Keep Smiling, Keep Shining

I’m not sure anyone still keeps up with my trip in here but because it needs a proper ending, and I never ended my blog from Spain, I owe it to the blogosphere to complete this!

Our last week flew by. There were some hiccups this week though that caused some stress. Tuesday morning my teacher was late because his babysitter was late. So I was by myself in the morning and panicking! We’re not to be left alone in the classroom so I informed the vice principal of this situation. She knew why Mr. Garcia was late and I couldn’t help but wonder why no one informed me of this. The communication within the schools isn’t the greatest. So after the assembly (in which Charlotte and I were introduced to the school…our last week…) Mrs. Enriquez came into my classroom and together we tried to find something to teach. Both her and the principal came to my room and seemed perturbed that they needed to babysit my students until Mr. Garcia returned. I felt like I was in trouble and that they felt it was my fault that I couldn’t be there by myself. Sorry, but it’s illegal for me to be by myself. Once Mr. Garcia returned, Mrs. Enriquez stayed and stood there while we talked about a possible subject I could teach. It was like pulling teeth because he didn’t care what I did and I didn’t mind. We settled on a language arts lesson reviewing topic sentence. Preparing this lesson, I was an absolute mess. I came up with a fun activity for the class to do and felt pretty good about it. So on Wednesday I taught my lesson. The students already had a great background knowledge in this area but Mr. Garcia was convinced they needed more work. The students did well but when asked to do the independent work, their confidence wasn’t the highest. Many of them wanted to do the topic I was doing because they knew it was correct. I encouraged them to do their own topic sentences and detail webs on what they are experts on. Mr. Garcia took their thought webs up for a grade and many students told me they were excited that they did so well. That made me feel great! But these students need more structured lessons and rigor in the classroom so that they may become more autonomous in their school work. As I was leaving on Wednesday, Mr. Garcia and I settled on having the students write a paragraph based on their plans for class the next day. So Thursday came along. Thursday was the night of the Christmas concert so many teachers left during the school day to set up and practice with students involved in the program. Problem is, Charlotte and I were going to be in our classrooms alone. Though mr. Garcia said he’d be setting up, he didn’t leave on this day. Maybe because I made a big deal about not being in the classroom alone two days before. Charlotte was in the classroom alone most of this day with no warning or word from her teacher. This happens a lot. Sometimes teachers don’t come to school or step out. And their class simply stays there…with no instructor or substitute. So since many teachers were out this day, there was no language arts and therefore no lesson for me to teach. I’m not sure what the students do when their teacher doesn’t show up. Things are just different in Belize. Friday came along and there were 11 students in my class and no instruction on this day. My teacher tried to sneak some instruction in but we basically did nothing all day. These days are a waste of the students’ time if you ask me. They’re there to learn and the teachers just don’t teach. There’s a great deal of wasted time in these schools. For lunch on Friday, we went to a luncheon with Galen university representatives. This lunch was very nice. They asked about our experiences here both in and outside of the classroom. I really feel like they listened to us and understood where the school system is lacking. Though they cannot change the schools (the ministry of education had everything to do with that) they listened to our concerns and how their schools differ from those in the USA.

Saturday morning we were off to caye caulker again for the weekend! Hoping for sunny weather, we set up in our condo and posted up on the roof for some sun and reading. Sunday we woke up to some sun but the clouds quickly moved in so Charlotte and I decided to take the water taxi over to San Pedro for the day. San Pedro was beautiful with beaches, shops, good food, and lots to do. I think if I were to come back to Belize this is where I’d go…though things here are more touristy and therefore expensive. Monday was out last day in caye caulker and we had reserved our place on a trip out to the legendary Blue Hole. We went to snorkel and many others on the trip went to dive and see the cave features under the water. There were three stops on this snorkel trip and each one offering more underwater surprises. The first stop we saw a sea turtle, black tip reef sharks, and a ray. The second stop, we were followed by a barracuda, spotted a flounder and giant conch. On the second stop we snorkels up to this island. (Half moon caye) We then climbed up to see the birds that lived on the island. There were red footed boobys and frigate birds. Pretty cool but a little gross smelling. Then we walked along the island and came to a resort where we ate lunch on some picnic tables with the iguanas. Haha We then rode the boat to our final stop where we saw a huge ray, a huge sea turtle, and Charlotte got stung by a jelly fish. Then we returned home! After getting off the boat, I felt pretty dizzy and terrible. We went out for pizza and it felt like the table was moving, but food helped and I eventually recovered…though I did get pretty sunburnt on the boat. Tuesday, we returned to Belmopan, said goodbye to Valerie, stopped by our school to pick up some gifts, picked up Brandi and Meghan and headed to the airport where I waited for MITCHELL!!!!! I was sad to see the lifelong friends I made in Belize go though. We truly were blessed with great home stays, roommate assignments, and experiences while in Belize.

