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Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson #548338
02/23/21 06:39 AM
02/23/21 06:39 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,828
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Marty Offline OP

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Marty  Offline OP
When I first arrived in Belize City in August 1976 as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I was so overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, activity and odors coming from the streets that my perspective was distorted. That is, my consciousness was too cluttered with “background noise” to take in the whole scene. Of course, I eventually became accustomed to this environment and accepted it as normal; it was my new home. A couple of years after my Peace Corps service, I returned to Belize for a visit. It was only then that I became aware of how narrow the streets were and how close together the buildings stood. Albert Street was like Disneyland’s Main Street USA, deceptively but pleasingly small scale.

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In 1977, the Canadian Government made a $10,000 donation of SCUBA gear, including an air compressor and Nikonos camera, to the Belize Fisheries Unit. None of us at Fisheries, however, knew how to dive with tanks. We arranged for an instructor from the British Forces to teach us. The instructor first gave us a couple of lectures and dry land demonstrations. Then he put us in the Fort George swimming pool for a lesson. We ended the week by doing a dive to 20-30 feet just outside the reef near St George’s Caye.

The next week the instructor felt we were ready to safely do a deeper dive. We dove to 130 feet as a group, touched bottom and returned to the surface. After we got back in the boat and removed our facemasks, the instructor looked at Romie Badillo and said, “Who are you? I haven’t seen you before.”

Romie had missed all the lessons up to that point because he had been out from work sick with a bad cold. He knew that if he had told the instructor the truth, he would not be allowed to dive with us that day. He just kept quiet, put on the tanks, and got in the water with the rest of us undetected by the instructor. So, Romie’s first ever SCUBA dive was to 130 feet!

The photo shows some of the gear donated to Fisheries by the Canadian Government.

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Karl Villanueva
Just a funny story to share about Romie. In the 80's-90's he was the captain of the Fisheries boat and he and a small crew would monitor, patrol and manage Belizean waters. On a trip to Caye Caulker the crew settled in for the night to sleep on the boat. No beds, just find a spot on the cabin floor and goodnight Irene. On one particular night, Romie removed one crew member from the cabin and told him to sleep outside on the deck. Needless to say, the crew member complied. Found out when he slept his snoring sounded like an approaching ship. Romie was a great captain. The snorer was my beloved brother.

================

Here is another story from my Peace Corps days in Belize. This one is from December 1976. As always, some or all the names may or may not have been changed to protect the guilty. If you were involved in this event, feel free to add to the story or correct any errors.

David, Denton, and I took the Fisheries skiff south from Belize City about 20 miles to Rendezvous Caye. We also brought along Colin, the husband of one of the fisheries officers, who was doing a study of the flora and fauna of Sergeants Caye. The skiff was fitted out with two 25 horsepower Evinrude outboard motors. The purpose of the trip was to catch some fish for our upcoming Fisheries Unit staff Christmas party.

On the way to Rendezvous Caye, at 9:00 AM, we dropped Colin off on Sergeants Caye. We told Colin that we would pick him up about 4:00 PM on our way back to Belize City. Sergeants Caye is little more than a high and dry sandbar close to the barrier reef, only about 50 by 100 feet in size, with its highest point maybe two feet above sea level. There are no trees and no shade on Sergeants Caye.

We planned to spearfish over the patch reefs by Rendezvous Caye. A patch reef is an outcropping or mesa of coral and rock that that lies just below surface of the water. As we were passing Rendezvous Caye we noticed a couple of people on the island waving for us to stop. We put into the caye to see what they wanted. It was a fisherman with his family. The fisherman wanted a ride back to the city. We told him we would be back to pick him up about 3:00 PM.

We headed to the patch reefs and began fishing. We fished all morning, spearing hogfish, snappers and barracuda, and then took a break for our lunch of sliced bread and canned sardines. Because fishing was particularly good, we kept at it until almost 5:00 PM. We were then about 3 or 4 miles north of Rendezvous Caye. The sun was low on the horizon, and that made it difficult for us to see the patch reefs lurking just inches below the surface of the water. David stood on the bow of the skiff to direct Denton who was at the outboard steering the boat. About two miles north of Rendezvous Caye, with both motors at full throttle, we ran up onto a patch reef. None of us was hurt as a result of the impact, but the propeller on one of the outboards was bent and jammed. We continued to Rendezvous Caye on one motor. There, the fisherman worked for about an hour on the damaged propeller, but it could not be repaired.

The four of us, including the fisherman from Rendezvous Caye, set out in the dark with no lights and only one working motor, hoping to find Sergeants Caye about 10 miles away. The fisherman knew the waters better than we did, so he guided us along. It was a dark, moonless night, and the sea was dead calm. There was no horizon; it was not possible to distinguish the sea from the sky. “How would we ever find Sergeants Caye?” I wondered.

