Sunday, September 23, 2012

Welcome to Belize!

Hello and welcome to my crazy Belize adventure, where ants crawling on me are normal, my showers are cold, I wake up at 6 and go to bed at 10, my backyard is the rain forest, and I’ve gotten to do some crazy awesome things! I’ve been here in the country smaller than Massachusetts for about a month, and I’m a little over a quarter of the way through. So I’m a little behind on this whole blogging thing, but that’s okay. I’m going to try to explain on my blog the things which you can’t see from pictures on Facebook 
Here’s the link to my Facebook photos:
The program I’m with is Creation Care Study Program (CCSP).

There are two “houses” on campus: the red house and the blue house. The blue house has the girls’ rooms on the bottom floor and the classroom and the guys’ and professor’s rooms on the second floor. The red house has the staffs’ rooms on the bottom floor and the kitchen, dining room, student lounge, and staff office on the second floor. We always eat meals out on the veranda though, which has the most beautiful view on campus.

As for meals, we have a lot of Belizean food, and at least everything has at least a Belizean influence. Most of it is really good! I’m not a fan of papaya though. We eat a lot of watermelon and pineapple, and lots of rice and beans and flour tortillas, the Belizean staples.

There are 17 students total, and five staff members: Jeff is the director, Brindley, his wife, is the internship coordinator, Gellie and Mark are the student life coordinators (SLCs), Joelle is the office administrator and “nurse,” and Alex is the garden and food guy who plans all our meals. We have two Belizean cooks, Flora and Shelly. Oh, and we have two dogs… a super old one named Skippy that can hardly even walk, but when you come over to her she thumps her tail on the veranda and it’s pretty much the best thing ever. And then there’s Terra… who is about 5 or 6 months old, I think, and she is so insane and crazy, but I love her. She’s a mix of black lab, german shepherd, and some other type that I’ve never heard of before. I want a dog of my own so bad!

Our daily schedule:
8:00 breakfast
9-12 class
12:30 lunch
5:30 dinner
7-9 class
Although this week our class schedule was completely different because we took several field trips so we had class in the afternoon several times.

Every morning before breakfast, they read from the Book of Common Prayer, part of which we recite 3 different liturgies. The first one says, “Oh Lord, let my soul rise up to meet You, as the day rises to meet the sun. Glory to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” The second is the Lord’s Prayer, and the third says, “May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you wherever he may send you. May he guide you through the wilderness, protect you through the storm. May he bring you home rejoicing at the wonders he has shown you. May he bring you home rejoicing once again unto our doors.” It’s still a little strange because I’m not used to liturgies, but they do stuff like that a lot here so I’m getting used to it.

On Sundays we have Community Night at 7:00pm. So far the staff has led them, but there will be four student-led community nights. It starts with town hall, where any announcements are made and they inform us of the coming week’s schedule. Then we get into smaller groups and share a high and low from our week. After that, whichever staff member is in charge leads a kind of service, with a few liturgies we do each time. Services are different each time; one time the staff washed our feet, another time we did this French Taize service where we sing very short songs (a line or two) over and over and then have times of silence and meditation, and another time we had communion. Mondays at 12:00 we have Music & Musings, where 2 students play a song for everyone and we talk about it a little. Tuesdays at 7:15am we have small group devotions. Wednesday at 12:00 we have noon-time news, where the SLCs give us the week’s news, including weather and sports from our schools back home. Thursdays is read-aloud at breakfast. And Friday is just Friday :)

Everyone is in a small group of four or five students and a staff member. My small group leader is Gellie, and in my group is me, Jenny, Nick, Carissa, and Danielle. For our devotions we’re doing a fruit of the spirit a week, and it’s been really good to just focus on one a week and really dive into it and look at all the times the Bible mentions it, and what it really means to have that fruit of the spirit. In addition to devotions, we do several “small group things;” for instance, we went out for lunch once, and sometime we’re going to go horseback riding! We also do chores with our small group, which are on a weekly rotating basis. Chores include dish washing, garden & compost, general cleaning, and garbage & car washing. Composting was super nasty because one time we had to move all the compost out of the container, and there were literally hundreds of maggots and about six of the giantest grubs I’ve ever seen in my life… no joke they were an inch around and 5 inches long. Eww.

I have two roommates, Mikayla and Connie. They’re both super nice, but we probably won’t be best friends by the end, which is totally okay. We get along perfectly fine though! There’s one bunk bed in the room and a single bed, which I sleep on. We have our own bathroom… well, unless you count the ants we share it with. The rooms are actually pretty nice because they were recently built; the program has only been on this campus for a year.

Campus is about a 20-30 minute walk from town, San Ignacio, which is actually the second largest town/city in Belize. But Belize has a total population of 300,000, so second largest is still pretty small. There are a few restaurants we go to in town to get internet (as we can’t get internet on campus): Hode’s, Flayva’s, the Belize Coffee Company, and Maya Walk. We’re starting to get to know the owners of most of them, which is fun. We normally just buy something to drink, like lime juice (most delicious stuff ever! It’s basically limeade). And Hode’s has really good ice cream, so that normally finds its way into my belly too, if I’m there. If we’re running behind or are feeling lazy, we’ll catch a collectivo back to campus, which is a type of taxi that is cheaper. I’m not sure exactly what the difference is, except that the true taxis say “taxi,” and the collectivos don’t, although both are official as their green license plate indicates.

