Friday, June 27, 2008

It’s a Boy!!!

We woke up to six horses instead of five in the pasture this morning. Nessarose had a colt sometime in the night, and when Tom went out to feed this morning the foal was nursing and Nessa was waiting for her breakfast, just like always.

This was a little bit of a surprise, although about a month ago I remarked to Tom that I wouldn’t be surprised if we woke up one morning to another horse in the pasture. Tom looked at me sideways and said he’d been thinking the same thing. It was funny, because all three mares – Esmerelda, Glinda, and Nessarose – arrived here with a comment from their owners that they might be pregnant. I think that was supposed to be a selling point – two for the price of one – but what the sellers didn’t know is that Tom and I have no interest in keeping broodmares. But, we kept a close eye on them, and with all three actually thought early on that they were pregnant because all three gained a significant amount of weight shortly after arriving here. However, we know the gestation period for a horse is 11 months, so after we’d had Es and Glin for almost a year, we knew we’d dodged the bullet with those two.

We’ve had Nessarose since early August of last year, so we figured that if we made it to early July we were out of the woods with her too. But, Tom and I noticed that she just got fatter and fatter in a sort of weird way. Then, about two weeks ago, Selwyn was trimming her feet and looked up at her udder, and said “Margie, I think we’re having a baby.” I just sighed and told Selwyn that Tom and I both thought the same thing, so since then we’ve just been waiting, but still sort of hoping that maybe she was just fat and that no baby would appear over the next few weeks.

But, there’s something about babies, and when Tom ran in to tell me this morning, I rushed out and it felt like Christmas morning when I was a kid. I pretty much knew what was under the tree, but just the fact that it was finally there was exciting.

Everybody seems to be doing fine, although of course it poured all last night so we feel bad for making Nessa give birth in a muddy pasture in the rain, and we’re worried because it’s continued to rain off and on all morning and the foal is a little shivery, and Es kicked him although he popped up right away – but we’re hoping for the best and they both seem fine so far.

Selwyn and I cleaned all the dangerous stuff out of the cage that we’re turning into a barn, then he put a tarp on the roof and I fitted a door, and we dried the foal off with a wool blanket and took the two of them back there – so now we have a barn and a place where they can stay dry.

More pictures to come, no doubt!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Residency in detail, what it is.

Ok, we have gotten a couple of responses regarding our residency and we would like to explain what residency status is for us.

When you visit a foreign country, you do so on a visa, be it a tourist visa (most common) or a work visa. When we came to Belize, we were on a tourist visa. A tourist visa here in Belize must be renewed on a monthly basis. We had to go to Belmopan, the capital, to get our passports stamped and pay $US25 each (a total of $50 US per month for the two of us). After six months, immigration can deny you tourist extensions, at their discretion, and either force you to leave the country or get a work permit. They usually don’t make you leave though. After six months, the monthly fee doubles to $US50 each (a total of $100 US per month for the two of us).

After we purchased our land we explained to the immigration officer in Belmopan what we were doing: we purchased land and were making it into a small tourist place. He was okay with that and kept extending our tourist visas as we needed them. We also explained to him that we were going to apply for residency as soon as we were eligible and he helped point us in the right direction to get that process started.

So, after our 12 months of staying in the country with less than 13 days out of the country (we didn’t leave at all), we started the process of getting all the paperwork and authorizations done.

Now that we have gone through the entire process, here is what residency gets us:
1) We have a stamp in our passport (last page of visas) that states that we have permanent residency in Belize as business owners. We are not publishing a picture to avoid any legal problems.
2) We do not have to go to Belmopan each month and pay $US50 each ($100 total) to stay in the country.
3) When tourists leave Belize there is a $US35 exit fee. We now do not have to pay this.
4) We can now work, on our business or elsewhere in Belize without getting a work permit; so we can get a Belizean social security card and we don’t have to pay the $US750/year work permit fee.
5) We can get resident rates to most of the cultural sites, parks, and reserves that tourists have to pay higher rates to visit.
6) We get local rates at hotels and for tours.
7) We can legally become tour operators (owners of a business that sells tours).
8) Our US status is officially non-resident which changes some of the forms we have to file for earned income tax outside the United States.
That is all we can think of off the top of our heads.

What residency does NOT get us:
1) The right to vote in elections here in Belize.
2) The ability to hold a public office.
3) A nice pretty passport from Belize (which is not as useful as a US passport in visiting other countries in the world since you need a visa in order to visit any other country if you are traveling on a Belizean passport.)
4) The ability to go to jail here; they will deport us instead of putting us in Hattieville (like Attica in the US).

We have to reside here for five years in order to apply for citizenship. If/when we do apply for citizenship we can hold dual citizenship so that we are citizens of both the USA and Belize. We do NOT intend to forfeit our US citizenship at any point since we were born and raised in the US.

Hope this helps everyone who has had questions regarding residency and citizenship. This has been a HUGE learning experience for us and we don’t know if this is the same process for other applicants from the US, or if this is how it works for applicants from other countries. Nor do we know if this will all be the same for the next couple of years since there has been a change in the government here in Belize. If we’re still blogging in a few years we’ll let you know how the nationality (citizenship) process goes!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008



We have been here for exactly 18 months plus 3 days. We put in our COMPLETE application, with all the documents they required, 4 months ago having complied with all the requirements. It has been a learning experience in where to get some things done, like where is the police station in Belmopan, where you get a blood test done, where to get a physical, what is involved in getting a police background check, where to get copies (very important) and some other minor things. All good things to know so that you can find these places in the future if you need these other services.

So, tonight we are going to celebrate. Marge is going to have a rum drink and I will have a Belikin Stout (oh, we do that every night). Then, after dinner here on the farm, we are going to have a wild night of cribbage, which it is Marge’s turn to “whup my butt.”

Anyway, all is well here and we are happy to finally be permanent residents. We’re not sure if this makes Nock, Lou, and Mel permanent dependent residents, but at least Stout, Beli, and Recona are citizens by birth – so they’re ahead of us! Not to mention the horse herd, soon to be expanding we think…

(By the way, we are not losing our citizenship with the United States of America just in case any of you are wondering about our level of patriotism.)

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Walking in a beehive - and too much horse stuff!

Wow, another blog entry for Tom!

While feeding the horses this morning I thought I was in a beehive, and we had a dusting of snow. Our tangerine trees are blossoming right now and the bees are swarming. The bees aren’t aggressive; you don’t even see them. The white on the ground is from the fallen blossoms. It reminds me so much of snow that I was thinking, maybe I should get out my cross country skis! Hopefully a full year of no vines, fertilizer, and some TLC will bring more fruit this year. Oh, and my latest blondes had to get in the picture, Glinda and Recona.