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Week three flew by!

Well week three was a dud school wise. As you’ve already read, we left school early Monday to get Charlotte to the bank before it closed. Then we skipped school Tuesday to go to Xunantunich. Wednesday was no different. Dr. August came to get us pretty much right after lunch to go to a presentation at the University of Belize. The presentation was by both female students and teachers at the university. The presentation was for women to be heard and were pieces written for a poetry class. This was pretty neat to go to and I’m glad we got out of exams because I would have been sitting in the classroom fighting sleep. On Thursday, Charlotte and I got ready while anxiously awaiting the Macy’s parade. It didn’t begin until it was almost time to leave for school so Dr. August let us stay home until 9 so we could watch more of the parade. Though missing our families on Thanksgiving, we had a fun afternoon planned. We went to Art Box after school which is an art gallery, souvenir shop, and cafe. This was a lot of fun! The place itself is a work of art. Then we had a meeting arranged for a former teacher and current professor of education. We had many questions for her about her time as a teacher and also about how teachers are taught today. Turns out the teachers here who are trained have a class on management and lesson planning and running a classroom but for some reason these methods aren’t practiced in many of our classrooms. Another problem is that only about half of all teachers in Belize are certified teachers. This isn’t a requirement here. There is just so much wasted time at school.

We returned home late Thursday night and were greeted with a surprise Thanksgiving meal from our host families. There was turkey, ham, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potato pie, deviled eggs, gravy, rum popo (egg nog with rum), and decorations. It was so nice to have a Thanksgiving down here as we were missing our families somewhat on this holiday. So to honor thanksgiving, I will share with you the prayer we say at school after lunch!

We thank you, Lord for the world so sweet
We thank you, Lord for the food we eat
We thank you, Lord for the birds that sing
We thank you, Lord for everything!!

While at thanksgiving dinner, we decided it wouldn’t be in our best interest to go to school on Friday. Though exams were over, new material was not being started. It was more or less, review. Also, Dr. August was going to Belize City on Friday morning so we wouldn’t need to take the bus! Total score! We got to Belize City and to the water taxi stop and were on our way to Caye Caulker!! Caye Caulker is a very very small island about 5 miles long. There are no cars only boats, bicycles, and golf carts. We stayed at a quaint hotel for very cheap! On Friday we tried to soak up some sun and explore though it wasn’t super sunny. We ate, shopped some, browsed snorkeling places and waited for Valerie to meet us on the beach. The beaches all throughout Belize are not like ours. There’s not an abundance of sand and beach chairs to lay out on. But we set up a spot on the “beach” and waited for Val. While we waited, we made friends with (or rather, we were attacked) by small children that lived by or hotel. They knew no strangers and seemed to think I was some sort of jungle gym. Oh well. Eventually, some fisherman pulled up to the dock we were sitting near! One of them being Tom, the man who’s hotel we were staying at. Another man, from Austin, Texas invited us to come watch what they were doing. They had gone to check their lobster traps which they have out most of the year. They check them once a week and when it’s not lobster season, they fix the lobster traps as they are deteriorated from being in the water most of the year. We got to see them cut the lobster and save the tails. They looked great! We went out for a seafood dinner (blackened snapper and rice! Yum!) Then on Saturday, we got up early for breakfast! It was drizzling so we weren’t sure the snorkeling people would go out so we ate quickly and shopped around for the best deal. We finally booked with a tour and left at 11 for our snorkeling trip. This was seriously the coolest thing I’ve ever done! I bought an underwater camera and you’ll just have to see the photos! Possibly cooler than zip lining. I can’t even explain to you how amazing it was. In addition to seeing rays, sharks, lots of fish, barrier reef, and eel, we had lunch provided and fruit and then seviche and rum punch. It was just amazing!! Then Sunday was gloomy and not so fun. We’re hoping for a better weekend this weekend when we go to Caye Caulker! We already have reserved a condo! So excited! Our last weekend will be just as amazing!!

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Refreshed!

After a weekend at the beach, I felt quite refreshed! A little sun and the coarse sand of the beach giving me somewhat of a pedicure revived my spirits. Sunday, we returned to Belmopan early on the bus, ate breakfast, took a nap, then headed to the Blue Hole and Herman’s Cave. We didn’t go down into the cave but hiked to the opening. There were tons of mosquitoes (I kid you not, I put my arms in my shirt so they would stop biting) so we didn’t spend a lot of time here. Here’s a photo of the opening though :)

