Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mules, toucans, kids, puppies…always something

I like to exercise in the late afternoon, but if I wait too long, we end up eating dinner at 9:00pm by the time I exercise, feed the dogs and horses, shower, and cook. So, Tom and I agreed that I would try to start exercising by 4:30, or 5:00 at the latest, Selwyn would leave by around 5, and Tom would feed the horses. However, that never seems to happen. Every day, something happens about that time that usually delays me by a half hour or an hour. Sometimes it’s one of the neighbors stopping by to chat, or the kids come over and need help with the computer, or somebody wants to borrow something, or Tom and Selwyn need help finishing something so Selwyn can go home. Monday night’s diversion was unusual. I went out to feed the horses at about 4:30 so they could eat while I exercised, and a mule was standing right outside their fence. I walked down to shut the gate so it couldn’t get out in the road, and he followed me, bumping my shoulder, nibbling at my shoes, and generally trying to get me to pay attention to him. He wasn’t wearing a halter, but he looked very well cared for, with perfectly trimmed feet, shiny coat, and, unlike our horses, plenty of padding on his ribs. I gave him a good rub and shut the gate and went to see what Tom and Selwyn thought we should do, leaving the mule to continue his games with our horses, squealing and biting and kicking and bucking at each other. The girls just wanted to bite him, but Tony was offended that another male equine was getting near his girls, so he was charging the fence with his teeth out, showing more energy and ambition than he’s shown since we got him. The girls were doing their share of nipping and jumping up and down, and the mule just seemed to be enjoying playing the game.

When I found Tom and Selwyn in the house, Selwyn said that he had heard that an old Spanish widow down the road had lost her mule, which used to be her deceased husband’s, and that the mule had been running loose since the end of last week, and even though lots of people had seen him, nobody had been able to catch him. They asked if I’d tied him up, and I explained that he’d been all over me, and that I’d shut him in the pasture next to our horses, and I said I’d go back out and catch him. Everybody who has mules says they’re smart, and I now believe them, because when I went to the tack shed to get a halter and lead rope and went into the pasture to catch the mule, the previously very friendly beast didn’t want anything to do with me. He’d let me walk almost to him, and then buck away, squealing and kicking. He finally decided he’d had enough of me in the pasture, so he walked over to the gate and jumped over. Unfortunately he caught his back legs – the mule was probably about 14’2”, he was jumping from a walk, and the gate is probably 3’6” – and I thought I could walk around and catch him, but the wily creature very calmly pulled each leg out and over, and ended up with just a small skinned spot on one of his stifles. The low speed chase continued, and as I neared the road, one of the rangers who mans the Pine Ridge Forest Reserve gate was walking by on his way to work. He asked if it was our mule, and I told him that it wasn’t, he had just appeared and was hanging out with our horses. The ranger told me that the forestry officers had confiscated five mules from xote poaching Guatemalans, and one of the mules had run away into the forest. About this time, Tom and Selwyn appeared, expecting me to have tied up the very friendly mule, and instead I was still chasing him around the yard. They each took a lead rope, clipped them together, and made a lead rope corral in a corner, trapping the mule. The first time he plowed through the rope, but the second time we cornered him they managed to hold him, and once he figured that his game was up, he let me walk right up to him and put a halter on his head.

We now didn’t know what to do. It was 5:30 by this time, dusk was approaching, and if the mule didn’t belong to the woman down the road, we didn’t want to show up at her house at dusk and frighten her. So, we decided to tether the mule for the night, give him some hay and water, and Selwyn would ask the woman’s daughter, who lives in San Antonio, if her mother was still missing the mule. If the mule didn’t belong to the woman, I planned to take a drive up to the ranger office at Augustine on Tuesday morning.

That was one pissed off mule. He wanted to hang out with our horses, but he wanted to do it on his own terms, and we were afraid to put him in the pasture for fear he and Tony would have a kicking contest and somebody would get hurt. So, we tied him to a tree by a rope around his neck, and we think he spent most of the night pacing at the end of the rope, rearing and bucking, and generally putting on a big display to show his displeasure. We checked on him a few times before we went to bed, and every time, he was still bouncing around at the end of the rope like a dog on a chain when it sees something out of reach.

When Selwyn came in the morning, he said that the woman was still missing the mule, so I decided to walk him down the road to her house, which is about a mile away. I figured that even if it wasn’t her mule, a woman showing up on a sunny morning would be less frightening than a couple of guys at dusk. Fortunately, the mule did belong to the woman, and although we couldn’t understand each other too well due to my lack of Spanish and her lack of English, she made it clear that she was delighted to have her mule back. She kept smiling and patting him, and kissing him on the cheek, and he was braying like he was telling the woman and all her other animals that he had returned. We took my rope off his neck and put hers on, and she put him back where he belongs.

