Monday, June 11, 2007

Graduation Time

When we moved here, we thought we were giving up the change of seasons. Even though we were enjoying the hot sunny weather here, we were both thinking a little bit longingly of what can be a beautiful Upstate New York spring. People here have been telling us that they too have seasons, they’re just different seasons at different times, and I think I’ve mentioned that instead of referring to spring, summer, winter, and fall, here the seasons are referred to as winter when it’s cold (temps can go down to the 50’s!), the hot dry season (which just passed), and the rainy season (which just started and which corresponds to the hurricane season). It started raining last week, and we discovered that the beginning of the rainy season here is as dramatic as spring in the Northeast. We didn’t realize how brown and dry it had become over the past couple of months with little to no rain. We had noticed that the citrus leaves were curling, and that many trees had lost their leaves, but it had been a gradual change of color. The change back to green has been much more dramatic. When I drove to San Ignacio last Tuesday, the road was still dusty and everything I could see from the road was either brown, or black if fields had been burned. I went back into San Ignacio on Friday, and the landscape looked like it had been drenched with green. The jungle turned from tan and brown to a brilliant green, and some of the hills that had been black from burning are now covered with bright green grass which is growing fast. The citrus leaves have uncurled and become a shiny green again, and grass is starting to sprout in the pasture even though the three horses are still wandering around in that area. All of this is without constant rain; the rain seems to come either at night, or in brief showers during the day, followed by bright sunshine which gives everything that clean, just washed feeling. It’s glorious, and feels as good as spring in New York!

I’ve even managed to get Tom out for a trail ride a few times, which says a lot about how much nicer the weather is since part of the reason he was dragging his feet about going was that it was just too hot for him. We spent all yesterday morning riding the jungle paths with me on Esmerelda and Tom on Tony, and last Thursday we took a short ride with Selwyn on Glinda. It showered a little yesterday afternoon, but that was just a good excuse to take a Sunday afternoon nap, something we haven’t done here because we like to be outside when the weather is nice. One thing we’ve noticed with this weather is that every night we see lightening. It doesn’t matter if it’s clear or cloudy – lightening is always flashing in some direction. It’s sort of cool to look up into the perfectly clear sky at all the stars we can see here, and still see flashes in the distance.

The rain has given us the incentive to get some gardens started. Selwyn’s wife, Hilda, and his sister, Nelmarie, worked all day last Wednesday and put in two beds near the deck to the cabin where we’re living. They put a few plants in one, and are looking for the right vegetation for the other, and both are built around natural rock formations. Unfortunately, having Hilda here with the three kids didn’t work too well, so she won’t be able to come back regularly – although we’ll still draw on her expertise from time to time – so Nelmarie will be on her own, working a couple days per week and getting help when she needs it. It’s great to see a little bit of landscaping beginning, and our neighbors have commented that the place is looking like somebody lives here.

Speaking of Nelmarie, we spent Saturday afternoon and evening as guests at her high school graduation. Graduations are a big deal here. The government only sponsors students until they are 14, and then they must pay for their own education. This means high school is an option – and it’s an option that many families just can’t afford, even if the kids do want to continue their educations. And, many students opt not to continue when they graduate at 14; some just don’t like school, some want or need to get a job to make money for their families, some want to do something that doesn’t require any further education so they elect to begin working right away, and some want to get more education at a trade school rather than what Americans consider a traditional high school. On top of that, the high schools are private and all seem to be associated with a church, so the school may choose not to admit a student.

Graduation ranks right up there with weddings as far as family involvement and formality go. A couple of Nelmarie’s brothers were unable to attend because of work, but the rest of the family spent Saturday getting ready for the big event. The graduation was a four o’clock, and Tom and I went to Bol and Petranela’s house at 2:30. The scene there reminded me of my family when we’re all getting ready to go somewhere formal – the men running around half dressed yelling for somebody to iron their shirts, the women running around in towels with their hair and makeup already done, and everybody looking for something. Somehow, everybody ended up in the truck by about 3:15, with the women all crammed in the front, and the men riding on benches in the bed. Tom went as fast as was safe down the road to Santa Elena, and we pulled in the parking lot in time for Nelmarie to take her place in line, and for us to get the truck parked and get back to get a seat just before the ceremony began.

