Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The gang briefly flees

Guten Tag! Dumelang bomma ee borra! According to the bios posted in the Jesuit Residence in Belize City, I speak both German and Setswana, so there you have it.

This week was quite long and eventful. There will be some pictures up, but I don’t have the time I normally do to upload mad sweet pics. I have school in an hour, so I’ll do what I can. More shall be up next time.

So Tuesday was Independence Day, though Belizeans didn’t wait until then to start celebrating. Beginning Monday afternoon and continuing into the evening, music was bumping and people were partying. At around 11pm, we headed into the central park in town to watch the flag rising. There were some mildly important political figures, along with our own Father Mo, who is the pastor at Peter Claver. We were shocked to see him up so late, though that was quickly replaced by Jon, who was visiting from Belize City, to notice that he bears a striking resemblance to the professor from Futurama.

At precisely midnight, the park, filled with a few hundred people including children who somehow weren’t asleep, watched the flag slowly and choppily go up the very lopsided flagpole. Instantly, fireworks started going off by the water (as in the pier across from our house) and thus followed a mad dash to the road by the sea.

The parties continued to around 3am. At 6am, a firetruck rolled through town, sirens blaring, waking everyone up to begin celebrating again. I awoke, but only to roll over and continue my slumber. There was a parade around 9am, and we spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying the festivities.

After the holiday, work on Wednesday went pretty slowly, though I was cheered up to find that Thursday was a half day. I still don’t quite know why. Perhaps something to do with a teachers meeting? Anyway, that day was quite nice. While cooking up some friend chicken and mashed potatoes, I began to hear rumors of a storm somewhere nearby. These rumors quickly snowballed into school cancelled on Friday, Peace Corps packing their stuff to go to Belmopan (the capital), and a large and ominous tropical storm named Matthew bearing down on Belize.

Wake up. Make some breakfast. Continue reading Empire Falls (read it!). While sitting out on the veranda, admiring the lovely dark clouds looming in the distance, the phone rings. Father Jeff (Jesuit provincial for Belize): “Father Mo is heading back to PG now so you’re going to be staying at the rectory tonight to weather the storm.” Alright, that doesn’t sound bad. At least we aren’t evacuating to Guatemala (secretly/not so secretly we all want that to happen). Reading continues. I go to the market to buy some peanuts.
Get back. Matt: “Jeff called! We’re heading up to Belize City! In the next hour! We have to catch the service group, on the road, driving towards us, we hope, to get the good truck! Pack your stuff! The basement/our rooms might flood!” Whoa!!! A mad rush to pack the essentials into my bag and bring up anything I didn’t want to get ruined from my room to the upstairs. I also manage to get the two boxes awaiting me at the post office and wrap them up to protect the precious contents (thanks mom!!!) Much shouting and throwing of things upstairs ensues. We lock up. Free Baxter to his own devices. I hope he makes it.

We pile into the crappy truck, bags and the two girls in the back. Prayers are said continuously that we run into the service group that has the “nice” truck. It really is much nicer. Until later.
After one false alarm and a confused driver who was unintentionally flagged down, we drive past the service group and switch vehicles. Now the concern is Kendall Bridge. The nice one washed away a year or so ago, so the one now is very low. The rivers are rising and we need to get across before the water covers it. Two anxious hours later, we find the water level about a foot or two below the bridge. Huzzah!

9:30pm we pull into the Jesuit Residence at St. John’s College in Belize City. Father Jeff is waiting for us outside. We come in and find a tasty spread of food waiting, along with some expensive liquor and canned Mexican beer. We eat, drink, and chat. Bed.

We awake to the sound of curtains flapping. The wind is blowing something wild. Go downstairs to the cafeteria, eat cereal for the first time in Belize. Tasty bread too. Mmmm good food. Meet some nice Jesuits. Check the interweb for information and find the storm suddenly became lame. Belize City gets some wind. PG gets some rain. Nothing big. Rivers are high though, so we’re here til tomorrow. Visit the Belize City volunteers and go exploring through the city. Matt cuts off his long locks.

Father Jeff gives us $100 Belize for a hurricane party. The party ensues. Slumber.

