Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Spoke Wound

Some words are simply untranslatable. Is that even a word? Untranslatable because the original word is so embedded in a certain context or culture that a literal translation would completely lose its meaning. The Dutch word 'spaakwond' is one of those, and to be honest, I'd never heard of it myself until 5 days ago. Literally it would be 'spoke wound'. Does that mean anything to you native English speakers?

A few days ago I went to visit my mom and dad in my home town Dongen in the south of Holland. Leaving our rental car in Belgium so my husband could easily go to the hospital every day, I took the train with my all-excited daughter Soleine. The total distance  of 165 km, or just over 100 miles took me almost as long as the flight from Belize to Germany, but anyhow, after eight hours I was happy to see my brother at the train station.
He lends me a bicycle to get around in Dongen. It's an 'Omafiets' (literally: Granny bike), in English also referred to as a European City Bike, designed for mothers to take at least two children and three bags full of groceries. Like all children in Holland I grew up riding a bicycle daily, and although I have not biked in years, I get back my pedaling rhythm immediately. Soleine can not yet ride, which is actually a bit shameful for a 5-year old Dutch girl. The awful state of the roads in Belmopan is my only excuse for not teaching her properly.

Last Friday she hopped on the back of my bike and off we went. We've done it before, as have millions of mothers before me. But that bloody Friday it all went wrong. Soleine's left foot gets stuck in the back wheel, and it takes me a few seconds to realize what's going on when she starts squealing. Blood seeps through her sock and as I take a peek I nearly puke. Something white and rubbery is sticking out of her heel, and I realize  it's serious. I feel terrible. Luckily, we are just near my mothers retirement home which has a Family Practice right next to it. The doctor can see us immediately. 'A spoke wound', he says (or spoke - ha ha), 'very common', and he knows exactly what to do. He checks the Achilles tendon, which turns out to be damaged but not ripped, and we have x-rays to ensure that the calcanues, or heel bone, has no fractures. He sews the wound with five big black stitches, prescribes some prophylactic antibiotics and reassures me that this happens very often in the Netherlands and that it's not my fault (...). Well, it doesn't  feel that way but I know what to do now. As soon as she can walk again I will have to teach her how to ride a bike, for safety reasons and to keep her healthy. Because bicycling makes my country one of the most healthy ones in the world.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

And Suddenly...

...we're in the cold. It's hard to believe but we just traveled 20 hours to be plummeted back from 32 to 2°C. Two days ago we were swimming in the Macal River, it was at the same spot where just a week before more than 80 canoes passed on for La Ruta Maya River Challenge, the four-days, 175-miles long grueling paddling event for which Belize is famous.

Now we are in gray Belgium where the trees are not yet showing even a speck of green, where everyone is wearing long, dark coats and matching facial expressions. We're back to scarves, staticky hair, sniffles and lots of lip balm. We had to travel unexpectedly for family reasons, my mother-in-law is seriously ill.

My mother used to say that man travels by horse but the soul only follows on foot. It's true. Our spirits are still in Belize, which does not have anything in common with Belgium, apart from its first three letters.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women's Month

I have lived in quite a few countries but in none before is International Women’s day, on March 8, receiving so much attention as here in Belize. Not only do we celebrate on Women’s Day, the entire month of March is dedicated to women. There are activities ranging from free self-defense training to forums on Crime and Violence; from a 15% discount for women at the hardware store to Women in Art exhibitions.

The women’s month kicked off with the first-ever US Embassy Belize Women of the Year 2010 award ceremony. When political officer Kelly McCarthy received a request last year to nominate a Belizean for the US International Women of Courage award, she quickly realized that her embassy had no process for identifying outstanding women in Belize. One evening, after watching CNN’s heroes, she thought: hey why don’t we start something with nominations from the public. And so it began.