We felt sorry about leaving Colin on that sandbar for so long. We were sure that he would be sunburnt and swollen from battling sandflies and mosquitoes all day. Colin was a proper gentleman, understated and very British “stiff upper lip” by nature, but we knew he would be hopping mad at us when we finally rescued him. We expected and deserved a good cussing out from him.

About 8:00 PM the fisherman told us to stop the motor and listen. He turned his head slightly to the left and right, and then he pointed out something which he said was Sergeants Caye. None of us could see it. We restarted the motor, and the fisherman guided us slowly ahead. Then, when we were about 200 feet from it, we could barely see Sergeants Caye.

We shouted, “Colin, Colin, you okay?” There was no reply. We shouted again. No reply.

Finally, in a calm, English-accented voice we heard, “Who’s there?”

“Colin, da wi.”

“My, it's quite kind of you to stop by," Colin said. "I was about to become a bit distressed.”

Colin got in the skiff and did not say another word to us about leaving him stranded. In that moment he had become one of us, an honorary member of the Fisheries Unit. We all had a good laugh and then turned our attention to making our way back to Belize City safely.

The stars were beautiful in the black sky and were reflected just as brilliantly by the glass smooth surface of the water. There was a blue-green luminescence in our wake. We had torn a hole in the bottom of the skiff on the patch reef and had to bail out water the whole way. We got back to the Fisheries Laboratory about 10:00 PM. For us, it seemed like it was just another day at the office.

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Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #548567
03/03/21 06:41 AM
03/03/21 06:41 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,828
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Marty Offline OP

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Marty  Offline OP
It seems like every Fisheries trip turned into an adventure. The weekend trip of May 6-7, 1978, to Dangriga was no exception.

I woke up late Saturday morning and didn't have time to eat breakfast before going to work. When I got to the Fisheries Unit Laboratory, Mr. Miller asked me if I would go to Stann Creek. Belize Customs had confiscated a 25-foot sloop-rigged smack from some Hondurans fishing illegally in Belize waters. The sailboat was being temporarily anchored off Pelican Beach. So, Romie, Dwight, LeRoy and I took the Fisheries’ boat, Panulirus Argus, to Dangriga that morning to tow the Honduran sailboat to Belize City by that same afternoon.

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The sea was choppy, but we didn't have any trouble on the way to Pelican Beach. By the time we reached the sailboat, however, the seas had picked up so much that it would be nearly impossible to tow it back to Belize City that afternoon. We decided to head back to Belize without the sailboat and return for it on Monday. But as Romie was preparing the P.A. to get underway, one of the cables that controls the rudder broke. There was nothing else to do but spend the night in Dangriga and try to locate someone at the nearby Melinda Forest Station who might be able to help us fix the cable.

We had no money, no shoes and no street clothes because we had not planned on an overnight trip. That night we found Avington Lopez from Forestry who said he could repair the cable in the morning. We spent the night sleeping aboard the P.A.

ln the morning Avington fixed the cable, and since the sea was not quite as rough as the day before, we headed back to Belize City. The P.A. towed the sailboat, and behind the sailboat we towed our skiff. It was my job to sit at the tiller of the sailboat to keep it straight. But the seas picked up right away and became rougher than the previous day. It was difficult to hold the tiller straight against the surging waves, and my perch at the tiller was precarious and uncomfortable. The stern of the sailboat was little more than a flat deck without rails of any kind. It stood only about 12 inches out of the water, so each wave broke over the stern and onto me.

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About three hours out of Dangriga the combination of a crashing wave and the sudden jerk from the tightening of a momentary slack in the towline threw me right off the sailboat and into the sea.

I immediately yelled at Dwight who was on the bow of the sailboat. He heard me and then shouted for Romie who was in the pilothouse of the P.A. and unable to hear the shouting. We were going fast enough that I thought that if I grabbed at the towline to the skiff and missed or could not hold on, I might be hit by the skiff. So, I swam to the side and out of the way of the skiff.

Each time a wave lifted me up high enough to see, I could catch a glimpse of the P.A. moving farther and farther away. I hoped that sooner or later Romie would see that the sailboat was not towing straight and notice that I wasn't at the tiller. My real concern was that the sea was so choppy that they might not be able to spot me, and I'd have to swim the mile or so to shore (all mangrove) and battle the mosquitoes and sandflies.

Just when I thought I might have to start swimming to shore I saw the P.A. circle back. They passed alongside me, and Dwight threw me a line. I pulled myself aboard the sailboat, and we continued on our way. Dwight volunteered to take the tiller for a while, and I gladly let him. By the time we got back to Fisheries I had been over 40 hours with only one hamburger to eat. l was also pretty thirsty, having only drunk a couple of soft drinks and a glass of water. It was quite a trip. The sight I had from the stormy sea of the P.A. disappearing in the distance will be something that I will never forget.

Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #548689
03/09/21 01:09 PM
03/09/21 01:09 PM
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Marty Offline OP

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THE CIRCUS CAME TO TOWN

The Suarez Brothers Circus came to Belize City in February 1977 and pitched their Big Top where the Civic Center stands today. The road manager gave complimentary VIP tickets to Premier George Price. Some of those tickets were given back to the community, and I ended up with one. I had never been to a circus before, so I really did not know what to expect. It was a good show, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I don’t know whether the circus used to come to Belize every year, or whether it was always the Suarez Brothers Circus. Maybe someone will know.

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Comments...

Wilhelm T Henry
If i remember correctly, it was the only time. The biggest circus ever come to Belize was "Bell Bros." In the 60's. They set up in Edwards Park, (Rogers Stadium).They brought one of the biggest zoos Belize have ever seen. I remember they had polar bears in tanks of water, big black bears, camels etc.

Richard M Griffith
I recall a circus that came to town and they set up at Barracks, during the night, a rain and wind storm came and blew their tents down and some of the animals escaped...This was in the 60s. That was a Mexican circus named "American Circus"

Thomas Tate
I remember the Suarez brothers circus came to San Ignacio in late 1986 or early 1987.

Dawn Anderson
The circus came to Stann Creek ( now Dangriga) many times when I was growing up in the 1960’s . It was called Circus Modelo, if I remember right. It was such a thrill for us kids. The merry-go-round, Ferris wheel etc. use to come also but at different times. Both use to set up on the front field where the stadium is now. In those days, this is where we played football and cricket.

Neddy Urbina
I remember the 70s and the 80s brought the biggest Circus that were complete.The globo de la muerte was one that I will never forget.Scary yet thrilling.A few of these cyclist died in their line of duty.

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Alda Bevans
I remember walking to Barracks for circus...we went with school. Then there was a circus by the little park close to the Health center in Jihnsin street.

The circus arriving by train...

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Michelle Rivana Buckley
The circus used to come and set at the lot that became the Gilharry Bus Terminal in the early 70s. It was my first circus. The animals such as the lioness were tied to stumps that were placed on the lot and the they had basic chicken wires like a pen for the lions. They were not in cages. How I know was i would goal look at them in the lot then attend the show. The clown was scarier than that white lioness.
The Evangelical from Billy Graham would come and set up a large tent in the same lot.

Jennifer Arzu-Williams
Circus came in the same night of a Patra concert at civic. People chose circus so the concert was a flop. Mid 1990s.

Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #549472
04/13/21 11:11 AM
04/13/21 11:11 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty  Offline OP
Several weeks ago Albert Avila encouraged me to write about my Peace Corps experience in Belize in the 1970s. I was hesitant to do so because I cannot trust my memory to accurately describe events and activities of almost 45 years ago. Fortunately, I just came across more than 100 letters that I wrote home during that time. These letters, when taken chronologically, form a journal or diary of my daily experiences. Based on these letters, I will post a weekly recap of my Belize struggles, triumphs and misadventures. Some of these dispatches will be mundane, while others will be more interesting. I hope you enjoy this as much as I am enjoying reliving some of the best times of my life.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Journal Entry 1

August 5, 1976 / Howard Johnson’s Motor Lodge, Miami, Florida:

So far, this has been an interesting trip. Glenn [my brother] drove me to Ontario International Airport in time to catch Golden West Airlines to Los Angeles. My suitcase was checked through to Miami, and I carried my shoulder bag and typewriter. I was the only passenger on the 18-seat plane. We flew low enough that I could clearly see the features of the Pomona and San Gabriel valleys and the L.A. Basin. At LAX I struggled with my typewriter and shoulder bag to the National Airlines terminal. While waiting in line for my seat assignment, I stood next to a woman who was the Peace Corps Director for the Kingdom of Tonga. She was very pleasant and patiently answered my questions about being a new Peace Corps Volunteer.

I was upgraded to first class and was assigned a seat in the center two-seat section, so I couldn’t look out the window very well. However, I did see the sunrise at 3:13 a.m. Pacific time. It was quite impressive. First class was not that special; we were served the same meal as coach, except that we were provided white linen tablecloths and napkins. The plane stopped briefly in Tampa and finally arrived in Miami at about 8:15 a.m. (local time), a few minutes late. I only got about 20 minutes sleep—too excited.

While waiting at the airport for the shuttle ride to the Howard Johnson’s Hotel, I met Keith, a new Peace Corps Volunteer who was also heading to Belize. There were four of us new PCVs on the plane—three going to Belize and one to Guatemala. Keith, Mark, another PCV and I got a room together. Both Keith and Mark are agriculturalists and will be assigned to Punta Gorda and San Antonio in the south of Belize. They are both easy to get along with, as is everyone I’ve met so far.

