Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hurricanery (again). (Or not)

In an attempt to make up for the boring time that passed last week, the past seven days were extra busy. So, lets not waste any time with small talk/type. Onward!

After posting last Sunday, we began to closely monitor the hurricane Richard bearing down on us. Now, in the infinite wisdom that I possess, I decided to make the Hurricane Richard Journal, as to make the bloggery easier and fully and accurately describe the utter fear and terror the storm brought when it made landfall. Thus, here it is:

October 24, 2010
6:30am: checked the weather online. Richard is still a tropical storm. Upload blog.

Calm morning to start the day. Omnious, I know.

7:30am: Went to mass, where there were a number of prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas and the one who protects us from hurricanes. I support these prayers.

9am: Storm upgraded to Category 1 hurricane. It looks quite mean on the radar.

11am: Matt and I board up the downstairs windows.

Nicely boarded up windows of my bedroom.

12pm: Move bags with important items over to the guest house, where we decided to hole up for the storm. The guest house was just finished and is quite nice/sturdy. Visiting service groups, like Fairfield in January, will be staying there.

1pm: The wind starts to pick up. Radar shows the storm tracking right into Belize City. I think we’ll avoid the worst of it, but it’ll still be gnarly. I’m hungry. Food time.

2pm: Went for a bike ride to get rid of energy before being cooped up. Lots of people out and about. Peter Claver School is being used as an emergency shelter. The nice homes along the water are bordered up. Camera batteries just died.

4:30pm: The internet tells me sustained winds are at 90mph, with gusts of 120mph. No rain yet, but the northern skies are looking quite dark. I feel the rain will start soon. All my stuff I want is now here in the new house. Matt and I are sitting on the lovely veranda.

5:20pm: Everyone has made it here, plus one Brit, Lee.

5:30pm: The electricity is out. It all comes from Mexico via Belize City, which is a highly inefficient system. So, that means Belize City is probably getting some weather right now. First r+c drinks. I hope the darkness doesn’t hurt the handwriting.

6:48pm: a slight drizzle has begun.

6:59pm: the rain has stopped

6:06pm: Candles flickered in the faint breeze. Not enough to blow them out, mind you, just enough to make them dance.

7:05pm: Nothing new, only a little breeze.

7:16pm: Can see the lights of Barrios and Livingston (in Guatemala). No rain yet, nor wind. Landfall is supposed to be in 45 minutes.

7:30pm: Guest Entry from a British: Some rain, could this be the beginning? Or just another big, fat, anti-climax. I don’t know, none of us know. The electricity is still absent.

We decided Lee had a botfly behind his ear. Botflies are gross/awesome as it is essentially born under your skin and you can see it moving around. The only way to get it out is to suffocate it so it comes up for air. Matt decided to put candle wax on Lee's head. It didn't work.

8:17pm: Still no rain. Newest news from Matt via John Lee ( the Jesuit novice in PG) is that the storm has made landfall. Matt claims more wind. I disagree. It is very dark, thus it feels much later than it really is.

8:25pm: The moon has come out. Getting brighter. We’ve given up hope for any storm. The power is still out.

10:30pm: Final journal entry of the day. This storm was a bust. Sorry to those who were in fact wrecked by this storm. Just watched a fascinating documentary on Burma. Prompted some lively discussion. Bedtime imminent. Morning awaits closing eyes.

October 25

5:15am: Beautiful sunrise, red skies in morning?

The morning after the storm(less) night. And to those coming in January, this is the view from the guest house. Pretty nice, eh?

6am: Very loud church bells ring next to the house.

That was the end of the storm (or lack there of) journal. On Monday we had a day off from school because the power was out. Matt and I took off the boards from our windows, which took about 10 minutes, versus the hour it took to board them up. It was a beautiful day though. I went swimming off the fisherman’s pier infront of my house with the British fellows for a while. Since we still had no water, that served as my bath for the day. It was announced on the radio that the government cancelled school until Wednesday since some parts of the country were hit harder than we were. Four day weekend!!!! I woke up to check my email on Tuesday and in the midst of that I heard shouting of children. Again, for the second time this year, school was uncancelled.

This week I had a lot of fun with the reading program. I worked with letters and short words, like sit and hat. The kids wrote them out on papers, then I gave them clay so they had to make the letters out of that. I think they very much enjoyed it.

PG sunrise. I hope these pictures don't get old for you.

To further help the children learn, school was cancelled on Thursday for teachers’ workshops.