On Monday after school – before the mule catching incident – Wilton came over and asked if either of our computers played DVDs. I actually didn’t know, but thought that mine did, so we popped his DVD into the drive to see what happened – and it worked. It turned out that Wilton had borrowed a DVD from a friend at school, and wanted to watch it. It put me in a sort of difficult position, because I watched the beginning with him, and it was an American crash-bang-shoot-‘em-up movie, with emphasis on the shoot-‘em-up part. Wilton is 9, and his family is very involved with their church, and I had no idea if his parents knew he was watching any movie at all, and this one in particular. I didn’t have time to pursue it because the mule catching adventure started right about then, but Wilton came back with Ronald at 7:00 Tuesday morning, with an additional DVD, to see if that one would play. Ronald’s DVD was some sort of sit com in Spanish, which didn’t look too out of line for young boys, but Tom asked anyway if their parents knew they were watching these DVDs. They assured us that they did, and we haven’t yet seen either of their parents to ask, and we’re still discussing how we should handle it. Most likely, we’ll just make some comment about the boys watching DVDs at our house, and then only answer questions if they’re asked. It’s probably okay, since Wilton and Ronald are both good, honest kids who don’t try to get away with too much behind their parents’ backs, but I guess we’ll have to check, however subtly, just so our adult neighbors continue to trust us.

On Tuesday, Tom and Selwyn finished the wall and ceiling of the second room in the cabin, and we moved our bed out of the dining/living room and into the bedroom. Of course this involved Tom and Selwyn dismantling the bed frame with a saw (some of the screws had stripped so they had to be cut) but by bed time on Tuesday, the bed was set up, and Tom had even remade it. The back room is quieter because it puts another wall between us and our neighbors’ barking dogs, and darker because it looks out into the jungle rather than the cleared driveway, and cooler because there’s an insulated wall between that room and the kitchen. The downside is that most of the scorpions have evacuated the first room and taken up residence in the bedroom because it didn’t get much traffic, so now we’re going to have to watch for them in that room until they realize they need to evacuate the whole house. We found two adult ones in the ceiling and on the wall when Tom and Selwyn were putting the finishing touches on the ceiling and moving all the construction stuff, Tom and I found itty bitty baby ones when cleaning around a couple piles in the evening, and just before bed I opened the door between the rooms and went to go in, just as a big one was crawling across the doorway. All five were quickly dispatched, but it still makes us a little nervous because we don’t want Nock getting up in the night to investigate a noise and getting stung, since we’ve heard that scorpion stings make dogs very sick, and sometimes even kill them – and Nock is small enough that we don’t know how much it would take to kill her.

The other downside to the bedroom is that we’re not quite sure what to do with the puppies. They’ve grown too big for the water trough to be anything other than temporary incarceration, so we’ve been shutting them in the kitchen at night. They hang out with me in there during the day, so they’re both comfortable in there, and while there’s nothing within their reach for them to break, they can still snarfle around in the pots and pans at ground level and amuse themselves. Tuesday night we put them in the bathroom, which involved using one of the cage doors to fence off the hole in the floor that will soon be the shower. They weren’t very happy, and we don’t know if it was because they didn’t like the hole in the floor, or if they didn’t like it because there’s nothing for them to play with in that room other than the dog toys we gave them – which of course aren’t half as much fun as the things they shouldn’t have. The grand plan is to fence in the yard off that room so we can either leave the bedroom door open and they can go in and out as they please, along with the other three dogs, or if we’ll end up shutting them out of the house and on the porch, where they can go on the porch for shelter but still go into the yard when they want. The downside of that is that Nock, Lou, and Mel won’t be able to go in and out on their own at night, but I guess that’s not such a hardship since they’ve never been able to do it anyway. For the time being, the pups will just have to suck it up and sleep in the bathroom.

The other good thing with the back room being done is that we now have space in the front room. We put the table in the middle and pulled out both leaves, and Tom built the computer desk in the corner, so we can leave our computers set up and not have to break everything down every time we want to eat at the table. This will be great for the time being, although we think that once the bathroom is done and the construction supplies can be moved out of the bedroom, we’ll put the computers in the bedroom. We seem to have become the local after school and weekend rec center/internet café/cafeteria, which is fine as long as we have the time to spend with the kids and we don’t need the computers for our own work, but we need to be able to put things away and effectively close up the shop when we don’t need extra bodies in our space or when we need to be able to get something done. The other complication that will shrink this newfound space is that after we do the last few things on the first cabin, we’ll start all-out work on the second cabin, so everything stored in that cabin will have to go someplace else. Some of it we’ll naturally unpack where we’re living and it will just be absorbed in the space, but some of it is stuff that we won’t have room to unpack until we build a real house, so we’re not sure exactly how much room we need to just store boxes. But, however you look at it, we have more space now than we’ve had for the past seven months since we left Canadice, so we’re doing okay.

Wednesday was another day spent in Spanish Lookout, and the big treat was that when we got to the crank ferry, we were the only car on our side, so we drove right on and parked in the middle of the ferry. I got yelled at because I forgot to get out and walk on, but because we were the only vehicle, Tom talked to the crank man and was allowed to crank us across the river all by himself, although he let the crank man take over just before we got to shore. I was a good girl and walked off the boat and let Tom pick me up on the road. 

