After building the
Succotz library's foundation on Monday and Tuesday (see
Previous News), I spent the rest of the week working on the elementary
school in the remote village of San Antonio, about a 40 minute drive from San
Ignacio down a bumpy, dirt road. Like Succotz, San Antonio is a village
with a few thousand people but with a stronger Mayan influence.
The San Antonio Pentecostal Elementary School has nine teachers and 230 children, and our goals there were to build
a sidewalk, put hinges on the walls so they could be opened for assemblies,
stabilize the shaky wooden partitions that separated the classrooms, and install
sheetrock above the partitions to reduce classroom noise. Our group had a
lot to do, certainly, but the ProBelize folks who worked there on Monday and Tuesday had made good
Our work at San
Antonio was a lot easier than at Succotz because we worked mostly in the shade
-- and there was no tamping (hurray). And we got to work with a lot of
villagers, which was terrific. Ramon, a cheerful pastor, helped us each
day and he and I became good friends. The school's superintendent, Apollonio,
also pitched in as did the principal and several teachers. And Michael,
the ProBelize contractor, showed me how to use a nail gun, which was a blast.
In fact, I spent an entire morning nailing everything that needed it -- and
several things that didn’t. I'm always gleefully dangerous when I have new
toys, especially power tools.
The hardest task at
San Antonio, by far, was mixing concrete for the new sidewalk. Mixing
concrete is an art and each village in Belize has their own method. But
basically you open bags of sand and cement on the ground, mix it into a pile and
crater it, then pour water into the crater. After the water soaks in for a
few minutes, you mix it fast and have about 15 minutes to pour it before it
starts to set. And by the way, don't breathe in the cement dust because
it's extremely corrosive, as I learned the hard way. Cough, cough...
Things went well on
Wednesday morning, though, and we got a lot done. At lunch, our happy but
tired group pulled up seats used by the students and sat outside on the veranda
to eat, all feeling like kindergarteners again sitting in our tiny chairs.
After lunch, I saw
Jean talking to a couple of teenage boys who had stopped to watch us work.
They looked Hispanic so I was excited to finally use my high school Spanish and
said, “Hola, coma estas? Me llamo Del. Como se llama?” But all
they gave me was a blank stare. That's when Jean said, “Del, they don’t
speak Spanish. They speak English.” I laughed and felt kind of
stupid, but in Belize you can never tell what a person’s first (and maybe only)
The boys were shy
and soft-spoken, and we talked for a while. They were brothers named
Roberto and Bernardo and spoke Mayan at home but also knew English. The
boys were in their early teens and had graduated from the elementary school the
previous year, but their family couldn’t afford to send them to high school.
I enjoyed getting to know them but was saddened to think that, even though they
wanted to learn, they had received all the education they likely ever would.
I was also saddened to see that Roberto had a severely malformed foot that was
twisted completely back under itself, forcing him to limp painfully. I
watched them as they left and thought about their futures. You can’t help
but be moved by seeing things like that, and in Belize, you see things like that
Here's the elementary school in the village of San
Antonio, my work site on Wednesday and Thursday. Plywood partitions
separate grades K-6. The school is hot, crowded, and noisy but the
dedicated teachers here do an excellent job.
Above center: Task #1 at San
Antonio was to build a sidewalk. The Monday/Tuesday crew laid rebar and we
were going to mix and pour the cement.
Task #2 at San Antonio was to stabilize the walls.
Kate, Bruce, Roger, Tom and Joy are working on a partition frame.
Above left: We also
installed hinges on the walls so they could be opened for school assemblies.
That's Bruce taking measurements.
Above center: The daily
schedule for the second grade class.
Villagers checking out our work.
Bruce and Roger installing sheetrock above the wooden
partitions to deaden noise between the classrooms.
Tom, Jean, and San Antonio's school superintendent,
Apollonio, pouring cement for the sidewalk. Mixing cement in the hot
Belize sun is awfully hard work.
Above right: Our
sidewalk's first visitor was, um, a dog (note paw print). Joy is smoothing
Have nail gun will travel. Using a nail gun is a lot
faster than pounding in nails by hand -- and it's more fun, too.
Brothers Roberto and Bernardo stopped by to talk.
Roberto had a severely clubbed foot and was unable to walk normally.
Getting to know kids like this had a tremendous impact on me, and I can only
wonder what their futures will hold.
