Sierra Nevada Airstreams: MemoriesTravelogues

Clint and Kathy Norrell's Belize Adventure

Belize first page -|- October 31, 2009 -|- November 17, 2009 -|-December 16, 2009 -|- January 2010

October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween! It is so hard to think that it is the end of October, with the holidays rapidly approaching, sitting on the veranda in shorts and a sweat rag constantly in hand!

We are at a new host family now, probably until our house is ready in January. We are hoping it will be ready sooner, but in Belize things aren’t usually done ahead of time.J Our host situation now is pretty nice, and we are with a husband and wife, an older couple who know everyone in the community. They are also our counterparts, so we have access to them regarding our jobs. We have wonderful discussions and they are incredibly nice people. While we are here, we have wireless internet and a veranda from which we can look out to sea and see Tobacco Caye on a clear day. So far this morning we have seen pelicans, frigate birds, 3 iguanas and several beautiful butterflies, all with the ocean breeze blowing at our faces. We do miss a bottle of good wine to finish off the scene, and good friends to share it with.

We continue to become more involved in the school, as well as attend meetings which last way too long and usually start at least a half hour late. I have modeled one math lesson and will do more of that next week. I spent hours making the things the children would use, as anything the child uses is handmade by the teacher with her own purchases. The lesson included 1,2 Buckle My Shoe (with a pocket chart I made during training), number lines (laminated with clear packaging tape), and a classroom set of 1-10 number cards made from cut up index cards. The lesson went well until the children needed to write in their exercise books, and a third of the class either didn’t have a pencil or an exercise book. Next time I will bring a class set of pencils and extra paper to prevent that problem!

Many of you were concerned about safety in Belize. There are parts of Belize City which we are told to stay out of, but we actually feel just as safe or safer here than in the states. As we walk the streets on the way to work or to the shops, we are constantly having our greetings returned with big smiles. We pass people walking, biking, sitting in their yards, hanging out clothes or clearing brush. Today when we were coming back from town, three children came up to us, “Miss, Miss,” and gave us both big hugs. These encounters remind us of why we are here. They were from school, which I can’t tell when they don’t have on their uniforms. I had to work really hard in the states to learn names, so it is almost hopeless here, since they have the same hair color and styles, same eye color, and same clothes! I will continue to try….

We bought our bicycles this past week. They remind me of the bike Chuck used to ride in college – one speed and foot brakes. That is what they have here, and with Dangriga being flat, it is all that is really needed. The handlebars swoop down in the middle, to accommodate the second passenger. Don’t worry, we don’t take on extra passengers, and we are easy to spot since we are the only ones wearing bike helmets!

We are told we will be provided with a Garifuna language tutor, but so far that hasn’t materialized. I can count to six, say thank you, and know a few animal names. I try to learn a little bit each day by making flash cards, but my memory isn’t what it used to be!

We are off to take some pictures of us, since that is the request from our grandson.

Love, Kathy Norrell

November 17, 2009

Hello from Belize

Today began with a parade from the sea to the school, with the young children riding in a trailered boat, after the reenactment of the Garifuna landing in Dangriga. There was singing and drumming all the way to the school. Things here are getting in full swing for Settlement Day, on the 19th. The hostel is filled, as is Pelican Beach Resort. Many PC volunteers will be coming to take part in the festivities. Apparently it is the ultimate party with drumming and music all day and night long. I foresee a possible Panty Ripper in my near future!

I really do love it here. We are getting accustomed to the relaxed attitude towards everything, and know we will benefit as some of it wears off on us. There may be a happy medium somewhere, but it isn’t here or in the states. If someone says they will do something, they may plan to do it…sometime. If something begins at 7, it may begin by 8. And things aren’t intricately planned, and yet no one worries about it. Remarkably, most things turn out okay.

I love riding my bike down the roads, and passing by a really nice cement home, right next to a doorless shack with no running water or electricity. The people on the veranda of either home are just as friendly, and the people don’t seem to notice a difference. It is a wonderful feeling, and I am glad to be a part of it.

Clint and I attended a Chess workshop two days last week, and are hoping to begin a chess club at our school after the holidays. We will start quite small, and are hoping to begin with the kids who are struggling the most. They taught us how to teach in steps, and even I was able to learn. After we begin the club, I will have someone at my level to play with….at least at first! Chess has really taken off in Belize, and kids from 5 on up are competing in tournaments. It has made a huge difference in academic and social behaviors throughout the country. We are hopeful we can get this going while we are here. And in two years my oldest grandson will be ready to learn, and I can hardly wait to teach him!

I have been assessing the children in Gulisi School, and after the holidays will probably begin some pullout remedial groups. I have also modeled a few lessons, observed a few lessons, and provided activity ideas for teachers who have come to me for suggestions. It is a small school, so I know the staff of 8 pretty well. I modeled a Making Words lesson, and the teacher and kids enjoyed it. Clint and I will be doing a workshop on child development soon, addressing attention span, using concrete materials to teach, and involving the children in a way other than “chalk and talk.” We will also again throw out the idea of reading stories to children. It gets overwhelming at times, but Clint and I seem to be the only ones overwhelmed, so then we relax and try to look at things from a Belizean perspective. When the children come up and say “Good morning Miss” or “Good morning, Sir” and give us a big smile and hugs, it reminds us how important it is that we are here. We aren’t sure how much of an impact we can make on a large scale, but we can help these teachers and these little children, and that is why we are here.

We had Lemon Grass tea for the first time this morning, and it was delicious. If we had added sugar, I’m sure it would have tasted just like a lemon drop. I thought of my daughter Christy, as I know she would love it too. I intend to have it in my yard when we move in to our home.