I recently attended the ceremony. I dressed up for the occasion as it felt a bit like going to the Oscars, and well, any occasion in Belmopan to dress up should be taken, because they are few…

And the nominees were - just to name some:

  • Jewel Quallo, for her work to promote sexual reproductive health and family planning as basic human rights
  • Beverly Swasey, as president of the cancer society in Belmopan
  • Carolyn Trench, the first and youngest women ever to head a governmental department
  • Kimberly Vasquez: the only screen writer and film producer in Belize, who often volunteers to teach creative writing to children
  • Phyllis Cayetano from Dangriga, always at the fore front to preserve Garifuna cultural customs and values
  • Margaret Bradley, a retired nurse but still tirelessly involved in voluntary counseling and testing of HIV positive people
  • Sonia Lenares: a retired teacher and principal who became the head of YWCA, protagonist to help out-of-school and at-risk girls
  • Phillipa who started the Emmanuel scholarship fund for deprivileged children, which she regularly complements with her own salary
  • Judy Krieg, better known as nurse Judy from Hopkins, who opened the House of Equity where she tirelessly provides health care 24 hours per day 7 days per week.
And the award went to:
Sonia Lenares. Her daughter had flown over from Miami for the occasion, lucky her. I remember when my mom received an honorable award from our Queen (!!) I was unable to fly over from Zimbabwe. Anyway, Sonia Lenares accepted the award with grace, in her brand new suit judging by the little plastic tag thing that was still on her sleeve (sorry – I’m a women, I can’t help noticing these things). .About her 18 year working with young women she said: "It's not a job, it's an honor". That truly deserves an award if you ask me. Hats off to all strong Belizean women who are examples to others!

And to Kathryn Bigelow, the first women director to win a real Oscar. Why did that have to take 82 years?

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Green Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been on my wish list for a long time. It just sounds so lovely, especially if your roll the R a little extra.

Two weeks ago we traveled to this amazing country for an 8-day holiday from Belize, with nothing more than a borrowed Lonely Planet guide book. Two easy one-hour TACA airline flights later (Wow, talk about service – TACA can teach a thing or two to American Airlines), we landed at Juan Santamaria Airport in San Jose. There we rented a small 4x4 car with a child seat and a GPS – the latter turned out to be worth every one of its 12 dollars a day – followed the perfect directions of the English-speaking GPS ‘turn right, keep left and go straight’, and arrived safely at a small hotel for the first night. Easy as ABC.

Driving around in Costa Rica is fairly uncomplicated, especially with a GPS, although the roads are not great -very narrow, curvy and there are lots and lots of over-sized trucks. Mix these three ingredients and what do you get? Traffic jams… not those we get back home but endless files of buses, trucks and cars stuck on small mountain roads, unable to move an inch forward or backward. Once we were stuck for five hours, in the dark and we feared that our Daihatsu Bego was going to be our hotel room for the night.

What’s really superb about driving in Costa Rica however is that you really get to experience the amazing micro-climates in this country. We drove for hours through the jungly rain forest in the mist – we could only guess where the famous Arenal volcano was– then suddenly took one turn and were driving through a dry, desert-type landscape with cactus and cattle ranches. In 20 seconds the landscape and climate conditions changed drastically.              

Same road
20 seconds later

Another interesting observation we made about Costa Rica, apart from the fact that it has no army, is its ‘greenness’ - its landscape as well as its efforts to promote sustainable and environmental-friendly tourism.
The highlight of our trip was a visit to the EARTH University. An amazing place in GuacĂ­mo, a small town in the middle of nowhere. With a grand entry of majestic bamboos that reminds of a five star resort, this private university provides full academic education to 400 students from 20 countries around the world, especially those from poor communities who, once selected, receive full scholarships. We were guided by Professor B.K. Singh, whom we had met before in Belize. The university is pretty self-sufficient; it has several income generating agri-businesses, such as banana plantations, a banana-waste paper factory (never knew you can make paper out of a banana stem), a dairy factory, a biogas project to generate their own energy and an export business for non chemical fertilizers and compost. A second source of income is a long list of private donors and sponsors.

Another unique feature of this university is that it combines agricultural academics with entrepreneurship. From day one the new students have to develop feasible business ideas that generate profits. This can be marketing organic cappuccino or making crafts from recycled materials. They can get a loan of up to 3,000 USD from the University bank to make their business ideas a reality. Students also have to do community service and international internships. As such they are very well prepared to become the envisaged ‘leaders and agents of change guided by the values of tolerance, respect and equality’.

At EARTH they also plant trees to offset your carbon footprints. Of course they recycle glass and paper and there is not a shred of plastic or Styrofoam in the gift shop or the canteen. To me it’s (ecological) heaven on EARTH!

See more on www.earth.ac.cr or www.earth-usa.org. Or watch my slide show with our private tour!!

Monday, March 1, 2010