Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cultural Immersion

Tom and Selwyn are making progress much more quickly on the second cabin than they did on the first, not only because they’ve already done all the planning, but also because we don’t have to worry about the basics like water and electric at this point. Where the soakaway for the first cabin took a couple of weeks to finish, on the second cabin it was just a matter of digging the hole, breaking up a few cement pads around the property so they had good fill, laying the pipe, and filling the hole with dirt. With the first soakaway, they moved all the dirt to the garden and then had to move some of it back; with this one, they knew to leave the dirt that came out of the hole beside it until we have a few good rains and the ground settles.

In addition to finishing the framing for the porch, Tom and Selwyn got all the window holes fitted to the windows this week, with windowsills. Tom and I spent yesterday installing the windows, which at that point was just a matter of putting them in the openings and putting in a few screws to hold them in place. This week, one of the items on Tom’s list is installing the doors. He is also planning to put the framing and plycem for the showers in the bathrooms, and then put up the external walls. With any luck – and without too many distractions – this cabin should be lockable by next weekend.

Although we’re no longer dealing with major water problems and the basic system is pretty much figured out, we still spent part of the week getting the lower 1000 gallon tank ready to collect rainwater. Tom and Selwyn did most of the prep work during the week, and on Friday Tom got rainspouts run from the gutters on the shop to the tank, so we’ve already collected a few showers’ worth of water. Today, Tom is hooking up the piping so we can also get water from the pipe.

Tom also installed the pump in the shop, and with a little more glue and some garden hose we’ll be ready to pump water from the lower tank to the tank on the hill that gravity feeds the cabin. The four-inch PVC pipe lining the hole punched through the cinderblock wall also contains smaller pipes to run electricity in and out of the shop when we move the generator to the pad near the shop and the road. The best thing about moving the pump into the shop is that we no longer have to worry about it walking away from the property, which is a common problem around here with these fairly portable, expensive, and very much needed pumps.

Last weekend, since we were panicking about our lack of hay for the horses, Tom went through the front pasture with a Roundup-like spray to kill all the weeds so we can plant star grass and get that pasture ready for the horses’ grazing. It’s difficult to see in this picture, but the weeds are finally dying, so we’ll probably collect the star grass this week and then, hopefully, within six weeks or so we’ll have decent grazing for the horses, and we’ll then do the same to the middle pasture. However, we’re not in quite so much of a panic this week since the Spanish Lookout farmers were able to get out in their fields to cut and bale hay. I went to Spanish Lookout on Thursday and found 25 bales of star grass hay to buy at my first stop, and then later found an additional 25 bales of blue stem which we can pick up next week.

While I was in Spanish Lookout, I ran into a fellow American at FTC. We made some idle chitchat about the real value of paper money around the world, and I then went on my way. At my next stop, Mid-West Agro, the same gentleman approached me at the desk and asked me where in the Pine Ridge I lived. I was a little surprised that he’d managed to get that information about me so quickly in a town where I didn’t know anyone knew anything about me, so I was even more surprised when he told me that we probably have a lot to talk about since he knew that we were from New York State, and he’s from Pennsylvania. I’m still not sure who he asked who was able to give him that information about me, but when we talked a little more we discovered that we’re almost neighbors, and he lives only about three miles north of here on the Georgeville Road. I wasn’t quite clear on exactly where he lives, so he said he’d stop by here some time and we could make arrangements to get together for dinner. It’s a small world, and Belize is a very small country in that small world!

Friday was Belize’s Independence Day, and, as in the US, it’s a much celebrated national holiday. We’d gone to Marta and Julian’s house for dinner early in the week last week, and Marta, Julian, and their kids had explained how the holiday is celebrated, which is much as it is in the US with fireworks and parades and picnics. They told us that San Ignacio was having fireworks at midnight on Thursday, with various festivities leading up to the fireworks on Thursday evening. We decided that we wanted to go, so we made arrangements to pick up anybody who wanted to go at 7:00 Thursday night.

We ended up with twelve passengers, plus Tom and me, and we made the trek down the dark San Antonio Road and into San Ignacio. That early, we had no trouble finding a parking place, and we agreed that we’d meet back at the truck after the fireworks. The young people – George, Iris, Rosa, and Ofelia – headed off to look for friends, and the rest of us made our way to the circle in front of the Police Station. Even as early as 8:00, which is about when we arrived, people were already pouring into the area in front of the Police Station, and loud music was already blaring through the town. The town officials were on a stage built for the occasion in front of the Police Station, but unfortunately the microphone volume from the stage couldn’t compete with the music, which was, as seems to be normal at functions here, blaring from huge speakers at a very high volume. However, we managed to hear that various dignitaries would be speaking between then and midnight, some school groups were doing music or dance presentations, and three torches were going to be carried by packs of runners across the Hawksworth Bridge from Santa Elena, around the circle, and then off up the hill to Benque. We never did figure out the significance of the three torches, but we think they came with runners from Belize City. Regardless of what they symbolized, it was a pretty impressive sight to see a pack of twenty or so Belizeans running with multiple torches through the night across the bridge, then up the hill and out of sight as they headed towards Benque.

We also never figured out what the various dignitaries were trying to say in their speeches since we couldn’t hear them, but it was still fun to hang out in the crowd in the street, waiting to see what happened, with everybody just having a good time. At midnight the Belize flag was raised in a spotlight on the flag pole in front of the Station, the BDF Honor Guard fired a 21-gun salute, and then the fireworks started. We weren’t sure what to expect of fireworks in Belize, but the Belizeans did themselves proud with a very impressive twenty-minute show. We could hear many people around us talking, and were surprised to hear that many of them had never seen fireworks before, and the oohs and aahs were genuine as multiple rockets exploded in the skies above us. After the fireworks, however, came the best part of the show. A marching band from Guatemala marched into the street in front of the station playing Belize’s national anthem, and the crowd moved back to let the band members, all dressed in white suits with white Panama hats, do their thing. When they finished with the National Anthem, they started the real show, playing music ranging from Simon & Garfunkel to American marches to traditional Latin American music, and they had a different routine for each number. Each routine involved some pretty impressive dancing, especially considering that they were playing without reading any music, and that most people would have trouble either playing the music or performing the sometimes complicated dance steps, and these guys were doing the playing and the dancing simultaneously and very, very well. The crowd was really into it, and didn’t even start to break up until the band was done around 1am. We all made it back to the truck eventually, and were on the very dark road home by 1:30. That got Tom and me to bed around 2:30am – way later than we’ve stayed up in a long, long time!

