Sunday, July 31, 2011

Last blog

Dear friends and family,

Arrived at nearly midnight on Friday. Bobby picked me up from the airport and since it just happens to be so close to the dog track, Bobby thought that I should go get my poker fix. Honestly, really, honestly, I think on this one rare occassion when I had been traveling all day, I would have preferred just to be driven the short drive to Carlene's and crashed. But with no verbal objection from myself, Bobby and I went to the dog track and played poker until 3:15 am only to end up dead even. Or just maybe, plain dead. And I'm somewhat still on village time so of course, I woke up with the roosters crowing silently in my head the next morning.

After two days here, I'm trying to keep it simple... no car, no phone, hey, and no home YET! Carlene has graciously welcomed me into her home (as did so many of you) so I'm enjoying the AC, Mike's buttermilk biscuits from scratch, and that very special sisterhood and friendship that I've enjoyed with my buddy, Carlene for the last 23 years. Aubrey asked for help with the move of her wonderful boyfriend, Rob so I will rent a car and head to Gainesville in a couple days. I will be travelling to see my dear friends in Delaware (Sue Brown and Marianne) in nine days. I figure I can start resembling an American once I get back from that. Look for a job, get my old car back from Ashley that I gave to her in 2001 (that was already five years old and now has over 250k miles but still runs almost like a top), move back into my townhome on the 1st of September, and start buying everything I will need right down to silverware and dishes. But only what I need, not want. The 'wants' will have to wait.

I miss Belize and the people that I came to love. I miss my family in San Miguel that named their newest addition to the family, Aubriana, and call her Aubrey. I even miss the long, hot bus rides to get from one place to another...time to think, rest, pray. And, Roger, oh, how I miss him.

I had always wanted to serve in the Peace Corps and now I can check that off my 'bucket list'. Now I'm ready to move on, turn the page to the next chapter of my life. I vow to keep things much simpler, not get on the treadmill again, try not to use a credit card...embrace relationships, and take time for friends to do nothing much at all but be together. Don't know if these goals are attainable but I'm sure gonna try.

This will be my last blog. Thank you for sharing this experience with me, supporting my efforts from afar, and supporting my projects. I appreciate this more than you can imagine and am touched deeply within my heart.

God bless us, tracy

Happy Birthday to Carol Pahl-- TODAY!!!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Almost time to leave. I'm ready for air conditioning cuz these hot flashes are brutal!

I'm ready for a pedicure to disinfect, well, really, I need a bodicure. Think it would be best to soak in a bath of bleach.

The hair has GOT to go...has a filmy buildup of God knows what...needs a new start.

And I never even had the opportunity to say goodbye to my old arms and legs. One day, I woke up here and I thought they belonged to someone else. It was like wrinkled fabric that just hung with gravity.

I don't have a mirror but if I did, I'd choose not to look. Don't want to scare myself...cuz once I did and almost let out a cry. Who was that old lady in the mirror? Don't know...

I guess we all grow up some day.

I've enjoyed every year of my life. These last two years have been two of the best despite the outward appearance. I am so happy that I have lived out my 'dream' to serve in the Peace Corps.

Next dream might be the log cabin in the mountains or playing in the World Series of Poker.

I have so much to be grateful for and tops on that list is a beautiful family that has been exceptionally supportive while here. They don't see all the dirt, the wrinkles, and gray hair. I'm just their mom or their sister. I'm happy. I'm at peace.

God bless us, tracy

P.S. Happy Birthday to my wonderful brother, Skip on the 23rd!!

Monday, June 20, 2011

A huge cooperative effort

As I am approaching the end of my Peace Corps service, I find myself shifting gears and thinking of coming home. My home is Florida—where abundance abounds, the sun shines most every day, and most people have most everything they want. The sun shines plenty here in Belize, so much so that I look for every opportunity of shade. But abundance and plenty is not part of the life of the typical Belizean. There will be some reverse culture shock, I'm sure.

As most of you know, it has been a challenging but very rewarding experience. But if asked what were the most significant experiences, I think of three.

In January, 2010 when we had the meeting to first discuss the possibility of a playground, we had everyone in favor of the project but only one volunteered to do the manual labor from the entire village. Thirteen months later, there were over 28 villagers helping with the playground project with no mention of compensation. This sense of 'volunteerism' and 'community was not evident the year before.

