sequence again.  I was fearful I would forget it by morning and yet, reluctant to get up and disperse the pleasant cocoon of calm and serenity in which I was surrounded.

At some point, I came fully awake and got up to go to the bathroom, and to tell myself that I would remember it in all the needed detail this morning, and then went back to sleep, grateful for both the vision and the healing.

In the dream, it was life after death, and we were at the process where we get separated--the wheat from the chaff.  There were some portals, and some of us were walking toward them; I was not certain if I was to go through them or to the side of them.  On the other side I could see my ex-husband, with his wife and his children.  In that moment, I released any animosity I had toward him for not having wanted children with me when I so much wanted a baby, and then for marrying a woman with children and adopting her baby--a wound that although I reconciled it many many years ago, was clearly standing in my sub-conscious as a barrier of some sort.  I reached out to hug his youngest child, and to tell him that I loved him.  In the next moment, I was ushered through the portals and into the "room."

What would follow (in much abbreviated detail) is a series of what I would call "reality TV" scenes.  We were divided into teams and we each had different scenarios to play out.  The judge then ruled on our performance.  I kept ending up in the "next level" and able to stay in the competition, so to speak.  At the last scenario, it was a difficult thing for me to do.  It involved my having to do several menial tasks--like make coffee, light a burner and the matches kept going out, climbing into some dirty water to reach the shelf where things were, etc.  All the while, the "men" were just lounging in the boat near by and I was willingly performing these chores and then came the grand finale.  What I began to realize was that each of the scenes had to do with the person's willingness to be of service to others, not to himself or herself.

The waters began to be everywhere, not just in my scenario.  There were huge rafts though, and we could swim toward them and if someone reached a hand down, that meant we could climb in.  I swam toward it, and someone reached a hand.  I climbed in, and my task was now to reach my hand for others.  I did not understand, though, how I was to decide who got to climb in and who did not?  How was I supposed to know who was to be saved and who left to drown in the rising waters?  What was the criteria?  I started to reach toward someone, then suddenly shifted and pulled in someone else.  A white dog with puppies kept pulling her puppies up the little sand bank to the edge, pulling them out of harm's way while looking at me--I could not tell if it was asking for help, or choosing a deliberate path away from the boat.  Again, the awareness that the "saved" were those who had been willing to be of service and help to others not just meeting their own needs.

As I drifted in and out, trying to make sense of this dream, I had several awarenesses.  One was how I have been so judgmental of two people in my life--and that in my being so judgmental, I am doing the exact same thing I am upset with them about: judging.  The message of what I needed to do was clear: with the one, with whom I have an on-going professional relationship, to simply respond to the request without making him wrong about it; to the other, with whom I have no relationship, to just let it go and actually "get out" of his life and him out of mine.  As one of my mentors used to say, "don't hang out with people who don't support you" and I realized, why would I expose myself to something so toxic to me when I do not have to and it does nothing for me, other than enflame my need to set him straight?  I mean, let's face it: the world is filled with folks who likely need setting straight, and there is only one of me.  Perhaps I should save my energies for those things that really matter--oh, like with people with whom I do have a relationship, or those who clearly have a need to which I can respond?

I thought of something my other ex-husband said to me recently when we reconnected after 36 years:  "I am just trying to make sense of the world."  It was a reminder to me this morning of my belief that we all are ultimately trying to make sense of the world and to find our place in it: who are we, and with whom do we belong?  Along the way, there are opportunities; we accept some of them and we decline some of them; some of them we just put our hands over our ears and eyes while yelling 'nananananana' so we cannot hear it or see it.  Another of my favorite sayings, "You can not convince someone with facts when the resistance is emotional."  Maybe it is even a bit like the scripture about not casting your pearls before swine.  We have to make choices, but so do other people.

So, my messages were clear in the dream, and I awoke--head clear, able to breathe, minimal coughing, but without the horrid spasms and fire-in-the-throat, aware that I had received exactly what I had asked for.

First, I emailed my professional colleague to respond to his question, and to confirm what I could do.  Second, I made the choice to really let go of the other relationship as it is really not significant to my life and my mission in this world, and frankly and humblingly so, it is not significant to him either. :)

Perhaps it was all a medication-related interaction; perhaps it was an answer to my prayer; perhaps it was indeed my sub-conscious working out the details in my behalf.  Somehow, though, it restored my belief in the power I have to make right choices in my life, to do what I can when I can where it can make a difference, and to recognize again that I am not the policewoman of the universe and responsible for every misguided individual in the world.  After all, if I just take care of my own life, it appears to be a full-time job as it is taking me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for the last of my 58 years.

