Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Belize Navidad

Late is the time the blog arrives.

And it isn't even all that exciting. Or is it....

The next blog, however, will be most excellent. On Friday I am leaving for a six day trip through Guatemala with Al, during which we should be hiking up the highest peak in Central America, the 4,220m Volcan Tajumulco.

That is called a teaser.

This past week involved no teasing, but mostly just lots of work. It was exam week at school, so the kids had three or four exams a day for the week. That is way too much if you ask me. Mind you, this isn’t college. Seven year olds have the same schedule. I used the down time to hang out in the library (thankfully not subbing) and repaired torn and well loved books. If one has the time and motivation, you can read probably 30 picture books in a few hours without breaking a sweat and simultaneously accomplishing actual work.

On Friday we hosted a collection of interesting individuals, including Martin and Karen. Martin works for one of the conservation groups in town, while Karen is his girlfriend from Belgium. Martin worked as a street musician for a few years, so he is insane at guitar, then joined the circus (I know, right?), where he met Karen. They ended up splitting off and forming a hula hoop troupe. Let me tell you, watching a professional hula hooper perform in your living room is simply incredible. Just picture it: a person laying down, hula hoop spinning on her foot, then quickly standing and suddenly the hoop is spinning around her neck. Spectacular. We got some lessons too, though it will take a while to get that good. Oh, and in case you were wondering, yes, she travels with a collapsible set of hula hoops.

This weekend was splendid. It was hot and sunny both days, so it was nice getting to relax and unwind after some long weeks. Saturday night was St. Benedict’s (where Al works) Christmas party. We got all dressed up then ate more than most human bodies can hold while Caribbean Christmas music was playing at deafening levels.

Our house!!!

Yesterday I visited every class at school and named names of those with late books to the library. This list included a few who, as of today, find themselves with books three months late. I mean, I’m really bad at returning books, seeing how at times I was banned from borrowing at the Sandwich Public Library due to my overdue fees, but seriously now. Three months is a long time. Hopefully I’ll see the books arriving sometime this week.

Hmmm, well my friend, this will be my last post for a while. I return by Christmas Eve, but I sure won’t be updating this until after the holiday.

So, dear reader, I wish you a very lovely and merry Christmas filled with joy and feasting.

Belize Navidad!!!

(and to those Fairfielders coming: see you in three weeks!!!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Visual tour of PG

Greetings faithful readers,
Greetings unfaithful browsers,
Greetings stumbler.
Greetings you.

I hope this finds you well on a fine Tuesday of the seventh day of December. I am hopped up on a diabetic amount of sugar right now after a most excellent community night run by Al. We have been making Christmas cookies for a few hours and there is perhaps a solid pound brick residing in my stomach. So, before the crash occurs, lets do this, shall we?

Oddly enough, this semester is coming to a close. This past week I re-tested all the kids in the reading program to see how much progress has been made, or not. A lot of the kids, including the one who stated “I can’t read” in the beginning of the year, have made so much headway and are reading so many words now. I was very proud of them and the ones who need more work, well, we have lots of time next semester.

I decided that the time has come for the library to send out late slips. I mean, I would like some of those books back before Christmas. I went through all the folders filled with library cards and compiled a large list. Currently there are 264 books checked out of the library, with 143 of them overdue. Quite a few were due three months ago. Good job kids.

In the midst of sorting through the vast plethora of cards, a student walked into the library and told me that the principal was looking for me. I tracked him down and promptly found myself substituting for a Standard IV class. These kids are around 10 or 11. Day one consisted of me quite confused and caught by surprise by my teaching assignment. Day two was far better planned out, so I had some good things planned for the students. This class was quite poorly behaved, so I spent a lot of time settling them down. There were a few moments of bliss when I looked out across the class and saw them all working quietly. I had my payback today, Monday, when they were taking their exams. A few decided to talk during them, so we had a nice crowd of six kids in detention. Now, detention at Peter Claver consists of chopping. They give the worst kids machetes and have them chop the school compound. Why we give these kids, the ones most likely to rise up against authority, large, sharp weapons is beyond me.

Apart from teaching, this was a pretty relaxing week. We find ourselves over four months in country and ¼ of our way into our jobs. Quite strange. Matt returned from his trip to El Salvador, so it is nice to have my basement buddy back.

