Thursday, June 28, 2007

More progress

Last Thursday we went to Belmopan to get our sixth passport stamp, which means we’ve now been in the country for five full months. The immigration officer who stamps our passports is getting to know us, and this time stamped us through until August 20. We still paid for the two months, but at least we don’t have to go to Belmopan in July when Tim and Kelli are here. After getting our passports stamped, we went to the Belmopan market, and then to Builders’ Supply, the big hardware store/home improvement center in Belmopan, which isn’t quite as big as a Lowe’s or a Home Depot, but it’s close. We’d intended to be out only for the morning, and to get the supplies we needed in Belmopan. However, one of the big items on our shopping list was screening, and we had determined that we wanted the black screen since it’s less visible than the gray or metallic screen, and Builders’ Supply didn’t have it. So, off we went to Spanish Lookout; we just don’t seem to be able to get through a week without at least one trip over there. We still had to drop off some money for Stout at their breeder’s house, but when we pulled up there and called to be let in the gate, the housekeeper told us that Lena was in Spanish Lookout for the day, which gave us another reason to go there, although in the end we never found her and I had to drive out to her place yesterday (Wednesday).
We spent the rest of the day in Spanish Lookout, getting the supplies we needed to finish the verandas, as well as groceries and feed.

Tom and Selwyn spent Friday finishing the pen for the dogs behind the house. We’ve been able to put them out and lock them up in the cat cage behind the house, but the posts and cement base were already in place a fence right out the door from our bedroom, so we decided to make that a dog yard. None of the five dogs are running away when they’re out loose at this point, but we like to keep an eye on them just in case the gate is left open and they head for the road, or if they take off after something they hear or see in the jungle. And, we’d found that usually the Jacks would go in one direction, and the puppies in another, and Tom and I were both getting tired of spending a half hour chasing dogs every time we let them out to piddle. Plus, as the pups grow, the bathroom seemed to be shrinking, and by fencing the yard, we can now leave the puppies out on the porch at night, and they can come and go as they please. Of course they frequently want in the house and they wake us up because they scratch to come in rather than out, but at least when they’re doing that we can put the pillows over our heads and go back to sleep without worrying that we’re going to get up to a big puppy pee cleanup project.

Friday night, we had our first sit-down dinner with neighbors. When Olmi had delivered the curtains, we had invited Damion, Olmi, Wilton, and Daisy over for dinner on Friday so they could see what the place looked like with the curtains adjusted. Damion had mentioned one time that they love fish, but don’t often get it because fresh fish isn’t usually available in San Antonio, and they don’t get to San Ignacio often enough to pick it up there. I think I’ve mentioned before that you don’t meet people here, you meet whole extended families. We stopped at the fish market on our way home on Thursday to see what kind of fish they had, and when the fish market guy asked us how many people we were feeding, Tom and I looked at each other and had a quick conference. We’d invited four, which would give us a total of six for dinner, but we knew that it was unlikely that Damion, Olmi, Wilton, and Daisy would get over here for dinner without at least a few of the other neighbors trailing along. So, we said we needed fish for eight or nine people. After all, I figured, if I cooked too much, I could always take it off the bones and we could eat fish tacos over the weekend. So, we ended up buying nine snappers, all of a size that one fish would be a good one person serving.

Six thirty rolled around, and the four originally invited guests showed up. Tom sat on the porch with them, drinking sour sap juice, while I stuck the fish in the oven. Then I heard another voice; Ronald had showed up to see what Wilton was doing, so we gave him a drink and set another place at the table. Then George came to see where Ronald was, so I passed another glass out the door and set another place at the table. Then Iris came over, so I squished another place in and gave her a glass. The fish was just about ready, so I called everybody in and they got settled around the table. Just as I was bringing the fish out, there was a tentative knock at the door and Lucy and Rosa looked in, curious about where everybody was. So, I pulled out two more place settings, divvied the fish up a little differently, made sure we had enough stuffed baked potatoes and salad, and sat down to eat. Fortunately, I always cook too much, and between that and the fact that I’d expected a few extras, we managed to feed eleven rather than six, and nobody went away hungry. We came up a little bit short with the ice cream for dessert because everybody here loves ice cream, but doesn’t often get it because they don’t have freezers, so when somebody offers them ice cream, they eat it until it’s gone, and a half gallon goes fast. We also plowed through a mango cream cheese pie, but a few of the girls managed to leave partially eaten pieces on their plates for me to pack up so they could take them home to their parents since they were feeling guilty about ducking out for a dinner their parents missed. The good thing with that many people is that, as Tom’s grandmother always said, many hands make light work.