We had a meeting at 3:00 p.m. that first day. It was an introductory exercise where everyone was encouraged to get to know each other. Most of the PCVs (about 30 of us—15 to Belize, 15 to Guatemala) are young (early 20s) except for two middle aged couples. We broke at 5:00 p.m. for dinner. Keith, Mark and I took the bus to a cafeteria. I had chicken and biscuits which was the first thing I’d had to eat since leaving home—too excited [nervous stomach] to eat before. Before the dinner break, we were all issued a government check for $65 which was to cover hotel bill, meals and incidentals while in Miami. My room is $18 for the two nights, which leaves me with $47 for meals. I don’t think I’ll be spending it all.

After dinner we reconvened in the meeting room at the hotel for medical orientation—more forms and a few words about getting shots the next day. We then got together with the country director, Reggie Ingram, for a few introductory remarks and an hour-long film on Belize. I was so tired I fell asleep during the film. What I saw of it, however, was interesting. We were dismissed at 9:00 p.m., but Mark, Keith and I stayed an extra half-hour to talk to Reggie. He’s a large African American, ex-military, raised in Brooklyn, and has only been assigned to Belize since April. He’s excited about the country and will gladly talk hours about it. I got to bed around 10:00 p.m. and slept well.

The next day we were up at 6:30 a.m., had breakfast at the hotel, then walked to the Federal Building for our shots. We got typhoid, smallpox, and yellow fever immunizations and were issued a World Health Organization booklet which we must have as proof of our immunizations to get into the country. (Can’t go swimming today or the smallpox vaccination won’t take.) We are to get more shots when we get to Belize.

At 11:00 a.m. today we will have a lecture on “Training Lifestyle.” Lunch at 12:00. I have an interview with Reggie at 4:30 p.m., and then there is a slide presentation at 7:00 p.m. This will be a slow day.

Tomorrow at 8:30 a.m. there will be a meeting regarding Peace Corps policy/forms/airline tickets/passports and an evaluation of the staging process. We leave for the airport at 12:00 noon and depart on TACA Airlines Flight 311 for Belize at 3:35 p.m.

Right now, I’ve got to go to the bank to cash my check.

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Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #549501
04/14/21 11:41 AM
04/14/21 11:41 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Offline OP

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Marty  Offline OP
Journal Entry 2

August 7, 1976 / Belize City, Belize:

I wrote my last journal entry just after getting my shots at the Federal Building in Miami. The only reaction I had from the shots was a sore left arm from the typhoid shot. Since then, quite a lot has happened. That night we met for a short time and were given forms for life insurance ($1.50 per month), personal articles insurance ($45/$1,000 per year), and we were given our passports to fill out, sign and return. I had the rest of the evening to myself.

I got up next morning, Friday, sticky from not having showered (not supposed to shower for 24 hours or the smallpox vaccination won’t take) and got my luggage (now minus the typewriter, which is on the Greyhound bus to the Claremont, CA, depot) down to the lobby. We boarded a bus at noon for the trip to the airport. We left on TACA Flight #311 at 3:30 p.m. Everyone was quite excited. The plane was a small fanjet with two seats on the left side of the aisle and three on the right. The flight lasted about two hours. I had an aisle seat on the right side so did not get to see much of the scenery. I did see Cuba, however, and Cozumel. We were given complimentary drinks and a sandwich which I forced down into my nervous stomach.

From about 1,000 feet in the air, the Belize River and landscape looked just like the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. Getting off the plane, I found the heat and humidity to be much worse than Miami, and certainly like nothing I had ever experienced in Southern California.

We were met at the Belize International Airport by the Peace Corps Training Director, Mr. Yorke, a Belizean; Peace Corps Administrative Assistant, Barbara Harris, a Belizean; and Russ, a PCV who just finished his two years and is staying on to help with our training. Our baggage was spot-checked, and three Peace Corps vehicles transported us the nine miles to the Peace Corps office on Cork Street in Belize City.

At the office we were given some reading material and spending money. I received BZ$37.50 (US$18.75) for myself for one week, and BZ$56 to give to my “host family” for one week. I was then dropped off at my host family’s house on Prince Street between Albert and Canal streets. It is a large, wooden, unpainted two-story house standing on posts that elevate it about seven feet off the ground. My host is Miss Pepitune. She has lived in Belize her entire life but is of Italian extraction. She is about 55 to 60 years old.

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Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #549504
04/14/21 04:53 PM
04/14/21 04:53 PM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,828
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Marty Offline OP

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Marty  Offline OP
Journal Entry 3

August 9th, 1976 / Belize City, Belize:

I have not written a word for two days because I have been experiencing what is commonly called “culture shock.” It manifests itself in a deep depression. I did not sleep at all Friday or Saturday night. Also, I could not eat anything. I was quite miserable for those two days. Sunday morning, I called Barbara Harris, the Peace Corps Administrative Assistant, to inform her of my condition. She drove by, picked me up and took me to her house where I visited with her husband and her father-in-law out on their veranda. They understood the problem and tried to console me. She said that “culture shock” is common and that it would pass with time. While at her house, Reggie (Peace Corps Director) stopped by to borrow a tub for cold drinks for a reception at his house that evening. Reggie invited me to go along with him while he did various errands. He took time to introduce me to three or four volunteers who encouraged me.