Marge had a tough time on Friday with the queen witch, Esmerelda. Since diesel has just jumped from $10.60BLZ ($5.30US) to $11.60BLZ ($5.80US) a gallon this week, Marge decided to ride Es to town to get some groceries. Marge got about ½ way to town and then Es decided she didn’t want to go any further. After about 40 minutes of fighting with the horse in the middle of the road (don’t worry, there probably weren’t any cars on the road at that time), Marge decided to take the saddle off the horse, stash it in the bush, turn the horse free, hope she was either hit by a truck or killed by a jaguar, and start walking home without the horse. The funny thing is, some local kids on bikes came over the hill, saw the loose horse and the gringa stalking down the road and they figured the stupid gringa couldn’t catch her horse. So they caught Es, quite easily, handed her off to Marge, and Marge couldn’t bear to tell them that she all she wanted to do was kill the damn horse.

So Marge came striding in the driveway, about an hour after she had left, pulling the wide-eyed Es behind her. Selwyn and I were working on the 1st table (mentioned in the previous blog entry). I stepped into the driveway to ask what was going on and all I got was a terse “I will explain in a little while.” So, being male, and knowing that kind of remark can only mean that if I push for more information, I may end up being dragged down the road with a halter on MY head with MY eyes bulging out, I decided to let her go and cool off a little (she didn’t appear to be hurt – Marge or the horse).

I caught up with Marge about 10 minutes later as she was stalking through the jungle near some of the still remaining jaguar cages. Marge put Es in one cage, tied to a tree, came out and declared, “There, the witch can now learn that I am the boss and she needs to rely on me for everything she gets.” Es will remain in the cage for four to five days, only seeing Marge for food and water and companionship. This is similar to when Marge’s horse Ricky in the States was very ill and Marge spent five days and nights tending to the horse to make him better. After Ricky recuperated, he was a much more manageable horse than before his illness. So, this is a “forced illness” for Es and hopefully she will get the point. Marge is “La Jeffa”, and making “The Boss” mad doesn’t get you very far in life!

By the way, this training technique is used in the States as a natural horsemanship way to get horses to start to respect humans. We have a number of friends that have used this approach in the USA and it has worked for them. We haven’t ever done it before (haven’t had to resort to it) so we will see how it works for us. In talking with Selwyn, he says they use basically the same technique down here to break some of the really stubborn horses. And Es is a really stubborn horse who has been making Marge crazy, finding a different way to resist every time one resistance problem is solved.

We will keep everyone posted on the progress.

Oh, and after putting Es in jail, Marge got in the truck to pick up her dumped tack and get the needed groceries in town. When Marge got home, she tripped on her flip flops coming up the stairs and broke half of the eggs she had just gotten in town, about 15 out of the 2 1/2 dozen in the flat. Then she let the dogs out on the steps to clean them up. I won’t mention what a bunch of raw eggs does to dogs later in the day. So, all in all, not a very good day for Marge, but she has recuperated and is back to her usual sunny self.

We did have a wonderful day today, Saturday, exploring a bit more of our property. Nothing new to report, just a good afternoon wandering around pretending we are still little kids exploring in the woods behind our house. The hills, caves, trees, and views are great to experience here. A camera doesn’t even come close to capturing the beauty of the jungle. If you want to see what we are talking about, you have to come down to experience it for yourselves.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Finally, the 1st table

Tom here again.

Marge has been after Selwyn and I for months (lots of months according to Marge) to start making tables so we finally got our first one done today. It took two days to build, including ripping the lumber and figuring out how the design would work. The rest should go a bit faster since we had to figure out all the measurements as we went along.

I seem to be able to visualize the end product and can make it as we go, but I don’t know the measurements and can’t draw so I just have to build what I see in my head, then I can explain it to Selwyn. It is kind of frustrating but Selwyn and I have been working together for over a year now so I don’t have to tell him to do some of the routing/sanding while I am working on how to make the next piece.

We have put Plexiglas on the top of the table to protect it from water and make it a smooth surface for glasses and bottles. Our table tops are going to vary as we make more; this was the first and therefore the easiest to make.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bah Humbug

Happy Fathers' Day, Dad. I have been trying to email you via your Bellsouth account and I am a "Blocked Abuser of Email". Luckily you still have your Juno account and that is where I am sending your email at this point. Hope you can get Bellsouth to let me send you stuff. I have been getting bouncebacks to go to this website, provide IP addresses, etc. I have been doing some of it and I have to turn off the electric, gas is costing us $5.50/gallon right now and climbing rapidly so we are trying to minimize our electric usage.

By the way, we have been trying to email Del in GA, he uses Bellsouth, and all our mail to him is blocked as well. This is not just between the two of us, it looks like Bellsouth doesn't like those of us living in Central American jungles!

Sorry about the public forum for a personal matter but at least we have the blog.

Love to both you and Mom.

Tom & Marge

Tom the Welder

After a crazy week a couple of weeks ago, the past couple of weeks have been pretty quiet, although we certainly manage to keep ourselves busy. Tom spent a couple of days in Spanish Lookout getting work done on Tinkerbell, and she’s now welded together and doesn’t seem to need any attention other than new tires, which we’re going to have to get sooner or later, although we’re going to wait until we either think we’re in danger of getting stuck, or one of them just goes flat. The welding job to get the cab reconnected to the frame was an experience for Tom. After years of just dropping our vehicles off with Aaron or Johnnie Blair, Tom got an up-close and personal look at how body and welding shops work. He had made the appointment to get the welding done the week before, and had looked at the truck and discussed what needed to be done with one of the shop managers. When he took the truck in for the work, the manager told him that one of the young guys would be taking care of him and introduced them.

The manager then went off to do other things, and the young guy asked Tom what the truck needed. Tom told him it was there to have the cab reattached to the frame, and the welder said he and Tom could look at it up on the lift and Tom could show him what was needed. Tom was starting to think this was a little funny because he’d been over it with the manager, but figured he’d just look at it again to make sure the welder knew what he was doing. He was more than a little worried when the welder looked at it, turned to Tom, and asked how Tom thought they should fix it. But, playing along, Tom pointed to the spots where he thought the welds should go, and offered a couple of ideas of how they could raise the cab off the frame to get the welding in place. The welder thought that Tom’s ideas for jacking up the truck were so brilliant, Tom could just do it. About this time Tom realized that there really wasn’t any yellow line on the floor across the doorway into the shop with a sign saying “No customers beyond this point,” which is normal in American service stations and body shops.