Everybody carried their plates to the kitchen and stacked them neatly, and while Tom started a Jenga tournament, Rosa, Lucy, and I washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, and we were back in the dining room before the first round of Jenga even finished. Ronald and Iris were the finalists in the Jenga tournament, with Ronald coming out victorious – not quite fair according to Iris, since Ronald has had more practice, but she played a good game. The winner packed the Jenga game back in its box, and when everybody went home around 10:30, all Tom and I had to do was blow out the candles and go to bed.

Tom spent Saturday working on waterline with Julio, the 7 Miles chairman who is in charge of the waterline. Back when they finished replacing the pipe sections, Julio had asked Tom if he would go up with him some weekend, taking his DeWalt cordless drill (el gringo drill) so they could install pressure relief valves. Since the waterline was “fixed,” we’ve still been going without water periodically because the pressure is now too good, and some of the older sections of pipe that they couldn’t get to have been blowing apart. So, Tom was out of the house by about 7:15 Saturday morning, picking up Elizabeth and the boys on the way so she could spend the morning with her mother. The plan was that Tom and Julio would be back around lunchtime, and when Tom drove Julio home he would get Elizabeth and the boys, and the two chickens Elizabeth’s mother wanted to give us in exchange for the chicken wire we gave her.

Of course, things never work out as planned. Tom and Julio were not back at lunch time. I took a break from working in the garden and made myself a sandwich, and then spent an hour or so with Olmi and her kids looking at pictures. Tom and Julio weren’t back at 2:00. They weren’t back at 3:00. They weren’t back at 4:00, and I was starting to get a little worried. Finally, just before 4:30, I heard the truck at the gate and they pulled in, both looking more than a little bedraggled. I went out to see if they were okay, and the first thing out of both their mouths was “I’m hungry.” So, I went back in the house and made grilled ham and cheese, and after they took a quick look at cages so Julio could figure out what he wanted for his gibnuts, they were back in the house eating grilled cheese and filling me in on their day.

I think Tom had expected to spend the morning following the pipeline and drilling holes for the pressure release valves every so often. Instead, he said they installed one valve, and then went over the cliff and down to the bottom of the mountain to see what the pressure was at the bottom of the pipeline. They went way farther than they had when they were repairing and replacing pipe, and Tom said there were many places where they were sliding down the mountain on their butts, and where it was a feet and hands job to get back up. I had thought about going, just to see the pipeline, and Tom said it was a good thing I didn’t because the long drop to the bottom of the hill was a very strenuous hike. When they got there and tested the pressure, they pegged the 200psi gauge, so there’s probably still too much pressure. Julio is going to try to get a gauge that goes higher, and then I guess he’ll make the hike again, with or without Tom. Despite the day being very physically challenging, and not at all what he expected, Tom came back feeling really good because they’d been up close and personal with nature. At one of their rest stops, they heard a racket in the tree right over their head, and looked up to see a keel billed toucan looking down at them, only about 10 feet away. Then, as they climbed by one of the pools near the waterfall, they looked over and saw an adult king vulture teaching a young king vulture how to fly. They didn’t see any other exciting wildlife, although Julio told Tom that they don’t allow people to work on that part of the pipeline alone, and that they require at least two people. Apparently one guy went in to work on it by himself, and ended up being stalked by two jaguars. He shot the jaguars so there’s no telling whether they would have actually done anything to the man, but the rule is now better safe than sorry, both for the safety of the men and so no more jaguars get shot.

Since it was now after 5:00, Julio decided to pass on cage pieces for a week or so. He and Tom got back in the truck to go back to 7 Miles and pick up Elizabeth, the boys, and the chickens. Fortunately in Belize people are used to living without phones and living with very flexible schedules, so Elizabeth wasn’t at all annoyed that “lunchtime” had turned in to 5:30, although she did confess to briefly wondering if Tom had forgotten her. But, when he finally showed up, she got in the truck with the three boys and the two chickens, a hen and a rooster, and headed home. We installed the chickens in the other side of the rabbit hutch for the night, and then put them all together the next morning. The rooster seems to prefer the hen we already had rather than the one that came with him, but we’re now turning them out in the dog cage behind the house for the day, and all three seem to get along pretty well.