Life really is the ultimate reality show.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Garifuna History update

While working on my research today for the article on San Pedro child abuse prevention, I came across an interesting research article about the Garifuna "leaving and joining Africanness."  It was an extensive history of the Garifuna, which is--to be expected--significantly more detailed than the sketchy lesson I got while in San Pedro.  The particular research was addressing the cultural transformation of the Garifuna who have migrated to New York City from Central America, and how they are embracing their African roots where those remaining in Central America have not.

It is generally accepted, based on documentations of British, French, and Spanish explorers and missionaries that enslaved Africans who had been captured by Spanish slavers were destined for Caribbean labor and were shipwrecked off the coast of St. Vincent island in the Caribbean in 1635.  However, there is much subsequent documentation that suggests that the shipwreck story is insufficient to account for the large numbers of Africans and rapid black population growth that occurred on the island.  Other accounts support that the Island Caribs captured other African slaves and integrated them into the culture.  The island gained reputation as a "free island" as the Black Caribs surpassed the numbers of Island Caribs and essentially had control of the island.

There was actually a plurality of African cultures on the island, but even though they were free, there was the threat of enslavement and thus, the Garifuna "became Carib" and adopted the language, religion, and culture of the Island Caribs.  In 1797, they were captured by the British and forcibly deported to an island off the coast of the Honduras, near Trujillo.  They were saved from dire circumstances (probable starvation and death) by Spanish rescuing them and taking them to the mainland at Trujillo.  Already present at that site were the Miskito Indians and Afro-Indian 'Sambos' who were also reported to be slave shipwreck survivors, thus echoing the history of the Garifunas on St. Vincent.

The Garifunas began to migrate to other areas, and there is indication from oral histories conducted in the 1960s that many of them intermarried with non-Garifuna blacks.  The singer Andy Palacio (referenced in an earlier post) was credited with saving the Garifuna language through his music.  He died at the age of 47, and survivors listed include his sister, his children, and one brother.

Due to expanding fruit trade, many Garifuna began to leave the Honduras and what is known as Belize today for work in the United States.  The largest Garifuna community in the world is now in the Bronx area of New York City, with a population of about 100,000 people.  It is this group who--upon arriving in the US and "suddenly becoming black" began to embrace their African roots, explore those roots and connect with their origins in Africa as opposed to seeing St. Vincent as their home and Carib as their ethnicity.

This story reminded me of some of the dialogue going on in the Unalaska blogs about locals, loyalties, and how we see community.  Those Garifuna who have 'rejoined' the African diaspora after 'leaving' it back in 1635 when they "became" Carib want to re-educate the Central American Garifuna about the true origins of their people--which is Africa by numerous documented accounts, and frankly, since that is true for all of us at some point, rather a point against which one cannot successfully argue.  Some of the Garifuna remaining in Central America ask: "Who are you to try to change our memory of who we are?"  The Garifuna remaining are fiercely loyal to the culture as they have lived it--at least since the 1600s and 1700s when it was "invented."  They see themselves as quite distinct from the "Latin American" culture, even though they are all part of the Central American country, and in particular, Honduras and Belize where most of them live in small villages.

It is just another interesting story to me of the ways in which we define ourselves, with whom or what we identify, and--at least sometimes--wondering why we need to do what we do.  And on that way too serious note, I am going to struggle out of bed and go feed my 5 dogs and 1 cat, and hopefully, find something with which to nourish my self before crawling back in bed again and hoping I can make it through a research proposal, a faculty meeting, and a class tomorrow before coming home to hopefully get right back in this bed until I am well.

Notice how much "hope" I have in that last sentence.  Proof that I mastered the developmental stage of infancy and trust vs. mistrust, as I continue to have hope that my needs will be met and the world is a safe place. :)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

First day of the spring semester & wishing I was in San Pedro

Today began the new semester at Ole Miss--as far as classes go.  I was at work all day yesterday in meetings and preparation.  I had my first class at 1 this afternoon for the social work practice with groups at the undergraduate level.  I am looking forward to it.  About half of the class are students whom I do not know, and about half are students I have had last summer in the Introduction to Social Work and Human Behavior classes.  I am trying new things in the group class this semester in terms of class projects, so that will be an exciting time as well.  We will be working again with the Job Corps program in Batesville, the Oxford Housing Authority, and in three new projects to be determined by each of the three groups in the class.  Each month, one group will be at Job Corps, one at OHA, and one in the new project.  Each group is always different, and this is my favorite class of all of the ones I ever get to teach.