Ramon Cantos, a wonderful
pastor in the village who gave us a hand. As the diminutive Ramon jokingly
introduced himself, "I'm Ramon, the tallest man in Belize." Ramon and I
still keep in touch.
After getting back to Chiclero Camp
Wednesday evening, I strolled into San Ignacio and bumped into my buddies,
Coleen and Laurie. Coleen's a nurse in Iowa and Laurie teaches deaf kids
in New Mexico. Coleen is a real crack-up and a good pen-pal, too.
Above center: Victoria
Street in San Ignacio.
nightly basketball game in San Ignacio. These guys speak Creole, something
like Caribbean pidgin English, and I could understand only about every fifth
word. Yah, mon!
Belizean Idol... or Maybe Not
Our group got a lot
done at the San Antonio school and we returned to Chiclero Camp late in the
afternoon. After grabbing a quick shower, I went up to the veranda and met
a fellow there in dreadlocks who was setting up video equipment. His name
was Kent Pandy, he lived in San Ignacio, and for many years has run the
one-person “Pandy Show,” a call-in karaoke television show broadcast live from
Chiclero Camp every Wednesday night. I learned later that The Pandy Show
is one of the most popular television shows in Belize.
Since Kent does
everything himself -- lighting, sound, cameras -- I greatly admired him, perhaps
because many years ago I ran my own video production company. That was
between my careers of playing blackjack in Reno (see my
previous update) and working as a ranger in
Colorado. Yeah, I've had lots of careers. Anyway, we talked for
several minutes and I told Kent I was heading into San Ignacio for a while.
“Be back by 6:30, Del, because that’s when I start my show,” he told me in his
Caribbean Creole accent.
I walked around
bustling San Ignacio for an hour and shot a hundred pictures, then headed back
to Chiclero, arriving there just as Kent was starting The Pandy Show. As I
approached the veranda, Kent saw me and said, “Here’s my friend from North
America. Let’s see if he'll come over.” Although I love taking
pictures, I'm pretty camera shy, so I made a hasty retreat into the restaurant
because there was no way I was going on television. I said to our group,
who was eating dinner there, “Boy, that guy out on the veranda tried to get me
on live TV.”
Here's the ProBelize
crew singing "Feel Like a Natural Woman." Hmm, I
wonder what Simon Cowell would say?
RealPlayer. If problems, see
Upon hearing this,
Cecelia, who is not at all camera shy, jumped up, grabbed me by the shoulder and
dragged me out to the veranda, excitedly saying “C’mon, Del, we’ve gotta do
this! We’ve gotta do this!” Laughing and with a big grin, she
dragged me over to the camera and, upon seeing us, Kent also broke into a smile.
In his Creole accent, he said, “Here are my friends from North America.
Come over and tell me about yourselves!” So Cecelia and I spent the next
five minutes being interviewed on one of the most popular television shows in
Belize, telling most everyone in Belize about ourselves and our work there.
Later I teased Cecelia that I'll never forgive her for doing that to me, but
actually it was pretty fun… and pretty funny.
A half-hour later,
Cecelia, Coleen, Michele, Laurie, and Forrest decided to sing a karaoke song, so
they donned sunglasses and, on live Belizean TV, belted out the old Aretha
Franklin hit, “Feel Like a Natural Woman.” I wisely declined their
invitation to sing (though I did chime in a bit) and I did make an audio
recording of it. And so to commemorate our five minutes of fame, I’ve
posted a recording of our unforgettable Belizean Idol debut.
Now I admit, being
on the Pandy Show was one of the main highlights of our trip to Belize and our
group talked and laughed about it for days afterwards. So thanks, Kent.
But next time, please ask Cecelia and not me!
Kent Pandy at Chiclero Camp broadcasting his live
karaoke show, one of the most popular TV shows in Belize. Cecelia dragged
me over for an interview -- and I still haven't forgiven her for it.
Later, the Blues Sisters (and Forrest) belted out "Feel
Like a Natural Woman."
Above right: Coleen, Laurie
and Michele having a laugh after their Pandy Show singing debut. Next
stop: American Idol?