That evening I attended the reception that Reggie hosted for us new volunteers. I tried to mingle but was not in a party mood. It was a bit of a “stuffy” affair, and that was not what I really needed at the time.

I slept reasonably well that night for the first time, and I woke up in the morning feeling better. I ate a substantial breakfast and reported to the Peace Corps office at 8:15 a.m. to begin training. Later, I enjoyed lunch and ate a good dinner. Maybe I have suffered the last of the “culture shock.”

I am staying with a Miss Pepitune who runs a small boarding house on Prince Street. She is nice and was quite concerned while I was feeling so poorly. There are two other boarders here. One, Olivia, is a girl about 20 years old who is a secretary at the Coca Cola Company. She will be leaving in a month for Miami where she is to train as an airline stewardess for a new Belizean airline. The other boarder is a young man, Manuel, about 23 years old, who just graduated from law school in Jamaica. He graduated #1 in his class (I saw it in the newspapers) and is working in the public prosecutor’s office. He is a knowledgeable person and is interesting to talk to.

Today we had our first full day of training. We are holding our classes at a school, Belize Secondary School Number One [E.P. Yorke High School], out on Princess Margaret Drive, about three miles from where I am staying. Today’s agenda consisted of a brief lecture on training in general, personal interviews, an interesting lecture on the history of the Creole language, and two hours of Spanish language training. I did not learn much from the interview—I still do not know where I will be serving in Belize. Colville Young, PhD, spoke about the history of the Creole language. Creole is the one language all people of Belize speak. We have two Spanish instructors—one for those with some Spanish ability (some volunteers can speak it quite well) and one for the rest of us with little or no knowledge of the language. I was placed in the latter group. The instruction is strictly conversational and quite frustrating for some. I did okay. Training was over for the day at 4:00 p.m. I was driven home and ate dinner about 5:30 p.m.

I was shocked at what I saw when I first arrived in Belize City. I had never seen such apparent squalor. Neighborhoods consist of mostly ramshackle, unpainted, wooden houses and shops that stand right on the edge of the street with virtually no setback or front yard. The house where I am staying (Miss Pepitune’s) is better than average and is quite clean and tidy on the inside. We are experiencing an extremely hot spell, and even the locals are complaining. My bedroom is a six by eight-foot cell with one small window. No breeze blows through the house, and it is quite uncomfortable at night. Most of the new PCVs were placed in homes in pairs. I, however, am the lone PCV in my home. I am sure it is harder for me that way.

The pace of life is quite slow here, and I think it will take me a while to adjust. Today I experienced my first bout of diarrhea. I do not know if Miss Pepitune boils her water, as Peace Corps insists, and I do not want to ask her. The male volunteers are basically a good group of regular guys. Some of the women, however, especially when compared to the local young women who tend to fix themselves up nicely, seem to be a bit plain—Earth Mother types. Manuel has told me that he has also observed that.

I am listening now to Radio Belize. It is a medium wave station, about 80 KHz. It is fairly entertaining—some U.S. music. There are forty thousand people in this city. Although that is not a large number, they are packed together quite closely. So, with only 40,000 people, Belize City, the cultural and commercial hub of the country, has all the problems of a much larger city. Many Peace Corps Volunteers eat at Mom’s Restaurant. It serves hamburgers! Nights do not cool off. We are in the dry season. We have electricity and cold water that runs intermittently. When there is not adequate water pressure, we manually pump the water into a barrel on the roof, and it flows through the pipes by gravity. Nobody, however, completely fills the barrel, so timing a shower is vital. There are many barking dogs in the neighborhood and roosters that crow at 5:00 a.m.

[Photo is of Hydes Lane, not Prince Street, but you get the idea.]

[Linked Image]

Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #549549
04/16/21 05:30 AM
04/16/21 05:30 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty  Offline OP
Journal Entry 4

August 10, 1976 / Belize City, Belize:

Training has started in earnest. We report each day to Junior Secondary School #1 at 8:15 a.m. and remain until 4:30-5:00 in the afternoon. Experts on various topics come to lecture to us. Today we were lectured on the demographics of Belize by Leo Bradley, the city librarian and local expert on Belizean history. Tom Tracy, an officer at the U.S. Consulate, spoke, as did Dr. Lizama, a local medical doctor who has been the Peace Corps physician in Belize for several years. Also, we had two hours of Spanish language instruction.

There are four major ethnic groups in Belize: Creole (51%), Mestizo (22%), Maya (13%), and Garinagu (7%.) There are also Chinese, East Indians and Mennonites in the country. Belize City is predominantly Creole, descendants of enslaved Africans and European settlers. There seem to be no racial barriers in Belize.