The other thing we did in Spanish Lookout was try to find Hepatitis A vaccines. When we were planning our move to Belize, we checked the CDC and WHO websites, which recommended hepatitis vaccines. When I talked to our doctor, she said that hepatitis A would be sufficient, unless we were planning on having sex with the natives, in which case we would need Hep B as well. When I assured her that sex with the natives wasn’t in our plans, she gave us a prescription to go to the county to get the vaccines, which we did on October 11th of last year, shortly before we left. You’re supposed to get a booster shot between April 11th and June 11th, and our time had just run out – and we hadn’t been able to find any Hep A vaccine in this country. We tried the pharmacies, which seem to have everything else, the village health clinics, the hospitals in San Ignacio and Santa Elena, and we tried to get information on where we might be able to find it in Belmopan or Belize City. Nobody seems to know, and the problem seems to be that the vaccine needs to stay cold, and the clinics and hospitals have trouble getting any vaccine that they’re sure hasn’t been exposed to overly warm temperatures. We finally decided to check the Spanish Lookout clinic – since you can get anything in Spanish Lookout! – and sure enough, they have it. It’s $180BZ each (US$90), which is about the same as it costs if you get it privately in the US, although ours were cheaper (US$35) since we went to the county clinic. We asked the nurse why they have it when nobody else does, and she said it’s because they order it from Salvadore. We have no idea why none of the other clinics do this, but at least Tom and I are now immunized, so even if all the unvaccinated people in the rest of Belize get Hep A, we should be safe.

When we got home from Spanish Lookout, we found that Selwyn had spent a busy day out in the drizzle, and had put up some temporary fencing so we can keep the horses in the middle pasture so we can plant grass in the front pasture. That was the original plan, then we thought about removing the middle pasture, but now we’re using it again. It’s a wonder we get anything done, the way we make plans, change them, and then change them again, and never really decide what we’re doing until it’s done. But, the horses are glad to have some fresh greens to nibble and some good shade from the fruit trees, and we’re looking forward to reconditioning the front pasture. And Esmerelda is in the picture, she's just behind the tree and she's so skinny you can't see anything but a leg.

Something is ripe in the trees right over our cabin, and a pair of toucans has been regular visitors. We hear them croaking, and still being newcomers to Belize, we drop what we’re doing and run outside to see them. Unfortunately the leaves have all popped out on the trees with the rain, so we sometimes can’t see them in the tops of the trees, but if we wait a little while they usually fly away, and then we get a good view. Actually, watching toucans fly is even more intriguing than watching them sit in trees and eat because it just seems so improbable that they can keep their heads in the air with those big bills. I’ve also seen a spotted rail and a couple of white-collared seedeaters when I’ve been out in the jungle. The seedeaters are interesting, because they’re like zebra finches or parakeets – the single species comes in lots of different colors and patterns, which makes them difficult to identify from the bird book. Fortunately we have Selwyn as a resource, so he was able to point me in the right direction and get me on the right page in the book so I could find them.

We had another incident in our life without phones. Selwyn always shows up before 8:00 am, and this morning (Thursday) 8:45 rolled around and he still wasn’t here. Tom and I agreed to give him until 9:00, and then we’d go look for him. He pulled in just before 9:00, and told us that he, Nelmarie, and her friend who was going to work on the gardens with her, Shona, had been waiting for us to pick them up. Oops. We sort of remembered that Nelmarie was going to work here today, but we hadn’t thought about picking them up, but Selwyn had assumed we’d pick them up because that’s what we did last week when Hilda and Nelmarie worked here. If we had a phone, one or the other of us would have called by 8:30 and the confusion would have been cleared, but as it was, after Selwyn got here, he and Tom unloaded the hay and wood we picked up in Spanish Lookout yesterday, then I got myself together and went to get the women. So, they get to work a short day today, and we’ve already worked out the ride plan for tomorrow. What was sort of funny was that Petranela, Selwyn and Nelmarie’s mother, had guessed exactly what happened – and she was the one who finally told Selwyn to ride the bike here and help Tom unload the wood. My mother always said that mothers know everything!

Anyway, the women are working on the gardens, and Tom and Selwyn are working on the porch. By mid-next week, we should have a roof, a door, and screening, so the screened porch will become our new dining room. Then we’ll have to figure out what we’re doing for furniture in the main room of the cabin.


David Gottfried said...

I can honestly say, I hope I never say anything about finding scorpions in my bedroom - adult, baby, whatever! You may have just convinced me NOT to live in the jungle!!

Peter said...

T & M,
Finally had a chance to catch up alittle on your blog.
It seems like there's always something different going on there!
Sorry to be so out of touch - I hope others are better at staying in touch. Claire is probably writing as she is at Infotonics again. Everyone is good - miss you guys and hope to come visit when you are ready for us. Peter, Claire and Ian will send pictures or look at