Recently, I was talking to the former Village Chairman about my future plans to work at the clinic in Succotz and then on to home. He thanked me for my service here. But he also said that I had made the village a 'friendlier place'. WOW! That might not sound like much but I'm sure you have picked up on the nature of the Maya in previous blogs. And all of the PCVs in the health sector had agreed that my village was 'especially' Mayan. Every village has its own personality. Some are livelier than others. The village of Silver Creek just down the road sells beer and there are occassional parties. You won't find a beer in my village. San Miguel has to be one of the most stoic, serious, borderline-grumpy group of people. The village knows that and seems to be ok with that label. But I have noticed more greetings on the road, more smiles, and laughter at the playground. Subtle changes, but I think, quite nice.

The third is YOU!

First there was the flood of seeds pouring into the Peace Corps office when I wrote of the widowed mother of eight who was hopeful that she could now sell her produce to take care of her family. Then, you raised enough money to pay for the first year of high school for Marcelino (my first host family's mom's youngest brother). It was the first time that anyone in their family had gone past the sixth grade.

Then there were all the 'care' packages sent from home, mysterious deposits made in my personal bank account, many cards, books, letters of encouragement, and comments posted on this blog. Random acts that supported me and had me forge ahead when things looked pretty bleak.

Then you raised enough money for me to purchase the bottle of medicine to innoculate 25 dogs in the village. You may remember that three dogs came to my house the very first week I was there, only to die. Nearly all the dogs in the village were afflicted with mange and intestinal parasites. I did not hear of the demise of ANY dogs once we started the medication. The dogs looked better, I'm sure they felt much better, and villagers started taking some interest in the care for their dogs.

Two dentists back home sent over 200 toothbrushes EACH for my dental project in the village. And lets' not forget the clothes that many of you donated for Shadae's family so her mom could better support her family. And while I was home visiting, many of you donated games, a scuba mask for my host dad since he dives for fish in the river, and other gifts for me to bring back to my family and village friends here.

Then, the playground. Once the PCPP proposal was posted on the Peace Corps website describing our project, it took less than 6 weeks to raise the money. The average length of time for fundraising for these grants is upwards of three months. And this particular project was one of the more costly projects posted at the time. There were over 33 donors—family and friends—kind, generous, and caring. Aubrey's friends at the VA hospital in Gainesville decided to take on a separate swingset project up at the school. Now the children have a park AND a special play area at recess and before and after school.

And there were the three visits from my children and Katrin. All major shots in the arm.

With your help while I was here in Belize, WE were able to make a difference. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

God bless us all...tracy

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bloody Mess

I had met a dentist from El Salvador that was volunteering for several months at a health clinic in the village of Succotz (close to Benque). He was extremely excited at the prospect of a hygienist helping him out—to do prophylaxis and train the assistant there that did not speak any Spanish and he didn't speak any English. With my marginal Spanish, I would be able to help in many ways.

So when visiting in Benque, I have helped at the dental clinic.

None of the patients I have seen have EVER had their teeth cleaned before. Most of the people brush their teeth well so their hygiene is not all that bad. But years and years of tartar build-up take their toll as tenacious deposits cause severe periodontal disease with bone loss accompanied with bulbous and profusely bleeding gums.

In my 37 years as a hygienist, I have seen maybe 10 people over 45 years old that had never had their teeth cleaned. Back in the states, I had the benefit of an ultrasound device (like an electric, water-cooled scaler), sharp instruments, suction for all the blood and debris, and comfortable working conditions.

Not here.

It's the hot, dry season here. Temperatures in the shade have been over 110 degrees. And the 'dry' merely refers to the fact that it is not rainy season yet but it's extremely humid on top of the soaring temperatures. No one and no place has air conditioning. And without going into detail (because Katrin chastised me for 'TMI') the hormones are still 'kickin in' and hot flashes are a way of life.

From Roger's house, it's a four mile walk. I got a lift once. In any case, I arrive drenched and stay that way. I set up a portable dental chair that works rather nicely other than the hinge for the back support that gives way unannounced at least once during each person's 'session' leaving a fairly startled expression on their face despite my warning. I keep my knees under that portion of the chair to catch them from falling all the way to the floor and I've got the bruises to prove it.

