Sunday, August 29, 2010

Photographic Goodness!

Greetings and Salutations!
So, I'm sure you have been waiting weeks, anxious to see glorious pictures from Belize. So, without further adu, here they be! (Please enjoy them, I have been uploading them for hours. There are pictures in the beginning, stories of this week, then more pictures at the end as a reward).

So this is a view of the street in Belize City.
Here we have Matt my community mate, doing some cooking. On our second night in country we had an Iron Chef competition, where everyone paired up and made different dishes. It was most delicious.
This is the famed Jade Skull at the National Museum. Pretty neat.
We went to a small cultural museum where we were taught how to dance and drum. I can still do neither of those.
Tapir! This was the only animal I got a picture of at the zoo before my camera ran out of batteries. Most sad.
Here are the sweet waterfalls we visited...
And here am I jumping into said waterfall!!

MY HOUSE!!!!!!
This is my bedroom (it could use more pictures on the walls....)
This is the view from my bedroom
Our upstairs living room
My front yard
A view from my hammock. I love living here. So do my feet.
An artsy photo of my art. Get it? Never mind.

I began the week in great pain, with the tonsillitis very much putting a damper on my well being. Swallowing is very nice when it doesn't cause you to cringe. However, I persevered and decided to be a productive member of society. I bought a bunch of cloth and brought it to a tailor so he could make my pants and shirts of my teacher uniform. Olive green pants with a white shirt on Monday Wednesday Friday, and cream shirt Tuesday Thursday. I have never worn a uniform before, so this should be interesting. It is also cool that I am having my clothes handmade by the man down the street. After two weeks of annoying the administration at my school, I finally got a key to the library. The St. Peter Claver library used to be a water tanker, so its a large, circular, cement structure, one story high. After opening it up, I realized the large task ahead of me. All the teachers store their books in the library in the summer, so there were, and still are, piles of boxes all over the place. School starts in three days. Its fine.

I also decided to search for the materials for teaching reading. I will be working with around 25 children a week for the semester in the hope that they can catch up to their grade level in terms of reading skills. Sadly for me, there are about six different reading programs in the library, but none of the materials are complete. I'm trying to go through each one to find and pull strategies that could work. We shall see. Mostly I focused on the books in the library and moving boxes to try to get at them. Since there is no electricity, or current as they call it, in that part of the school right now, it has been very hot work. However, the library does have a pretty good selection of books, from children's picture books to young adult novels to a solid non fiction section. There are about 30 Judy Blume books, 60 Harry Potter books (1-4), 9 million National Geographics (including a sweet 1924 hardcover), and a wide selection of out of date encyclopedias. While the work has been tedious this week, I have quite enjoyed myself, especially since taking a break in the library means picking up a random book and reading it.

I have had some great visitors this week, mostly the neighborhood children who are bored and see the library open. There has never been a male librarian/reading specialist, so I hope that gets some of the boys who are more reluctant to read. The kids are a lot of fun though and would come in asking, "Sir! Di library open? We play games? Sir, who di you?" (My kriol is pretty bad so far, but hopefully it will improve for you to read, as the children really don't sound much like that. Children are really hard to understand. Kriol seems like you should be able to understand it very easily, because it is essentially English, but it is more like a Boston accent plus New York plus what you would hear in reggae music, aka not proper English at all. Should be fun teaching reading!) Children also refer to adults as "Sir" or "Mr. Jeremy", which is quite cool but will take some getting used to. I played some games with the kids, and then enlisted them to help move furniture. They were quite keen on impressing me with their amazing strength. Six and seven year olds are quite amusing.

The rest of the week was spent cleaning the house, reading, and getting quite excited at letters that arrived. Thanks mom for sending the camera chord! Because I have to pay for items that arrive, I suggested that the chord be sent in a box of granola bars. Now, I meant that to be placed in a larger package, but sure enough, I got to the post office to find a box of granola bars addressed to me. I had to open it for the post office guy and I looked in to see the chord. However, being a quick thinker, I pulled out two bars, said that it was just a box of granola bars, and gave him two. He looked quizzically at me, then only charged me 75 cents. Hooray bribery! I'm told I can do that with candy too, if you feel so inclined to send me some.