Tom ended up working with the welder for the entire two and a half hours to fix the truck. He jacked up the truck, pointed out the spots where the welds were needed, climbed into the cab to peel back the rug so it wouldn’t catch fire when the welds were being done near the holes in the cab housing, put out the fires when the rug caught fire anyway, used his own deep socket driver to reach and unscrew some hard-to-get-at bolts, and generally got a good welding lesson. When he went to pay for the truck – a whopping $80BZ – he mentioned to the manager that not only do customers not get to help with their vehicles in the US, they’re usually banned from the shop. The manager laughed and told Tom a story of when he was in the US and needed some work done on a vehicle. He broke down and a mechanic opened his shop off-hours to help him get his vehicle fixed, and because the shop wasn’t officially opened he was not only allowed but was needed to help make the repairs. The job took about three hours, and when it was done the mechanic wrote out the bill and charged him for six hours of labor. When the Belizean manager questioned it, the mechanic just looked puzzled and said that of course it was six hours of labor, because it was the two of them working for three hours. The Belizean manager said he considered arguing with the mechanic, but finally decided that he got his vehicle fixed during off hours, so he just paid the bill and left. Of course at this point Tom asked if he was paying for his time as well as the welder’s, and they all laughed and said no – but even if he was, it was still pretty cheap body repair at $80BZ!

And Tom wonders why I refuse to take the truck by myself when it needs work…

The Rainy Season is Here

Tinkerbell is now re-outfitted with her cap. We don’t need it to protect the generator since we now have our cinderblock generator shed, so Tom has put the cap back on the truck so we can pick up feed and hay and stuff without having to worry about it getting wet or tarping it. It wasn’t as simple as it seems like it should have been because since we took it off last year, we’ve had steel angle iron welded onto the truck rail, so the old clamps no longer fit. So, Tom had to drill holes in the part of the cap that attaches to the truck rail and bolt the cap to the rail. We’re not sure if that will work on these roads, however, because we’re afraid that with all the bouncing and flexing some of the welds in the aluminum will crack, and the cap will just fall apart. I guess we’ll see.

The other effort of the past couple of weeks has been to get the back pasture ready to be seeded. Tom and Selwyn chopped down all the brush, Ronald and Wilton helped Tom get all the chopped brush in piles, Tom burned all the piles, and Selwyn sprayed weed killer on everything that looked like it may have lived through the initial chopping and burning.

Selwyn fixed the fence and put up a gate so the horses can’t get in there anymore, and now we just have to wait for some rain and plant the grass seed, which Tom already picked up in Spanish Lookout. While this is great weather for planting, we’ve decided that when people ask us when to come or not come to Belize, from now on we’re going to say that the last week or so of May and the first couple of weeks of June are NOT a good time to visit here. Between the outbreak of the rainy season with lots of thunderstorms, and the fact that the rain brings the flying termites out (this happens only once per year), things have been a bit of a mess and I feel like all I do is clean up mud and wings. But, after a couple of weeks of that with thundershowers almost every afternoon, the past two or three days have been gorgeous so we think we’re through the worst of it.

The other thing Tom just finished is the wiring in the shop. We’ve had extension cords running all over the place and Tom was sick of the mess, so he wired the shop so that he can run power from the generator to the shop through wire in conduit buried in the ground, and then plug everything in to real outlets on the walls. Unfortunately we need a longer trench and more wire to run the power to the house, but it’s getting there.


The little blond dog is still here, and her name seems to have stuck as “Recona.” We really like her because she just sticks around where ever we are, and for the first time since we’ve had horses we have a dog who will go trail riding with us and stay out of trouble. She just follows along, learns which horses don’t like to be followed and stays out of their way, and stops and rests when we stop. Yesterday we rode Tony and Es up to the vista, and we had to stop a couple of times so Tom could chop some deadfall out of the trail. The first time she tried to get a little close to Tom chopping, but when he told her to back off, she did.

At the vista, we stopped for a good 15 minutes to watch a couple of Swallow-Tailed Kites doing their courtship ritual right at our eye level in the valley overlooked by the vista, and Recona just rested in the trail the entire time. Any of the other dogs would have been off getting lost in the bushes, but she just waited til we were ready to go, and then led the way home.

If you want to see any more about swallow-tailed kites, click here, which is where the picture came from.

The only problem we’ve had with her is with our closest neighbors, Marta Uno’s family. We just found out that most of the dozens of chickens that are always over here belong to them. A few days after Recona seemed to settle here, Delmy, Marta’s eldest daughter, showed up to tell us that our dog was killing their chickens. We’d seen Recona chasing the chickens in the horse pasture, and had said “good dog” because although the chickens don’t really bother us, they’re always in the horses’ feed when they eat, and they make a little bit of a mess, which doesn’t really matter since they’re in the pasture, but still, we think the dog is doing a good thing when she chases the chickens home. Anyway, we asked Delmy if the dog had actually killed any chickens, and she said no, but she was killing them. Just to be clear, we asked if they had any dead chickens as a result of the dog’s actions. Well, no, but she was killing them. We pointed out to Delmy that the dog wasn’t killing the chickens, she was just chasing them out of our pasture. Yes, Delmy agreed, she was chasing them out of our pasture and killing them. We then tried to explain that we’d talked to all the other neighbors about chickens on our property, and the agreement was that if our dogs kill their chickens on our property, it’s not our problem. Oh, so it was a problem that the chickens are always on our property. No, we tried to explain, it’s not a problem, but it’s also not OUR problem if OUR dog kills THEIR chickens on OUR property. And, we pointed out, Recona is just chasing the chickens, but if Lou or Nock goes out and goes after the chickens, chances are there will actually be some DEAD chickens, not just chickens in the process of being killed, and that isn’t our problem either. To further stress the point, we reminded them that Lou had killed our chickens, which was in fact our problem, but that’s why we don’t have chickens any more. All of this in Spanish, of course, although since Delmy and Marta Uno didn’t really want to be told that it wasn’t our problem and since we weren’t offering them any money to compensate for the attempted murder of the chickens, it probably would have been equally difficult to explain in English. Anyway, we left the conversation thinking they probably understand, and the kids do come over and try to get some of the chickens to go back home out of our pasture before school, and if Tom and Selwyn are working near Marta Uno’s house Recona is tied, but I guess we’ll see what happens if one of our dogs does actually succeed in the chicken killing process with one of their chickens.

Another First

This is something that nobody but us could conceivably care about (and I’m not quite sure we really care) but we figured it was worth documenting our first dominoes game where we used every single tile. Woo hoo…. Tom won that game but lost overall for the evening.

Deep fried Flor de Izote…mmmmm

It’s the season for the Flor de Izotes to bloom, and last week Ronald, the professional tree climber, climbed the ladder and trimmed all the flowers off of the trees. The flowers can be prepared as food in a number of different ways, and Tom was in the process of giving all the flowers to Ronald with instructions to have his mother send over a little bit of whatever she made with them. I showed up and requested the smallest flower so I could try to cook it all on my own, explaining to Tom that if someone offered him the option of a few nice pieces of hardwood or a finished piece of furniture, Tom would probably choose the wood to see what he could do with it. I decided to batter and fry the flowers, which was one of the ways Maria, Ronald’s mother, had cooked them for us last year. I mixed up an egg batter, coated the flowers after they’d been pulled off the stem and washed, and threw them in my wok full of hot oil. They were very yummy, a lot like deep fried artichoke hearts. I guess almost anything is good if you fry it, so next time I’ll try something else with them since I think they’d be good cooked almost any way that you’d cook artichoke hearts or asparagus. And they don’t even make your pee stink!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Purple Heart bed, Valentine's Day a little late

This entry by Tom. I was trying to get this bed done for us by Valentine's Day, but as usual here in Belize, self imposed deadlines get pushed back for more urgent things that MUST get done to keep things going here on the property.