For any of you from Sandwich, Alyssa DeConto has been planning on coming to Belize to work on an organic farm for the past few months. She was scheduled to come in on Wednesday night, but due to unforeseen plane problems, she did not roll into PG until Thursday night, thus leaving me waiting for every bus for two days. She did come in Thursday night, and it was quite awesome to get to hang out with her for a while. She left Friday morning to meet up with the farm folk, but I missed much of the goodbye because of the festivities.

So today is Halloween. We celebrated this spectacular holiday on Friday at school. Every year the Spooky house is held in the library. Awesome. I love haunted houses. I’ll be glad to hold it in my little building and take the money to buy paint so we can decorate the outside. Oh. Wait. The standard three teachers “called” the spooky house, thus claiming all the money that it generates. Well, I suppose that’s cool, as they’ll help set up and clean up. False. I did the all the work, while I arranged to get high school students to staff it.

On Friday, the library was officially the Spooky House. On Friday afternoon, the library was officially the most trashed location in PG. Books were strewn across the floor. Shelves were knocked over. Grass and flower covered the floors. Paint streaked the walls and floors. As much as I enjoy small, hot, enclosed spaces, with no windows or doors open, filled with screaming children for five hours, this was not my ideal Friday. The library is currently a mess. I won’t work on it until tomorrow. Oh well. At least we made some children cry.

Me looking extra spooky for the spooky house, the bane of my existence.

Saturday was lovely as I hanged out with Frankie, the maintenance guy at the parish. We rigged up a contraption to pump out the septic tank. Sounds gross but we had a good time and quite enjoy doing handy things.

Giant lizard that visited me in the basement.

I had to run him out.

This has been a lot of stories.

I hope you’ve had a nice day. Now enjoy the rest of it, whether it be five minutes or sixteen hours. Next week might be up Monday or Tuesday, as we have our JVC fall retreat. Huzzah heading up north to the mountains of Cayo!!!

I’m going to find an adventure.

Thank you come again.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Sir, where's the old librarian?"

Helloooooooooooooo to you.
I hope today finds you very well. We are currently trying to figure out if Hurricane Richard is going to hit us. Hopefully it does not. But if it does, we know what next weeks blog will be about. That will have to wait until then. As for now…..

This week was boring.
I’m sorry. I tried, I really did. No dice.

The kids had testing every day, thus leaving me alone in the library, reading, drawing, and spacing out. During the younger division break on Tuesday there were so many kids trying to climb over me that I just ran. A few seconds into my flight, I turned around to find 20 screaming children in pursuit. Every morning since then my running and their chase has become a tradition. The numbers of pursuers has also risen, with around 50 kids on Friday.

Hmmm, that story wasn’t as entertaining as I hoped.

On Tuesday I decided to shave off the beard that has been growing on my face for the past three months. One of the many names the children call me has been “Mr. Santabeard.” (Others include Mr. Shea, Mr. Shane, Mr. O’Shea, Mr. Librarian, Mr. Library Man, White Man, and Father (the younger kids call me this. I suppose priests are the only white men they see on high frequency)). Anywho, I decided it was time for change.

The next day, children literally came up and asked me where the old librarian was. One teacher told me her whole class was trying to figure out if it was me or not.

I got excellent letters with pictures from Townhouse 18 on Thursday. Shout out and thank yous to Dana, Erin, and Katie!!!! I believe pictures were the first request I made here, so now they hold a nice place on my wall.

The rest of the tales I was considering telling are not worth your time. Thus, I shall leave you with some pictures!!! I’m sure there’s someone out there who just skips to these in the first place, so here they be!

Ah yes, the Toledo FreeZone, with 12 foot fences.

Lets not....

Coconuts I carved

Enjoy your last week of October!! I for one will, if only for your reading enjoyment.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

And so I caught a fish

I just watched the beginning of Toy Story 3 and have been once again taken by the desire to be a cowboy. That will not last long. Astronaut is still the tops of the dream childhood jobs. I mean, everyone loves astronauts. Never did someone say, “man, I hate that Buzz Aldren” or, “Neil Armstrong thinks he’s just SO cool.” It’d be awesome. Hopefully NASA is looking for a political science/international studies graduate in the next few years. If so, and you hear, let me know.
Sorry, I digress.

I hope you are having a lovely day. It is very comfortable down here in Punta Gorda, making for a pretty solid past couple of days.