I have been totally cured of tonsillitis right now, which is nice. The combination of strange liquids and pills worked surprisingly well. Our dog, Baxter, got jumped the other night while on his chain and is now nursing wounds on his head, nose, tongue, front leg, hind leg, and back. We gave him a good bath yesterday though to clean them out. There have been some awesome storms lately, which are great to watch from our veranda. During one we all went out onto the pier across the street as the waves were crashing into it, sending spray over our heads. Sadly I forgot that my Ipod was in my pocket, so it is not doing very well. The charge lasts all of two minutes. So, if you are bored and feeling friendly, mail down some CDs for our lovely house!

Matt and I just got the inflatable rafts out and floated down the coast. After a mile or so, we came ashore at a strange clearing area, and found ourselves at a weird abandoned marina. We walked down the road and found a huge area, fenced in by barbed wire fencing and looking very secure. Matt said that he had heard that the Voice of America radio station is close by and we theorized that this is the complex. Very bizarre place.
These pictures are taking so long to upload. Ah ha! They're done.
Well, enjoy the rest and check in next week for: THE FIRST WEEK OF SCHOOL!!!!!
Thanks all for visiting!

Hanging out at Orientation. Such a college photo. I should sell it to BC.
A shot from the retreat center we stayed at during the end of orientation. It was lovely and relaxing.
The dawn on the way to the airport in Boston to catch our 8:30 flight...
Which we didn't make because it was cancelled. Instead we took a nap in Boston Commons.
And got to explore the harbor.
These are also the people I went to Belize with. From left: Christin, Jon (both of whom are living in Belize City, Allison, and Kathleen (who are with me).
I enjoyed this sign.
Looking out the window on the flight down to Belize.
When we first got to Belize, we went immediately to the Belize City house.
They have a nice living room too. With walls you can't see through like ours.
A nice kitchen.
Jon ate some crazy hot peppers. Thus I leave you with this picture. Farewell!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Week of adventures *edited

Firstly, there are no pictures yet. I have about 600 waiting my camera to be viewed by the world (no I won't put them all up), so hopefully next week will hold glorious images. So, for now, be content with tales through words.

Last Saturday the volunteers from Belize City arrived. Thus, our house, for the next week, held 11 people. While quite crowded, it was great to have so many people around. The first big activity, apart from figuring out how to cook for so many people, was to head up to Blue Creek cave, an excellent location in the jungle, or so I was told. We drove for around 40 minutes over some rather bumpy dirt roads, until we came to the place. After a short hike through the jungle, we came upon the river, up which we slowly made our way. Coming around a bend, a giant cave loomed above us, with the river pouring out. The cave was about 100 feet high and 80 feet wide. We swam upstream into the cave and were swallowed by the darkness. After a bit our eyes adjusted and found it to be quite amazing. We discovered a small offshoot of the river in the cave that flowed into a deep pool, a pool that we could jump into from the ledges. After a few hours we headed back through the jungle, looking very much forward to our next adventures.

The next day we travelled to the village of Barranco. There, we attended a mass in Garyfina, of which I understood absolutely nothing, the wandered around. Barranco is down the coast from Punta Gorda and is very close to Guatemala. We ate a hearty lunch of rice, beans, and chicken, then got a tour of a small soap factory. They had soaps that were made of native plants, including green banana that gets rid of wrinkles, cocoa that smells excellent, and sea salt. Then the gentleman that runs the Garyfina museum in Belize City gave us a tour of the large structure that holds the ceremonies. The ceremonies held (forgive me, the name they have escapes me) are for the ancestors of a certain family. They last for three to seven days, with members of the family coming as far away as Europe to participate. There is much eating, dancing, drinking, and drum playing. Sacrifices are made to the ancestor and at the end, a flame is lite to show if they are pleased or not. Oddly enough, it closely involves Christian practices, with prayer to Jesus closely intertwined with the ceremony.