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Then from there, we drove over to the entrance to the Blue Hole to so some swimming. Basically how this hole formed was there is a river underneath many layers of limestone. Caves and water pockets began to develop in the rock and eventually created a well of sorts and filling with water. The water is clear and cold. I got many fish kisses which was surprisingly okay with me. I was actually the first one in and the first one to put my head underwater! Cool stuff! As soon as we got in, it began raining and pouring so we packed up and left. When back at the shelter at the front of the park, we talked with the man who worked there. He was eating the inside of a cacao fruit. The seeds are roasted to make chocolate but the white substance inside the fruit is sweet and tastes nothing like chocolate. Interesting. But this fruit came from a tree back in the park. Here’s us in the Blue Hole! :)

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So that was Sunday! Monday at school, we began exams. The students are taking three exams each day. Two in the morning then one after lunch. It seems somewhat pointless for me to be there because the students are taking tests and I am sitting and reading my book. I am excited however because new material is supposed to begin Thursday!! Finally some teaching!! But Friday we are taking the afternoon off to hop on a bus and travel to Caye Caulker! We are so excited to do some snorkeling and beach time at the clear blue waters!

Today, Tuesday, we had an interesting day though. We began our morning with a tour of Valerie’s pre-school that she teaches at. This school has one room, a rigorous curriculum, and a morning and afternoon classes for the two different classes. This school is very inviting for young children and I can see why they are so successful. Our initial plan was to get a ride from a parent to school but instead since Valerie had to take Kalina to the doctor, she said she would drive us to school. (We were almost late). So, while walking back home from the preschool, we began talking and didn’t see the point in going to school. Val was going to San Ignacio to the doctors office so we thought we could go to Xunantunich while there. So, a spur of the moment decision was made, Dr. August okayed that we go on this excursion. We arrived at Xunantunich, found a guide, took a ferry across the river, and hiked way way up to the temples. I cannot even explain how beautiful this place was! It is so impressive to think about how the Mayans used to live and build these temples. Their thinking was also very interesting to hear about and it turns out that whole “end of the world/Mayan calendar business” was just a misunderstanding. The cycle starts over again! We climbed to the top of “El Castillo” or The Castle and had a breathtaking view of Belize around us as well as Guatemala and the border. It was amazing! Just look at the photos!! :)
And they’re still excavating and finding things too!

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And there were these tombstones recovered at the site and some more that have been excavated but are in poor shape. Very cool. These people were very important and were buried with great amounts of jade which was precious to the Mayans.

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Neat stuff! While waking around, if you look down at the dirt and rocks, there are pieces of pottery everywhere. They say anywhere in Belize where you begin to dig, you’ll find pieces of pottery. There is so much undiscovered! Mind blowing! And around the temples, they’ve found foundations of what would have been the peasant homes. They depended on the kings for everything. And when a king died, they buried him, then build his sons temple around the dead king’s temple. That’s how this castle got so tall…they say 13 kings ruled this area and are buried within.

Some of the smaller structures were observatories to observe the planets and stars.

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Excavation only happens about three months out of the year however so the excavating process is slow. A great Tuesday! Not looking forward to going back to school tomorrow for exams but I’ll learn something, I’m sure! :) the cultural experiences are amazing here!

Photos:

I forgot to put photos of Dangriga on that last post so here is our interesting excursion to Dangriga:

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And more from Placencia!

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This week…

Well I haven’t written this week because it’s been exhausting and frankly an interesting experience. Monday was the beginning of review week at school. This basically was more test taking for my students as they needed more grades in the grade book. Students then did eventually do some review. My teacher signed out the projector and had the students play a jeopardy game until….the power went out. So then we did nothing. On Wednesday and Thursday they usually have religion in the morning. My teacher teaches one of the Catholic classes so I was somewhat excited. There was a miscommunication on whether he were going to have religion on Wednesday so my teacher had nothing planned so we did nothing. You’d think since we had religion Wednesday, he’d have prepared something for Thursday… Nope, same thing…nothing. Luckily I brought my book that day.

Now to explain Tuesday. Tuesday was a holiday called Garifuna Settlement day. This day celebrates when the Garifuna people came ashore to Belize from Africa. This holiday is full of dance, drums, and traditional food. We had made plans to go to Dangriga, one of the Garifuna towns in southern Belize. We arranged the trip with the teacher from Galen University who picked us up from the airport. He claimed fun was mandatory and he was the one to go to for fun, so we agreed to go with him. He had promised a unique cultural experience with a ride to Dangriga in time for the reenactment of the boat coming ashore, the parade, a meal, and drum making craft activity. We nought this sounded like a great deal. However, this day kind of stunk. We got to Dangriga late and didn’t see the reenactment. We set up drums and microphones in the church and missed the parade festivities. We did see some of it as they danced to the church. We then sat in a catholic mass for two and a half hours in Garifuna which is impossible to understand. After the mass, we were starving and were informed that we would then be watching them perform at a park where there might be food. There was no food, we were late, and luckily didn’t stay long. Next, we went to a stand on the side of the main road for food. We had hudut which is a traditional Garifuna food that the locals wouldn’t eat. It is soup with fish in it but these were the worst pieces of fish with eyeballs popping out so I had a coke for lunch. From lunch we went to the drum making place. We expected to make our own little memento and cover it which skin and tie it up and get to take it home. Instead, all 20 something of the people that went made one drum that we didn’t get to finish and that Galen will keep. The process was neat and we tried to participate when we could but this was still a lot of standing around. And we could see the parade from a distance where we were…so we missed that too except for one float which we saw by accident leaving town. This was not worth our money and are working on possibly getting a refund. We’ll see.