Here are some pictures of the last bed we made. This is a king size bed for our own use, 80 inches by 80 inches made from a local hardwood called Purple Heart. I designed the bed just using what little carpentry skills that I have and used the same design (with some slight modifications along the way) for the four queen sized beds in the tourist cabin. I do all of the layout, measuring, cutting, and start all the joints. Selwyn does all the sanding and some of the joints that I set up for him to cut. He is still a bit scared to make a wrong cut - that is ok with me since I take a lot of time figuring out which board should be used where for the grain patterns and imperfections.

With this last bed, I am feeling like I am trying to be an artist with the wood. Since I am an accountant, I take a lot more time trying to figure out what is pleasing to the eye for balance and natural flow. I was trying to balance the light and dark sections and also make the headboard and footboard sections look like they are from the same sections of a tree. I did not want any straight lines from the 25 slats (or as few as possible) that make up the flat panels for the head and footboard so that the grains look as natural as possible. Not sure if many people will appreciate the time and planning. Like with table pictures that I received recently from my friend Del, unless you know what goes into making a nice piece, it flies right over your head. Also, one of the major problems with lining up the head and footboard slats is that they are tongue in groove so that we can't just flip any of the pieces over, we have to keep them all in the same direction, and there is a grooved side and a smooth side. Well, we did the best we could and it came out really well.

We are making all mortise and tenon joints for the 3x3 posts to the 2x3 footboard pieces and the 2x6 sideboard pieces. We drill holes with a 3/8" bit and then chisel out the rest to make a square hole. I use my DeWalt cordless skillsaw to get the end of the male pieces smaller to fit in the holes and then have to chisel the ends smooth to get a tight fit into the holes. We then us pipe clamps and hammers to pressure fit everything together and stay tight.

I think that if we ever have to move back to the states, I will be shipping a bunch of beds back, if not to keep, to sell. They really are that nice.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Despite the rain and lack of sun, Tom has acquired a shadow. Since the end of last week, Stout, Beli, and Nock would occasionally jump up when we were all in the dining room and run barking onto the porch. Then, two days ago, Tom saw a smallish blond dog in front of the guest cabin when he went out to open up, and Selwyn saw the dog in the pasture. Yesterday, the dog was always somewhere within sight, just keeping an eye on us. Late in the afternoon Tom wanted to get a look at it, so we took out a piece of ham, but it wouldn’t come until we put the ham on a stump and walked away. Then, I gave the dog a bowl of food when I fed last night, although it still wouldn’t come anywhere near us. Finally, this morning, as Tom was doing his morning rounds and opening things up, he realized that the dog was following him. He sat down on the porch at the shop, and she shyly approached so Tom could pet her. Before he knew it, he said, she was on her back in his lap getting her tummy rubbed, and it’s now 2:30PM and she hasn’t left his side except when he’s in the house, and then she’s either on the step or, if it’s raining, under the house and waiting for him to come back out.

We haven’t seen her around before, and Selwyn says he doesn’t recognize her. She’s in remarkably good shape for a stray potlicker, fairly clean with some decent weight on her, and although she’s far from spotless, seems to have a few fleas, and she could still use a couple of pounds, she’s a far cry from the walking parasite infested dog skeletons we see not only as strays, but also in people’s yards around here. She’s also very sweet and friendly, and would rather be rubbed than eat, so she doesn’t appear to have been neglected or abused. Her neck is rubbed where she must have been wearing a collar, but she doesn’t have a collar now. We don’t know if she broke loose, ran away, and ended up here, or if somebody dumped her, and it’s a mystery because she certainly isn’t showing any inclination to run away from here.

We have no idea what we’ll do with her. If she sticks around and doesn’t mind being an outside dog, it’s fine if she stays here. She’s already met Mel when he’s doing his perambulating, and he seems to like her. She’s making the puppies and the Jack Russells crazy because they’re not where she is, but that will get better if we decide she’s staying and introduce them. Right now, we’re going to give it a couple of days and see what happens and if it seems like she’ll be around for a while, we’ll have a vet look over her and give her whatever shots she needs so she won’t give our dogs anything. And, of course, since she’s a she, if she stays we’ll have to see about spaying her, but we’ll make sure nobody is going to come looking for her before that.

The really funny thing about this to me, which is both haha funny and odd funny, is that Tom seems to like having a shadow, and he’s the one making the plans for what we’ll do with her if she stays. He’s even named her – Recon, because before she approached him, he told me that she was doing reconnaissance on him, although he’s not sure how to pronounce the name. If he uses the English version, it would be Ree-con, but if it’s Spanish, it's Ray-Cone. Always some dilemma… We’ll keep you posted on whether or not Moonracer Farm has acquired another misfit!

Orange Reaping, or How Well Tom's Business Experience Translates to Oranges in Belize

Saying we’ve had a busy couple of weeks is an understatement. I obviously haven’t updated the blog, and as most of you who keep up with us via email know, neither of us has had much time to email either. For the first time since we’ve lived in Belize, we were actually on our old work schedule and getting a maximum of about six hours of sleep a night. But, what we’ve been doing has been making a little bit of money for us, which is a good thing since I’ve booked a trip to the US and airline tickets, along with the fuel prices, are climbing. I’ll try to summarize what we’ve been up to and break it up where possible, although it’s all a bit of a blur at this point.

The work week after the last blog entry was spent making preparations – for me, that meant getting ready for guests for eight days, and for Tom it meant planning for an orange reaping in our friend Mark’s grove. My jobs were very straightforward: get the room ready and make sure we had enough food on hand for at least the first part of the week since the US Memorial Day holiday weekend coincided with Commonwealth Day here, meaning that most stores would be closed at least Sunday and Monday. And, in fact, the preparations paid off because Shane and Monique arrived as scheduled on Friday, and despite the fact that Tom virtually disappeared – with the truck – from Sunday through the next Friday, things kept running smoothly here. It helped – a lot – that Shane and Monique are completely low maintenance guests, and since they were here to close on and then work on their land, they didn’t require any entertaining. In fact, they were worried that they were in the way since Tom was obviously running himself ragged, and I assured them that keeping them happy and fed was our business, which we, or in this case I, enjoy doing. I was really actually very glad to have them around because with Tom and Selwyn both at the orange grove all week, I would have been left alone, and Shane and Monique are very good company. They were busy trying to get things going on their land, but still had time to hang out here.

