Monday, July 16, 2007

From Belize, Part III: San Antonio.

We teach in a school on the side of a jungle valley. It's misty in the morning, it's smoky and hot in the middle of the day, and, in the afternoons, the valley is taken up with the sound of the bus as it honks its way to town.

The school we teach at is San Luis Rey R.C. Primary School. (R.C. means it's Roman Catholic, like most of the schools--and, thereby, school teachers--in Belize.) We started today. We teach three classes: two small ones with small children who sit happily in our very small desks. They are going into Standard Five (which would be like sixth grade, except they're so little, it's like teaching 10-year-olds). We teach one class of Standard Six, and they are bigger--but still little--and they are a little more willing to talk. A little. They are all Mayan. The girls' names are Myra, Maria, Sharla, Juana, Francelia, Ardelina, Everista, Apolinaria, and Amy. The boys' names: Santos, Silvio, Diego, Jeremih (he says there's no A), Macario. They speak quietly--all of them--and the girls wear shiny, satiny dresses or 90s florals, and the boys have slicked down hair.

For lunch we walk to the home of the principal, Mr. Honorario Rash. Mr. Rash is a small man (of course, he's Mayan), with smoky spots on the skin around his nose and eyes. His hair is almost buzzed like a boy's in the summertime, and he wants us to sign in each day in his teacher's register. He is very kind. He arranged for his wife to cook us lunch everyday: $5 BZ per person per day. (That's $2.50 US.) I paid him for all of us for the next two weeks with one $100 bill (they have been hard to use), and I was grateful to get the $20 BZ change back. For lunch we had rice and beans and fried spam and one slice of avocado ("pear") each. And to drink, a super cold and beautiful tang-like drink that was, for sure, made with water right out of the tap; I drank it anyway. We never saw his wife.

We have two periods before lunch, one period after, and we have half an hour between school and the 2:00 bus, which takes us the 45-minute dusty, bumpy, jungle ride back into town. After school today, we hit the creek. There's a creek at the bottom of the San Antonio Valley that widens and pools just under a low-branching tree. There were four boys in shorts swimming there today. Two Saturdays ago, when we went, there were grown men. Annette and I waded in, and Peter walked the tree but declined to backflip into the water as the boys were doing for show. Tomorrow we're bringing our suits. We'll shutter our classrooms, change in the dark, and head to the creek. IcannotsayhowexcitedIam. Today, I happily sat the bus ride home with a wet skirt.

In short, in short, we're done with school in PG. My students wrote their last letters. They read the ones you sent (those of you who so kindly sent them--I'll try to get you the pictures we took; the kids were quietly, delightedly starstruck) and, finally (after an assembly, a cake, and some gifts to us) they went. Mr. Nolberto, the principal, invited us over to his house on Saturday, where we made an authentic Garifuna meal: mashed plaintains with fish-and-coconut milk gravy. We made fresh lime juice and drank the coconut water from coconuts he cut down from the trees in his backyard. It was, all by itself, an email, a chapter, a book. (Mr. Nolberto is a Catholic, but he's active with his Garifuna religion, which means he dreams dreams and sees visions and sings during the animal sacrifices--which he doesn't like--at the nearby Garifuna temples.)

On Sunday, we got up at 4 to take a 3.5 hour bus ride to church in Dangriga. We found the church and went. "You enjoying the weather?" a boy on a bike asked as we walked in the half-rain. We took a 3.5 hour bus ride home and spent the afternoon/evening hiding our heads in Gilmore Girls (except Peter, who's very conscientiously reading the Bible). And we were delighted to find out that, despite the misinformation today, from here on out we can take the 6 o'clock bus to the junction and not the 5 o'clock bus, which either means one more hour of sleep or one more episode of the Gilmore Girls, depending on which of us you're asking and how reckless we're reeling it in. Or out.

It's a good life. A good living. There are people in the jungle, and they read and write and spell and say things like "I am thanking you that you come to our village. I am so happy to be in school of the year." And, who knew?, they kick trash at unscrambling the word "football": OTFOBLLA. (Among other things.)

I'm thankful for the goodness in my life and am happy (and hopeful) re the goodness in yours.

Note: I am not surprised that they can unscramble FOOTBALL. They love football (meaning soccer); this is why I chose it as a word for them to unscramble. What I am surprised at is the relative swiftness of their unscrambling of it. I wrote it on the board and, whammo, multiple kids called out "FOOTBALL!" (which is kind of amazing because they're Mayan, and they don't do much calling out at all).

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