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February 20, 2008 (San Ignacio, Belize)

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The San Antonio School

 

 

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 progress. 

 

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...

 

Here's a great 14-minute video of our week in Belize created by Gary Martel, one of our team members.

  • Click here for Part 1  (10 minutes)

  • Click here for Part 2  (4 minutes)

 

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) language is. 

 

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 quite often.

San Antonio school, Belize    Sidewalk rebar    Building school in Belize

Above left:  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.

Above right:  Task #2 at San Antonio was to stabilize the walls.  Kate, Bruce, Roger, Tom and Joy are working on a partition frame.

 

ProWorld building school in Belize    San Antonio school    Horses in Belize

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.

Above right:  Villagers checking out our work.

 

ProWorld building school    ProWorld building school    ProWorld building Belize school

Above left:  Bruce and Roger installing sheetrock above the wooden partitions to deaden noise between the classrooms. 

Above center:  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 things over.

 

Using nail gun    Brothers in Belize    Ramon in Belize

Above left:  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.

Above center:  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.

Above right:  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.

 

 San Ignacio Belize    ProBelize office in San Ignacio    Playing basketball in Belize

Above left:  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.

Above right:  Watching the 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?

Requires a RealPlayerIf problems, see Help.

 

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! 

 

The Pandy show    The Pandy Show in Belize    The Pandy show in Belize

Above left:  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.

Above center:  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

Thursday morning 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.

 

ProBelize group

 

Above: San Antonio teachers and the ProBelize crew.  L to R: Sylvia, Gary, Sheila, Tom, Laurie, Michael, Coleen, Tamera, and yours truly.

 

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 cultures. 

 

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.

 

ProBelize staff    ProBelize office in San Ignacio    Eating in San Ignacio

Above left:  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...

 

Building school in Belize    Sidewalk construction in Belize    Donating books

Above left:  Gary and Ramon working on a partition.  Gary, a dentist in Portland, is one of the best photographers I've ever met.

Above center:  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.

 

School books in Belize    Building school with ProWorld    Drilling in Belize

Above left:  The modest fifth grade library. 

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.

Above right:  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.

 

ProWorld folks having lunch    ProWorld building school in Belize    Chiclero Camp   

Above left:  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.   

 

Belikin beer    San Ignacio    Chiclero Camp

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.

Above center:  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 buddy!

 

 

Next News

July 6, 2008:  Around the World in Eight Days (Part 1: Portland to Abu Dhabi)

 

Previous News

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, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)