Tom’s jobs weren’t quite so clear since he’d never done any work in an orange grove, so he had to figure out what was needed to get the job done, then figure out how to get what he needed to do it, and then line it all up. When Mark was here a few weeks before the pick was scheduled to start, he spent the entire week running around talking to people about what was needed to reap the oranges, gathering information, and running back and forth to the Citrus Growers’ Association in Dangriga to get all the necessary paperwork done and to get bags. Mark reviewed all his findings with Tom, so they thought they had a pretty good handle on what needed to be done. Tom also discovered that one of Selwyn’s friends, Eric, and Eric’s father Javier had worked in the citrus operation in Cool Shade and had some idea of how things should run. Tom charged Selwyn and Eric with finding a crew to work the pick, and then went on a shopping expedition to get supplies for the pick, such as bungies that the pickers would strap around their waists to the 100 pound bags so they could pick efficiently. Tom also had to line up a tractor trailer to haul the oranges, and then had to figure out when the pick needed to start in order to get a trailer load picked and packed in the trailer and on their way to Dangriga within a three day window, which is how long the picked oranges will keep.

This is where the “what you don’t know CAN hurt you” factor kicked in, and things like not knowing how many bags the average picker can pick in a day really mattered. Why, you ask, didn’t Tom just ask the pickers how much they could pick? Well, he did ask the question, and got answers ranging from 20 to 80 bags a day. It turned out that most of the pickers Selwyn and Eric found had never picked before and had no idea what was involved or how long it would take, but that didn’t prevent them from giving Tom answers to his questions. What was even more disturbing than the fact that nobody knew how much they could pick was the fact that nobody other than Tom even thought that it mattered. You just pick til all the oranges are off the trees, right? And the fewer workers you have, the more money for each worker, right? Well, um, no, as with any business, certain requirements dictate how the process must work. The other thing the workers didn’t know was that Tom had his own business for twenty-some years, and while he didn’t have any experience in an orange grove, he has a whole lot of experience in putting together work processes and systems to get a job done within the requirements.

In this case, the factors were that the trailer held approximately 700 bags of oranges, the time from when an orange was picked to when it was heading down the road in the trailer couldn’t be more than three days, and good pickers can pick about 30 bags a day. That means (and I’m rounding here) about 250 bags need to be picked a day. If we figure that not all the pickers will be good, it’s safe to say that about ten pickers are needed to get the oranges off the trees and bagged.

Then, it takes a crew of three or four and a driver to run a pickup or tractor through the grove to get the bagged oranges out of the grove and into the trailer.

So, Tom knew on Sunday morning that he was heading down a rough patch of road when Selwyn and Eric got to the grove with five other guys, including the driver of the truck needed to pick the oranges up in the grove. Even with the vague information, Tom had requested that they get at least ten pickers, and then a few more guys to move the bags.

But, the “fewer people means more money for me” factor was more important to the pickers, plus the pick started on Sunday before a holiday Monday, so some of the pickers had to be back at real jobs or school on Tuesday, which didn’t leave much time to fill the trailer. Before the pick started, Tom thought he could get things going, and then just pop in and out to see how the pick was going. When the entire work crew of seven appeared, Tom immediately got them picking and headed into 7 Miles to find more pickers. Fortunately Julio, the chairman of 7 Miles, was home and willing to work, and he knew a few other guys who wouldn’t mind making some money. They all appeared at the grove before too long with their families, and everybody started to pick. That was also enlightening for Tom, who found, as he was running around gathering everybody’s counts, that the guy who said he could pick 80 bags in a day was on track to pick those 80 bags – with the help of four other pickers. The counts really mattered, because the pickers are paid by the bag, so Tom needed to keep close track of who was picking what. Most of the guys elected to work in teams, with the teams splitting the bag counts evenly among the team members. So, the 80 bag a day picker averaged, with his team, 16 bags a day per person. Hmmm…not quite the numbers Tom was expecting.

Fortunately for Tom, team leaders emerged from both the San Antonio and 7 Miles crews, with Javier, Eric’s dad, acting as foreman for the San Antonio crew and Julio the chairman acting as foreman for the 7 Miles guys. It was good that Tom had help with the two towns’ teams, because the other wrench in the works at this point was Mark’s fulltime caretaker, Julian, who wanted to work on the pick with his family and be paid for the pick on top of what he’s already paid for his caretaker duties. Julian is from Guatemala, and speaks only Spanish. Tom is doing really well speaking in Spanish, and he finds that he can usually make himself understood when he speaks, and he can understand most of what other people are saying if they speak slowly and think a little about their word choices. Julian refuses to play the game. He doesn’t – or won’t – understand Tom, and when he speaks to Tom he speaks very quickly, looks around at anything but Tom as he speaks, and won’t slow down or repeat what he says. Julio (the crew leader from 7 Miles) had to step in at this point and act as translator, and found that even when speaking Spanish, Julian did not want to understand that he wouldn’t be paid twice, but he kept working anyway although some of Julio’s crew later reported to Julio, who reported to Tom, that Julian had a steady stream of complaints about Tom starting with his assertion that Tom isn’t his boss because he doesn’t own the property and thus can’t tell him what to do.

All sorts of other little details were working to make Tom’s job more difficult. The San Antonio crew’s noses were a little out of joint because they didn’t see why Tom had to run off and get more people from 7 Miles. They still didn’t understand that the trailer had to be filled by Tuesday evening, and in their minds, Tom was taking their money and giving it to people from 7 Miles. Plus, there was all sorts of petty infighting going on among the San Antonio crew, with some pickers deciding that they would rather be haulers because picking wasn’t as profitable and glamorous as they thought it would be, so they were switching jobs in the middle of the day, which made it an accounting nightmare for Tom to figure out how to pay everybody since the baggers were paid by bag, but the haulers were paid at a day rate which had to eventually be converted to an hourly rate, and nobody but Tom was trying to keep track of any of this.

The 7 Miles crew was working hard and doing well, but Tom learned that many people Julio had approached about the job didn’t want to work in that grove because the man that owned it before Mark hadn’t maintained it, and the last time they’d tried to pick there they were forced to fight their way through waist-high weeds and pick from trees that weren’t bearing much fruit because the grove wasn’t maintained. When the 7 Miles crew went home Sunday night they reported that the conditions were better, so more pickers from 7 Miles arrived on Monday.

Monday actually went pretty smoothly. A few more people came from San Antonio as well, and the job switching was kept to a minimum. Tom had a brief scare that they didn’t have enough bags to keep the pickers picking and bagging while the haulers moved the bags to the trailer.