So, no pictures yet? you may ask. Well, here we go.

Per request of my mom, I decided to give you a view of the different sides of Punta Gorda. Often I feel I focus on the ocean or nature or other picturesque or interesting things. Doing this, you might not really get the feel of what I see everyday. So, here is a tour through PG, focusing on the different living situations people find themselves in. I went on an hour run during which I took all these pictures. Most wonderful.

One of the first things you notice, particularly around my house, is how many unfinished houses there are. Many, many shells of homes sit empty around town. The most likely scenario is the owner just ran out of money mid construction and abandoned the project. Thus we have scenes like this one.

Lots of houses you see are raised up on pilings. Lots of homes in these pictures look abandoned because all the doors and windows are closed, but it was chilly when I took the pictures, and, having no heat source, the openings were closed up. However, this house was just abandoned.

Nice little home close to me.

Here’s a playground a little back from my house. Notice, no swings. A bunch of kids were playing basketball in the court next to the playground. I’ve never actually seen any children using any of the equipment.

There are lots of little restaurant places in town, often called “something cool spot”. This one is by far the coolest cool spot, by name at least.

As you head further back from the sea, you start entering what is known as Indianville. This area has a large percentage of Maya residents, and lots of livestock around. Here’s a friendly horse. Actually, the kids told me it is very mean. Oh well.

The nights are filled with the smell of woodsmoke drifting through the breeze, as cooking is predominately done over fires.

There are a lot of thatched roof houses in Indianville, though often you see signs of new, more modern looking structures cropping up, often right next door.

This is St. Benedicts, in Indianville, where Al works.

PG does have an airport, which cuts right through town. Instead of walking/riding bikes all the way around it, everyone simply goes across. Thus, a view from the middle of the runway.

The kids clearly don’t care about the signs. What signs? You ask. Well, this one.

As you progress back to the ocean, there are a number of nice houses. Really nice houses. This one belongs to the ambassador to the UK.

I don’t know who lives here. But their house is lovely. As is the view.

Hmmm, other than the random thatched little huts by the sea where people wait for buses…

There isn’t much else to show you this week.

My sugar is wearing down. My eyes are growing heavy. I hope I don’t have to substitute anymore this week. I hope you don’t either. Happy Pearl Harbor Day!! Well, I suppose that isn’t correct. Not the happiest of days, unless you are a warmonger.

Oh, books/readings Jeremy recommends this week:

The Tale of Desperaux, by Kate DiCamillo
The Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole
Walking, by Henry David Thoreau
The Shipping News, by Anne Proluix

Well friend, I hope you have a splendid week that is full of merriment and cheer.

Until next week.

Jeremy, signing out.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


Greetings on the last day of November. Not that I actually believe the calender any more. This whole hot weather when it should be cold has boggled my mind.

This was a fairly uneventful week.

There were awesome sunrises!

Sometimes the ocean is very calm:

I saw a neat bird:

Alyssa left for the states, but before, she was wonderful enough to take silly photos of our community, like this one:

On Thursday, America's Thanksgiving, we had dinner with the Jesuits. Nothing like some tasty turkey.
On Friday, in PG, we celebrated Children's Day at school. Essentially this is somewhat like field day in the US, where there are a bunch of outdoor games. One difference was the presence of karaoke. The kids got together in the parish hall, sat in front of a tiny tv, and sang for hours on end. It was awesome. This video took me hours to upload.

Kids hanging out on the sunny day. Hooray no classes!!!

Taking off on one of the races. I tried to enter the races but I wasn't allowed. Ah well. Probably for the best. I would have pushed a kid over if he started beating me.

Alright, this was a short post. I'm sorry. I am also rushing back to the library to get some work done, so my time has been limited.
Stop by for next week's post: "The Different Sides of Punta Gorda"

Happy December!

Monday, November 22, 2010

A long, wild week


Ah ha! I meet you again on a Monday. The internet has been down for a few days so I’m back again in the world of speedy communication.

Editorial Note: Last week I posted a picture of Garifuna dancers with masks on, taken at the Battle of the Drums. These men are in fact the “white men”. When the Garifuna people were still in slavery, they were told to put on traditional performances for their masters. To get a bit of revenge, they created this masked character who openly mocked the white men, who realized nothing of this jest. Thus, this dancer has become a part of the dances to this day.