Tonight was the first class for the MSW program and my first time to teach a graduate class at Ole Miss.  There are 12 students, and they are going through in a cohort, so they all know each other well.  I have had only one of them as a student, but have had contact with two of them in their former roles as field instructors or on our advisory board.  The class is practice with families and groups.  Tonight was primarily my getting to know them, their getting to know me, and going through the syllabus, discussing class expectations and projects and selecting groups for family and group work.  The size is perfect, the diversity of age and ethnicity and experience is a good mix, and I am really looking forward to this opportunity.  All of them work, have families, and a number of them also travel--though the distance is short compared to the 6 hours travel time I had in my graduate program. :)

Today was also a day to talk with colleagues, students, and others who stopped by, so it was a busy day as well as a long day.  As I talked about my experiences in San Pedro, it reminded me of the things I miss about there--like the warm weather (it snowed here yesterday and was 18 this morning) and the relaxed and laid-back atmosphere.  In the grad class tonight, I mentioned something about Belize and Dr. Shackelford and everyone began to laugh.  I said, "Oh, yeah, you all had her in the fall and know all about it."   Still it was fun to talk about San Pedro and St. Paul and South Africa in the terms of the class and my work.  I also have already talked to some students about going to the Belize May Intersession class that Dr. Shackelford will teach.

So, with that being said, on this cold winter night in Mississippi, I decided to revisit a few things and people in San Pedro, beginning with my plane ride from Belize City to San Pedro--it took longer to load the plane than it did to fly to San Pedro.

Once there and settled in our apartment, Kim "forced" me to go over to Wet Willy's to watch the Ole Miss-Tech game.  I am not that much of a football fan, but I still went and rooted for Ole Miss.  Here is proof we watched it, even though we were in Belize.  The bad part was their TV closed caption capacity was "going out" and there were white bars in half of the captions, so we never knew for sure exactly what the announcers were saying.  LOL
However, it was relatively easy to tell by the score and watching Ole Miss make touchdowns the general gist of the game. :)
Kim introduced me to the Belize national beer, Belikin.  I am not a beer drinker, but thought it was an important cultural experience to check out the "Maya pyramid beer."
Alas, the two weeks passed quickly and before we knew it, it was Thursday night and my last night there.  We went to My Secret Deli, as you know from earlier posts for the last supper.  Kim, though covered in rain and after a long hard day at the school, smiling and cheerful as ever.
Our new friend Ernesto, the most polite and considerate gentleman, ever willing to cart us around, eat spinach lasagna, and put up with my endless desire to eat at My Secret Deli.  
Hope you both are having a wonderful evening in Belize!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Christmas in January

My Christmas present was hanging on the wall when I got home from Belize.  I took this picture in the summer of 2007 on my visit to Dutch Harbor.  The ship was out in the bay waiting to go up to the North Slope.  (In fact, Randy and I both took a variety of pictures of it at different times of the day and night and from different angles. :)

Randy enlarged the photo and had it matted and framed, unbeknownst to me, for my Christmas present.   Now, I can visit Dutch Harbor every time I go into my living room.

Last Day in Belize--finishing up

This final Belize post is out of order as I did not have the photos when I was writing the last entry whilst waiting in the Houston airport for my flight to Memphis Friday evening.  These are from my day Thursday, before my adios dinner at My Secret Deli.