The hauling was taking longer than expected because after about two months of very dry weather, it had rained the night before the pick started. The orange grove is about a mile down a driveway, which Mark had just had graded and filled with white mal. Neither Tom nor Mark knew that while white mal eventually packs hard enough to be almost like pavement, when it’s first put down and graded it doesn’t take much rain to turn it into a sticky white soup.

It was deep and unstable enough that the truckers couldn’t get the tractor trailer all the way back to the orange grove, which was the original plan, and had to park it near the house by the road, which meant the pickup trucks had to run a mile down and then a mile back up the sticky road to dump the bagged oranges in the trailer. To top it off, when Tom went down on one of the runs, he found Julian’s family (the caretaker) in the trailer throwing oranges out to take into their house. That ended quickly enough, but it didn’t help Tom’s feeling that pretty much anything that could slow down the job was bound to happen.

Tuesday started well enough. Tom had figured out how much had been picked and hauled the previous two days, and determined that if they kept working at that rate, they would have the trailer full and ready to pull out by the end of the day. Things were going well enough until the driver of the pickup doing the hauling out of the grove started to whine that he wasn’t getting paid enough. On Saturday, Tom had agreed on a price with the driver and the driver’s father, and had agreed to pay gas costs, plus a day rate for the driver equal to what the other day laborers were getting, plus a day rate for the truck which was about triple the day rate of the laborers. Suddenly, on Tuesday afternoon, Esaau, the driver, started demanding more money. He took a load of oranges from the grove to the trailer, and then said he wasn’t doing any more until Tom agreed to pay him more. Tom told him that since he was driving and moving bags he was already planning to pay him a hauler’s day wage on top of the driving wages, but that wasn’t good enough. This guy is known for having a hot temper, and Tom figured that he thought he had him over the barrel, and by throwing a fit at the gringo in front of the other workers, the gringo would cave and give him more money.

What Esaau didn’t realize is that Tom is a man of his word, and when he agreed on the rate, that was that and he wasn’t going to up the rate just because somebody was being pushy. The argument escalated, in front of the entire work crew. Tom finally pointed out that if Esaau walked off the job at that point, about 100 bags would end up having to be thrown away because they wouldn’t be good when the next trailer pulled out Friday night. In Tom’s mind, it was perfectly clear that Esaau would be costing his work crew the $1 per bag they were expecting to be paid, because Esaau’s hissy fit was the cause of the waste. The San Antonio work crew didn’t see it like that; the oranges wouldn’t get to the plant so Mark wouldn’t make any money from them, BUT they’d already picked and bagged them, so they deserved to be paid. Unfortunately, the “Belizeans vs. the Gringo” attitude kicked into full gear, which is that gringos are always trying to take advantage of Belizeans, plus gringos have unlimited money and if there’s any question as to where the money comes from, it comes from the gringo. The work crew perceived that Tom was threatening their income, and thought that it was very unfair that Tom would threaten to “punish” them because Esaau didn’t want to do his work, plus, from what he heard later, a few of them figured that Tom the Gringo was trying to go back on his word and pay Esaau less than the agreed upon price.

The thing that really bothered Tom about this exchange was that Selwyn was part of the San Antonio crew, and he never spoke up to tell the other guys that Tom is always fair and never goes back on his word. He told us later that he also thought that Tom was being unfair in threatening not to pay the pickers for the bags that would go to waste, and the whole teamwork concept went entirely over his head. This was a good lesson for us that despite the fact that we’re getting along very well here, we’ll always have to fight at least a little unconscious racism; gringos have all the money, and it’s the Belizeans’ job to fight it out of the gringos’ tight fisted hands. That’s not exactly how we see it, but at least we know what we’re fighting.

The good news is that when Tom told Esaau that if he drove away, he wasn’t getting a cent for any of the three days he worked, Esaau consented to pick up another load of bagged fruit. This left about 50 bags in the field, which Tom counted before he left the grove after watching the almost-full tractor trailer head down the Georgeville Road and then on to Dangriga. The truck was scheduled to come back on Wednesday morning, giving the crews three days to pick and two and a half days to fill the second load of 700 bags. In the meantime, Tom had arranged to meet Esaau in San Antonio to pay for his gas, which is what he had also done on Monday night. Although he wasn’t sure if Esaau would even be there, he was, and Tom was shocked to find that after a full day of hauling, he needed less than half the gas he’d needed the night before, when he had assured Tom that the truck was full when he started, and all the gas used that day was used to haul oranges. Esaau didn’t really want to talk to Tom, but Tom told him that he’d be willing to talk to him when Esaau thought about what happened. Sure enough, as we were just finishing dinner at 9:30 that night (fortunately Shane and Monique didn’t mind the 9:00PM European dining hour since Tom didn’t get home before 8:00PM all week), we heard a truck and saw headlights pulling up the driveway. Tom went out, and it was Esaau with an apology, saying that he’d gone home and talked to his father, and his father told him that Tom was giving him an even better deal than they’d negotiated since he was paying Esaau as a driver and a hauler, and that Esaau had just f***ed up (his words) big time. Esaau asked if Tom would let him drive for the rest of the pick, but Tom had to tell him that he’d already found another hauler.

Fortunately, on top of being big enough to apologize to Tom on Tuesday night, Esaau was also big enough to show up for work as a picker on Wednesday. This turned out to be a really good thing, because Esaau went from jerk to hero the next day when the alternate hauler had a family emergency and couldn’t work. At first the lack of a hauler didn’t matter. It seems the trucker picked up the job’s bad luck, and he ended up stuck in Dangriga with a full truck. First, another truck broke down in the yard, backing the rest of the trucks up until it was fixed. Then another truck in front of our driver’s dropped off a whole truckload of bad fruit, which had to be sorted before anybody else could dump their load. The driver ended up sitting in line until Wednesday night, but when Tom called him to find out where he was he told him that he’d have the truck there by Thursday morning. That meant that there was a bit of sitting around on Wednesday afternoon while the haulers waited for the truck that never came, but it turned out to be a good thing for us since we had a dinner date with Shane and Monique at Noah (our realator) and Marayla’s, and we actually managed to get there on time.

As we were having a very pleasant dinner, Tom mentioned that he hoped the rain would hold off so the tractor trailer could park at the grove rather than at the end of the driveway by the house. Mercedes, Marayla’s sister, told him that she’d heard it was going to rain, but Tom was hoping for the best. At that point we hadn’t looked at the weather reports and didn’t know that the Eastern Pacific’s Tropical Storm Alma was going to spend Thursday and Friday dumping moisture on Belize as it crossed Central America to the Western Caribbean, where it weakened but then joined up with some moist air in the Western Caribbean before becoming Tropical Storm Arthur, which would continue to dump rain on Belize until Monday. All we knew was that we woke up to rain Thursday morning.