Then the weekend came and we went down to Punta Gorda with Dr. August. This was a lot of fun. We saw the sleeping giant (a mountain that looks like a man lying down), orange banana, and grapefruit farms, waterfalls, Mayan villages, Valerie’s mom and step dad and his beautiful artwork, and much more. We got to Punta Gorda and while Dr. August was observing a teacher, we soaked up a little sun then hung out in a coffee shop to pass the time. From there we drove to the peninsula of Placencia. This place is beautiful and is full of lovely vacation homes. Not sure real estate in this area would be a good investment however because the water could just soak the place in no time. We stayed in a cheap little cabana on the beach which turned out to be close to food, shopping, and the beach. We ate at a couple good places on the beach and tried to soak up some sun on Saturday but the sun didn’t want to cooperate and come out from behind the clouds. We found an amazing breakfast spot though and met a couple who retired there from Pennsylvania. They made some mean pancakes. We had a great weekend and had to get up early on Sunday morning to catch the bus to get back to Belmopan. Bus rides are interesting here because they drive too fast around curvy roads. Many small prayers were said along the ride as I was sitting above the back tire that they kept stopping to work on. I thought I was doomed. I may just be being dramatic but roads aren’t the safest here…and full of potholes. I don’t think I’ll ever complain about little potholes in the states though.

Sunday, today, we’re planning on going to Herman’s cave and he blue hole by the cave but I’m not sure of the plan right now so I’ll have to update later!

Some photos of Dangriga, Punta Gorda, and Placencia. I have more on my canon camera but can’t upload those yet. So more to come.

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Weekend número uno!

Hello friends!

I hope you’re sitting in a comfortable chair because this might be a long post!

The weekend finally arrived! On Saturday, our excursion began with a trip to the zoo. We could not go to the Mayan ruins like we had planned so we changed our plans to include the zoo and then San Ignacio. Before I entered, I thought this zoo would be like every other zoo I’ve been too…tigers, zebras, elephants. But the Belize zoo really is as they claim and is “the best little zoo in the world”. This is because all of the animals are found here in Belize, the exhibits are up close and personal, and the zoo itself is in the jungle. The day, by the way turned out to be PERFECT!!! No rain, sunny skies, and warm!!! I cannot express to you how excited we were so here are some pictures:

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So we saw all of the animals native to Belize up close and personal! We paid $5 to feed Runt the toucan too! I was sort of terrified as you can see on my face. His beak was not sharp but I was not comfortable sticking my fingers in his mouth and turning around to smile for the camera. Runt is blind in one eye because a tree fell on him some time ago. We fed him raisins for a while then were ready to go. We hadn’t seen the black jaguar yet so the zookeeper took us to his cage. The black jaguars name is Lucky Boy because he was rescued from an abandoned resort here and was malnourished. After watching the zookeeper feed Luck Boy, we decided to pay $5 to give Lucky Boy a high five. Yes, the toucan made me nervous, but I’ll high five a jaguar. Here are more zoo photos :)

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I may add some more zoo photos to the end because I got some very good shots of the animals but I want to move on the the rest of the day. After the zoo we drove to San Ignacio. San Ignacio was so much more lively than Belmopan. There were people everywhere walking, shopping, and playing in the fountain. We walked around some then stopped at a restaurant in the square called Fuego. The restaurant was very modern and very delicious. I had a shrimp pesto wrap with grilled veggies and avocado. Yum! We loved it! Because we had some time and we were close by we also ventured up to Cahal Pech. This is the oldest Mayan ruins discovered in western Belize. It was so beautiful and amazing. We climbed up and sat where the king would have sat and walk where the king would have walked. We saw the beds, sauna, meditation room, kitchen, and the ball court where the winner would be sacrificed to the gods. Crazy. It was extremely neat to see where the archeologists and still excavating and discovering new walls. The ruins are under direst and trees and the door ways are filled in with rock because when the Mayans left, they didn’t want anyone to find where they had been. It must have taken them a lot of time to cover their tracks which means I guess they didn’t leave in too much of a hurry. Here are some pictures of that!! They are in a strange order but I’m not sure how to fix them so bear with the randomness.

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More photos of animals in the zoo:

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