So, one week ago, I arrived at work like any other normal Monday. Around 9:30 I found myself working with one of my reading groups when a teacher entered the library. She said that one of the Infant I teachers had just gone home sick, so with another already out, they were down to two and needed my help. I said, sure. Bad choice. Infant I children are around 5 years old and the worst human beings on the planet. In fact, this particular class might have included the very top echelon of terrors this generation has to offer. I believe they would have been better off had there been no authority figure present at all. I was punched, attempted to be robbed, mocked, and utterly ignored. I got home for lunch trying to figure out how to get out of teaching in the afternoon. No plans materialized. In the end, I survived, yet if another teacher walks into the library from Infant I, I shall be running far away.

This week was culture week at all the schools. On Tuesday, St. Benedicts, where my housemate Allison works, held their culture day, so Peter Claver students trekked to the back of town to check out the festivities. There are seven main cultures in Belize, though since St. Benedicts is quite small, only a few were represented by the students. There were some good dances and interesting displays in the classrooms. Mostly the students just ran around, causing trouble and playing soccer.

Thursday was the day of Peter Claver’s culture day. All the kids were dressed up in their traditional outfits, making for a splendid fashion show.

Dressed up.

Sweet outfit, man.

Why can't we Americans look this cool?

I wish this was how they dressed for school everyday. The day kicked off with a reenactment of the Garifuna people landing in Belize, albeit in a motor boat filled with children.

Eagerly awaiting things.

Yeah! Sweet outfits. Carlos is in the background. He sells donuts his mom makes. I eat lots of them.

Waiting for the arrival of the Garifuna boat.

The boat coming into shore.

Kids drumming off the dock.

There was then an 18 hour mass. Ok, maybe not that long, but a church filled with energetic children who are listening to a pretty old, blind, Garifuna speaking priest is not the best situation.

Garifuna mass. Thank God this ended.

The rest of the day was filled with more dances, presentations, food, and fun.

Mass of children gathered at school.

All of this was the lead up to Garifuna Settlement Day. Held every November 19, it celebrates the arrival of the Garifuna people to Belize. Now, there is a big reenactment at approximately 6am on Friday. I awoke at 5:45. Out my window I see nothing but rain. At further inspection, I found a few men bailing out the boats on which the landing will be performed. Eventually, after a long delay, the boats set out. They came to shore three times, with the first two ending in rejection by a British governor. Now, I’m not positive, but I’m pretty sure there were no British governors waiting on the shore of a quite uninhabited location in Belize. However, that’s the tradition, so on we go. On the third time the boat tries to land, the governor allows the boats to land and celebrations ensue.

Yay! They landed!!

The sizable crowd, with surprisingly gathered in the face of the rain, marched off to church. I marched off to dry clothes and tea.

Dancing off to mass.

The rest of the weekend was filled with a barbecue at our house, much revelry, and finally relaxation. I enlisted Lee, my British friend, to do some painting in the room I’ve been fixing up downstairs. Joining us were the one Alyssa DeConto of Sandwich, and Ekat, formerly of Russia, then the US. We spent a few hours putting up some quite excellent images. If you find yourself in our house any time soon, feel free to come downstairs and paint something up there (or down there. I’m very much hoping for floor paintings).

Ekat rocking the Menonite fishing

Alyssa and her abstract painting.

Lee and his awesome elephant

This was my painting. I shouldn't have picked one with some much detail. Darn tiles.

Well, I must depart. Christmas music is now heard wafting through the warm air of PG. I can smell the snow. False. December? Ok, that is definitely in the air.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving my friend. Happy turkeying.