"Tinkerbell" was one of the many cats that came for breakfast and supper on our patio.  They were all adept at getting out of the rain whilst waiting for their meal.  It rained most of the last day there, so there were cats all over the patio, much to Kim's chagrin. :)  She is not really a cat person since she is allergic to them.
I went back to San Pedrito Thursday morning, but took a little detour down to the docks as I had not been there.  This is across the lagoon, but I have no idea what or exactly where those buildings are.
Could these be San Pedro's version of the Aleutian Island's crab cages?  They reminded me of seeing all the stacks and stacks of crab cages and pots when I was in St. Paul and Dutch Harbor.
San Pedrito across the lagoon.  
Jane has docked her boat a long way from Dutch Harbor, Unalaska.  I fear for her long journey home across several oceans.
I went to pick up Kim Thursday as it was pouring rain when school let out.  This is my final view of San Mateo, across from the Holy Cross school.
Behind Ms. Rosalie's kitchen at the school, where the day's kitchen laundry was no drier than when she hung it, due to all the rain that day.  Ms. Rosalie does an incredible job of feeding over 500 children twice a day, not to mention the staff and volunteers.  She washes all those dishes by hand.  Her flan and bread pudding are the best ever, and I loved her staples: fish, rice and beans, and stewed chicken.
School is out and the children began to walk home across the plank bridges of San Mateo.  The only way one can access those houses is on foot, or by bicycle.

So, now that I am back in Taylor, Mississippi, the island off the Belize mainland seems almost a distant memory, rather like when I left St. Paul Island after 5 weeks out there last summer.  I find that South Africa has been much on my mind since coming home for reasons I cannot yet fathom.

I have been sick since arriving home, and have spent most of my time in bed or on the couch, other than doing two loads of laundry and cleaning the kitchen.  My diet since arriving has consisted of chicken soup and Sprite, though I was able to eat oatmeal this morning and am about to have a cup of tea.  However, the sun is shining and the sky is blue here today, and it is warming up to the mid-50s, so I am feeling better not only in body, but in spirit.

I am about to start a new semester on Wednesday, and will be teaching a graduate class on family and group, in addition to my regular undergraduate groups class.  I have no idea what the semester will bring, of course, but I know it will be the usual experience: some good, some not so good, but with opportunities cleverly disguised as problems.  

My travel plans are pretty much done for the year except for the trip to Natchez in March for my last board meeting as treasurer of NASW/MS and where I will be presenting an advanced workshop on using experiential group work.  I will be beginning a community project in Sardis, MS, and also beginning a new research project that will take me to other Mississippi areas and meeting new people and new communities.

I hope you will check in now and then and see what new Mississippi place I have discovered in the course of the coming semester.  In the meantime, here is wishing all of you a happy new year, a wonderful and productive Martin Luther King day tomorrow, and joining with you in the hopes of a nation as we see Barack Obama become the next President of the United States.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Goodbye to Negro, his family, and Belize

Last night I went to my favorite place, My Secret Deli, a small little cafe operated by a family, and the home of the dog I came to love, Negro (pronounced nay-grow, as Spanish for black).  I asked if I could take a picture of the family and Negro.  I only had my iPhone, so they are not all that good, but I wanted to take them home with me.  They work breakfast and lunch, take a short siesta mid-afternoon, and then open again for dinner until 9.  I love their tortillas, and think they are the best on the island.
This is Negro and he is 10 months old.  He is the sweetest puppy, and let me pet him and began to recognize me.  He is well trained already, and is bi-lingual. :)

This is fresh blended watermelon, and was absolutely delicious.  It was the perfect compliment to the beans, tortillas, and stewed chicken.
Negro in his spot.  Unless he is called, he stays in the little breezeway by the side door.  Adios, Negro.  You were a good friend while I was in Belize and I will miss you.  I hope you enjoy my goodbye present to you that your familia was kind enough to let me give to you.  

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Global South: My introduction to San Pedrito

Today is the last day of my time  here; I fly out in the morning.  I thought I needed to make good use of today as by being sick Monday and Tuesday, I lost much time.  I was able to see quite a bit yesterday, and talk to people, but wanted to follow up in San Pedrito today.

Fortunately for me, I am not a sun worshipper any more, so it has been fine that it has been raining and cool.  I stopped by the station to air my two rear tires that keep going low.  I will have to fill the tank again before I turn in the cart this afternoon--or they charge you double!  After filling the tires, I headed back to San Pedrito, with intentions of taking some pictures to help illustrate the situation there.

I found I simply could not take out my camera and do so.  While there were many houses where it did not look like anyone was home, or at least not outside, there was much activity in the neighborhood.  Children were walking to and from school, women washing clothes on the porch and hanging them out, even though it was raining, and at one house, women washing dishes on the porch--under the faucet.