The American Consular officer, Tom Furey, spoke about how Belize is losing its young men to the U.S. Many Belizeans enter the U.S. either of two ways: (1) they travel up through Mexico and cross into the U.S. at the San Ysidro-Tijuana border. These Belizeans tend to be Black, speak “Americanized” English and are often mistaken by border guards as U.S. citizens and allowed to enter; and (2) they receive tourist visas to the U.S. and just never return. So many Belizeans are illegally entering the U.S., in fact, that even with a high birth rate, the population of Belize has decreased since 1971. Over $1,000,000 annually is sent to Belize by relatives in the U.S.

Dr. Lizama spoke briefly on tropical diseases and Peace Corps medical procedures. He also gave each of us a tuberculin skin test. Still to come, within the next couple of weeks, are shots for tetanus, polio, rabies, and infectious hepatitis (gamma globulin.) Upon swearing in at the end of training we will be issued a medical kit (malaria tablets, insect repellent, vitamins, water purifier, etc.) No matter where in the country a PCV is stationed, he must come to Belize City every four months to check in with Dr. Lizama.

Spanish lessons continue as usual. Of the non-Spanish speakers, I seem to be one of the better students. I guess growing up in Southern California gives me a slight advantage. Peace Corps still has not indicated, but I believe I will probably be stationed in Orange Walk. Next week I will begin to teach summer school. It is a 2-week session, and I think I will be teaching math—don’t know at what level. That is just rumor.

We had our first rain today, a storm lasting about 15 minutes. It was quite forceful, however. Miss Pepitune’s cooking is quite plain, but nutritious. One PCV couple, William and Isabella, aged about 50, formerly of England, and terribly British, have complained quite adamantly about the meals their host serves—nothing but rice and beans, and the instant tea is “bloody awful.” This couple had previously spent two years as PCVs in Kenya. There is one other couple among us, Einar and Debbie, about 27, from Michigan. Also in our group are volunteers from Dallas, Lubbock, Michigan, Long Beach, CA, Minnesota, and Claremont CA.

Tonight, we saw a film about the barrier reef and cayes. This Sunday I think I will have a chance to go out to Goff’s Caye. Two PCVs, Keith and Roger, are staying with a family that has access to a small caye and have already been out to it. Their host family is planning a weekend out there this weekend. They are quite lucky.

I believe I have weathered the storm of my first experience with culture shock. I feel much better and have even grown to like it here. I guess there is no way to prepare one for the experience of being transported from the wealth and excesses of Southern California to the rough conditions of Belize City.

Many Belizean houses have behind it a huge wooden cask [vat] which catches the rain runoff from the corrugated zinc roof. This water is used instead of pipe water during the rainy season. Dr. Lizama explained that any bird droppings or other organic matter that might be on the roof will be well-sterilized by the tropical sun, so the rainwater collected off the roof is clean to drink.

A branch of the Belize River, Haulover Creek, runs through the middle of town. Two Bridges, one on the west edge of town and one right downtown, span it. These bridges swing twice a day. At about 10:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. the bridges rotate 90 degrees to allow boats to pass. This backs up traffic for about a half hour. It is not uncommon for one or the other bridge to jam causing a long delay. Occasionally both bridges will jam. When that happens, it is impossible to cross the river—you think of something else to do.

[Linked Image]
[Photo of Swing Bridge approached from the Southside, 1977. Also Old Paslow building]

Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #549552
04/16/21 07:06 AM
04/16/21 07:06 AM
Joined: May 2000
Posts: 7,018
San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye...
Amanda Syme Offline

.
Amanda Syme  Offline
I am thoroughly enjoying this series - I hope it has many more chapters.

Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #549636
04/20/21 11:58 AM
04/20/21 11:58 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,828
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

.
Marty  Offline OP
Journal Entry 5

August 18, 1976 / Belize City, Belize:

There have been some recent developments here which have kept me quite busy and somewhat unsure of the future. As things stand now, however, it looks like I will be working as a biologist at the Fisheries Unit Laboratory in Belize City, instead of teaching. I am quite excited about this. I will be working under another PCV, Howard, who has a master’s degree in marine biology. I am going over to Howard’s tonight to find out more about the job. I will be going out to sea 1-2 times a week to collect data and specimens. It will also involve some laboratory work. I came down here partly to get some teaching experience, but I believe a chance to apply my background in biology may prove to be just as valuable.

It is now 5:15 p.m. and I’m sitting on the veranda, sweating like mad. Dinner will be served in about 15 minutes. Miss “Pep” is not an exceptionally good cook. She cooks quite American, possibly to accommodate me, and quite plain. However, the meals are well-balanced, if not tasty.

I just came from seeing Dr. Lizama who treated my ear infection. Ear infections, I am told, are quite common to new PCVs down here. Dr. Lizama seems to be quite competent. He received his training at the University of the West Indies and really knows tropical medicine. The ear had been bothering me the past 3 days—pain and dizziness.

