Category Archives: Blog

1 step back and 2 steps forward

It’s almost the middle of December and my placement has taken a turn. Currently I am waiting for a change in work with the Ministry of Education in Belize. It didn’t work out with my previous placement, so now I am staying hopeful and patient for a better experience. The past month was challenging and leaving that placement was a necessary decision. I finally understand international development at work.

Nothing is ever certain with placements (especially for students) and we can try our hardest to stay positive and goal oriented, but I have also learned that some projects weren’t meant to continue. Not that the objectives of a project were bad or flawed, but there are so many small things that need to come into place for it to be successful. And if it means to end with a project from my part, it’s not a failure – it’s a new understanding of social, cultural and economic barriers.

It came to a point that I was mentally and physically exhausted with the job and so many obstacles at work were preventing me to push forward – in fact it was going backwards. I was in an environment that a volunteer could not continue. However, I have made few good Belizean friends during my time there.

From now until Christmas, I will be assisting other Cuso volunteers with their projects as well as volunteering my own time for a Catholic youth group. This month may go fast and with Christmas coming up, I am looking forward to reunite with my parents in Mexico!

To my family, friends, Cuso volunteers and wonderful people I had gone for support, I am thanking you with all my heart! These types of experiences are lessons with transitions that are all part of a greater and more important course in life.

Small Country with Big Imports

 I walk a distance of  4km to work and back almost every day. I decided to count how many soda drink ads I’d see going in one direction. I pass by 12 ads of Coca-Cola and 2 Sprite. These ads are either car size mural paintings, big white and red wording on small shops, or the image on a sign of a coca cola bottle falling to its side and spilling magically as it hangs to indicate a corner store.

Many tourists or volunteers I’ve met in Belize have repeatedly commented on Belize “it’s like America”. The culture shock you imagine to get in a country, here in Belize City, you are shocked because it’s an American fast food culture (but with no fast food franchises).  The concept of food in Belize is quantity with little quality of the food it consumes. Now you can argue that this is prevalent in many countries, and how can it not with the impact of our globalized food system. But for a small country of less than 400,000 people, it is flooded with imports and very dependent on them. As a small market, there is little control it can have on the quality it receives from their foreign producers.

I have met only one Belizean vegetarian, and it will be a while before I speak to another one. I asked his reason for choosing a vegetarian lifestyle, and his response was to the point. At first is was because of God and faith he made the change, but after some searching, he became aware of what is put in the food from farmers in Belize. The food imported isn’t any healthier, but Belizeans will eat it because they don’t explore other foods. Everyone has the right to choose what they eat (for those who can make that economic choice), but I do agree with the comment that exploring alternatives is key to Belize.

Belize has a window of opportunity to take hold of their food economy and re-orient their agriculture itself to be a country that can comfortably survive with less trade, less technology, and less distance (Wilk, 2006). And interestingly, there is a new market that is pushing for organic and healthy local food in rural areas. Communities are sharing ideas and are thinking of new ways to rely less on foreign products (including pesticides and chemicals). Living in the city, it is hard to see this sometimes, and one can be pessimistic to see these changes, however initiatives are slowly occurring. But are they too slow?

Reference: Fast Food/ Slow Food. (2006). The culture economy of the global food system. England, Lanham; Wilk Richard.

Glass half empty or half full?!

It has been a while since my last posting and I do regret my absence from my blog. It has been hectic this past month scrambling to find a thesis topic and write a proposal while working on a research that involves evaluating the Youth Apprenticeship Program in Belize. So as of lately I now have two researches and at least two cups of coffee a day (skimmed down on the sugar and found some organic beans!).

I have past my half way mark for my placement in Belize and I have gone through a spectrum of emotions. The opportunity to have practical experience  my undergraduate studies is a chance that many university students would definitely want – which makes me grateful- but it’s not always a peachy paradise. The first few months are exciting and everything is new, but when you fall into a daily routine that is the moment when I became nostalgic of my home.

As a single female in Belize, living simply (as in not practicing western consumerism) is brilliant! But other comforts, like being able to walk down the street without being daily objectified, is something I would appreciate more than ever. It’s not that walking around the City is miserable, but I cannot recall a time here in Belize City where street harassment has not occurred.