We skipped the parades on Friday, but out cultural immersion continued on Saturday. Saturday afternoon, Olmi and Daisy came over for a chat, and they were looking at my fairly large pile of cooking pots and pans and serving dishes, which are now stored in an open cabinet in the main room of the cabin outside the kitchen. I explained that most of the things were great deals my mother had found at yard sales and church bazaars, and that she gave to me because she had no use for them, but the deals were too good to pass up. As I was trying, in my broken Spanish, to explain these sales, Olmi said that they do something similar at their church, and, in fact, they were having such a function that night – and would we like to come? Always eager to see and try new things and meet new people, we made sure that Olmi really wanted non-church members there (Tom had joined the conversation by this point), and when she assured us that guests were welcome, we made plans to attend.

For our neighbors, church is a major part of their lives. They belong to a Pentecostal church in San Antonio, and all of the Pentecostal churches in the area get together frequently for joint functions. With everything they do, they usually end up attending church two nights a week during the week, and then Saturday and Sunday nights, and sometimes Sunday mornings. We weren’t sure how they could tolerate that much church, but after going to last night’s function, we have a much better understanding. Church isn’t just a church service. They have a meal before the service, and because this weekend is a holiday weekend, they also had a band that played before and after the service. The service was a joint effort of five or six of the local Pentecostal churches, so a lot of people were there and it was a big social gathering. The service is held under a tent, and even while the service was going on, kids were running around playing, people were sitting in groups outside the tent eating and socializing, and everybody was very relaxed.

Well, almost everybody was relaxed. At some point the guest preacher began to preach, and it was done at a volume that I’ve never experienced in the Catholic and WASP church services that I’ve attended. He wasn’t exactly preaching hellfire and brimstone, but he was definitely preaching with the purpose of riling up the crowd, and it worked. Tom and I were sitting outside the tent under a tree, and at one point many people in the tent stood up and starting waving their arms and shouting. The guy we were sitting with looked at us and said, “Well, do you accept what he said?” Tom asked if the standing and arm waving were signs that people accepted, and the guy said yes, and again asked if we accepted. Tom very cleverly answered that since the sermon was in Spanish, we didn’t understand enough of if to know whether we accepted it or not. So, we kept our seats under the tree, and eventually the sermon ended and everybody sat down.

What was sort of strange to me was the realization that even though the sermon was in Spanish and Tom said we didn’t understand, I did understand a good part of it. Between picking up a lot of vocabulary here, and having attended enough Latin masses that I understand a lot of the religious Latin, which is pretty similar to religious Spanish, I think I probably got about 80%. Our neighbors have been telling us that we’re learning their language very quickly, but it doesn’t seem all that quick to us, and we feel like we know just enough to say something and make people think we know more than we do, so they then speak to us as if we actually understand the language, and we become hopelessly lost until they slow down and start speaking to us like two-year olds again. But, after last night, I think there is hope for us, at least as far as understanding. Actually speaking intelligibly and correctly is another matter, but I guess we’ll get there eventually too, as long as we keep trying. We’re very fortunate that all of our neighbors are very patient with us, and are willing to have very slow conversations so we can learn Spanish and they can learn English. We have to resist the temptation to speak solely in English to the people here who speak good English, which is doubly hard because they want to practice their English with us. Of course, the Spanish we’re learning here may never have any use in the outside world, since it’s mostly about building and cooking and animals, but we are learning things like general directions and the basic platitudes, so hopefully we’ll at least be able to be polite when we travel in Mexico and the rest of Central America.

The fruit on one of our grapefruit trees is just starting to ripen, so we’ve been having grapefruit for breakfast again. These fruits are very sweet and tasty, but they have a ton of seeds. I never knew why the big yellow citrus fruits were called “grapefruit,” but the reason is quite clear in this picture. The whole tree is covered with bunches of grapefruit like this.

Monday, September 17, 2007

And another week flies by…

Tom did his work assessment at the end of the week, and decided that while he didn’t do everything on his list for the week, he did a few extra things and consequently he was happy with what was done. Tom bought more black pipe for the clamps in Spanish Lookout on Thursday, so on Friday he and Selwyn finished the deck for the porch and put up the porch rafters. Over the weekend, Tom built the rest of the vertical supports, and put the rails on two sides. This morning, he and Selwyn put up the nailers and nailed up the zinc, and finished most of the railing. Now they’re on to moving the 1000 gallon water tank where we collect water to pump up the hill from under the lime tree to behind the shop so we can collect rainwater from the shop roof rather than relying on the pipe water.

Last Thursday while Tom was in Spanish Lookout, Selwyn and I had a horse day. First thing in the morning, we saddled up Tony and Glinda and did a short loop through our back lot with me ponying Elphie from Tony. Tom and I have both been doing some ground work with Elphie, and she’s pretty happy to be lead just about anywhere. I’ve taken her on walks through the jungle where she has to go through, over, or around things, and not much bothers her, even blue tarps. I’ve “saddled” her with the saddle bags, and she doesn’t mind having something on her back. So, we decided it was time to take her out in the jungle with the big horses, and she was a trooper. She walked next to Tony on the wide trails and the road, and followed on the narrower trails. Of course it helped that Selwyn was behind us with Glinda, which kept her moving forward, and while Tony isn’t as good of a pony horse as Randy was with Patrick, he does his job and is even pretty good about nipping at her if she tries to cross in front of him. She got used to me putting my foot on her back, and didn’t even twitch her ears when I ran my whip over her sides. We’ll be taking her on short rides for a while until she gets a little fitter, and then we’ll start taking her on longer rides through the jungle.

When we got back from that ride, we decided to take the two big horses up the hill. When riding to Sapodilla Falls with Tim and Kelli and Matt and Steph, Selwyn had noticed a calabash tree with fruit. The calabash fruit is like a gourd; it has a hard, round, wood-like outside with a soft center. Mayans traditionally make bowls from the gourd by cutting it in half, hollowing it out, and slowly heating it to cure it. Selwyn’s mother, Petranela, has a calabash bowl that was handed down to her by her mother, and it’s very old and still serviceable. Petranela knows how to make the bowls, and had told Selwyn that if he found some gourds, she would make some bowls. So, we returned to where Selwyn had seen the calabash in July, and while the gourds had fallen from the tree, Selwyn found them on the ground and they were still in good shape. We packed them home, and Selwyn has handed them off to Petranela to start the curing process.