Wake up. No wind. Nice. Cereal again. I’m gonna milk this. Read Tom Sawyer. Matt comes in and says we’re good to go. Pack up the truck with donations. Food, clothing, school supplies, shiny black leather shoes (for barefoot farmers?). We hit the road. Pleasant afternoon drive through the mountains.

Two hours in, I volunteer to drive. We cross the Kendall Bridge. Pull over. I hop in the driver seat. Car don’t start. Car don’t have juice. We open the hood. Not looking good. Cars stop and help. We get jumped. The good one. We start driving, though we’re worried about the lack of battery power. The sun start going down. Matt turns on the headlights. Car dies. We coast to a stop. Open the hood. We’re in the middle of not anywhere.

A truck full of men stops. We explain the problem. They drive off, and return with a car battery. We buy it for $280 Belize. Continue the drive home. Arrive five hours, forty five minutes after leaving Belize City. It’s a four hour drive.

Peace out cool cats. Drop by next week for more pictures!!
Shanks for visiting. Mail me CDs if you get bored.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Parades, Ruins, Hair cuts, oh my!

Ma sa sa’ laa ch’ool (mah sah sah la ch’ohl)
(Literally translated to “Is there happiness in your heart?)
That is a greeting that one would give in Q’eqchi (Catchchi), the language spoken by one group of Mayans in Belize. There are three main groups of Maya in Belize, the Mopan, Yucatec, and Q’eqchi. This week I found out that there is a great deal of animosity between these groups and they look down on one another for various reasons. The villages are separated by group, though the language barrier certainly helped facilitate that. Still, there is an interesting dynamic that exists between the groups I previously assumed to be one in the same. I hope to look more into these relationships, and you will certainly be filled in.

Pretty clouds over Guatemala.

Anywho, this week was a fine one. It was the first “full” week of class this year, though that turned out to be false on Friday. I spent my time this week sitting in on classes to see how teachers teach reading and to see what type of kids I will be dealing with. I’m mostly working with Infant II classes, so the 5-7year olds. They are super cute. I also started going through every single book in the library to make sure that there are cards in each book and to repair any torn books. Much of the day was spent reading children’s books, like those I remembered from my childhood (Mike Mulligan and the Steamshovel, Bluberries for Sal, Horrible Histories, Time Warp Trio, Shel Silverstein poems, and some great Dr. Seuss books). I don’t care how old you are, you should pick up Oh, The Places You’ll Go! And Maniac Magee and perhaps Neil Gaimond’s Coraline. I love being a librarian.

Oh, and this is my library!!!

And some ridiculous books that I have found. This will be a running thread throughout my stay. It shall be called: Books Silly Americans Donate (BSAD):

So, last week I asked you, the lovely person you are, to suggest a topic I haven’t covered yet. Only one response and it came from Aunt Barbara. Hi Barbara! That picture you took from atop of the MET was most excellent. Anyways, the question entailed how we get our food Items. How silly of me to forget such an interesting aspect of life down here!!! Such a fool I am.

Approximately a quarter of a mile down the road from my house is where the market is. On Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, busses roll into PG loaded with women intent of selling the food they bring from the villages. Some days there is a large quantity of bananas, while two days later there may be none. It is a strange and unreliable flow of goods, though we always find some good things to eat.

Now, we buy all our vegetables and fruit from the market, while we get staples like rice, eggs, oil, sugar, and rum from the small convenience stores, known here as Chineys, for the sole reason they are run by Chinese immigrants. In my experience, Belizeans are quite literal in their descriptions of people, such as how they refer to all Asians as “Chiney”. They also would call you “fat” if you are bigger, “old” if elderly, “teacher” if you are a teacher, or any sort of descriptive term. Now, these are not necessarily mean hearted, but simply a description of what you are. However, the children at school are quite intolerant of Chinese students, so I have been working hard in the library to try to stop their derogatory remarks and actually learn the name of the girl who is helping them check out a book.