But as for my good experiences, I’ve had more of those than negative ones. Until now I’ve made a few good local friends; met very intellectual and bright young Belizeans; got soaked in tropical rainstorms walking home; discovered the real taste of fresh fruits, and my favorite one is sapodilla; shared much of my food with stray animals – also with Belizeans who beg for money from me (instead I offer to buy them something to eat) and last but not least, travelled the country north, south, east and west!

Now that I have returned to blogging after a short break, I will be sharing more of my stories that were not yet told and new ones to happen!

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Don’t Worry, Be A Tourist!

Living in Belize City for almost 3 month, my positionality to make a few observatory comments I believe is permitted and holds some adequacy. I would like to start off by sharing my remark on the tourist village in the city. A section of the city entirely cut off from local Belizeans (unless they work there) but all access granted to foreigners (congratulations to me). Oh yes, I had no problem slipping into the cold sore of Western consumerism that sits on the brink of a developing country, staring into the mouth of poverty. Through better words to describe what I mean, the village looks out onto the canal as it connects with the sea. A pictorial scene of the South side buildings – about 100 meters – sit parallel from it (great view by the way).

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The village is filled with cruise ship tourists and only operates when there is a scheduled ship (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in this season). They come in on grand polished ferries which dock and allow the tourists to waddle down the bridge into the village. Why do I sound like this village is the gateway of utter despair? Because that is how I felt! I was curious of what was in this secluded part of the city and I regret it.

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I stood in the middle of the main boardwalk and just stared at a sign saying “Welcome to Belize” as white foreigners glued to it posing with coconut drinks sprouting frilly straws in their hands, capturing their moment of being in Belize. I took pictures of them taking pictures of themselves because it was a circus for free to me. Truth, they were not even standing on the grounds of Belize, they were still in the free zone.

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I got bored quickly. I realized that it was nothing more than a shopping trip.  You are on a cruise ship (where there are shopping malls) then, you get off of to do more shopping on land. Wow, mind blowing. But wait, it’s different BECAUSE you can meet working Belizeans. The village is a mini replica of Belize and they even tried to replicate “street food” and “street vendors”, that was it, I had to leave.

Good news? There are tour guides to the city and the tourists had free will to go about the city. This also included other tourist destinations like Mayan archeological sites or go cave tubing. Many Belizeans see this village as “money coming into their country”, but don’t hold your breath to believe it “helps” alleviate poverty.

But how can I get frustrated with good folks enjoying their vacation? Doesn’t everyone deserve some R and R. I exited the village and walked down the street, scratch that, I actually had to dash because the women working as hair braiders were fixated to cornrow my head – terrible idea I told them. I managed to finally catch a bus back home from Albert St (main downtown street).

Afterwards, I realized while waiting for the bus that I was approached for money, at least three times more that day compared to previous days. I have promised myself not to head downtown when there is a big pretty boat floating on the horizon. I am not one of those tourists I tell you, but I do look like one.

Score: Capitalism = 1, Monika = 0.

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Happy Independence Day Belize!

This weekend was the 33rd year celebration of Independence Day in Belize. It was September 21st 1981 that Belize had gained their independence – before it was called British Honduras. A very young country with much potential for success in this globalized world. They welcomed the morning of the 21st with fireworks, concerts and lots of alcohol.

Both the prime minister and opposition leader gave speeches from the capital city, Belmopan, which was interesting to hear. Even during holidays and celebrations, politics don’t seem to give rest. Both speeches talked about the importance of patriotism while the other half of the speech included a lot of thrashing on Dean Barrow’s government from the opposition.

The most popular excitement that day however was the carnival in Orange Walk town – which I had the chance to go. This would be my 2nd carnival in Belize since I had already seen my first one in Belize City last weekend! I really enjoyed both in different ways. Belize City was probably a bigger parade with more steel drum performers while Orange Walk did more marching bands and you were able to stand next to the parade – almost being a part of it. In both carnivals I got my free beers since the trucks handed them out to anyone dancing.

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Belizeans love to party. As a single white female during this time of year I did not end up having any bad experiences. Crime rates did escalade – there were more shootings and murders, then in other months – and I was expecting it.

As my first celebration of carnival in the Caribbean and the Independence of Belize were a terrific one. Taking part of the celebration did give me a better sense of Belizean culture that now I feel a little bit more in tune living in the city and Belize.