When we get enough guys together to move the rather heavy hutch we’ll put the hutch in the cage I cleared as a chicken coop, and lock the chickens up every night, in the hutch in the cage, and let them out in the cage for the day. For now, we’re carrying them between the hutch and the cage nearer the house, but that’s not a good long term solution since the Jacks go crazy every time they hear the chickens scratching or clucking, which in turn makes Tom and me crazy. Out of sight, out of mind, is a good rule for chicken crazy Jack Russells.

Sunday was Graduation Day for three of the kids next door, Delmy, Iris, and Ronald. As I’ve mentioned before, the US equivalent of 8th grade is the end of what passes for public schooling here in Belize, which is partially government funded and partially church funded.

High school is relatively expensive and the students must pay to go, so for many students, their educations stop at 8th grade. Thus, the 8th grade graduation is a big deal, almost as big of a deal as high school graduation, since for many students the 8th grade graduation will be their only commencement ceremony.

The graduates all had to be at the school in the morning to get ready for the 2:00 ceremony, but the rest of the family had to get there, so shortly after 1:00, we lined our truck up with Sharyn’s and Damion’s trucks and the families piled in with the food they were providing for the refreshments after the ceremony.

It had rained Sunday morning, so the women, myself included, were all busy with damp towels scrubbing the red mud off our sandaled feet. When we got to the school in San Antonio, the trucks emptied, with the women going off to set up the refreshments, the men either taking pictures or standing around chatting, and the children playing whatever games kids play when they’re all turned loose together.

This graduation was as nice or nicer than the high school graduation we attended a couple of weeks ago. The band was better, the guest speakers were better, and Tom and I were amazed at the eloquence and public speaking abilities of the valedictorian and salutorian, who both looked like the children they are, but who both spoke like well poised adults. Belize’s chief meteorologist was the guest speaker, so the rain held off for the ceremony, which was inside, and for the refreshments and the post-graduation picture taking, which was outside.

The refreshments were “just” cupcakes and corn tortillas and cheese sauce, which the natives seemed to think was a little light, but Tom and I were quite happy with the snack because the tortillas were fresh fried corn chips, made from real ground masa with a lot of pepper – yum! People here take it for granted, but it takes snack food to a whole new level, and even though Tom and I aren’t big snackers, neither of us left a crumb on our plates.

Tom and Selwyn spent Monday and Tuesday working on screening. Even though the back yard is fenced for the dogs, Nock had already figured out that she could jump through the railings on the porch and be out in the open to chase chickens, work on her excavating projects, or torment the lizards. So, the first order of business was to screen the bottom of the back porch rail. That done, they put up the door to the front porch, and wrapped the screening around the bottom of that rail so that we could leave the cabin door open and even though the bugs could still get in, the dogs couldn’t get off the porch. On Tuesday, they had planned to work with Bol to finish clearing the big pasture, but Bol had to do something else, so after a quick replanning session, they decided to finish screening in the front porch. That took the rest of the day, but by Tuesday evening we had a fully screened porch, so we can now leave the cabin door open almost all the time and get the cool breeze without the bugs. We’re planning to turn that into our dining room, but our table is too big – and if we take it out of the cabin we won’t have any furniture in the cabin room – but we want to get a couple of square tables that we could use to seat two to four people, and push together if we want more people seated together. Every street in San Ignacio has at least one furniture store, but none of them have the tables we’re looking for since oval seems to be in right now. We talked to a couple of places about building a couple for us, and prices ranged from $175BZ to over $600BZ, so we’re deciding if we want to buy one, or if Tom just wants to make them. I guess we’ll see if we decide we really need them before he has “spare time” to build some himself.

Tom and Selwyn spent yesterday putting the ceiling in the bathroom, and today they’re framing in the shower with plycem so they have a place to put the ladder to finish the ceiling over what will be the shower. Once that’s done, we can tile the shower.

And THAT means that we can get all the construction equipment out of the bedroom, move our clothes out of the camper and into the cabin, and start living in here full time! We’ll still have a few things to do – finish screening the back porch, get the wiring done and the batteries and inverter moved to the utility room, finish the top of the dog fence,and a few cosmetic things – but we’ll be almost there. The big question is whether or not we’ll get enough water pressure for the shower. If we do, we’ll keep our water system as it is, and put a similar system in the second cabin. If we don’t, we’ll probably be taking one of the big tanks up the hill and running pipe to pump water up to the tank, and then let it gravity feed down to the cabins.