On Monday night, we got a phone call from a Peace Corp volunteer who informed us that the government had just canceled school for all of Belize. Apparently a large hurricane was headed for the coast, though more towards the north. I got up on Tuesday to check the weather, then arriving home, the phone rang to tell us school had been uncanceled. Uncanceled!? You can’t do that! I had glorious plans for that day! Projects that would benefit all mankind! Preposterous. I went to school. But they couldn’t make me like it. Only about 1/3 of the students showed up, making for a quite pointless day, from what I heard from the teachers.

On Wednesday, I worked with the kids for the reading program, which went pretty well and we drew lots of chalk drawings on the library floor with letters and names. I am very much enjoying working with these kids. Often they just tell me stories, stories that range from snakes in the rice paddy, to a brother getting hit in the head with a falling coconut, to trips to Guatemala. They teach me as much or more than I teach them. I brought my sketch pads to school the other day and showed them to a kid who likes to draw. He suggested I start the Art Club up on Saturday mornings. I think that is a great idea, so hopefully in the next few weeks, we can get some kids to come in and draw, paint, and color. I want to paint the outside of the library this summer, so maybe the kids could design what to paint. I’m getting ahead of myself though. We shall see.

Wednesday was also a very good day, in that I have a new award for: Reader of the Month!!!
This month’s award goes to: Katherine Driscoll!!!
In reading about my plight with the dead Ipod, Katherine amazingly sent down an old one loaded with excellent music that I’m listening to now (Ryan Adams). I LOVE mail, and this totally made my day, as did the granola bars, pirate gear, and nuts. Thus, you, Katherine, get a shout out. And I know some may say, “Jeremy, October isn’t over yet. What if someone beats out this feat?” Well, I hadn’t thought of that until right now, so we’ll get to that when we do.
**September’s winner shall be named now too: Barbara Best, for responding to my shout out for topics to write about. Barbara, I believe you’re in Croatia right now, but this one’s for you.
***August goes to Kate Reilly for having a letter here for me before I even got here. Nothing like being welcomed to a foreign country with a friendly note from home.
November is up for grabs, so participate, send a hello, or just enjoy.

So St. Peter Claver school is being a pilot school for Belize by becoming a so called, Quality School. While I’m still not sure what that means, I think it’s good. Now, to become a quality school, certain specifications must be met, like cleanliness, percentage passing, that sort of stuff. The administration, in their infinite wisdom, decided that it would be a good idea to have a meeting with the teachers to figure out what more to do. Now, students are constantly getting days off, thus leading me to believe that this could be a cause of problems in educating them. So, what do we do? We cancel school on Friday to meet and figure out how to have a better school. Why don’t you stay open and TEACH!? What is the point of the school if the kids are NEVER there!? Ugh. Thus, I boycotted the meeting. Instead, I kept the library open during the day in case kids wanted a book or to do homework, especially since their Unit Exams, like midterms, start MONDAY. Yes, lets cancel school the day before exams start. Sorry, I’m venting.

Anywho, on Friday I cleaned the library and found cool books, like a 1890 copy of St. Nicholas Magazine, four David McColley (?) books on castles, the underground, and cities, and lots of National Geographic maps.

Here's another addition of: Books silly Americans donate:

Ah yes, the three volume set of Lincoln, The War Years, from 1950.

The kids have been fighting over this book lately.

This week an American, Jim Scholl (?) came to PG to organize his service trip that is happening in January. A very nice man, he invited us volunteers on a fishing trip on Saturday. We got up at 6am and headed out to the Cayes (keys), which are small mangrove islands off the coast.

Ah 6:30am. So lovely. Especially after a cup of tea.

Ship in the morning

We were fishing in the Bay of Honduras marine reserve, which is 90% open for commercial fishing, and 10% off limits for conservation.

The lovely Caribbean ocean.

There was a cool watchtower/guard station where we stopped for permits.

View from the guard station tower.

Our fishing guide, Sully, was awesome too and has been taken to the US to film a fishing show and is heading to Seychelles, of the east coast of Africa, for another fishing trip that people are paying him to go on.

Kathleen, Al, and Jim (and Sully, our guide, in the background)

Sweet birds a flyin'

Very cool. It was an awesome trip that lasted for 7 hours. I caught one fish, but it was too small. I caught another, but it escaped as I pulled it in. I caught the third, a nice one, and it flopped out as I tried to put it in the cooler. After giving up, I finally got the biggest fish of the trip, a six pound jack.

Look at my fish! ("the beard will be gone in the next two weeks," I respond to your murmurs of disproval)

We took the fish, all 30 pounds or so we caught, and Jim cut them up and we cooked them for a tasty Saturday dinner, along with steamed veggies, coleslaw, potatoes, and brown rice.