So work in the library is progressing well, with my librarian assistants taking over much of the work in the afternoon, freeing me up to help students with research assignments and scolding those kids who yell/fight/play ball/steal books/cause mayhem/poop their pants/would be good candidates to bring about the end of the world. During the morning, the students have two 15 minute breaks, back to back, with the younger kids going first. I have to stand outside and make sure no kids get hit by cars. They don’t, and instead come hang out with me for the half hour I’m outside. I have started to get to know a lot of kids, and it is really nice to walk through town and have a child walk/ride by and shout “Hi sir!” On that note, it is also awesome that bikes are very prevalent in this culture. Everyone rides bikes. I saw a father pick up his son at school last week. On his bike. Belizeans have incredible balance, as they can just hop on a bike and ride the handle bars like nothing I have ever seen. There are no training wheels in this country, so I’m certain that infants are trained at an early age. It is quite funny to see a 5 year old riding an adult bike, with only one foot on a pedal at a time, shifting their weight to one side to another.

That’s a lot of talking. “Less talking, more pictures!” I hear you cry! Alright, so be it! I follow the fickle crowd just as the Roman emperors.

I made bread with Al! From scratch!

Friday was youth rally day in Belize. Tuesday is independence day (huzzah! Stick it to them British imperialists!) It is really cool that many people in this country can remember independence (1981). All the schools got together in the town square and then we had another parade through town. I lost perhaps 34 pounds that day in sweat alone.

Luckily school just ended at lunch, so Friday was a nice surprise of a half day. Another surprise was the arrival of Jon from the Belize City community, who came down for the weekend.

On Saturday, I was planning on going out to the villages to check out a Mayan ruin, Lubaantun (where the Crystal Skull was discovered). Instead of going by myself, we all went. It was an incredible place: quiet, peaceful, beautiful, yet strangely sad, for it is just a ruin of society that completely collapsed. The complex was built and occupied between 730-890 A.D. and around 20,000 people are believed to have lived in this trading complex. There are 18 plazas and three ball courts in the area.

Oh, and I shaved my head.

I was a little burnt from the long parade. I think I look like Shel Silverstein.

So, thanks for visiting. And thank you to those who have mailed letters and sent emails. I got a few on this week and they definitely made my day.

So, Chaawil aawib (chah kwil aakweeb), or “Take care of yourself” in Q’eqchi, and enjoy your week!

Fare thee well!

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Another week, another dollar. Well, not really. Perhaps I may have earned $15, as I make $60 a month with JVC. So divided by four weeks…..
Ah the high life.

Anywho, this was a festive week. We kicked it off with the mass of St. Peter Claver on Sunday, which was followed by lots of food, some boat rides, and a scavenger hunt for the kids.
On Monday I passed out library cards to Standard 6 down to 3 (8th to 4th grade approx). It is amazing how fast the 600 library cards I made by hand over the course of four days can disappear. I walked around and visited around 20 classes, speaking to them about the library, checking books out, and finding resources for assignments. It was nice to be able to see a majority of the students and let them know who I am so I’m not just the random white guy at school. Now I’m the random white guy who is the librarian! It’s great.
This is our dog Baxter. He got beat up by three dogs the other week and is hurting, but looking better. This picture also has nothing to do with the library or this week at all. Enjoy all the same.

Now, while giving out all the cards and getting to see 600 odd students was nice, I was dreading the arrival of 3:30 on Monday. That is when school gets out and hundreds of students were now armed with their new found library card. Not many students would be found in the library in the US after school, but there is not much to do in PG. On cue, at 3:30, the bell rang, breaking the silence hanging in the air of my small, round hole, and plunging it into an hour of mayhem. Screaming, running, shouting, fighting, reading? Never. Luckily a few older students who worked as library assistants came to my rescue and helped check books out that day, though not to the exact order I had hoped.

Essentially, every student has a library card. When they find a book they want, they bring it over to the desk, their card is taken, and is paper clipped to the index card bearing the book title that is inside the book. The book card is stamped with the return date, as is the book itself. The library card and book card are then put in the box of the student’s teacher, so we know where to find it when the book is returned. Now, this is the ideal situation. When there are children pushing books in your face in an attempt to get it checked out, often you don’t notice that the teacher name isn’t on their library card, or the book doesn’t have a card inside.

Tuesday wasn’t much better, as students started to return books with the same ferocity as they check them out. The one table I had the cards set up at was overrun in seconds. On Wednesday I spent much of the day reorganizing the setup, so that there is a separate check in and check out table. This has helped ease the crowds and alleviate some headaches.