Tomorrow, I report for the first time to Fisheries. I must be there by 8:00 a.m. Russ, the Peace Corps training assistant, drives around town in the mornings giving rides to us trainees, so I expect he will give me a ride the three miles out there.

I had last Sunday off, so I went to the boxing matches. They were held on Bird’s Isle, a small man-made island connected to Belize City by a hundred-yard, wooden walkway over the water. The venue is open-air and serves as a sports arena, convention center, discotheque, etc. The fights started at 11:00 a.m. and the preliminary bouts were all amateur. One fighter was to have gone to Montreal for the Olympics, but the Belize Government decided at the last minute not to send any boxers. The main event was a professional bout featuring a local fighter, Fitzroy Giuseppe, against a Salvadoran. Giuseppe is rated as the Number 3 Lightweight in the British Commonwealth and is very good. Giuseppe knocked out the Salvadoran in the fourth round. It was quite a colorful event.

I had taken my laundry to be done (BZ$1.50 for 8 lbs.) and stopped by today to pick it up on my way home, only to learn that on Wednesdays shops and businesses close for the day at noon.

Tomorrow, we trainees are invited to American Consular officer Tom Furey’s home for lunch. His wife, Dorothy, is a PCV he met here last year.

The following are the trainees I came down with: (1) Keith, cooperative officer, from Long Beach, CA; (2) Roger, math teacher, will be teaching here in Belize City; (3) Tom, chemistry teacher, from Claremont, CA, will be going to Dangriga; (4) Lon, entomologist, from Lubbock, Texas, will be in Central Farm near San Ignacio; (5&6) Debbie and Einar, young couple from Michigan, she is to be a science lecturer at the Teachers Training College, he will be supervising student teachers there; (7) Nancy, biology teacher; (Beverly, from Minnesota, will be in Orange Walk District; (9) Judy, nurse, from Montana, will be in Belize City; (10) Jackie, from Kansas City, Missouri, biology teacher assigned to Junior Secondary School Number One in Belize City; (11&12) Leonard and Frances, an older couple from 70 miles north of Dallas, Texas, he is an electrician, she is still unplaced; (13&14) William and Isabella, middle aged couple formerly of Great Britain, they previously served two years as PCVs in Kenya and are amazed at how undeveloped Belize is.

[Linked Image]

Journal Entry 6

August 20, 1976 / Belize City, Belize:

The first week of training consisted of lectures on various aspects of the country. The second and third weeks are to be spent on prospective job sites. So, this week and next I’ll be at the Fisheries Unit Laboratory. I’m at Fisheries from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., so will have to discontinue Spanish lessons until this fall. The fourth week of training will be much like the first, with all of us meeting together at Belize Junior Secondary School Number One for lectures, etc.

The work at the Fisheries Unit sounds interesting. Most of the research currently is on conch. Conch export is big business here in Belize; however, conch catches have been in decline the past 3 to 4 years. Not much is known about conch, so Fisheries is engaged in studies to try to determine why the conch catch has slowed down. I was to have gone out to the reef with Howard today, but my infected ear had not yet healed completely.

There appears to be a housing shortage in Belize City, so it may be hard to find a flat to rent. There are eleven of us new PCVs who are going to stay in Belize City. Probably Roger and I will try to find a place together. We can afford about BZ$70 apiece per month for rent. My Peace Corps pay [allowance] will be BZ$300 a month. Prices here for certain goods (imports) are about the same, or higher, than in the U.S. The cheapest bar of soap I could find was BZ$0.50. A hamburger is a dollar-fifty. Although prices are about the same as in the U.S., the average Belizean earns about BZ$950 annually. So, you can see his purchasing power is limited. Relatively speaking then, the purchase of a bar of soap is like making a $5 purchase in the U.S. Whenever two or more PCVs get together, especially if one of them has been in the country for some time, the conversation eventually gets around to money and how far can you stretch BZ$300. Today is payday. Once again, I managed to save BZ$10. That means for the last week I spent $28 on lunches, laundry, sodas and a bar of soap and the boxing matches.

Einar, Debbie and Roger just stopped by to let me know I was welcome to go along with them after dinner to a movie. I hope I can get up to one of the smaller towns this weekend. The Peace Corps will reimburse me for traveling expenses during training. I had a leisurely lunch (no such thing as quick service here) today at Mom’s Restaurant, and I had the time to people watch. I have never seen such a diverse mixture of people in one place at one time. Mom’s attracts tourists, mostly European young people with backpacks, PCVs, as well as locals.