Kick Off To Carnival!

J’ouvert is a contraction of Jour Ouvert (opening of the day in French). It is a street party that parades through the city dancing to calypso and Soca music – blasting from speakers on trucks-  from early dawn (4am) till just after sunrise (about 7am). And this year, in Belize City, I had that experience! And I thank my co-worker for taking me.

This festival is celebrated in many Caribbean countries, including Trinidad & Tobago, Aruba, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Lucia, Dominica and more. The origin of the party actually originated from slaves working on plantation who were freed and began to imitate their previous owners.

Last Saturday, I left just around 3:30 am and met up with my co-worker who took me not far where the parade began. There was a wreath ceremony and a minute of silence for a young man who lost his life 2 years ago during J’ouvert. When it began, hundreds of people were herded through the streets behind trucks that had either paint, mud or chocolate sprayed from. Oh yes, this party gets DIRTY and that is one of the best parts. But wait, isn’t a dancing stampede of humans dangerous? It is especially in Belize City where there are open sewages and potholes all around (but it didn’t stop anyone). I had a few quick getaways from being pulled down into the pits when people did tumble.

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For almost 2 hours of upbeat music and Belizeans whinnying and grinding all around me (I danced to myself since I lack the bodacious booty to shake with the songs) we reached BTL Park where it marked the end. There were flip flops all over the streets during the parade because people would just lose them. I’d totally do this again, and the Spanish coffee definitely helped.

Here is a video compilation I made of the party —> Jouvert Party

Source: http://www.jabjabjouvert.com/about.html

Let’s Get Festive!

September is the month!! Belizeans are holding their concerts, festivities and carnivals. It is actually one of the few countries to host events every weekend to celebrate their independence – which is on September 21st. And I am ready to party!

The first weekend that just past was a hit! There was so much going on I was only able to attend half of the events.

[Friday] there was the Belikin Bash – a party hosted by the Brewery of Belikin Beer (Belizean amazing beer) at Memorial Park, and Pan Yaad – a 3 hour concert of steel drumming by youth groups of all ages.
[Saturday] was the Expo (as well as Sunday) – a tent sale of different local businesses, and the Carnival King and Queen Contest.

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The other Cuso volunteers and I attended Pan Yaad. Since I  haveNEVER seen a steel drum concert I wanted to check it out. I adored seeing a group of 5-7 years olds playing “Ole Ole” (the soccer song). The event took place at the governor general’s place which is also known as the “Culture House” (a very historical building).

The set up was really nice and the crowd was at least over a thousand people. One of the more anticipated steel drum performances was from the group “Pandemonium”. This group was formed with the help of UNICEF, RESTOR Belize and the Government in order to draw youth away from street crime and into a collective where they can express their talents. They performed the hit song “Watch Out for This (Bumaye)” by Major Lazor and the audience loved it! A group of young people was dancing and singing, while children were jumping around.

Watch Out For This Video here! 

Performances no where close to the end. One group was from the Capital City of Belmopan, followed by the Belize City “Panthanters” – who came out in traditional Garifuna costumes and danced over to the stage. Both performances were sensational and at the end all 3 groups (including Pandemonium) went on stage and performed together! That night started at 8 and it kept on jamming till 1am. This was my first event here in Belize, and it was fantastic!

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The following day I went over to the Expo. I was so exhausted from Pan Yaad, I slept in and missed some of the morning. But I still made it there by 11am. There was a variety of food and drinks I went with my chicken beans and slaw along with this fancy drink (yummy orange juice).

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I shopped around for items that were unique or handmade and found a few good deals! There were a few booths that were belonged to awareness organization like diabetes, kidney foundation, safe driving and recycling (because Belizeans don’t recycle). In fact the recycling organization provided recycling bins around the Expo and had signs for bins to recycle plastic and aluminum. I went around with one of the staff and unfortunately, people aren’t in the habit or just don’t care. You could see food scraps and non-recyclable waste thrown in.

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A few more hours of cruising between the tents and my decision to go home came  when I realized I had no more money.

The weekend was a different experience from my usual travel and escaping the city to staying and taking part in local events.

This weekend coming up with be the Carnival! I will join the parading in the streets!