Day 6: A Kind Farewell
was warm and muggy, like every other morning that week, and after breakfast our
group piled into the ProBelize van and headed back to the school at San Antonio,
First, though, we stopped at a cafe in San Ignacio for some doughnuts, but we
don't need to tell the other group -- the ones that headed to Succotz for a hard
day of work in the hot sun -- about that, do we? Nope. Anyway, after
our doughnut stop, we bounced our way down the dusty dirt road for 45 minutes
and finally got to San Antonio, where I spent most of the day working with the
electric drill. That's because, as you know, I LOVE power tools!
I spent much of the
day at San Antonio working with my friend, Ramon, the pastor, and enjoyed his
constant cheerfulness. I’d brought an extra pair of work gloves from
Portland and since this was our last day, I asked Ramon if he’d like them.
As I dug them out of my daypack, his eyes grew wide with appreciation and he was
extremely grateful. To me, they were just a $10 pair of gloves but Ramon
treasured them, and I treasured his appreciation. Experiences like that
made me aware of how much I take for granted in the U.S., and how much a simple
gift can mean. We also donated several books to the school, which the
teachers appreciated. There's no better gift in the world, I think, than a
book for someone who's eager to learn.
Antonio teachers and the ProBelize crew. L to R: Sylvia,
Gary, Sheila, Tom, Laurie, Michael, Coleen, Tamera, and yours
Later that day, we
finished the sidewalk and installed hinges on the classroom walls so they could
swing open for school assemblies. Also, Gary, Tom and others installed
sheetrock above the partitions to reduce the noise between classrooms. So
we completed all our work and were happy, the teachers were pleased, and all was
right with the world.
This was our last
day at San Antonio and to show their appreciation, the teachers cooked us a
great lunch of tortilla chips, a cheesy salsa that was delicious beyond
description, mashed potatoes, gravy, and watermelon juice. It was a simple
lunch but it meant a lot to us, just like simple gifts like gloves and books
meant a lot to them. As we ate lunch with the teachers in the school’s
cafeteria, a small, rustic screened building with a few benches and tables, I
enjoyed getting to know them, partly because my father had worked closely with
dedicated Latin American teachers such as these several decades earlier.
At lunch I sat
between two teachers and we talked about Belize politics. As in the U.S.,
Belize has two main political parties, called the PUP and UDP. Unlike
Americans, though, Belizeans wear their politics plainly on their sleeves and
are quite vocal about their affiliations. There had been a lively
presidential election in Belize just a week earlier and, by a landslide, the UDP
threw out the PUP after 10 years, so everyone was happy and there were victory
parties everywhere. In another 5 or 10 years, the UDP will be replaced by
the PUP and, once again, everyone will celebrate. So in that way, it's
also like the U.S.
We then talked
about the U.S. primaries that were underway. Figuring that the teachers
didn’t know much about American politics, I explained the U.S. presidential
election system to them in simple terms. As I slowly told them, "There are
two main parties in the U.S., the Democrats and Republicans, and every four
years, there’s a presidential election.” The teachers politely listened
for a while and then one of them interrupted and said, “Yes, we know about that.
Did you see the South Carolina primary on CNN the other night? Boy, I
thought the debate was great, especially when Obama talked about Social
Security…” He obviously knew a heck of a lot more about American politics
than I imagined, and probably a lot more than most Americans. I laughed at
myself for underestimating their knowledge. During the week, though, I
discovered that Belizeans pay a lot of attention to events in the U.S., mainly
because it has such a big impact on their lives.
Since this was our
final day, Carlos and the school’s principal stood up and each gave us a very
kind speech, thanking us for coming down to Belize and helping to fix up their
school. In return, I told the staff how much we appreciated them for
inviting us into their village and sharing their hospitality. The words on
both sides were heartfelt and all of us -- teachers, villagers, and the
ProBelize staff -- felt a bond that transcended borders, languages and
During my week in
Belize, I received so much more than I ever gave back and that was especially
true during this last day at San Antonio. The teacher's words touched me
deeply, especially when Carlos asked us not to forget about them after we
returned to the U.S. No, I wouldn’t forget about them, nor my amazing
experience in Belize. Not ever.
Michael and Cecelia
conferring Thursday morning at Chiclero.
Above center: The ProBelize
office in San Ignacio.
Above right: Thursday
morning on our way to San Antonio, we stopped for doughnuts and coffee while our
other group was slaving away in Succotz. Uh, maybe I shouldn't say that...
Gary and Ramon working on a
partition. Gary, a dentist in Portland, is one of the best photographers
I've ever met.
Our finished sidewalk, ready for use.