As we were heading down the hill, we took the Vista trail in the opposite direction from how I usually go. I wanted to show Selwyn where I’d seen the puma, so as we were riding along I was looking up to get my bearings and to find the spot on the trail where I’d seen the puma cross. Suddenly Selwyn held up his hand, stopped, and told me to stop. He told me to look down, and right under Tony’s feet were large cat tracks in the sand. Each track was about three inches in diameter; it could have fit into the print created by Tony’s hoof, but barely. Selwyn said they could be either jaguar tracks or puma tracks, but either way it convinced us that I hadn’t been imagining things when I reported my puma sighting last week. On Friday I took the camera and rode back up to the spot where we found the tracks, but it had rained enough Thursday night and Friday morning that the tracks were gone.

My Friday ride on Esmerelda was, um, interesting. Es is getting in better shape and is getting more confident, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It’s a good thing because she’s very athletic, loves to go, and is a really fun ride, but it’s a bad thing because she’s getting even more opinionated, and as she gets stronger and fitter it’s a little more difficult for me to make her do what I want her to do. I seem to be developing a love/hate relationship with her much like I had with my old horse Ricky, and for a lot of the same reasons. I love her when we’re doing a good business-like walk or trot along the trails when the other horses would be lolly-gagging along. I hate her when we get to a spot where she was spooked by a peccary a few weeks ago and she absolutely refuses to go past the spot, rearing, wheeling, spinning, and trying to run in the opposite direction despite the fact that I keep kicking and whipping her to go forward, and every time she rears and wheels I pull her around so she ends up in the same position. I love her when we’re cantering along a sandy trail in the Pine Ridge with lots of downed pines, and she canters through all the poles, adjusting her stride no matter what the distances are, and never breaks her stride or her rhythm. I hate her when we approach a slightly higher log that she needs to jump, and instead of listening to me and sitting back when I ask, she tosses her head up to get away from the bit (and me), but then jumps flawlessly anyway. I hate her when I ask her to walk down a very long, very muddy, very root-filled bank before a stream crossing, and instead of walking she launches herself from eight or ten feet up, right towards one of the trees on the stream bank – but then I love her when she does a 45 degree turn in mid-air, and lands right where I wanted her to go, in the middle of the stream. No issues for jumping into water for this horse! I’m finally going to make use of the poles Tom cut for me months and months ago, and do some work with her in the pasture so she and I can learn to jump together, rather than her telling me to just get out of her way and let her do her job when we’re out on the trails.

The only problem we’re having with the horses right now is a lack of hay. Even though it hasn’t been raining all that much, we’ve had enough rain at least every couple of days that the farmers haven’t been able to get out and cut their fields, and even if they’ve managed to cut it, much of it has been ruined by getting wet before it’s baled. We’ve done a lot of work in our three pastures, but we haven’t had time for any real grass to grow for grazing, so we’ve been relying on at least a flake or two a day for each of the horses. A few weeks ago, the farmers ran out of bluestem and star grass, which are the hays horses like down here, and we tried feeding them MG5 and black eyed pea tops. They didn’t do much with the MG5 and blacked eyed pea tops besides chew them and move the hay around, but at least it kept them busy. Now we can’t even get that, so they’re eating stuff out of the pasture that they wouldn’t usually eat, and all five of them are starting to lose weight. We’re now doing something I swore I’d never do, and giving them lunch as well as breakfast and dinner every day, but even that is barely maintaining their weight. So, we’re hoping for a few nice days in a row so the farmers can bale some horse hay and we can lay up a good stock for our horses.

We now have four chickens. Well, three chickens and a chick, which you can barely see to the left of the white hen in this picture because it’s a little black chick which we call La Negrita, the little black one, because the rest of her siblings are all yellow. We acquired her (or him, too early to tell, but possibly El Negrito) the week before last. When we feed the horses, all the neighbors’ chickens come to share their grain. When it was three or four chickens it was no big deal, but it’s now closer to probably 15 or 20 chickens, so whoever feeds usually stands out there and shoos the chickens away. Sometimes we just kick at them, sometimes we wave sticks around, and sometimes we toss little rocks at them, depending on where they are in relation to the horses. Anyway, one morning Tom was using the rock tossing method, and he accidentally hit the little black chick and hurt its leg. It wouldn’t use the leg at all, and when the hen and the rest of the chicks ran off, La Negrita was left in the horse’s feed pan. Tom picked it up and brought it into the house to ask me what we should do. After years of constantly saying “It’s just a chicken” to our old neighbor Diane as she nursed chickens through the night, my first temptation was to tell Tom to put it on the ground so I could see what was wrong, knowing that Nock or Lou would make short work of it. But, I couldn’t do that, so we made it a little bed in the other side of the chicken hutch from the big chickens, and nursed the little thing while its leg healed enough that it could start to hop around. We told Olmi, the hen’s owner, what had happened, and that we would put the chick back with its mother when it was better. By the end of last week, La Negrita was getting around pretty well, so we turned her out with our other three chickens, and she follows them all around. Olmi came over and I tried to give the chick back to her, but she smiled and said we should just keep it since she thought it would be a good misfit addition to Moonracer Farm. La Negrita is very attached to the other chickens, and we can now tell when they’ve gone to roost at night because she’s still unable to get up into the hutch, so as soon as the other three are up, she sits at the base of the ladder and goes “PEEP, PEEP, PEEP, PEEP” so loudly and incessantly that one of us goes out to lift her in and lock the chickens up for the night. The only other chicken news (if anything relating to chickens can be called news) is that the brown hen has finally started to lay eggs. We don’t know if it’s coincidence or not that it happened when we put La Negrita in with them, but in any case we’re getting an egg a day.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


As I was posting yesterday’s blog entry, Tom was already changing plans on what would be done this week. The deck boards for the second cabin’s porch are all sapodilla, and are extremely hard. Tom and Selwyn have a system of putting the boards down where one goes underneath with a couple of pipe clamps and clamps the new board into the already laid boards, and the other stays on top and drills nail holes, then hammers in the nails. In the picture posted yesterday, Tom was the one under the deck, and Selwyn was doing the drilling and nailing. When they did the porch on the first cabin, they used a softer kind of hardwood and were able to put a couple of the clamps together and were able to pull the boards in enough to get them straight as the deck got wider. With the sapodilla, it takes more pressure to straighten the boards and hold them there while they’re nailed down, so when Tom would try to put the clamps together after the deck width exceeded the length of a single pipe clamp, the clamps kept popping off and falling. So, Tom decided that when he goes to Spanish Lookout on Thursday, he’s going to get some longer black pipe so the pipe clamps are long enough to do the entire width of the porch.