The first thing Tom and I noticed was what passes for formal dress in Belize. For the men, it’s a lot less than we’re used to, and for the women, a lot more. Tom was dressed in a button up shirt and tie and Dockers. He said he was the only man there in a tie, although there were a number of men in khaki pants and button up tucked in shirts. For many men, their good jeans are their formal clothes, and most were wearing either short sleeved polo shirts or the square hemmed wear-outside-your-pants short-sleeved button up shirts – like what we call Hawaiian shirts, but in more sedate prints. For the women, there were a few in nice slacks and blouses, but there were a whole lot of filmy dresses with little straps or no straps at all, lots of sequins, more high heels than I thought existed, and wide ribbons for belts. I was wearing a sort of slinky shiny tank dress, which was perfectly appropriate, and as close as I’m going to come to what most of the Belizean women were wearing. It actually didn’t matter what Tom and I were wearing – we were two of a handful of gringos in the audience, and nobody expects us to be Belizean.

This is Nelmarie with her brother Gilroy and a friend.

However, the graduation mass and ceremony gave Tom and I a much better idea of who and what Belizeans are – and we discovered that Belize is almost as big of a melting pot as the US, but white people are a definite minority. Nelmarie’s class graduated 47 students, and the Prayers of the Faithful in the Mass were said in six different languages – Creole, Spanish, Shona, Maya, Garifuna, and English, and when the Hail Mary was recited, a few languages were added on top of that, including Irish (Gaelic?), the priest’s native tongue. Even with this wide diversity, there wasn’t a single white student in the graduating class, and, like I said, Tom and I were two of only a handful of white people among the guests. The Catholic Mass is still the Catholic Mass, however, and it was interesting to hear parts and pieces in all the different languages. One big difference from anything I’ve seen, or heard, in this case, was the music, all of which was done with a synthesizer with a background salsa beat, from Pomp and Circumstance to the Alleluia chorus. I have no idea if this is because of the Latin influence here, or if this is happening around the world, but a few times it took me a few bars to realize that I was listening to a traditional hymn or processional. Between the full Mass and the Commencement ceremony, the entire production took almost three hours. Fortunately, it was held in the Cahal Pech auditorium (a resort in San Ignacio), which is air conditioned, so the heat wasn’t too bad and nobody collapsed from the heat. After the ceremony, Bol took the whole group to Hode’s for a celebratory drink, and then we stopped for chicken barbeque on the way home. We dropped Nelmarie off at a friend’s house for the graduates’ party, and the rest of us headed back into the hills to San Antonio, arriving home around 10:00.

Back on the home front – Tom and Selwyn are making good progress on the second room of the cabin, and should finish the ceiling tomorrow – which means we may be able to move our bed into a bedroom! Then we just have to finish the bathroom, and we can work on the yard and porches. I cleaned the rest of my baking pans out of the camper this morning, so I think I’ve crammed everything I’m going to cram into this kitchen. I still have some stuff packed in boxes, but that stuff will have to wait for a real kitchen in a real house, although I have more than enough here and this kitchen is really pretty practical. The bathroom delay has turned into a good thing, because we want to put the ceiling in before we tile the shower so we’re not dropping power tools on the tile, and thanks to the fact that it started raining, we’ve found a few leaks in the roof that would otherwise have leaked into the ceiling and would have been very difficult to locate and fix.

Tom has also been going gangbusters on pasture clearing, and the front pasture is just about done. We still have a lot to do, and with the rain it seems like it grows as quickly as we chop it, but it still feels like we’re gaining on it.

The puppies are growing like weeds, and seem to be normal happy healthy pups. We weighed them yesterday, and they’re both exactly 19.2 pounds, and eating like horses – more than the horses, in fact, and double what Mel gets. Beli’s abscess finally drained, and she now just has a little hard lump that will probably go away in time. It also looks like her ears may stand up, since one is standing up part time already, and the other tends to flip back, while Stout’s ears are still droopy. Stout is in to everything, and it doesn’t seem like he ever even stops for a nap.

Beli is happy to sit with us, and she runs and plays a lot but also naps, while Stout spends nap time pulling towels off racks, chewing on the cabin, chewing on the cage top, chewing on the other dogs, chewing on our ankles, and just walking around looking for trouble. He is a good puppy though, because he’s now started to go to the door and ask to go out when he has to go. Of course we have about 15 seconds to get to the door before he can’t hold it anymore and he squats, but between us we usually manage to get there in time, so he’s really getting the hang of house training. We’re not sure about Beli, because she always goes out when he goes, so we don’t know if she would ask if he weren’t around. Either way, I’m wiping up a lot less puppy pee, and they’re now sleeping in the kitchen and able to make it almost to the alarm, so we’re making progress.

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