Most Belizeans in this area speak Spanish and English; Spanish to each other, English to us gringos. And yes, I have spoken some Spanish; some to our cooks (not because they don’t know English) and also a fair bit on our homestay last weekend in the local village of Succotz. In Succotz they speak Spanish more than they do in the San Ignacio area.

Our first week here it was brutally hot, and we all had no idea how we were going to survive the semester. We then had a four day travel weekend, and we all decided to go to the Caribbean island of Caye Caulker, and when we got back from there the temperature was decidedly cooler. Still super hot and humid, but not quite as bad. Since then, we’ve had some really hot days that rival or surpass the first week, and some that aren’t too awful. I think the average temperature is 90 degrees, which doesn’t sound so bad, but when you add in the humidity and the sun it feels way hotter. It doesn’t rain too much; there’s only been one day where it rained for most of the day. A few other days it’s just been a quick downpour or rain shower and then it’s done. The best times of day are early in the morning before breakfast and dinner-time and later, because it’s usually actually comfortable, sometimes even cool.

So far we’ve had two classes: God & Nature and Stream Ecology. God & Nature was two weeks and Stream Ecology was just one week, but later we’ll have Forest and Marine Ecology. Our professor for God & Nature was Uko Zylstra, a retired dean of Calvin College. He was so nice and it was great getting to know him! He kind of felt like a grandpa to all of us. The first Friday he was here we went to a soy ice cream place called Cayo Twist, and the next Friday he asked if we could all go again and he paid for everyone! I was really kind of sad when he left the next morning.

But in the class we learned a lot about industrial agriculture versus agrarian agriculture, and how industrial agriculture is not only bad for the environment and completely unsustainable, but how the big corporations control the smaller farmers who barely get any money at all anyway. We watched a documentary for night class each night instead of having lecture, and those were all really eye opening. I remember one called Food, Inc. was especially. We also watched a movie about Wal-Mart, which exposed the truth about the company: how they treat their employees very poorly and actually advise their employees to use government health care instead of making their own health care more affordable, and how they put pretty much all small businesses out of business when they come to town, and the movie also showed the working conditions in a factory in China, which were absolutely horrific. The main take-away I got from that part of the class was to shop locally – shop at farmer’s markets, local bakeries, etc.

One class session Uko talked about his view on creation – basically that the seven days weren’t literal days, and that he believes in an old earth and in evolution. He stated that evolution and creation are compatible, and he described evolution as God’s unfolding of creation. I talked to him after class about it, and pointed out a few verses and questioned him on it, but he pointed out other verses that I hadn’t thought about before. For instance, he showed me that when God creates the animals, God says, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of their kind.” But then when I read the next verse, Genesis 1:25, it says, “God made the beasts of the earth after their kind…” so I’m not sure if the first part actually changes my thoughts at all. The biggest reason that evolution doesn’t make sense to me is that Genesis relates that God made man out of the dirt and breathed life into him; sounds pretty different from an ape changing into a homo sapien. Our textbook and Uko both said that Genesis 1 and 2 should be read as a poem, rather than as a scientific, historical account. I’m definitely starting to agree with that, especially since there are many inconsistencies between the Genesis 1 and the Genesis 2 creation stories. However, I think if the Bible tells me that God made plants, animals, and people, it means God made them, and He didn’t make them through evolution, which was merely a man’s idea, wholly and completely. I don’t know enough science about it all, so I don’t know yet what I think about the idea that each day in the account isn’t a literal idea, but at this point in my mind the exact origin of the world and life on it is simply one of those things that I can’t and won’t know for sure until I’m face to face with the Creator Himself. All I know is that I am made in the image of God and that the world and the universe show the love and imagination of my God.

Stream ecology hasn’t been as intense of a class in regard to theology and mind-blowing things that I’d never even thought to think about before, but it’s certainly been very intense! Literally all I’ve done this week is class, field trips, study, take quizzes, research, and write a paper. I’ve learned way more than I ever want to know about different kinds of stream bugs haha. We had to do reports too, and I did mine on Protozoan Water-Borne Illnesses of Belize, two of which are Giardia and Entamoeba histolytica…which were kind of fun learning about since several students have already gotten those parasites! I got amoebas within the first two weeks of being here, although I didn’t realize what it was for over a week. But some medicine cleared it up real fast… and turned my pee fluorescent yellow/green. ;)

Alrighty, well, I hope all of this gives you at least some idea of what my life in Belize is like! Hopefully I’ll do a few more blog posts at some point with some fun stories, but if I don’t, I’m sure I’d love to tell you all about it when I come home – December 7th! :)

Oh, and if you’d like to send me some snail-mail love, my address is:
Stacie Martin
c/o Creation Care Study Program
Santa Elena Post Office
Santa Elena, Cayo
Central America