And cranberry sauceing.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Full work, foul play, feasting, and festivities (and alliteration)

Huzzah! I greet thee on a fair Tuesday. Why not Sunday, my avid readers may ask. Well, the school has far faster internet, so uploading pictures is much more pleasurable while at work. Yesterday I was forced to substitute for infant 1, preventing me from uploading then. So, away we go!
This was my second full week of school this year. If you are confused with the date, I will remind you that this is the second week of November. Yes, school began in September. Don’t worry, I don’t think there’s another full week until Christmas.
To celebrate this happy occasion I got some solid work done with the reading program. It was awesome to have one group go find some books and have a child read a sentence to me. I couldn’t have been more happy.
Fun fact for the week: Back in the 1700s, there were a group of men who lived in Belize and cut down trees to send to England. These men were called Baymen and were governed by laws similar to those used on pirate ships, which, surprisingly, were quite progressive and democratic. Everyone, including slaves, had a say. Anyways, these men would, on occasion, travel up to the American colonies, and in particular to Boston. While there, a number attended the Old North Church. At this time the church was without a steeple, so the Baymen went back to Belize and raised funds from selling lumber. These funds were donated so the steeple could be built. As you know, from this steeple Paul Revere hung two lanterns to signal the arrival of the British by land. Today, supposedly, the front row of the Old North Church is reserved for men of the Bay, or anyone from Belize. Quite cool.
This month has also been a busy one on the sports scene in PG, and when I refer to sports, I mean marbles. Since there’s drier weather, the conditions are much more favorable to the marble players, who tend to have battles in the drier patches of dirt. I, being quite intrigued by this huge phenomenon, had some kids teach me how to play. After a few games I seemed to understand the many rules, though I don’t think I’ll go professional any time soon. I was playing with some kids when the vice principal walked by and she commented that she could beat me. I was devastated.
Apparently the excitement got to the heads of the children, as Friday culminated in a great violence spree at school. Kids kept running to me, exclaiming stories of “bust eyes,” “bloodied lips,” and “kicks in the stomach.” Now, when trying to describe the scene of school to you, I will make you imagine yourself in 1950. Perhaps earlier. Maybe Huckleberry Finn era. Break time consists of marbles and fighting. Children just start brawling as soon as school ceases, and not just the boys. I see girls waging fierce battles with some of the boys, haymakers a-flying. The teachers make no effort to stop it, except when one child comes crying to them. Perhaps the wave of injuries will spur some crackdown on break time antics. I doubt it though.
On Saturday I woke up early to do laundry. Around 5am. I tend to wake up at that time as I’ve been working on a book. Anywho, I threw my laundry in, then decided to make some tea upstairs at home. Walking in I noticed things looked a bit askew, with the window above the sink open and a bottle of wine, recently procured from the Jesuits, sitting in our sink. Then I noticed the drawers in our dresser in the living room were open. At that point I realized we had been broken into at night. Luckily no one was hurt nor were any items of great value stolen. Only some wine and chocolate that had been given to us by Father Jeff earlier in the day was taken.

In the face of such adversity, we performed valiantly. While Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Belize, we decided to have our own on Saturday. We invited some people we are thankful for and threw a big dinner for them. Included in which was a 13 pound turkey, sweet potatoes, coleslaw, rice and beans, fruit salad, corn loaf, and a number of other dishes. We had twelve people over and feasted our stomachs out. I’m still full and we’re a day removed from the food.
Al squeezing limes for lime juice.

Kathleen cutting up some sweet potatoes.

The table was set. Included are awesome autumn leaves my mom sent me this week. Thanks mom!

Festive table setting.
Friends and guests.

Passing the food around.
Our quite lovely house.

After the meal we headed over to The Battle of the Drums. This is the big event that PG has every year. This coming Friday is Garifuna settlement day, and the Battle of the Drums kicked off the week of festivities. The Garifuna culture and language is on some list of endangered cultures, as there are less than 600,000 people left in the world that can claim Garifuna heritage. According to Wikipedia (sorry) "In 2001 UNESCO proclaimed the language, dance and music of the Garifuna as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in Nicaragua, Honduras, and Belize."
So, on Saturday, six of the best drumming groups from Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras competed for the big prize of best group around. The sports complex, where it was held, was totally packed. I loved it.
The face-off portion of the event, where two drum groups were on stage together, one following the other.

The group from Guatemala doing their thing.

One of the trophies, for second place I believe, with the judges in the background.

Each group had a few women who would dance at various portions of their songs.

This is one of the dancers who was dressed up in the quite elaborate costume and mask. I'm still not sure what they represent, but when I find out, you'll know.

Perhaps my favorite non-scenery photo I've ever taken.

Well dear friend, I must bid you adu and get back to work.
I hope you enjoyed reading my stories and procrastinating your work. Until next week.