Tom was at the grove before 6:00AM because he’d had the awful realization some time during the night that because they weren’t able to start filling the trailer on Wednesday, they would run out of bags for the pickers before the haulers could get the bagged oranges in the trailer, even if the trailer was there by 10:00AM or so. He started counting and figuring and found that not only were they going to be at least 200 bags short of what they needed to keep everybody working, but that 10 bags – bags and the picked fruit in them – had disappeared. When he went back through his numbers and talked to Julio and Javier, he realized that he’d counted 50 bags left in the field the night Esaau threw his fit, but when Javier did the initial count the next morning, only 40 bags were in the field, which meant that 10 bags had walked off overnight. The obvious suspect is the caretaker – who is also suspected of entirely clearing out three rows of trees prior to the pick – but nothing could be done to prove it, although the only way to get the oranges out is to drive by the caretaker’s house, and he and his family claimed that they didn’t see any oranges leaving the property in either case. In this situation, Tom determined that the pickers did need to be paid for the bags, since the caretaker and his family weren’t working with either of the town teams, and since the caretaker is costing Mark more than a few bags of oranges anyway. And, the one good thing about the rain was that it cooled everything off, so the three-day window could be stretched a little, and the 40 bags could be put in the trailer for Friday’s load to Dangriga despite Esaau’s fit.

Ten bags aside, Tom’s problem Thursday morning was to find more bags. He bought every available bag in San Ignacio, Santa Elena, and Spanish Lookout, and managed to come up with enough bags that the haulers were almost able to keep up with the pickers when the tractor trailer returned early that afternoon. Then, Javier suddenly realized that the man with the family emergency who had been going to drive the tractor had bags that he would rent or sell, so after running all over the Cayo District, Tom just had to go into San Antonio and buy the rest of the bags he needed from Edgar. While it would have been nice if somebody had remembered that Edgar had bags BEFORE Tom spent three hours and lots of gas running around and buying a few bags here and a few bags there, it was a relief to know that everything could be bagged and everybody could focus their efforts on getting the trailer full on Friday.

On Friday, even with the end in sight, the challenges continued. After raining all day Thursday and all Thursday night, the rain continued Friday morning. At this point I’d looked at the weather and knew that we were in the middle of a tropical storm threatening to become a hurricane, but the knowledge didn’t do anything to solve the problem. Esaau’s truck was no longer able to drive in the very muddy grove, so Tom didn’t know how the remaining bags could be moved from the grove to the trailer. Julio and his team thought of a guy in 7 Miles who had a truck with new tires, so Tom and Julio jumped in Tinkerbell to see if they could find the guy. They found him, and he was willing to drive, but…his truck had run out of gas a few miles from his house, so he didn’t have it. So, Tom ran home, grabbed all of our gas cans, and took off into San Antonio to buy gas for the truck. He drove back to 7 Miles, picked up Julio and the driver and went and filled the guy’s truck, and returned to the grove with the truck with the new tires, the new driver, and a few extra workers they’d picked up along the way. At that point, everybody chipped in to get the job done. The pickers had been forced to dump some of the fruit on the ground until the haulers could start to empty some bags, so once the haulers were underway and some bags freed up, the pickers filled the rest of the bags.

The new hauler ran through the grove picking up bags, and then a crew moved the bags from the new truck to Esaau’s truck, which was still able to go up and down the driveway. Extra guys jumped in to do the transfers from the grove to the first truck to the second truck to the trailer, and when it got so wet that even the truck with the new tires wasn’t able to get through the grove, everybody just pitched in and pushed every time it was stuck. Fortunately it was a small pickup, so manpower was able to move it! Everybody worked in the pouring rain and mud all day, and stayed until 7PM when the trailer was finally full. Friday night, Tom’s comment was that finally, on Friday, everybody was working as a team and doing what had to be done to finish the job.

Despite the many problems, the pick seems to have ended okay. Everybody was working together by the end, and when Tom received the drop-off numbers from the plant, he found that 99% of the oranges picked had been accepted. He actually found this about the first load on Thursday, which was good incentive to get the job done for the pickers because they had been told that they were working at the rate of $.80/bag, but that they would be compensated at up to $1/bag depending on the acceptance percentage. The second load also had a 99% acceptance rate, so Tom and Mark decided that 99% was close enough to 100% that all the pickers would be paid $1/bag, so they were making $.20 more per bag than they’d expected.

While the job finished on Friday night for most of the workers, Tom still had to figure out all the numbers. He was also getting a little pressure from some of the workers who wanted to be paid either on a daily basis, or before they went home Friday night. Tom had explained the pay strategy to them ahead of time, and told them that they would be paid when the pick was done AFTER he ran the numbers and figured out the per bag rate, and after he had the money wired to him from Mark in the US. Not everybody bought this explanation because some people seem to think that all gringos are wired in to some giant bank account which we can all access at any time, and they completely missed the point that Tom was a hired employee on the job, just like them, with the added disadvantage that he had not negotiated his own pay rate with Mark – although he had no worries about being fairly compensated. None of that kept people from showing up at our door over the weekend, or hailing Tom down when he was out driving.

Tom also had to figure out HOW to pay everybody, since most people had worked at multiple tasks and multiple teams with different pay rates and strategies, and on different teams as baggers, so lots of number crunching was needed. That’s the kind of job that Tom loves, so he worked on that all day Saturday and Sunday. The number crunching didn’t actually take all that time, but whenever questions arose about counts or who did what, he had to get in the truck and drive to San Antonio and/or 7 Miles to talk to Javier and/or Julio, a job that would have been much easier if there was any sort of communication system, phones, email, or whatever, set up out here. And, it was still pouring, and matters were made even more difficult because early in the week Tinkerbell’s ignition had gone on the blink, and starting her required Tom to crawl underneath and push a couple of levers under the truck every time he had to start the truck – lots of fun in lots of mud.

Finally, he had the numbers on Sunday night, so he emailed a spreadsheet to Mark to make sure he agreed with all the costs and payments. He went to Spanish Lookout on Monday to talk to Mark on the phone, get the money needed for the payroll, do some other errands, and see if a mechanic could figure out what was wrong with Tinkerbell’s ignition. Monday morning, he took off knowing that he would probably need to go to Spanish Lookout the long way because the ferry could be out of commission and the Iguana Creek Bridge could be flooded with all the rain we had. Selwyn worked here all day, and I was busy cleaning. That’s a whole different story, since the onset of the rainy season brought the winged termite horde, and while housecleaning isn’t really one of my strong points, the remains of the termite invasion require a massive spring cleaning. More on that later – the bottom line is I was busy all day, and didn’t even think about getting on the computer.