In the meantime, they’re getting a good start on the soakaway for the second cabin. They dug this much in less than a couple of hours this morning, and now they just have to hope it doesn’t rain hard enough to fill it in before they get the rocks and pipe needed for drainage. Even if it rains, they can work on the bathroom addition, and they’re going to try to get the rest of the facing boards on the cabin we’re living in so we can put up the gutters, which we haven’t done yet because we’re not collecting rainwater from this roof.

I didn’t mention it, but my lower back has been hurting since the middle of last week. I don’t recall doing anything specifically that started the pain, but up until yesterday evening, it had been getting steadily worse. First it was just a little achey, then it was stiff and achey, then the pain was spreading down into my butt and higher up into my back, and by yesterday morning it was really bothering me, to the point where I didn’t even want to ride or work in the garden, both things I usually love to do, and had been doing even with a mildly achey back. I bent over yesterday morning to pick up the dog food bowls, and if I hadn’t had the counter to grab, I would have ended up on the floor with the bowls because of the spasm in my back. When I walked outside, my foot would catch on a little bump, and I’d catch my breath because it hurt. I think I deal with pain pretty well to a point, but I’d definitely reached the point where it was making me miserable. I even laid down yesterday afternoon, which I just don’t do when it’s nice out – or even when it isn’t, for that matter.

In the US, I would have called Judie, our ex-super-housecleaner turned Licensed Massage Therapist, and had her take care of it. I wouldn’t have gone to the regular doctor, knowing, through years of running and horse injuries, that the solution would be some pain pills and some muscle relaxers, followed by a physical therapy prescription if the pills alone didn’t solve the problem. I hate taking the pills, which make me logy, and I’d already been doing the stretching that I knew would be part of the physical therapy prescription. I asked around about a massage therapist, and nobody could recommend one in San Antonio or 7 Miles, but Selwyn reminded me that when his back went out, he went to his neighbor and had her do ventosa on it. It had helped him, and I believe in many of the alternative medicine practices, so I decided to give it a try.

Ventosa is a traditional Mayan healing method, where heat and suction are used to pull what the Mayan healers call “bad breeze” out of a muscle that is causing pain. Selwyn’s neighbor learned the technique from her mother, who learned it from her mother, and so on back through the line. She asked me to show her where the pain was, and then had me lie face down on a couch. I had a moment of panic because I looked at the low, saggy couch and with the way my back was feeling, thought I’d never be able to get up without rolling onto the floor and working my way up from there. She pulled out what looked like a little sewing kit, with some needles and lint balls, and got a drinking glass and some matches from the kitchen. She had me clear the spot on my back where I had the pain, and she rubbed it with her bare hands, sort of a mini-massage, then rubbed the area with alcohol. She started on the left side, pinched up some skin, and poked me a few times with a pin or needle. She then stuck some of the lint inside the glass, lit the lint, and put the glass over the holes she’d poked. All I felt was a pinch as she poked the holes, then pleasant heat and pulling where the glass was sucking up my skin. Tom said it pulled out very thick, black blood, which the healer pointed out and told him was the “bad breeze,” and then some thinner, redder blood. When the flame in the glass went out, she said the bad breeze had been pulled out, and she removed the glass and wiped away the blood, which was about the same amount as you’d have if you cut yourself shaving. She then repeated the process on the other side of my back.

Perhaps it was the placebo effect, but when she told me to get up I was able to sit up and get up off the couch without any wincing or gasping spasms. The pain wasn’t entirely gone, but my back felt like I’d just spent a half hour sitting on a heating pad, and was much less stiff and achy than it had been before the ventosa. She told me to stay out of cold water for a few days, although hot showers are fine, and said to come see her again if the pain isn’t entirely gone in a few days. I’ve been moving very carefully and haven’t been doing anything to aggravate my back, but so far so good, and I’ve had no spasms and the discomfort seems to be lessening. I picked up the dog bowls this morning without incident, and have been walking around outside without any pain at all even when I stub my foot on a stick or rock. You can see the suction spots on my back which look bruised, but I don’t feel bruised. I’m not going to tempt fate and go throw around 50 pound feed bags, or go out in the rain and help Tom and Selwyn dig, so hopefully my back will continue to feel better and I’ll consider going to have ventosa performed on my shoulder next time that decides to start hurting.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Jungle Adventures

Felix seems to have left a very damp weather pattern in his wake. We had hard rain almost all day on Wednesday last week, which was a direct result of Felix, and since then it seems that almost every day we’ve had nice mornings, and rain in the afternoons. It hasn’t really mattered, since between showers Tom and Selwyn managed to get the roof on the bathroom addition of the second cabin, so now when it’s not raining they’re working on the deck of the porch, and when it rains they work on the bathrooms under the roofing. We had a rainy Sunday yesterday, and Hector came over wanting to chop with Tom, but since it was raining Tom and Hector worked on the bathroom addition under the roof too.

In between showers, Tom and Selwyn also cleared a lot of the brush between the two cabins. Selwyn had taken out a lot of the scrub a few months ago, but between the weight of the dead vines in the trees he left and the weight of the rest of the leaves from the rain, it was filling in again. Now it’s clearer than it’s been since we’ve been here, and we’re starting to envision a spot for a future pool!

I’ve also been taking advantage of the cooler weather that has come with the rain, and have been riding all three horses. All three horses are getting better. Tony is walking out a little more with slightly less than constant encouragement, Glinda lets me get on almost like a normal horse and is going through just about anything, and Esmerelda is still a ton of fun since both she and I love going forward at top speed! It didn’t rain Friday afternoon, so I took Glinda out for a ride. We were at the top of the hill on the Vista trail, trotting through a fairly flat and sandy spot where the going is good because the trail is an old logging road, when I saw a cat’s head appear about 25 yards in front of me. At first I thought it was a jaguarondi because we’ve seen a few of them around lately. Then I realized it wasn’t as dark as a jaguarondi, and much bigger. Jaguarondis are about the size of large house cats, and between its nose and its tail, this cat stretched across the entire width of the logging road, which is probably about six feet from brush to brush. It was completely in the brush when Glinda and I reached there, and as we went past I caught movement out of the corner of my eye so I turned Glinda back to take a look. The cat was still in the brush, although the undergrowth was thick enough that I couldn’t get a good look at it, and could see only a little movement and color. When the cat realized that we were stopped in the trail and looking at it, it turned and went deeper into the brush.