The community is dotted with little stores and the occasional tortilleria, but I did not see any bars there.  There is a pre-school "Brighter Tomorrows" and a church.  Houses are up on stilts due to the water that collects--particularly after heavy rains like the last few days.  It is near the lagoon, and many houses back up to the lagoon on both sides.  The houses vary from some that are fairly nice and made of concrete and painted, to those that are nothing more than plywood and tin pieced together, with only wooden jalousie windows or shutters.  While the smell is not as bad as in San Mateo, it was not altogether pleasant in many areas.  The streets are sand and thus filled with many large holes after a rain like this.  It is difficult for people walking to maneuver the streets.  I passed by Cynthia's home--the woman I gave a ride to last night who works with Marlin.  I thought of her walking an hour to work in the rain this morning, and it would have still been dark.

When I have gone to South Africa, I have always taken my pictures either from a distance or with people's permission.  I am very mindful of how it must feel to constantly have "tourists" coming into your community to see your poverty.  I have been the same here--I cannot just take pictures of people unless it from a distance and they are no identifiable among all the other people and it is just a "street shot" or if I have their permission.  As I drove through San Perdito--dodging potholes, careful not to splash water on people on bicycles or walking, I was struck by all the incongruity.  In the midst of all the inadequateness of much of the community, people smiled and spoke in response to my smiles and greetings.  People seemed to be happy, even washing dishes on a front porch under a faucet.  The two women were giggling and laughing as they worked.

It reminded me of the conversation last night with Butch and Marlin, and I was saying that in South Africa it is always the same: the people who have the least are the ones who are most generous to me, and kindest to me.  It is one of the ironies of life I think.  That is not to say that rich people are not generous or kind; I just find it often the case that the more one has, the less willing one is to share any of it with others.  I suppose that is a broad generalization that deserves a much deeper look, but it has simply been my experience when traveling in the "third world countries."

So, my primary purpose in coming here was to determine the ability to do a comparative study of child maltreatment in regards to St. Paul, Alaska, Cape Town area, South Africa, and San Pedro, Belize:  what common risk factors?  Resilience factors?  Interventions?  I have been able to do some of that, plus volunteered for 4 days at the school last week and a partial day this week.  I have talked to a variety of locals and gotten different perspectives on what is happening here, as well as its history.  With that sense of grounding, now I need to go do the literature reviews, what we used to call in the days prior to Internet "going to the stacks" as we looked at books and articles in libraries.  I still recall with great fondness many hours in the stacks during my research--there is something about it--pulling a book from the shelf and finding a quiet corner to open it, touch pages, make notes--that is simply pleasurable to me, in spite of the ability to access so much so rapidly with computer technology.

As I get ready to wind down and prepare to leave, I will say it has been an interesting addition to my education about a part of the world I did not know.  Whether it is to be in my future still remains to be seen.

And, as always, though the journey has been incredible, I am longing for home with a renewed appreciation for all the things I complain about when I am there and having to deal with them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Gordon Gecko has moved to Belize

After dropping Kim at the school yesterday, I decided to tour the north side of the island.  It is an astonishing array of new condos, more new condos, and then some new condos.  It seems impossible that a tiny island could need that many condos, but Butch says it is great for their business (those who cater to the tourists).

One new development is across from the school.  The school asked for the continued access for the children to walk from the toll bridge to the school building, but the developer denied it.  He wants to build a big fence that will shield the view of the school and the village of San Mateo from the eyes of the people who will buy those condos.  Without the access, the children have to walk up the edge of the "cut" from the ocean to the lagoon and across those wooden planks over the sewage water.  Ultimately, the local government ruled in behalf of the school and not only granted access, granted the land to the school.
The really interesting thing to me is right at the point where you walk in front of these new condos being built, it smells so absolutely horrid from the sewer water in the low lying area of the lagoons.  I asked Butch last night as I was giving him a ride home how they ever thought they would sell them.  He said they are already sold, based on the marketing.  Kind of interesting:  they will get here to their new condo where they have been told they can fish off the balcony, and it will reek of a sewer and they will be fishing from a sewer.
All along my drive, it was scene after scene of workmen building more condos--on the beach side and on the lagoon side.  Once you get away from the village, though, the lagoon is cleaner and can be quite pretty.

They use these palapa palms to support the concrete while it is drying.  It is quite bizarre to see a building with the total inside covered in palapa palms.