Luckily this week was only a three day week, though there were only really two days of class. Wednesday morning I heard rumors of something going on in the morning, so I asked some teachers and found out there was a literacy fair at the sports complex (an old airplane hanger that now is a basketball court/event place. The students all walked down to the town square and from there we went on a literature parade through town. I haven’t been in a parade in quite a long time and I don’t remember them being so sweaty. At the end of the march, I looked down to find my knees had sweat through my pants. My knees. I didn’t even know that they were capable of sweating independently from the rest of my legs. After the fair, which was not much more than a reading contest (pretty boring) there was an afternoon mass for the students then school was over.

On Thursday, I had no school for St. Peter Claver feast day. Huzzah! Matt, my housemate, didn’t have work either because the parish office, where he works, closed for the day too. To celebrate, we drove out to a nice lodge 20ish minutes outside of town and went tubing down the river. It was an intensely hot day, so floating down a cool river was perfect.
El Rio Grande:

A most excellent tree that towered over the river

Rollin' Down the River

I had a terrible scare on the way home, as my camera stopped working. I was distraught at the thought that my beloved camera, even though it is beat up and looks pretty bad with tape and a chord holding it together. It has traveled with me to four continents and I have taken probably 20,000 pictures on it. Luckily, it started working fine Friday morning after a restless night of sleep by me. Anyway, Friday night there was the Miss Queen of the Bay Pageant, which is pretty much a beauty contest, also held at the sports complex. It was packed and the power kept going out during a big thunderstorm, making for an entertaining evening.

Friday was St. Georges Caye (pronounced “key”) Day. This celebrates the battle in which the British defeated the Spanish and forced them out of Belize around 1781 or so. Now, this seems like a silly holiday to me and others, as this battle simple ensured that Belize would continue to be under colonial rule for another two hundred years or so. Hooray! There was a small parade in the morning,

This is the town square

Bandstand and master of the ceremony

and then we just hung out and sipped rum the rest of the day. We met up with some Belizean friends, as well as Lee and Chris, two British guys who work for one of the conservation agencies in town. They are awesome guys and I felt it was very fitting to celebrate the British victory with some of the Queen’s men.

These fools are Lee, Al, and myself at Ocean View bar, though it should really be called
"Ocean On" or even "Ocean Over"

Yesterday, Al and I decided to make bread, so we did. We decided to make whole wheat bread, so used whole wheat flour. Now, what no one told us is you don’t use only that flour, you in fact use half white flour. We did not know that and made two loaves with entirely whole wheat flour. The loaves weigh at least five pounds each and one slice will fill you up. Quite dense eating. However, they are quite nice and the four hours of mixing, kneading, rising, punching, rising, and baking was definitely worth it.

This was a long post. Thanks for spending some time with this old blog.
Fare thee well!
If you feel so inclined, shoot me an email if you want to know about something specific in Belize. I can talk about a lot, so I can definitely throw in something that would interest you more than my boring life.
Oh, and if you are bored at your computer right now, maybe write me a letter! I’ve gotten a few so far (thanks, you :) ) and it feels great to get one.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

September, School, and Sweating (and Alliteration!)


Glorious greetings to you!
(There's pictures down below, don't worry)

Thanks for traveling far on the net of inter to visit my humble blog. I hope all is well in your world and you haven’t been washed away by the hurricane.

No hurricanes down in Belize, though nightly thunderstorms roll across the ocean and often bombard PG with crazy winds, rain, and good ol’ thunder and lightning. It is always entertaining to see people start sprinting for cover when the rain starts. Belizeans believe that the rain makes you sick, so they avoid it like the plague.

Anywho, this was the first week of school for all elementary students in the country. The uniform that is being made for me is not yet ready, so I had to show up not in the proper attire. Not that I don’t stand out already or anything. There are 958 students at St. Peter Claver School with 48 teachers. There are no other white teachers, one Japanese volunteer named Kay who runs the computer lab, and two white students that are born and raised in Belize and speak great Kriol.