When we got home, I asked Selwyn what was bigger than a jaguarondi and a dark red color. He asked how big, and I told him how it stretched across the road, and estimated its weight at about the same as Beli and Stout, who are now up to 55 to 60 pounds each. Selwyn got that wide-eyed look again, and told me that I’d just seen a “red tiger,” or puma. He and Tom both yelled at me for going back to take a look, but just like when Esmerelda and I encountered whatever it was that made her run away, I didn’t even think about being in any danger – and I don’t think I was. I didn’t think it was a puma when I saw it, because I thought pumas were bigger, and that they were a sort of a buff color, like a deer. Since this cat was relatively small (puppy size!) and reddish, the thought never crossed my mind. However, after talking to Selwyn I checked our mammal book, and it confirmed that 50 pounds, while small, is in the size range for a puma, and they are occasionally a dark red – hence the local name of red tiger. I actually feel lucky to have spotted one of these rarely seen animals, and I’m glad I was riding Glinda instead of Es, since Glinda didn’t have the sense to turn tail and run!

Tom and I went for a ride to Sapodilla Falls on Saturday. As we got to the top of the hill and crossed the road, we could see dark clouds in the distance. However, we frequently see dark clouds in the distance here, and it frequently doesn’t rain. We weren’t so lucky on Saturday, and we were almost to the falls when the heavens opened. Fortunately we were in the broadleaf forest, and sharp-eyed Tom spotted a bay palm at the perfect height to act as an umbrella for us. Both horses fit under its leaves, and while we got a little damp from the dripping, the palm protected us from the worst of the deluge. It rained hard for about a half hour, and then slowed down enough that it was only dripping in the jungle, so we continued to the falls. By the time we got there the sun was out, so we sat on the warm rocks in the sun, ate our lunch, and dried out a little. We took our bathing suits, but we didn’t swim because we were a little chilled from being wet, because there was a lot of water in the falls and we could see the river current even the normally calm pools, and because if I took my damp jeans off and they didn’t dry all the way, there was no way I was going to re-clothe myself in wet pants and riding home through the jungle in a bathing suit isn’t really practical.

This week Tom and Selwyn are continuing work on the second cabin, and by the end of the week hope to have the porch done except for the screening, the showers framed in the bathrooms, walls on the bathrooms, and a start at digging the soakaway for the gray water from that cabin. That’s a pretty ambitious set of goals for the week, and doesn’t allow for the inevitable surprises and distractions we’re sure to encounter this week – but if at least part of it gets done, we’ll still be moving forward!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Another Miss for Belize

Belize was lucky again, although Nicaragua and Honduras took the hit and it looks like Felix will continue to cause plenty of damage from flooding even as a tropical storm. Here, it’s unlikely that we’ll see any effect at all on our weather from Felix. So, thanks again to everybody for your thoughts and prayers for us, and continue them for those who weren’t so lucky with this storm.

Yesterday was a day of frantic preparation for everybody around here. We were still in pretty good shape from cleaning up before Dean, so all we had to do was get the 200 gallons of water off the stand over the roof, and pump water up to our gravity feed tanks on the hill so that we would be assured a good supply of fresh water if the water line was damaged. Our neighbors, however, planned to go to a hurricane shelter in San Antonio, so they were running back and forth all day. I think I spent most of yesterday charging cell phones, 12v batteries, and iPods, handing out our cell phone so people could contact family, checking for the latest Felix report on the computer with the neighbors, and dispensing band aids, garbage bags, and ibuprofen as the neighbors packed to leave, made bread (what Belizeans do in a crisis), and tried to get their houses in order so what was there wouldn’t be too damaged. I manned the fort here and didn’t go over to see what was going on next door, but apparently they were pretty busy because little Zulmi showed up at one point just for a drink of juice – and there are usually at least a half a dozen of her family members just waiting to give her what she wants, so the fact that she came here shows how distracted they were.

Today things are getting back to normal. Nobody is talking about how scared we all were any more, which was a big topic of discussion yesterday, and the kids are looking forward to another week off school, since for some reason the government has suspended classes until September 11th. The country-wide state of emergency was lifted at noon, and offices and business may reopen at any time.

Tom and Selwyn are continuing to work on the second cabin. They finished putting down the floors for the bathrooms this morning, and have been putting up the walls this afternoon. For once, they’ll probably get more done than Tom expected this week, since he figured we’d lose the end of the week to the hurricane, and now it will be just a normal week, for whatever that’s worth around here.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Tengo miedo

As you can probably imagine, we’re watching Felix pretty closely. And, we are a little scared. We were glad to see that the forecast was a little better this morning than it was when we went to bed last night, but the fact that it can change that drastically overnight means that it can change pretty drastically between now and when it makes landfall, which is sometime tomorrow morning for Nicaragua and Honduras, and sometime on Wednesday for Belize and Guatemala. Right now the best-case scenario is that it dips a little south and loses strength passing over unpopulated marshland in Honduras, but it’s still too early to tell exactly what it will do, and none of the scenarios are really any good. It would be better if it made landfall as a Cat 2 instead of a Cat 5 – but a Cat 2 is still a potentially damaging hurricane and must be taken seriously.

So, we’re getting ready. We’re doing things like taking all the water out of the 200 gallon tank on the stand over the house and bringing it down, just in case we get winds strong enough to blow a partially filled 200 gallon tank off its stand and into our cabin via the roof. We're also taking strips of cloth and writing our name and address on them with Sharpies so we can attach them to the horse's halters, since we're told the best thing for the horses is to leave them out and let them find their own safe place, with the knowledge that their safe place may not be in our pasture. We don’t know how high the winds will be here, and we don’t have any concept of how powerful hurricane force winds can be and what they can do. That’s really the worst of it for us. Getting ready is like getting ready for a blizzard in the Northeast, but after more than 25 years in Upstate New York, we knew what to expect from a blizzard and what we had to do to prepare. Here, we just don’t know.

We do know that the country of Belize is taking this threat very seriously. As of this morning, the government has started a mandatory evacuation of the cayes and coastal areas. Schools and government offices are closed from now until Felix passes so that people can do whatever they need to do to prepare themselves, and the government workers can help with the country’s preparation efforts. Tom went into San Ignacio this morning to pick up some supplies, and he said that the lines are out the door at the banks and some of the stores, and just about everything is scheduled to close by the end of today.