While Tom and Selwyn were working on the bathroom ceiling, I took what I planned as a quick trip to Spanish Lookout. We thought we could get away with not going there this week, until Tom fed the horses yesterday morning and realized he was scraping the bottom of the feed barrel. Wilton, the neighborhood telephone, stopped by shortly after 7:00am, so we sent him home with the news that I was going to Spanish Lookout, and if anyone wanted to go or wanted me to get anything, they had to let me know by 8:00 or so. Maria and Lucy, who had both asked to be notified when we went had unfortunately already left for San Ignacio, but Augusto came over with a pig feed order, and Ofelia and Iris decided to go along for the ride. We got on the road by about 8:30, ran out to Camelote to pay for Stout since we’d missed Lena last Thursday, and headed into Spanish Lookout. Of course we couldn’t go there just for feed, so I also had the big propane tank filled, got feed for our horses plus Augusto’s pigs and Selwyn’s rabbit, and took a pretty lengthy list to FTC. We made a quick and what was supposed to be final stop at Western Dairy to get cheese, ice cream for tomorrow’s dessert, and ice cream cones, and headed for the ferry shortly after 11:00, thinking we’d be home for lunch with unmelted ice cream.

Just as we crested the hill by the last intersection where you can decide whether or not you want to take the bridge or the ferry, we saw two elderly women standing in the road surrounded by very full feed bags. Ofelia, Iris, and I looked at each other, and decided that we couldn’t just drive by a couple of old women in the road, so we stopped and told them where we were going and asked if they wanted a ride. They said they were going to Cayo (San Ignacio), and they would appreciate a ride, but we needed to go down the road towards the bridge to pick up their sisters and their sisters’ things. They got their things in the back of the truck, jumped in after their bags, and we headed for their sisters who were working their way towards the intersection with their bags. Just as we were getting there, a taxi van pulled up, and the other sisters started putting their things in the van. The women in our truck jumped out, and said that we would take them at least to the end of the road for free. The four sisters got in an argument about whether they should go with us or the van, sort of decided on the van despite the fact that they’d have to pay the taxi man, and started getting the stuff out of our truck to put in the van. The taxi driver was losing patience; they hadn’t called him, but he’d been nice enough to stop and pick them up, and now the four women were in and out of the van, taking their stuff in and out, wandering back and forth, and arguing a mile a minute. We were just watching, with Ofelia translating the Spanish I didn’t understand, since all of this was happening very rapidly. Finally the taxi driver said something very sharply, and three of the four sisters got in the van. The oldest sister, 71 years old and very tiny and frail – she couldn’t have weighed more than 85 pounds and she had a little munchkin voice – was still on the side of the road, trying to get the bags in the van, when the van driver pulled away, open door and all.

Ofelia, Iris and I just watched, thinking he would come back, but nope, he disappeared over a rise in the road. We pulled up to the old woman, and she showed us that she had a cut on her wrist because her arm was still in the van when the driver pulled away. So there’s this little tiny old woman bleeding on the side of the road with about 250 pounds of dried produce – what could we do but load her up and take her to San Ignacio? The ice cream was melting, but Ofelia and I got out and with a lot of grunting and giggling, got her bags in the back of the truck – a couple of 50 pound bags of rice, a 100 pound bag of beans, and a few sacks of coconuts. Even though the truck was full of our groceries, we squeezed the old lady in the back of the truck, and I gave her a wipey for her arm, which was the best we could do, and we headed for the ferry.

The old woman never stopped talking. I kept hearing “Tres. Hermanas. Malas.” – three bad sisters – spoken very succinctly, and she never stopped. She told us that she is 71, she is the oldest, and that her tres hermanas malas were in big trouble when she caught up to them. We pulled into San Ignacio, and she popped out of the truck, grabbed a guy passing on the street, and told him to unload her bags. She didn’t know him, but fortunately he was a very polite man who was capable of picking the 100 pound bag of beans up and over the tailgate to get it out of the truck, along with the other bags. I’d climbed in the back of the truck, dress and all, to push the bags to the edge of the bed for him, and he asked how we got the bags in, then expressed genuine admiration for our strength when I told him that Ofelia and I had done it. The man got the bags piled by the road, I got back in the truck, and we left the old woman by the side of the road, waiting for her sisters to arrive. We didn’t stay around to watch the fireworks, and I’m sure there were a few!