Above right: Tamera and
Laurie with the books our group gave to the school, while Michael and the
teachers look on. I donated my favorite Dr. Seuss book, "Yertle the
Turtle" and an atlas, since I love maps.
Above left: The modest fifth
Above center: As Ramon
shows, our hinges worked great. The middle panel comes out and the end
panels swing open, so the school can have an assembly.
I spent all day Thursday drilling. The walls were
soaked in arsenic as a preservative, so I wore a dust mask. Thoughts of a
cold Belikin beer got me through.
On Thursday, our last day at San
Antonio, the teachers gave us a great "thank you" lunch. They made several
speeches expressing their appreciation. It touched me deeply and I was
humbled by it.
Above center: Sylvia, Sheila
and Coleen cleaning up the classroom.
Above left: Coleen, Cecelia
and Laurie kicking back on the Chiclero veranda Thursday afternoon. We
worked hard that week but got a lot done.
Above left: Belikin is the
national beer of Belize and it tastes great after a hard day of work. Two
of them taste even better.
After getting back to Chiclero Thursday afternoon (and
having a Belikin), I took my daily walk through San Ignacio.
Above right: Sheila and
Urban saying goodbye to our contractor, Michael (with Belikin in hand).
Michael enjoyed working with us as much as we did with him. So long, good
6, 2008: Around the World in Eight Days (Part 1:
Portland to Abu Dhabi)
February 17, 2008:
The Succotz Library (San Ignacio, Belize)
February 16, 2008:
Belize it or Not (San Ignacio, Belize)
May 28, 2007: Oregon
Bound (Portland, Oregon)
August 7, 2005: Back To
Work (Redmond, Washington)
June 25, 2004: Life
in Bellingham (Bellingham, Washington)
December 7, 2003: The Greatest Generation (Bellingham, Washington)
March 28, 2003: My Father (Bellingham, Washington)
October 30, 2002 (Bellingham, Washington)
July 24, 2002 (Princess Louisa Inlet, British Columbia)
July 12, 2002 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 2 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 1 (Lake City, Colorado)
July 1, 2002 (Looking Glass Rock, Utah)
June 25, 2002
(Lassen Volcanic National Park, California)
June 18, 2002: Part 2 (Port Orford, Oregon)
June 18, 2002: Part 1 (Port Orford, Oregon)
May 22, 2002 (Bellingham, Washington)
April 7, 2002 (Sydney, Australia)
April 4, 2002 (Coffs Harbour, Australia)
April 1, 2002 (Hervey Bay, Australia)
March 28, 2002 (Airlie Beach, Australia)
March 25, 2002 (Port Douglas, Australia)
March 16, 2002 (Winton, Australia)
March 13, 2002 (Alice Springs, Australia)
March 11, 2002 (Ayers Rock, Australia)
March 8, 2002 (Coober Pedy, Australia)
March 5, 2002 (Port Augusta, Australia)
March 1, 2002: Part 2 (Robe, Australia)
March 1, 2002: Part 1 (Robe, Australia)
February 18, 2002 (Bega, Australia)
February 7, 2002 (Auckland, New Zealand)
February 2, 2002: Part 2 (Taupo, New Zealand)
February 2, 2002: Part 1 (Taupo, New Zealand)
January 25, 2002 (Hokitika, New Zealand)
January 20, 2002 (Geraldine, New Zealand)
January 16, 2002 (Te Anau, New Zealand)
January 12, 2002: Part 2 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
January 12, 2002: Part 1 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
January 1, 2002: Part 2 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
January 1, 2002: Part 1 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
December 24, 2001 (Wellington, New Zealand)
December 20, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
December 16, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
December 14, 2001 (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)
December 10, 2001 (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
December 3, 2001: Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
December 3, 2001: Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
October 18, 2001: Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 18, 2001: Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 18, 2001: Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
October 6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
September 30, 2001: Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 30, 2001: Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
August 30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
August 18, 2001 (Watertown, South Dakota)
August 17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
August 14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
August 8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
August 8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
August 6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
July 23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
July 22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
July 20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
July 18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
July 16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
July 14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
July 9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
July 8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
July 5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
June 30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
June 29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
June 27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
June 24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
June 20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
June 18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
June 15, 2001: Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
June 15, 2001: Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
June 14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
June 11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
June 2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
May 19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
April 30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
April 19, 2001 (Bellingham,
April 5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)