Hector and Marixa from next door came over to talk to me this morning, and the conversation Hector and I had pretty much sums up how we’re all feeling. Hector said “Tengo miedo.” I said “Tengo miedo tambien.”

“Miedo” is fear or dread, and I just learned the word last week when I was talking to Marta, Hector’s mother, about why I don’t like to drive here. I told her that I was afraid I’d hit somebody walking or cycling or riding a horse along the road, and she explained that if you are afraid, you say in Spanish “Tengo miedo,” or “I have fear.”

Hector has fear, and I do too, and the fear of Felix is much more intense than the things I’m afraid of when driving around here, which are at least known fears.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I didn’t mean to start a trend!

Since I posted last week about chopping my leg with my machete, we’ve received three emails from three people about stitch-deserving wounds they’ve received in the past week. My brother Tim got 12 stitches in his lip as a result of being bitten by a garage door spring, my brother Pete’s father-in-law, Billy, has 13 stitches in his head as a result of a bad dream and a run-in with a nightstand, and my friend since childhood, Carol (somewhere around there’s a picture of us holding hands at the bus stop on our first day of kindergarten almost exactly 40 years ago!), has 11 stitches in her calf from a chopped off stick that she tripped into while doing yard work. Yikes! That’s enough, everybody! NO MORE STITCHES!!!


We took a day off on Thursday this week and went exploring a cave on the other side of San Ignacio that’s off the tourist track. We went with a friend who has been in the cave before, and it was fascinating both geologically and archeologically. They’ve found signs that the cave was used not only by the Mayans, but also by the Paleo-Indians, which is about 3000 years ago. The cave layout is also very interesting, because it has three main chambers, and you have to do some pretty serious climbing to get between the chambers. The first two chambers are huge, and are basically formed of cave formations in the rock. The third is an ancient underground river bed, and huge doesn’t even begin to describe it. The walking is easy in this part because the river bed is just hills of dirt, and the walls are so far apart an army could walk through and not worry about running into the walls. I can’t even estimate how high this chamber is, but our fairly good LED headlamps on the brightest setting only barely illuminated it when we directed them towards the top. It seems to go on forever, and ends, for hikers at least, where the river is still flowing and the cave becomes just an underground river.

Archeologically, we saw lots of Mayan artifacts, and there are places where we could tell that torches had been mounted in niches on the walls because the charcoal from the torches was still there. The Paleo-Indian artifacts are carvings, and we had a little trouble seeing them. The problem wasn’t actually seeing the form of the carving, it was not seeing things that weren’t there. For example, we looked at one formation that was two small pillars, maybe 18 inches high, with a larger formation in the middle. We were looking at the formation on the left, and could definitely see a warrior head in a headdress. However, I glanced at the formation on the right, and I could vividly see that it was a carving of…Santa Claus, complete with the folded over stocking cap, smiling eyes and jolly round cheeks, and a fluffy beard. Somehow I don’t think the Paleo-Indians were making carvings of Santa three thousand years ago, so it makes me question whether or not we were looking at anything real in the other carvings, or just using our imaginations to make shapes in the rocks, cracks in the rocks, and limestone formations.

This was by far the biggest cave Tom and I have been in, so we played a few interesting games in the dark. The cave is utterly black when the lights are out, and all you can hear is the occasional drip of water from the tip of a stalactite. We got a small taste of being totally blind, and were trying to figure out if we could “feel” how big the chambers were since besides the three large chambers, we went into a number of smaller rooms. It seems that you can, but then again we don’t know if we’re really feeling the size of the chamber, or if we’re just remembering how big or small it was from what we saw when our lights were on.

At one point we were in the riverbed chamber. We left our packs on the top of a little hill, and walked probably about 50 yards down into a little valley to wash our hands because we were going to eat lunch. After we washed our hands, our friend had us turn off our lights to see how close we could get to the packs if we walked over the riverbed in the dark. Tom and I immediately crashed into a small ditch, so then we grabbed hands and made a chain with our friend leading, and when he stopped he said our packs would be just to our left, and they were. It's either a really good party trick, or he's spent enough time in caves that he's adjusted to not using his eyes all the time. Or, it occurred to us later, he knew he was going to do the trick so he took better bearings than we did – but still, we were remarkably close. As we found in other caves we’ve been in, the trip out was a whole lot quicker than the trip in, partly because we knew the way and weren’t taking any unnecessary detours, and partly because we weren’t stopping to look at things.

I think it’s sort of funny that when we first visited Belize, I was hesitant to go inside caves. I’m a little claustrophobic, and don’t like airplanes and elevators and places like that, and I figured I’d be really uncomfortable being in a cave. But, I actually enjoy it, and remarked at one point that I was having more fun than grownups should be allowed to have, climbing over rocks, exploring, seeing everything there is to see in a cave, and finding our way. It’s sort of addictive, and I now have a better understanding of why so many people’s eyes around here light up when they hear about a cave to be explored.


I hit a milestone the other day. I made tortillas for lunch, and as Selwyn went back for his third, he said “These tortillas are GOOD, Margie.” Woo hoo! They’re still not round, but as a man who is a tortilla connoisseur after eating tortillas prepared by many excellent Belizean women cooks all his life, he hadn’t yet declared mine to be good. He’s always appreciative of the food he gets here, but, when asked, he admits that some of the Belizean things I make aren’t what he’s used to, and some of the non-Belizean things are just strange to him. I’m still not going to make chicken, rice, and beans when we go to pot-luck dinners around here, but at least I can stop being embarrassed about my tortillas!

Last week, Tom and Selwyn got a good start on the second cabin. A month or so ago, Selwyn and Tom dug the holes for the footers, poured the cement, and cemented in metal brackets for the 6x6 sapadillo support posts. We’ve been very carefully walking around the metal brackets, which were starting to get lost in the weeds, but now we don’t have to worry about tripping on them because all the support posts for both the bathrooms addition and the porch are up, along with most of the crossbeams for the floors.

Tom is in Spanish Lookout today getting the lumber to finish the floors and get the wall frame up so they can get the roofs on by the beginning of next week, and then it doesn’t matter if it rains since they’ll be working under cover anyway.