Further on up the beach back to AkBol to check and see if the keys Kim found in her purse were Marlin's.  I kept saying I had a memory of seeing them on the bar at his place.  Sure enough, they were his.  He said he had asked Kim to hold them for him as we were all driving home from there Saturday night and then forgot to ask for them.  He was quite happy to see them. :)

A palm root.

The lagoon area where they are building up the low lying land.  Building up the low lying land here means filling it with fronds, tree stumps, old wood, coconuts, along with whatever trash is available.
My dog friend.

A broken  piece of coral washed ashore.
I am just astounded at the plastics washing in from the ocean: cosmetic containers, bottles, caps, etc.  If this is one little beach, how much is out there somewhere?

Some of the flowers on my trip back to San Pedro.

And the final contrast: San Pedro life if you are not an ex-pat, a tourist, or wealthy.  This is on the beach next to some condos.  It kind of reminds me of something a friend of mine in Kayamundi, South Africa said to me once.  They had the most awesome view of the valley from the hillside out of town where the black South Africans were forced to live under apartheid.  He said it was the only good thing that came from apartheid for his people.

This family would have had an awesome view of the ocean and cool breezes all the time, unlike the still and hot areas within the town.
I have some more work to do today in the community.  I was out and about yesterday doing windshield surveys in San Pedrito, grounding my understanding of the community in community based work.  While the needs are many, the resources and strengths in that community are many as well.  I must get busy on this my last day of working here.

Last evening after I gave Cynthia a ride home, I discovered she lived in San Pedrito, so I told her about spending my afternoon there.  It was interesting to hear about her situation on the ride home.  Normally, she walks from there to her job, and it takes her an hour and she must be there by 7.  After being on her feet all day long, she walks the hour back home at 5.

Marlin and Butch came over and we cooked--Marlin showed me how to do the fish, and I made the capillini pomodoro and we enjoyed it very much, especially the camaraderie.  Kim finally made it back after we had eaten (but we saved her some) and then we sat on the patio for a while listening to it rain and enjoying the cool.

Tomorrow, I will go home and while this has been a good trip, I will be so happy to be home!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

South side of the island

I finally felt better this afternoon and after a Coca Cola, rented a golf cart to at least get out a bit.  It was cool and overcast, so a nice day for riding around.  It took about an hour to get the cart, so I now have it til 4 pm tomorrow.  I headed south of town as the last time I was out there, I did not have my camera since we initially went only to make a home visit.

This is the remains of the medical university, but they are in the process of tearing down the building as it has been closed for quite some while.

These were originally the quarters for the doctors in the medical school.  They have been renovated and are now part of a resort.
Bowling for sea gulls.
The tiny buildings to the right of the trees are the town of San Pedro.  That's how far south of town I was.  Mostly all that is out south is the new development of condos and resorts.
The gulls mistook the swimming pool for the ocean, and it was hilarious watching them skim it looking for food.  This guy settled in and took a bath in the pool.

I was at the Sandpiper, and decided to chance a margarita.  They make it here with fresh lime juice and tequila only, and just a tad of salt.  Now I thought for medicinal purposes that a little salt would be good for me, not to mention the fresh lime juice is supposed to be good for you.  Just in case I had any lingering bacteria, I thought the tequila would be helpful.  It was a most delicious margarita and I had no ill effects, so apparently I was correct in my medical assessment.

I tooled back to town on my cart, and by then all the laborers and other workers were getting off, so the roads were crowded with bicycles as well as carts and taxis and pedestrians.  No problem as I am now learning my way around quite well.  It was beginning to sprinkle just a little, but not much.  

Kim was just finishing loading some pictures onto her blog as she had been busy writing this afternoon while she was recuperating.  

I am about to go find something to eat and then try to get to bed early.  I think I want some nice bland fish as the capillini pomodoro still does not sound very good.  I am going to drop Kim at the school in the morning (assuming she will be able to go by then) and then head on to see the north side since we did not get very far on Saturday.  One thing for sure, I will NOT be eating salbutes at AkBul. :)  Angel (the guy who works here at the villa and is our go-to guy for everything) said he was pretty sure it would have been the salbutes, not the food at Estel's.  He said he totally trusts Estel's and after all, that was only huevos rancheros with fry jack.

Hopefully early to bed here tonight, and pray the dog decides to take a night off or else it starts to rain so he wants to be in his dog house!