Two days later, after some long teacher meetings at my school, we headed out to the village of San Antonio to go to the Rio Blanco waterfalls. As part of a national park, we had to pay $5 Belize to get in. Quick note: there is a fixed 2:1 ratio between Belize and American currency. SO, we are given $5 Belize a day for food money, thus $2.50 US. Which doesn't seem like a whole lot, I know, but it goes a long way. And living simply is one of the pillars of JVC.
Anywho, the waterfalls were awesome. Around twenty feet high, we spent a lot of time hanging out in the sun, jumping off into the cool river water, and just having fun. I took something like 200 pictures that day, mostly action photos of people jumping. They will appear, I promise. After the waterfall, we were to have dinner in San Antonio with different families, but they forgot the date. Thus, the next day, we piled back into a truck and set off for lunch there. I got to eat with three other people in a very friendly man's house. We had caldo soup, which is essentially chicken grease, with some corn tortillas. It was ok. The conversation with him was far more satisfying. I asked many questions about Mayan culture, including how the farming occurs (communally), how family structures are run, the perception of paved roads and what negative influences they could bring to the village (he thought there could be many problems, but supported the plan), and how land is distributed (most are communal lands that are shared amongst all Mayans, though people are starting to try and buy land, which is causing a great deal of problems). It was a nice lunch, and afterwards we got to see the church in town, built of stones stolen from a Mayan temple. Not the Catholic church's most shining achievement.

The remaining days with the full house were spent hanging out, reading, and doing some exploring around town. Brian, one of the Belize City second years, and I explored some paths that lead down the coast past town. They go on for quite a ways and I hope that when the nights start clearing up, there will be a good spot down there to stargaze, away from the lights of the town.

On the last day of the crowded house, I was sitting on our porch when Brian came up and asked if I wanted to play soccer. I said sure, then we headed down to the pier. There we met the Jamacians who live across the street, hopped in their boat, and took off. We headed up the coast for about 20 minutes, then down a river. A mile or so down the river we docked at a pier, got off, and found a small field carved into the jungle, with a few huts around. For the next 40 minutes or so, we played soccer, five on five, then chatted with the guys, who turned out to be employees of the park we were standing in. It was a very cool experience. Hopefully I shall do it again.

In the last day or so that the Belize City folk were here, I started feeling a little tickle in the back of my throat. It became quite sore on the last day. Yesterday, I woke up feeling quite miserable, so I decided to go to the doctor. I asked Matt where I should go and he said just drop by the hospital. Belize has universal free health care, which is great, in theory I suppose. I showed up, gave the nurse my name, address, job title, and age, then waited for the doctor. Two hours later I got in to see this very young man, in his mid-twenties I expect, and probably trained in Cuba. There are no medical schools in Belize, so all doctors go to Cuba to get their MD. He checked out my throat for ten seconds then informed me I had tonsillitis. He then scribbled down some notes on a piece of paper and sent me over the the pharmacy window. There they gave me a bunch of Tylenol, antibiotics, and weird liquid stuff in a Coke bottle for coughing (it tastes horrid).

Being sick in a foreign country is very unpleasant, though I think I'm making it through this one very nicely. I have spent the past two days resting, reading, and writing letters. I've also started playing with watercolors and intend on making my own postcards so I don't have to pay for the ones here. Living simply once again.

Well, that's pretty much it for now. Thanks for visiting!
Come back again next week for: PICTURES! (I hope).
Fare thee well!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

First post from beautiful Belize

After a long wait, I finally have time to update my blog/actually use the internet.
I come to you from lovely Punta Gorda, Belize and from the window of the parish office (where the computer is) I can look out on the Caribbean and can see Guatemala and Honduras in the distance.
SO, from the beginning. Our flight to Miami from Boston was cancelled August 1, so we spent the day in the city, wandering around, with me as the tour guide. Finally we got a flight and spend the night in a Miami hotel. No, we were not able to go out on the town. Very sad.