People that want to be seen by the dentist arrive at 8 and wait outside under a tree. Then one of the three of us goes out and gathers names and puts them on a list. The patients tell us what they are here for...either an extraction, a filling, or a cleaning. Then they patiently wait their turn which could be into the late afternoon.

We have gloves and masks, prophy paste, and floss.

We don't have a dental lamp so we use headlamps (makes it even hotter.) There is no suction so the patients are instructed to spit all their blood and saliva into a 'community' trash can with a plastic liner. The dentist and I share the same tray so we have to take turns using the high and low speed handpieces. We don't have sharp instruments and no sharpening stones to sharpen those instruments. (I think I might do better with a kitchen fork).

Each patient is a major 'project' but there is no schedule. I can take all the time I need which is good as none of these people could be done within an hour. I have spent more than two hours on some and asked one to return another day to finish up.

The whole thing ends up a bloody mess as you might imagine. But these people are the tough Mayan variety who never complain, don't even flinch. On the contrary, when we are finished they are most grateful even though my sweat has been dripping out of my gloves onto their faces, the chair has 'dropped' twice, and they need a transfusion. There is no charge for this torture.

But their teeth are clean and they have been instructed how to care for them in the future so they might have a better chance of hanging onto them for a while. I also encourage them to get their teeth cleaned again if any other dental 'volunteers' come to the clinic, even if it's as soon as five or ten years down the road.

Roger had brought a sharpening tool from Nebraska that he had used on his tools back home. Works great on dental instruments. That, alone, has saved the day, and my hands.

God bless us, tracy

Friday, April 29, 2011

Little bag/BIG bag

I left Belize for my extended vacation in Florida with a small ´Wilson´soccer bag. In it, I packed one pair of shorts, one T-shirt, 6 pair of underpants, a bathroom sink, and a bedspread.

The trip was eventful visiting my two daughters and friends. Ashley, Aubrey, and Carlene treated me like royalty (it´s not JUST happening at Buckingham palace!!) I ate food that I had not had the opportunity to enjoy for quite some time, listened to music, watched TV, played in a poker tournament, played tennis and golf and even went to a movie with Ashley...things I greatly appreciated since I have done without. Almost heaven was a warm shower and a flushing toilet.

The time went much too quickly leaving me hungry to get back for more relaxed time with you.

I came back to Belize with an old suitcase of Aubrey´s filled to the brim with goodies for some friends in Belize. (The bag weighed over 75 lbs!!) My brother Skip, Kerry, Sue, Aubrey, Denise, and Chris all donated to the cause. This is sure to bring many smiles to many faces. Thank you.

I am so proud to be an American and part of a society so willing to help others less fortunate. I was happy lugging around that heavy bag :) :)

God bless us all...tracy

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter

He is risen!!

I have been reflecting on my blessings this beautiful Easter morning. Years pass ... the sad farewells to friends, grandparents, my mom and dad and step-dad, and Bob. But because of that mild, soft spoken, golden hearted man that died on that cross this day for us, WE will have everlasting life. We will be reunited with those we love.

I am home in Florida for a visit before heading back to Belize. I have spent some time in Gainesville with Aubrey and her friends from work. I visited for four days in Jupiter and had the gift of meeting with several friends for lunches and dinners...even had a chance to play some tennis and golf. I massaged a few friends on one of the days. Now I am in Vero Beach visiting Ashley.

I am sure it's not terribly interesting hearing all about what I have been up to since I have been here so I will spare you the details. I would just like to share with you a comment that Aubrey made as I was giving her my itinerary before I left her place. "Mom, you have GOT to have the nicest friends in the world. You are so lucky."

I truly am. And so are we ALL!!

Thank you God, for blessing us, tracy

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Better in Belize!

Life in the United States is wonderful. We have everything at our fingertips. We can't wish for more. We are instantly gratified with nearly all of our whims. Most work hard and have earned all that they have and most have jobs so they can afford all life's necessities and some luxuries.