At this point, we thought we’d just drive home, but as we were heading through town, Maria popped out of a store and waved us down. I probably could have pretended not to see her – not that I would have, of course – but she’s Ofelia and Iris’s grandmother, and they’re used to listening when their grandmother speaks. We slammed on the brakes in the middle of a very narrow, very busy street, and Maria asked if we could take her and Lucy home, which of course we could, no problem. They still had bags in the store, so I drove around the block while they gathered their bags so I didn’t cause a traffic jam. On pass two, they threw their bags in the truck, and then Lucy asked if I could pick up a wardrobe and dresser she’d just purchased, which I’d planned to pick up on Friday when I went into San Ignacio to the market. I told her that I didn’t have any of the ropes or packing materials with me, but she really wanted to take it home, so said she didn’t care if we just put it in the back of the truck and drove carefully. So, I said sure, figuring it would save me the hassle of doing it on Friday, and drove around the block again so she could go tell the people in the store that she was taking it right away. And then I drove around again. And again. And again. Every time, I’d stop in front of the store and try to see what they were doing, and sit until the cars piling up behind me started honking. Finally, they loaded a mattress into a pickup parked across from the store, and the pickup drove away while I was doing one of my loops. Lucy and Ofelia stood in the parking space so nobody else could park there, and then I tried to wedge Tinkerbell into the spot that was about two feet too small. I couldn’t get all the way in and leave any room for loading the furniture, but I managed to get over far enough that traffic could get by, with only the biggest trucks having to drive up on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. It took the three guys a while to get the furniture in, and then I tied it in so the pieces wouldn’t crash into each other, and then we squished everybody into the cab of the truck with all of our shopping bags, and headed out of town, only about an hour and a half after we left the old woman by the side of the road. We pulled up to Maria and Lucy’s house about 2:00, and sent Wilton, Hector, and Ronald off on their bikes to fetch Tom and Selwyn to unload the furniture. It took the two of them plus me and Ronald to get it all out of the truck and into the house, and it looked like both pieces survived the bumpy ride with only a few minor dings. I got home about 2:30, and unloaded what was by then, three and a half hours later, soft ice cream.

However, I’m not getting too wound up about the ice cream since it’s for dinner with the family next door tomorrow night. We’ve invited everybody over to see graduation pictures, since Tom seemed to be the chief photographer at the graduation last Sunday. All three graduates and some of the brothers and sisters have seen the pictures and we’ve given them CDs, but none of the parents have seen them, and they don’t have computers at home. I didn’t even try to plan to have one family at a time, and decided to invite them all at once, since at least then I’ll have a maximum number to cook for, which is better than not knowing if I’m cooking for ten or twenty-five – which is what we figure we’ll have tomorrow, not counting the babies. I found an almost 15 pound turkey in Spanish Lookout yesterday, so I’m planning to cook the equivalent of an American Thanksgiving dinner. I’m not even going to attempt anything Belizean since they all cook that food better than I do, and I figure that the American Thanksgiving menu is made to feed a crowd. Plus, they’re as curious about what Americans eat as we are about Belizean food, so even though I know they probably prefer Belizean food taste-wise, they’ll enjoy the novelty of “gringo food.”

Since it’s started raining, we’re finding a remarkable variety of frogs and toads around the property.

I started feeding the dogs one evening in the dusk, and saw what I thought was a small gut pile on the counter. When I turned on the light, I saw this little, almost translucent, tree frog. And yes, I lived with counter surfing cats long enough that I know the general outline of a mouse gut pile on the counter top.

Then Tom heard the puppies making a ruckus in their cage, and he went out and found that they’d cornered this very large toad. Beli was interested, but neither of them were planning to actually touch the toad. Tom lifted its considerable bulk and deposited it outside the dog fence.

The puppies are getting bigger every day, and currently weigh about 25 pounds, which is seven to ten pounds more than the Jacks – but they still think the Jacks are bigger.

Beli’s ears are starting to stand up. They’re a little different every day, and they never point in the same direction at the same time.

We keep yelling at Stout to get his feet out of the water, but he doesn’t seem to be able to be near the water bowl without having some part of him soaking in it. He’s learned that we don’t yell at him when he soaks an ear while he sleeps. We’re just waiting for this ear to sprout since it’s always in the water.

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