Well, we’re halfway through October. Strange. I forget what month it is often here. I believe much of our memory is tied to the changing of the seasons, so it will be interesting how I’ll deal with that one.

Have a great day. I hope you see something neat.
Thanks for reading!!!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Holiday Monday

Happy Day of Columbus, or (unless you aren’t too keen on naming him the one who discovered America, such as the people who lived in the area, then...) Happy Pan American Day!!!

Well, that’s the day we are celebrating here in PG, though it is actually less celebration and more relaxation, something I am strongly in favor of.

This was a most wonderful week. On Monday I started doing some teaching for the reading program and it has started off very smoothly. I worked on letter recognition this week and drew letters in chalk on the ground and had the kids jump from one to the other after they completed assignments in workbooks. It got them moving and was pretty fun. Hopefully the next several months have similarly positive activities.

Throughout the week I got some excellent letters, including some from Ecuador, Micronesia, and Montana, as well as glorious emails (if your name starts with a K that includes you). I am also beyond ecstatic for January when the Fairfield service group arrives in PG. I don’t even know.

Matt headed out for Nicaragua on Wednesday morning, so until Thursday or Friday, there’ll be just three of us (and Baxter of course).

On Friday morning I awoke at 5am to give my wonderful mother a birthday call (hi mom!) and stayed up to watch the sunrise and to begin writing a story that has been floating around in my head for the past month. I’m about 15 pages in, with illustrations in the works.

Friday at dawn.

Al giving some music lessons to Evon and AJ.

The long weekend started with a dinner party at the home of two American doctors, Dan and Maria. They cooked up some splendid food and proved to be great hosts. Apart from the three of us volunteers, a couple also came by for dinner and stories. The husband, Ted, has been living in Belize since 1968 and told stories of how it used to be. He blames American television for bringing the downfall of Belizean society, pointing out that Belize had the lowest crime rate for a nation above 500,000 people in the world. Today Belize City is a dangerous place.

On Saturday we first went into the market to pick up some tasty eats, and found it packed with lots of people. It was sunny and everyone was in a good mood. We also bought some dragon fruit and star fruit, both of which proved to be mighty tasty. It was a great start to the day.

I have been itching to do some more exploring, so Al and I headed out in the afternoon on bikes to find some new places. First we rode down some roads, down the coast a bit, and came to a spot on the sea.

Maybe my favorite picture I've ever taken.

After stowing our bikes in the bushes, we headed out on foot, down the coast. After sloshing through water, we came upon the mangrove forest, a fascinating and wondrous place.

On the edge of the mangrove forest.

Inside the forest

These trees are truly incredible and the silence that pervaded was something to remember. After walking a bit, we found that there was a sailboat moored out on the other side of the trees. It reminded me of a mystery novel. I kept my search up for pirate treasure just in case.

Sailing skiff moored in the bay.

Roots of the Mangrove

After trekking around there for a bit, we headed back out and down a dirt road labeled, “Falcon Forest.” Down the road a bit we caught a glimpse of a house. As we crept closer, loud barking sounded. My paper boy instincts kicked in and dust was left in my wake.

Some pretty wild flowers.

Both these locations are right off of a place called the Toledo Free Zone. Now, ironically, this place has the highest fences I’ve seen in Belize. There’s some cows grazing within the outer fence, but inside the inner one, there’s a bunch of abandoned buildings. This is the former Voice of America station. The VoA is a radio station that broadcasts into nations where there is a strict controlling of the media, allowing citizens to get an alternate source of information. Belize happened to lie near Guatemala and Honduras, two locals where the US government wasn’t too keen on the ruling bodies. Thus, this station was built sometime in the 1980s (also when American TV came in and brought about the downfall of Belize. Figures). Anywho, this place is now apparently abandoned.

Voice of America Station

From there Al and I continued on our bikes for another 10ish miles through the back roads of town. My butt was quite sore from sitting on that seat, but we did get to see new parts of PG and a large tarantula.


Yesterday there was a big TIDE festival. TIDE is one of the many conservation groups in Belize and one of the largest. They had lots of events going on, like a kayak race, watermelon eating, soda drinking, volleyball, fishing net throwing, greased poll climbing (seriously. I entered, but apparently you needed a team), and a fishing contest.

Vollyball tournament at the TIDE festival.

Starting line for the limes on a spoon race

Our friend Mando, who runs the fishing coop, won two categories of the fishing contest, gaining him great accolades, prizes, and $350 cash.

Competitor in the "biggest fish" competition. That's a 14 pound barracuda.