Dog updates

Another friend wrote and asked how the three white dogs are doing since it seems like I only write about the puppies on the blog, which isn’t intentional. The big dogs are doing fine, and this is what I wrote to my friend:

Mel is fine. He's still Mel - he marches around like he owns all of Belize, tells us when he wants to go in and out, when he wants to eat, when he wants the pups to be quiet, when he wants some loving, and so on. He's aging and his eyes are failing, but his mind is as sharp as always - no doggie dementia there. He is getting progressively weaker, and he scares us when he goes up and down the steps in and out of the cabin because his hind end is pretty weak. We bought him his own bed (at the people bed store) so that he has his own bed on the floor because our bed is high (I'm afraid of scorpions under the mattress if it's lower) and he's too weak to jump up and down. So, he's happy to have his very own bed. Where we have the bed, the puppies have to go by him to get out in their yard, and even though they're now almost as big as him and could definitely hurt him if they got in a fight, they're still scared to death of him. Every time they try to go by, he just growls - doesn't even lift his head, usually - and they turn tail and run back so Tom or I can stand in front of Mel and "protect" them. It's pretty funny, and typical Mel that he has them so terrified. What’s sort of funny is that Stout, who’s the one who’s really afraid of Mel, is the most like Mel. He gets into the same things that Mel got into as a puppy, and even does things like stand in the kitchen while Nock goes under the counter to catch a mouse, then takes the mouse from Nock when she comes out. When we lived in Canadice, we used to get a big kick out of watching Mel and Nock hunt mice in my ditch jump, where Nock would go in the ditch and catch the mouse, then when she jumped out of the ditch Mel would grab her and shake her so she’d drop the mouse, then he’d grab the mouse. I guess the whole point to this story is that at his age, we know Mel won’t be around for a whole lot longer, but I think as long as we have Stout, we’ll always have a little bit of Mel running around here.

Lou and Nock are doing fine too. Nock is the queen of the pack, and tells everybody where to go and what to do. Whenever the puppies play, she darts around growling and nipping and making sure nobody gets too out of hand. She yells at them if they beg, she yells at them if they jump on us, she yells at them if they're getting too overexcited, and whenever else she thinks they need discipline. That said, I think she loves having somebody to play with like she used to play with Midge. Neither Mel nor Lou are very playful, and I think Nock really missed that. She also seems to really like living here. We leave the door to the fenced yard open all the time so she can go in and out as she pleases, and if we're working outside around the cabin we let her come out with us and she either suns herself or hunts lizards, which, besides being mother dog to the pups, is her favorite activity. She's been really good about not running off into the bush. When we had her vet checked for her import permit to come into Belize, the vet said she's pretty blind, so that may be why she sticks around so well, although it doesn't seem to bother her and she has no trouble seeing the lizards from the porch when they're walking through the yard. We still call her the little slut dog, because whenever a man comes in the house and sits down, she's immediately on his lap, sitting up for a belly rub. Then she'll lean back against his shoulder (who ever the male visitor is), and put her paw on his cheek and gaze into his eyes. Pretty much every man who comes in here loves her. Women just roll their eyes.

Lou is still Lou, and he's in heaven with me around almost all day, every day. He's almost always attached to me, unless I'm out riding or if I go into town to go shopping since I can't take him and leave him in the car in the heat, and as far as Belizeans are concerned, dogs do not go inside. Tom and Selwyn say he's a pain, and when I leave to go riding he sits in the house and whines until I get back, although when we went out to Caye Caulker and left them for most of three days, Selwyn said he stopped whining after the second day. We have a box of books next to the computer desk, and as I'm writing this, he's sleeping on top of the box right next to me. Lou never liked the cold either, so I think between the fact that I'm usually around, and the fact that it's always warm, life couldn't be better for Lou. He's funny, too, because he definitely favors Beli, the female pup. She's sort of like he is, always around me and usually within touching distance, and Lou is okay with her shadowing me, but if Stout gets too close to me Lou yells at him. The sort of bad thing is that the more that Lou's around me, the more attached I get, and he's coming up on 12. So, he should have five or six more years, but I'm already worrying about what a basket case I'll be when he goes.

We’re no longer waiting for rain

My last blog entry turned out to be somewhat prophetic, and we’re no longer waiting for rain. After a beautiful day on Monday, it started raining in the wee hours on Tuesday, and didn’t stop until mid-day on Thursday. We only had a few really torrential downpours, but it never really stopped dripping, and while it didn’t affect us, most of the Cayo District was without power for part of Wednesday night/Thursday morning because lightening struck a substation. They measured over 10 inches of rain in Belize City, and while I’m not sure how much rain we got here, I don’t think it was that much but it was enough to create lots and lots of mud and make driving the roads around here pretty interesting. According to the news, the rain was a result of a tropical wave in the Eastern Caribbean, which has since turned into Tropical Depression Six, then Tropical Storm Felix, and as of this afternoon, Hurricane Felix. The computer models currently have it hitting Belize as a Cat 3 hurricane sometime in the middle of next week – but a lot can happen between now and then, so I’m not going to lose any sleep over it yet. The mini-storm taught us that we can have romantic breakfasts by candlelight, and, needless to say, our horse water trough is full!

A better thought out response

I received a few replies, both from friends and from people we don’t know who read the blog, about my rant against the American media when Hurricane Dean hit Mexico. Some agreed with me, and a few, including some very dear friends, were a little annoyed with me. I responded via email to a friend, and Tom said I should post excerpts of that response on the blog. I was a little resistant because I don’t want to appear to be back pedaling just to make other people happy, but Tom pointed out that I don’t change my position in the response, I just think through and better explain a few of the points. So here it is, with no apologies attached.

The first thing I have to say is I’m glad that you and other people are a little perturbed with what I wrote. That was the point. That means you thought about it enough to take it personally and get annoyed, which is exactly what I wanted, because I think for the most part we all tend to read/hear/see what the media feeds us and not think any more about it.

The next thing is that my response was a quick response to articles that were obviously written and published very quickly in an attempt to get news about the hurricane out as soon as possible after it made landfall. I think that probably means that the things that pissed me off were the opinions (conscious or unconscious) of the individuals who wrote the articles, and if there had been more time between writing and publishing some of things would have been caught and changed or deleted by the editors. And, my response was pretty knee-jerk; the blog entry was posted before noon my time, which was only hours after Dean came ashore. I did read some very good, very informative, and very well balanced articles in the past week, so it’s not the entire American media that annoyed me, just the initial articles. And I also have to admit that the Belize news isn’t any better, but the difference is that it seems that everybody knows that the news we get here is slanted, not always well researched or documented, and presented for effect rather than accuracy, where I think that too many people take what they hear/see in the American media as the truth when the American media has the same problems as the Belize media, and probably media outlets anywhere in the world.