I think I’m starting to adjust to this country. Yesterday, Tom Furey, American Consular officer, and his wife, Dorothy, a PCV, had us trainees over for lunch. It was nice—and air conditioned. We had ham sandwiches, deviled eggs, fruit salad—a nice break from Mom’s Restaurant. Not much American News down here. Did hear that Gerald Ford won the Republican nomination. Rumor has it that a Senator Dole from Kansas is his running mate. I’ll have to get a Time Magazine next week. It seems like everyone in Belize City has a radio and plays it loud 24 hours a day. I understand that to receive Armed Forces Radio, Voice of America, etc., it requires quite a good multi-band radio. I just had dinner and was served breadfruit and plantains for the first time. Neither one was terrific. I had quite a spell of diarrhea this morning. I think it was the panadas—shark and beans wrapped in fried masa—sold out of a bucket by someone pedaling around on a bicycle.

September 10th is the big national holiday. Both political parties try to outdo each other. Last year the opposition party put on the better festivities, so this year the PUP has vowed to have a celebration to end all celebrations. The bands are already practicing marching in the streets.

It is now 6:00 p.m. and just starting to cool off. In fact, it’s rather pleasant here in the evenings. I’ll just sit here awhile watching the lizards scurrying on the veranda.

[Linked Image]

Re: Long ago Peace Corps Days, by Alan Jackson [Re: Marty] #549662
04/21/21 12:22 PM
04/21/21 12:22 PM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 79,828
oregon, spr
Marty Offline OP

.
Marty  Offline OP
Journal Entry 7

August 25, 1976 / Belize City, Belize:

I’ve been busy for the past two weeks from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday. It will be my job at Fisheries to take a survey of commercially important finfish found off the coast of Belize inside the barrier reef. This has never been done before, and my work will probably be published for distribution. I am excited about the new assignment. What I’ll be doing, essentially, is spearing fish, mostly groupers, snappers and jacks, and measuring their length, weight, gut length, gut contents, and record where it was taken. I will also be tagging live fish and hope to record growth and migration. There are presently seven of us at Fisheries: Mr. Winston Miller, Administrator; Silvano, fisheries biologist; Denton, technician; David, naturalist; and Romie, boat captain. Howard is a PCV assigned there, and he is helping me get started with my project.

On Monday we went out to Ambergris Caye and to the reef to collect and tag conch. That was my first chance to do any diving. It was quite interesting as well as exciting. The reef is more spectacular than any Jacques Cousteau film. I had some trouble getting used to water entering my facemask. I saw hundreds of colorful fish, corals of all kinds, lobster and conch. I also saw what Howard told me was about as big a barracuda as I will see. It was about 5 foot and rather menacing looking. I understand there are some sharks, but I didn’t see any.

Life at the Fisheries Unit so far is a lot of fun. Of course, all the Belizeans speak Creole. When they see a blank look on my face, they speak a little less broadly. The sooner I learn Creole, the better. The work ethic here is a little different from the States, and we seem to be easily sidetracked from the work at hand. For example, a trip into town to buy me a facemask, snorkel and fins, which should have taken about half an hour, lasted two and a half hours after stopping to visit friends, price used cars, get some ice cream, etc.

Next week Fisheries must put up an exhibit for the Grand Market Festival at the Teacher’s College, so the next few days will be geared toward that. Tomorrow we will go out to the reef to collect fish, sand and seawater for an aquarium display. Then we will go out West to collect freshwater fish.

I hope to get out to sea at least once a week. The rest of the week will be spent reading and doing paperwork. We have one large boat, the Panulirus Argus, a 40-footer and presently inoperable; however, it should be running within the week. We also have two 18-foot skiffs. They are made of solid mahogany and are quite sturdy. We have five outboard engines of which maybe two work on any given day. Fisheries has an adequate budget, and money doesn’t seem to be a problem; however, finding replacement parts and a good mechanic is a problem. We hope to eventually get both skiffs in operation as well as the Panulirus Argus.

This is my third week of training. The first week consisted of lectures, etc., on Peace Corps and Belize. The second and third weeks were jobsite orientation. Next week all of us new volunteers will get together for a final week of lectures and discussion. Swearing-in will follow that.

Last weekend I went to Orange Walk and Corozal towns. There are just two PCVs in Orange Walk: Stan, a 65-year-old man who supervises student teachers; and Eric, an agronomist. Both were glad to have some company. One from our group, Nancy, is to be assigned to Orange Walk as a biology teacher. Eleven from our group will be staying in Belize City. This is creating a problem for Peace Corps to find housing for all of us. Roger and I are still looking for a place.

There is a party tonight at Stan’s, a PCV here in Belize City. It started as just a small get-together for a few of us new volunteers, but word spread and all volunteers in the city will be there. Our group is very compatible and has inspired veteran volunteers to want to get together more often.

The hot spell has subsided, but it is still very warm here, and quite humid. Everyone is getting ready to celebrate National Day on September 10th. Rumor has it that Belize will announce its independence that day. If it does, it should be quite exciting—although possibly the end of Peace Corps in Belize.

[Bluestriped grunt (Photo: Alan Jackson, 1977)]

[Linked Image]

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