But there are some things in Belize that I think are better than 'how we do it back home'. Let me explain: People have no worries about 'mixed-matched' clothing. A plaid skirt looks great with a floral blouse as long and both are clean are pressed.

Girlfriends of all ages enjoy walking hand-in-hand. I LOVE that! We impose so many taboos in the states. (So, Carlene, look out!!)

Breast feeding is natural ANYWHERE. I have to admit that it took a little getting used to as breasts are viewed so differently back home. But it is such a natural and healthy part of life. I can remember breast feeding my children and feeling like I always had to hide. One hears very little crying from the infants and toddlers in Belize. They don't learn to cry for things they want because their food was always there for them any time, any place... buses, shops, walking down the street and just yesterday in Punta Gorda I saw a baby strapped to her young mom riding a bicycle and nursing. In my village, babies are breast fed while their moms are washing clothes at the river or while she's doing the cooking or cleaning. It's just the way it is.

I can hitchhike here like I did back in the States back in the early 70's. I love that feeling of freedom, I feel totally safe, and it saves on bus fares. I've met lots of interesting people with interesting stories...a bit of reliving my teenage years. And if you don't catch a ride, there's always the bus that will come soon—within minutes to a couple hours.

The children are extremely well behaved in the classroom. The climate within the classroom is very conducive to learning. There are very few disciplinary problems. The teacher is given the respect that I feel they rightly deserve. Their assignments are generally complete and on time. And their work appears to be done with painstaking attention to neatness and accuracy. I won't necessarily take a stand in favor of the 'lashings' they receive if the teacher feels their behavior warrants but something is working. Maybe a little fear of the rod isn't such a bad thing?!?

When children brush their teeth, they brush for at LEAST five minutes. They wash their hands often and for the length of time that it takes to sing 'happy birthday' twice. When they have a 'fresh cold', they carry a cloth that serves as a hankerchief in the event they may sneeze or to cover when they cough. They have been taught this by various health care workers and in the schools. They are motivated to stay clean because of the severe health implications if they do not. Cleanliness is healthfulness. And there is no restorative dentistry. If a tooth hurts, it is extracted so they try hard to avoid dental problems. (I'm not saying that the lack of remedial healthcare is a good thing but I believe the emphasis on prevention is excellent.)

Most everyone you meet lives in a humble abode that we would call 'shacks' back home. But they are 'quality' people that live in those shacks--intelligent, clean and immaculate despite the exterior appearance, many speaking 3 or 4 languages fluently, and seemingly to me, possessing the most incredible 'sense' of family. The life is hard and the children are so busy doing their chores that they don't seem to have the time or desire to fight with their siblings. They are just surviving and happy to have a brother or sister (or many) that is/are healthy and alive. And that demonstration of brotherly and sisterly love is seen all over the countryside—from the beaches of Dangriga where the Garifuna have settled, to the northern communities of the Spanish Mestizo, to the streets of Belize City and the Kriol, and to the jungles and mountains of the Maya Mopan and K'ekchi.

Time—a double edged sword. When I first arrived in my village, I was extremely challenged by my American work ethic. And our American employers love that we have that ethic. And that ethic is perhaps why we are such an 'advanced' country. But before I left the States in August, 2009, I felt like a mouse on a treadmill. I was working for Dr. Gandhi doing my marketing/liasion work, working for Dr. Hart doing dental hygiene a couple days a week, and still doing massages after work. And I loved the schedule. And don't get me wrong, I still found time to play tennis with my buddies, go fishing, and play my pub poker and poker tournaments. Then I came to Belize and San Miguel and wondered what I was supposed to be doing??? It took TIME to figure out what to do with my time and eventually, I did and feel like I have accomplished a few good things in my village. Back at home, we make it an art to multi-task—I think Joann has her Ph.D. in multi-tasking. We cram so much into the day. I know that all too well. But I'm off the treadmill now and don't want to get back on ...Peace Corps has allowed me to do this. TIME is now my friend. When I come home from Peace Corps, I would like to take TIME to really get to know each one of my friends better—not glaze over the surface while involved in all kinds of other activity. I don't drink coffee but maybe I should learn how. And I'll plant a rose bush. I want TIME to build better relationships. Isn't that really the only thing that matters when we go to our grave?

I dearly want that time with you.

God bless us, tracy