Selwyn left around 4:30, and around 5:00 I started to wonder if Tom might have left me a message on Skype, so I powered up the little generator and got online. No message from Tom, but I started surfing for news. I didn’t get too far before I realized that Belize was in the middle of a pretty serious disaster, with the lowlands flooded, bridges and roadways washed out on the Hummingbird Highway and the Southern Highway, and all the bridges to anywhere closed. You can see pictures of the flooding here. When I realized what was going on in the rest of the country, outside of our own little isolated world up here, I realized that it was a very good thing that Mark’s oranges made it to Dangriga when they did, because if they’d been a couple of days later they couldn’t have been delivered because all roads to the Dangriga plant were cut off; the citrus plant mentioned in a few of the pictures in the link above is where the oranges were delivered.

Sometime around 5:30PM, Tom left me the expected message on Skype, and said he would be home as soon as he found the tractor trailer driver, who had said he would be at home Monday evening, but wasn’t. Unfortunately, I had the sound turned off on my computer, so I didn’t get Tom live when he called, or I could have told him that the reason the driver wasn’t home was probably that he’s trapped in Dangriga. Tom finally gave up looking for him and came home anyway, so we’re not sure if that’s where he was, but we suspect that that’s the case. We’re not too worried about him because although the flooding has caused seven deaths in Belize, none of them were from accidents on the washed out roads and bridges, so we’re hoping that he’s holed up someplace safe and dry and just waiting for the roads to be fixed so he can get home – although all bets are off as to when the roads will be fixed. Repair crews attempted to fix one of the washouts on the Hummingbird Highway this morning, and they weren’t even done when the water resurged (their word, not mine!) and washed away the repair leaving another gap in the road. Tom will try to pay him again on Friday when he’s trying again to get Tinkerbell’s ignition fixed, since the problem was diagnosed but not fixed yesterday, although the brakes were finally fixed. As the mechanic was underneath the truck and tinkering with the wires, he asked Tom if he knew that the cab mounting had come loose of the frame. No, Tom didn’t know. But, that’s why the ignition wires don’t work, and it’s why the driver’s door has been harder and harder to close – the truck cab is trying to get loose from the frame, and taking everything with it as it goes.

Tom spent Tuesday morning getting all the pay envelopes ready for the San Antonio crew and delivered them that afternoon. Pay for the 7 Miles crew is being delivered now, and then it’s all over – until the next reaping.

Rain and Winged Things

Up until a week ago, we had a steady six weeks to two months of very hot, very dry weather. Temps were in the 90s most days, everything had turned brown, everything was dusty, and the ground was rock hard. The dry season last year was about the same length, but when it broke last year, it did it in fits and starts. We had lightening in the distance for a couple of weeks, then some distant thunder, but no rain until June 1, when it arrived right on schedule. Last year, however, we were broken in to the rainy season since it started to rain some, but only showers here and there. It seemed that usually either the morning or the afternoon was nice and sunny, but we’d get the much needed rain for part of the day, and after all the heat and dryness, it was really very nice. This year, there was no breaking in for the wet season – one shower last Saturday night, a full week ahead of schedule, and then on Wednesday night the heavens opened and it rained pretty much nonstop from Wednesday night through Monday morning. I have no idea whether last year or this year is more typical; we’ll just have to stay here for at least another twenty years or so and figure that out.

Up here in the mountains, we just had rain over the weekend. We’re not near any rivers or streams, so although everything was soaked and muddy, the roads are awful, and the orange reaping was miserable, it didn’t seem all that bad. We’d checked the weather and knew it was Alma/Arthur causing the rain and we knew it was a lot of rain, but we didn’t realize how seriously parts of Belize were being affected. Then, on Monday, I checked the news and realized that parts of Belize, specifically the southern and northern parts, were in the midst of a serious emergency. Here’s the link to some pictures of the flooding disaster, along with NEMO press releases with up to the minute information on what’s happening: Belize Floods.

As I said, we’re fine, and the worst of it for us is that the winged termites made their appearance, which, on the grand scale of things, isn’t bad at all. A few of them were out at the end of last week when it first started to rain, but then on Friday night they came with a vengeance. Inside the house, I could see them swarming at the windows, and even with pretty good screens quite a few were getting in through the wallboards and dropping their wings. Shane and Monique were out for a walk, and they said they could see them coming out of the ground. They’re very annoying, but they don’t bite or sting or do anything to hurt you; they just fly in, land on something, drop their wings, and crawl away. It’s the dropped wings that are the pain, because they’re everywhere and they’re completely unmanageable. They stick to the wood walls, they stick in cobwebs (yes, I have cobwebs in the house), they land on every flat surface, and there’s really no good way to get rid of them. When you sweep them with a dry broom, you get some of them, but they’re so light they become airborne and just swirl above the broom and land on the floor again when you pass. If you try to wipe them with a damp mop or towel, they get wet and sticky and stick to everything except the mop or towel, and then it’s completely impossible to get rid of them. The only good thing about my ongoing effort at cleaning up the wings is that after all the dry weather, everything in the house was very dusty. I have open cabinets because I don’t like being surprised by creepie crawlie things, but that means that every jar, every glass, every dish, every can, and every everything on my shelves gets dusty. So, I took the opportunity of the wing dropping to first dust off and then wipe down just about everything in the house. It took a couple of days, but now everything looks brand spanking new, and I forgot how good giving the house a good spring cleaning can feel!

The other thing that has happened is that the June bugs are out, and while they don’t leave their wings, they’re almost everywhere too. We had at least 50 of them on the 2’x2’ kitchen window last night. I don’t know if they’re here because of the weather or just because it’s June, and they are, after all, June bugs. While we’ve had a lot less rain over the past couple of days than we did over the weekend, it’s still been raining enough that we can’t tell if the weather is bringing them. The rain will go away sooner or later, and hopefully before the end of June, so I guess we’ll see.

Elphie is finally growing

We think Elphie is finally growing. As far as we know, she was a year old in January, but she’s still pretty small. However, we’ve caught her sleeping flat out on her side in the pasture way more than usual lately, and we remembered that our Saddlebred colt, Patrick, did that a lot when he was growing.

I think, although I can’t be sure, that she looks a little butt-high right now, which would make sense. Selwyn says that when the babies are growing they lay down so that they can grow in all directions, not just up. Makes sense to me!

Somehow this slipped through

A few weeks ago, we hired a father and son from Guatemala to stucco the cinderblocks on the bottom of the shop. They did it, inside and out, in a little less than three days. What was amazing was that they did it while we didn’t have any water in the pipe, so they knew they couldn’t make extra cement, and everything came out just about perfectly. And, the water came back on the afternoon when they were done, so they were even able to get showers and get all the cement off themselves. Part of their payment while they were here was that they ate meals with us, so Tom and I got to continue our Spanish lessons and learn to speak with and understand people other than our neighbors and other people who know us well. When we get our Permanent Residency stamps, we plan to go into Guatemala to shop at either Melchor or Flores where we’re told we can get cheap paint, and we’re going to paint the shop yellow with blue trim.