Wednesday was the first day of school, so I got up, ate some breakfast, then made the epic 20 second commute to the library. After opening up all the windows in hope of a breeze to give me some air, I found a book and started to read. My goal is to read all the young adult novels in the library, so I’m starting at “A” and working my way down the alphabet. For anyone looking for a good book, Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott is wonderful. I’m keeping a book diary where I write up a little review and good quotes, so hopefully I should have a pretty good notebook worth of books by the end of two years. Being the first day, no kids dropped into the library in the morning, as they were eager to get to class. The first bell for the students is at 8:30, when they have to be in the classrooms. At around 10:15, there is a 15 minute break for the students, where they proceed to run around, get snacks, or come amuse themselves in the library. Kids would walk in, glance at me, then wander around, taking various books off the shelves and, of course, leaving them scattered about. One kid came in and started telling me a story and has proceeded to tell me a new story every day. He is quite funny. There have some regulars already, especially the ones I help with their homework. There is a lunch break from 11:30 to 1:00 (not shabby). School gets out at 2:30 for the younger divisions and 3:30 for the older kids. I have to keep the library until 5:00, so lots of kids come in at the end of the day to read and do their homework. I feel like a genius helping some of them. It is great to be old and wise working with elementary school kids.

On the first day, one of the vice principles came in to ask me how I was doing. I said fine, though I was unsure when I should approach the teachers about finding kids for the reading program. She then told me that this week was a three day week, next week there is no school Thursday or Friday, then the two weeks after that are four day weeks. Since there is little time coming up, the teachers won’t be sending me anyone for the reading program for a while. Thus she told me to relax, though relaxing alone in a library all day can be quite tedious. Much of my relaxing time has been spent making library cards. I found out that this is my duty. I didn’t let any kids check books out this past week because the cards hadn’t been made yet, though I promised that by Monday they could get a book. Students can check out one book at a time for one week. Sadly, making 800 odd cards by hand is quite unpleasant. I’m 400 in right now. On Monday I will be visiting every class to introduce myself, tell the students about the library, then pass out the cards. There will probably be a big rush at the end of school to get books, so this might be my last post. Until after my full body cast is removed that is.

Apart from the entertainment the students have provided me in the library, this week was pretty boring. I went on a sweet bike ride yesterday, during which I took many picture, found great sea glass, and biked far back into the jungle as I had strength for. It was a great Saturday adventure. Afterwards, I helped our Jamaican neighbor and head of the fishing co-op, Tony, in how to convert meters to feet. Perhaps I shall become a math teacher, though the use of a calculator that isn’t on a phone would have been nicer.

I met a man who is managing the money for the new computer lab being built at the school. He is originally from New York, but has lived in Belize for over 50 years with his wife, who was in the first Peace Corp year in 1962. He works with Rotary Clubs to raise money for projects and suggested I contact them to get funds for fixing up the library. On the back of his business card was a wonderful mini-bio:

Andre Lopez

A man of pleasure, enterprise, wit, and spirit.
A lover of fine wines and banjo picking music.
-Rare books and fine art-
Bullfighting, Cockfighting, and Revolutions,
A champion of the underdog,
Lost and unpopular causes.
It was a great business card.

Today is St. Peter Claver feast day, so there is a big hooplah at the church. I hope to eat much food and to enjoy the lovely people.

Here are some pictures. I hope they amuse you as much as my words.

Thanks for taking some time to visit and read about my sometimes interesting life.
Stay well. Come again. Bring friends.

First day of school!!! This is the outside of one of the main buildings of St. Peter Claver.
Kids super pumped to be coming into my library. That is their uniform.
Playing football (the original) at the school.

The dark shapes on the horizon are Honduras on the left and Guatemala on the right.

A nice flower in our yard.

What is this you say? Why, those are awesome red ants carrying leaves to their ant hole.

And a very long line of ants it is.
Cool dugout hanging out next to the water.

Sunrise over Punta Gorda.

Pretty flower in the jungle.

Lightning! I've been trying to capture it on camera for a week or two now and finally I got a few pictures the other night.

Hey! It's me! I'm alive! It's not someone that is pretending to me writing this stuff.
Thanks for visiting!!!
(sorry about the beard for those of you who don't approve. It'll be gone soon, don't you worry. Unless I dred it...)