These knee-jerk responses one on top of the other created some poor word choices, both by the writers of the articles (which, by the way, were posted on MSN, NBC, and Fox – not exactly bush-league sources) and by me. On the part of the writers, words like “fortunate” should never be used in the face of a natural disaster or any other human tragedy. There’s nothing fortunate about a hurricane for anyone involved. And the word “only” implies the minimalization of whatever words it is associated with, so when it’s used in front of “indigenous people” and “wooden shacks,” those things are being minimalized and their importance is negated; I read that as it just didn’t matter that the hurricane wiped them out, even though those people lost 100% of whatever they had, and it was “fortunate” that it hit the indigenous people in the wooden shacks. Which brings me to another thing that bothers me, in general, and this is true anywhere in the world – the metrics used to quantify these things are always number of deaths, which I can buy, and money, which doesn’t really cut it with me. If a hurricane wipes out Cancun, that’s a bigger tragedy because there are millions of more dollars’ worth of damage done than if it wipes out a bunch of villages where none of the homes are worth more than $5000US and the total net worth of the population of that village is probably well under $100,000, compared to the millions of dollars of damage if it hits a major tourist area. But, the people in those villages are still losing everything they have, but because it’s “only” a fairly minor dollar amount, it’s a good thing, or at least a significantly less bad thing. I realize that almost everything comes down to money and it’s used because it’s a metric that everybody can understand, but it still shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all measurement for the scope of a tragedy.

I’m sorry that my reference to the suburban tract houses offended you, but again, that’s exactly what it was intended to do, and the fact that you, and probably most Americans who live in that type of housing – which is probably a very significant percentage of Americans – find it offensive that I ridiculed it, shows that you (generic you) do place a value on the type of home people live in, and you value the wooden shacks less than the suburban tract houses. However, just as the suburban tract houses are the norm in the US, the wooden shacks are the norm in Mexico and Belize, and probably most of Central America. And there’s nothing wrong with the wooden shacks – they meet the needs of the people who live in them, just like your suburban tract house meets your needs. In fact, Tom and I now live in one of those wooden shacks, so when you read my slur on your home, you probably felt just about like I felt when I read the news articles de-valuing the wooden shacks. And my point was that I don’t think it’s any more “fortunate” that “only” the wooden shacks were wiped out because of where the hurricane made landfall. It’s on a par with the destruction of the homes in the Midwest and I feel equally bad for Mexicans/Belizeans and the Americans– which isn’t how I’d feel if I allowed my feelings to be swayed by the way the two tragedies were presented in the American news articles I read, since the American losses were presented as much more significant.

My other poor word choice was, in retrospect, my use of “ashamed.” “Embarrassed” would probably be a better word. I didn’t mean for that sentence to be the sum of how I feel about the USA; it was more a feeling like we get when our parents say something in public that we find offensive for some reason, and we don’t want whoever is listening to let that reflect on us. I remember being ashamed/embarrassed once when my mom was visiting us and a Japanese friend who was born in the US but whose parents are Japanese was there for dinner. My mother made some nasty crack about “the Japs who bombed Pearl Harbor” and how the Japanese deserved the atom bombs. I remember talking to my friend afterwards and apologizing, and he told me not to let it bother me, but I still had that uncomfortable feeling, whatever you want to call it. I think this happens pretty frequently between generations, and I’m pretty sure most people my age felt that way about their parents occasionally, and that people my age who have kids are probably doing it to their children. It doesn’t make us love our parents any less, but it’s definitely not a positive feeling, even though we know that based on their values, it’s not a “bad” thing to say. Having the American media make that kind of crack about a place where we’ve recently been and where we’re now living just made me want to tell people that Americans don’t REALLY mean it’s fortunate that their lives were wiped out rather than Cancun’s – but that is what they’re saying.

That said, I guess I do have to admit to a slight lack of patriotism as well. I know in part it’s arrogance on my part, which isn’t a good thing, but I don’t think I’d be a significantly different person if I wasn’t an American. I think I would have done okay and been happy no matter where I was born. I’m not saying that I don’t appreciate – and use – the rights and freedoms we’re afforded by being American, I’m just saying that I think it’s very possible to get along without them. I also think – and I thought this before we moved out of the country and I believe it even more now – that Americans tend to have an almost childlike ego about being American, thinking we’re the world superpower, thinking everybody wants to be us – and the rest of the world doesn’t really give a damn. I think I started thinking this quite a while ago when we were visiting a friend in Quebec, and I realized from what she said that while we (Americans) were impeaching Bill Clinton, the rest of the world was laughing and thought that his antics were more deserving of a sitcom than an impeachment. I have a little bit of a problem here in Belize because right now the Iraq war seems to be the political and possibly even cultural center of our American lives, but we don’t meet anybody here who says anything more than “Why are you doing that?” and then goes on about their business and doesn’t give it another thought. And it’s not just Belizeans; there are lots of people from lots of other countries here for many of the same reasons that Tom and I are here, and that seems to be the consensus of everyone we meet.

Finally, I’m aware that it could be bad PR to publish stuff like this on the blog since potential future guests could be alienated. But, if somebody doesn’t want to stay here at some point because they don’t agree with my politics, I guess I don’t really care. I also had a few very positive responses about that posting, so for every person that doesn’t come because they don’t like me because I think and say things they don’t agree with, we may have another who wants to come because they believe we’re politically like-minded. Tom and I actually did discuss whether it was wise to post something like that, and we agreed that it’s our blog, and we can say what we think. Tom’s parents have recommended numerous things be censored at different points in time, but I don’t want to write only the generic vanilla things that are sure not to offend anybody, because they’re also not very interesting. Everybody is not going to agree with me all the time, and I learned when I was teaching that I’d just make myself sick if I always tried to say and do things to make everybody happy, because it’s just not going to happen. Of course I don’t want to offend my friends or piss off perfect strangers, but my real friends won’t hate me for it (or they wouldn’t have been friends way before now!), and we’ll just have a good discussion about it, which is sort of fun. As far as the perfect strangers go, I’d hope that people wouldn’t dislike each other based on individual opinions, and if they do, I don’t really care to meet that type of person anyway.