Our flight that morning was quite short, only about 2.5 hours. From the window of the plane we were able to see Cuba (super cool). After landing in the airport, we could see a bunch of white people from the plane window waiting in the observation area, and after getting out they started yelling and jumping to get our attention. Thus we first saw the second year volunteers. They met us after we picked up our luggage then drove us to the Belize City JVC house.

Belize City is the biggest city in the country and it is very poor. It is built on a penninsula and has been destroyed three times by hurricanes. It's pretty dirty and while not as crowded as most cities in the world, there were still lots of people moving around. We were able to check out some interesting places in the city, like the Garifina museum (one of the many cultural groups in the country) and the national museum. The national museum as the Jade Skull, which the crystal skulls in the new (and crappy) Indiana Jones movie were based on. There was also some great information on pirates (yarrrr) at the museum. I will spend another blog later on the history of Belize, but pirates actually were some of the first European inhabitants of Belize after the British stopped supporting them financially. There's a pirate ship on the $1 coin. AWESOME.

After spending three days in Belize City, we headed out for a short retreat in the jungle, spent at a place called Banana Bank. Side note: I can buy like 12 bananas for $1.
On the way to Banana Bank, we stopped at the Belize Zoo, were we got to see lots of awesome animals, like jaguars, tapiers, howler monkeys, and sweet birds. I also got to hold a giant boa constrictor. Very cool.

Banana Bank was nice and had a pool and was right on a river. There were also lots of birds, a jaguar, and two monkeys. One of the monkeys took a liking to me and decided to hang out on my back and groom me. We also went horseback riding through the jungle and crossed rivers and stuff. That was definitely a highlight of the trip so far.

After two nights there, we split from the Belize City group and headed down to Punta Gorda (from now it will be known as PG). Father Jeff Harrison, the head of the Jesuits in Belize, drove us down and had many excellent stories. He spent many years working in refugee camps in Kenya and has been all over the world. After a few hours of driving through the jungles and mountains (a great combination), we took a turn and saw the ocean and found ourselves in PG.
PG is a town of around 5,000 people, though that takes into account a whole lot of people outside the town proper. It is very small. However, most of the residents are school age children. My school has 900 kids alone.

My house is great. It looks like it should fall down any day, though it is surprisingly sturdy. It is a mismatch of stuff inside, but it makes it quite homey. I will put up pictures as soon as the chord for my camera arrives. On that topic, if you feel so inclined to mail me something, think carefully. I have to pay for every package that arrives, and if there's stuff in it that is expensive or can't be bought in Belize, I have to shell out big time. Some volunteers get stuff shipped in easy mac boxes that are glued shut so it looks like cheap stuff instead. My house is great if only for the view, which, as described at the start, is to die for. I can watch the sun rise over the ocean every morning, and I do. 5:30 every day. The ocean is also very warm, much warmer than our shower water, which has no hot water. Hooray two years!

Anywho, the past week in PG has been great. We've spent time cleaning, reading, swimming, exploring, meeting people, and doing some work around town. The other day we helped nuns move furniture and later organized donations from the US.

I went on a homestay for two nights at a fellow teacher's house and just got back a few hours ago. It was great living with a family and getting to hear a bit about the culture and school right away. I also met my host, Teacher Cindy's fater, Tony, who may be the most interesting person I have met. He was in charge of the fisherman's cooperative many years ago and addressed the UN twice. I shall spend more time with him, a wonderful 80 year old.

Well, I wish I could upload my pictures. They will come, I promise. Updates will be more frequent when school starts, as the school has a computer lab that I can use. I'll try for an update a week, or at least every two.

So thanks for visiting and come back soon!
Fare thee well!