This Thanksgiving we will meet in Belmopan with all of the PCV’s, and have a Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday with everyone contributing. Then another older PC couple (who are in our group and met each other after arriving here) will take the water taxi with us to Caye Caulker and spend three nights. As long as we aren’t away from our sites for more than 60 hours, we don’t have to take vacation days. I know 3 days is a bit more than 60 hours, but we will arrive late in the day on Thurs. and leave early Sun morning, so it will work. We will stay in a Cabana at Sandy Lane, a budget place mentioned in Frommer’s. Some other volunteers stayed there and said it was clean and decent. Sounds good enough for us!

Clint and I are headed to the local hostel to get an ice cream cone and visit with the folks there. We met a man this morning from Seattle who had ridden his motorcycle down with many stops along the way. He had breakfast with us at the school. He said the hostel rooms are clean and decent.

Tonight we are going to a Garifuna Gospel concert in a local outdoor park. The weather is really nice with a breeze. I can guarantee there will be speakers and drums. We probably would be able to hear it from our home, but it will be fun to see.

Hope all is well with you, and that you are entering into the holiday season with joy. Enjoy the time with your friends and family.

Love, Kathy

December 16, 2009

Here it is December 16th already. It seems so strange to be approaching Christmas and continuing to wear shorts when I am not at school, and using a sweat rag when I am. I hear the children’s voices singing “Little Drummer Boy” coming from a classroom, and a revised version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” sung in Garifuna coming from the preschool. Walking down the streets the little shops (mostly Chinese) have small displays of Christmas lights or decorations, and as I pass by I might hear “Winter Wonderland” or “Jingle Bells” playing on the radio or TV. Most of these children have never seen or felt snow. Christmas was not apparent until December, which is an inviting change from the states. The children are excited, and the schools seem to be pretty relaxed this week (more than the normal very relaxed atmosphere), with many children already not attending due to the upcoming holiday. They will be getting 3 weeks off for vacation.

We continue to experience Belize, and work on PC goals number 2 and 3. These are the goals of getting to know and integrate with Belizeans, and giving them the opportunity to get to know Americans. (To let them know we aren’t all like Bush and others they read about or hear about on TV.) Usually on Sat or Sun afternoons we ride our bikes to the Pelican. A Belikin at the Pelican please! (Belikin is the only local beer made in Belize.) When we arrived this time all four Adirondacks were occupied, so we sat on a bench by the “locals” path next to the sea.The resort’s boat was tied to the coconut used as an anchor buoy. Another skiff with fishing poles was awaiting passengers for the cayes. (Cayes in Belize is spelled this way!) Kids were swimming in the shallow water. Older kids were throwing a soccer ball. Younger kids were throwing each other. Rooster tails of spray behind an occasional skiff defined the horizon before smaller than normal cloud formations.

While sitting on the bench, three little Mestizo girls ran past. At first they smiled without slowing. Then they’d stop briefly to wave before continuing. Before we left they were spilling their collections of shell pieces and counting each fragment in that deliberate cadence children use universally. Since one of the children knew me from school, I started counting in Garifuna, which was fine at first, but when they kept going back to the edge of the sea for more they were quickly beyond my limit of six. “What’s the word for seven?” Clint and I will have an intense 3 day Garifuna workshop Jan. 4, 5th and 6th. Tutoring lessons beyond that class will also be available to us. We have asked for drum lessons too, since drumming is such an important part of the Garifuna culture. I doubt PC Washington will see the need, however it is always worth a try!

As we were riding home from Pelican, we saw sights that are commonplace as we ride through town. A commuter plane took off through the late sun in the palms from the Dangriga Airport. The mountains of Guatemala were silhouetted on the western horizon. Pedestrians and bicyclers far out-numbered cars on Ecumentical Drive. Many bicycles have 2 or even 3 people on them. There were pools of water still standing in depressions in the sand along River Road. Old women and young men and dozens of kids greeted us warmly. “Miss Kathy. Miss Kathy.” There was a family gathering at one house, fish cleaning at another. Five women were sitting on up-turned pig’s tail buckets playing cards. Men at a crude table under a thatch roof played dominoes. Little boys set wooden tops to spinning with a pulled string. Big eyed girls with cavity ridden teeth ate chips from foil coated plastic bags or Ideals, the local popsicle similar to Kool Pops at home. Elderly women in their colorful finest walked to or from Sunday evening services. Skiffs motored past on the river, their wake washing the bank. Fish jumped through the river’s surface. Two young men expertly cast lures under the main bridge. An old black man, skinny and poorly dressed, smiled and pointed at Clint as we approached on our one speed bicycles. “Yo, dad, you get your kayak?” (Yes, we did get two sea kayaks bought used from the local tour company was getting rid of a few very used older kayaks.) Two women called, “Good evening,” from a cement house balcony. A man waved a greasy hand as we rode by the truck he was working on in front of his house. A black Ford Expedition stopped to let us pass over a narrow bridge in front of him. The power lines were lined with black birds. Frigate birds soared high overhead. Pelicans dove into the sea beside the park field where a spirited football (soccer) game was underway. Miss Felicia waved from her balcony. The old man on the veranda of the board house between her’s and the one we hope to rent didn’t. I doubt our passing registered.

When we get lonely, frustrated, or overwhelmed, hopping on our bicycles and seeing the sights mentioned above puts things in perspective, and reminds us why we are here. Many trips include a small child yelling, “Miss Kathy, Miss Kathy”, which brings me back to my reality. Every day we comment on how lucky we are to be here and to be having this incredible experience. We both feel it and mean it from the bottoms of our hearts.

I am thinking of home, family and friends, especially at this time of year. Enjoy your “cool” holiday season with those you love. Know I am thinking of all of you as we continue our adventure in Belize.

Love, Kathy

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