Fishing net throwing competition.

I also met a guy who works for the WWF (World Wildlife Foundation, not the wrestling folk), who chatted with me about fishing conservation. Nice fellow.

Ah, the view on my walk home.

Well, I hope you enjoy your shortened week.

I am attempting to upload 30 pictures today, so this might take 26 hours. Minimum. (I've been sitting here for an hour now and nothing has uploaded yet. Aw jeeze)
((I started this at 7am. It is now 12 noon. Hooray internet!))

Enjoy the autumn. Take in the colors and the crisp air and the apple cider. I miss it greatly.

Shanks for visiting, my friend. See you next week!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A week

Helloooooooooooo from Belize

It’s October! It is strange to realize that fact when the weather is in the high 80s during the day. It is starting to get a little cooler in the mornings though, perhaps as low as 75. However, this cold streak has prompted some students to go into the closets and bring out the winter clothing. I saw a few this week in sweatshirts in the morning. People tell me that in December it gets “cold”, or at least as cold as perhaps 58. I have also been told that a large percentage of our conversations revolve around the weather, so

This week was the first full week of school. It also marked the beginning of the reading program. I got names from all the Infant I (5 and 6 year olds) teachers last week, and on Tuesday I did reading assessments for all of them. While I didn’t have many assumptions about the reading level of the students, I was quite blown away at how much work we have to do. I had the students come into the library in groups of 4 or 6, and had them read out loud first the alphabet, then colors, some sight words (I, me, you, is, it…). I marked down on a piece of paper what the students got right and wrong. For a number of them, recognizing the letters was a huge task. One child, when prompted to read the colors, looked at me and simply said, “I can’t read.” Well my friend, that’s why I’m here.

The rest of the week was spent getting prepared for teaching, organizing and cleaning the library, reading, and drawing. It is so nice that students are starting to know me. I visited a teacher one morning and a bunch of students suddenly yelled “hi sir!” and swarmed me with hugs. Great way to start a day. I filled in for a teacher one afternoon. Some problems that are encountered in a Belizean classroom that aren’t in the US include a student asking, “can I go outside and get the pencil that fell through the floor?” And it is amazing how even a rambunctious group of 8 and 9 year olds will quiet down when you start reading to them.

In other news:
-I’m in the midst of renovating an old kitchen that is on the ground floor with the plan to make it into a neat little lounge.
-Dan Rose’s new Daybreaker album is awesome.
-I reread A Wrinkle in Time this week and strongly recommend it to you.
-I very much miss autumn.
-Matt has giardia which is some sort of stomach parasite. Nasty. He has medicine though. Good.
-On Wednesday Brother Teal, who works at the parish, celebrated his 60th anniversary in the Jesuit order. He gave a brief overview of his life and had fascinating stories. I think very often we forget that those much older than us can be just as captivating as a tv or a book.
-The Octobeard is coming in full force, while my hair is growing back.
-There are no copyright laws in Belize, so the cable people get is actually just pirated New York television. You can also buy any movie here, including just released in the theater flicks and even some that haven’t yet been released. We just watched Inception and it was quite excellent, though the movie cut out right at the end, so I’m not sure what the last shot was. A top spinning? Let me know.
-Children play marbles at a high frequency here. I literally had no idea how it was played until a few weeks ago.
-Geckos are awesome.
-I sang Spanish karaoke on Friday night. It was quite bad. My lack of any Spanish knowledge contributed greatly to that.
-Students came in asking for books on the planets, “you know sir, all off them, Mercury to Pluto.” I couldn’t bring myself to let them know Pluto isn’t a planet anymore.
-On some mornings, thousands of dragonflies glide past our house, heading north. It is something amazing to see.

Well my friend, thanks for reading. I hope you learned something or were amused in some way. I shall be working to get more interesting topics about Belize to share with you.

Any questions, comments, concerns, please submit in writing, cursive, on 8x11 paper, lined, in green pen, sent in a white envelope sealed with wax of a bluish hue with the scent of lilacs.
Email is the second option.

Have a great week. Stay safe. Breath.

Calvin: "If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they'd live a lot differently."
Hobbes: "How so?"
Calvin: "Well, when you look into infinity, you realize that there are more important things than what people do all day."
Hobbes: "We spent our day looking under rocks in the creek."
Calvin: "I mean other people."

Cute kids I hang out with every day.

I built a grill top out of a bicycle wheel, bending the spokes together so they would hold up the tasty chicken and potatoes I cooked later over this fire pit in our yard.

If I start a solo music career, this will be the first album cover.