The Ole Vanilla-Vinegar Trick and Other Silly Stories

Alternate titles for this post: In Which We Stumbled Into a Student Choir In the Dark
It’s laining! Blooke! The lain! The lain over the rake!

Three days ago, the plantation director, agronomist, house lady and I sat around the kitchen table racking our brains on how we might obtain ingredients to make an “American” breakfast and dinner, per the request of Anastasi, the woman who cooks for us.

My fallback breakfast staple is eggs in a basket, which I call one-eyed sailors (gets a laugh every time), and French toast, because almost everybody has eggs and bread. Milk was an issue, but after two days of discussion, someone brought a few bags of whole milk from Gisenyie, and so the French toast plan came to life.

I asked if they had things like cinnamon or vanilla or syrup for French toast. When they didn’t understand me, I showed pictures on my laptop. I am still chuckling at the sight of everyone gathered around my laptop, scratching their heads as they studied a picture of cinnamon.  We don’t have, they said, totally puzzled. They didn’t recognize the picture of syrup, and I could never really explain what it was to satisfaction.  I decided to improvise with honey (which has crystallized into a thick paste), boiled on the stove with water until syrupy. I asked about vanilla. They got very excited and said, Yeah! We have! We have!

We gathered the next morning with the ingredients for eggs in a basket, and they stood around the stove ooooh-ing and ahhh-ing as I cut holes in the bread, cracked an egg inside, and flipped each piece of bread like a pro. We all enjoyed, and it earned a table-wide applause.

TeachingThe cooksFrying panCookingBreakfast

The next morning I woke up, and the team was assembled in the kitchen as they had been the day before, but this time with the ingredients for French toast proudly displayed on the counter: eggs, bread, milk and vinegar. Wait, what?!  I picked up the vinegar and looked around like, What’s going on here? Everyone smiled and said, Yes! Yes! Vanirra!  It turns out, our accents combined with misplaced emphases, plus all the interchanging ‘r’ and ‘l’ sounds make vanilla sound like vinegar.


They were crushed, and also laughing. They had no idea what vanilla actually was, and we had no electricity to show them on the Internet.

In the end, we made some spectacular French toast with plain old milk and eggs, and I sprinkled a tiny bit of sugar on each side as it cooked. We water boiled the honey into syrup, and we sliced sweet bananas on top. Five of the six present loved French toast, and report they’ll make the breakfast for their families this weekend. Score! Anastasi, however, doesn’t drink cow’s milk, so she showed up at the table ten minutes later with her very own self-prepared Egg in a Basket. Double score!

French toast

In other news, no electricity and straight rain all day.

But we did accidentally stumble into a student choir in the dark. We heard this music in the distance as we were sitting on the front porch, and we and set out to find it. We found it in a dark classroom.  The high school students were practicing at the end of their school day, and the lyrics (as translated to us by one of the students) say something like, “Don’t be afraid, I am your God” and “In life there will be struggles, but I have died so you might have life.”

And finally, I leave you with some ‘l’ and ‘r’ exchanges that gave us pause…

  • Blooke! You will swim in the rake?
  • Yes, you are here with ARARM…
  • The organization is called Aflican Load (Road)
  • Licardo will pick you up?
  • Here you will find an example of servant readership
  • Yes, they have lapid services!
  • So, as we crose…
  • She will prepare the coffee for loast!
  • It’s laining! Blooke! The lain! The lain over the rake!
  • Now we will take bleakfast.
  • You have the right in your heart. Harejullia!
  • Ah! You are praying cards?
  • The students! The football, they are praying!
  • Ahhh, so glad I see you are arive!

Week Five: Elections!

I miss writing.

So, I decided to keep doing it despite the no internet thing.And I decided to pay $4 every Saturday morning to use the village computer for an hour.Its a nice one!

Thursday was Election Day.There were two major parties running:

People’s United Party (PUP), they’ve been in power for 10 years
Slogan: Believe in Belize

United Democratic Party (UDP)
Slogan: Fi u, Fi me, Fi all ah we

Some interesting facts:

  • Elections happen every 5 years
  • Its normal for each party to create music CDs to campaign, and its normal for the radio stations to play these songs, and only these songs, all month.(Not jingles—entire dramatic, catchy, full-length songs.)I have the CDs.They’re coming home with me.
  • Voting happens from 7am to 6pm.Its normal and legal to pay people $100 to vote for their party.This usually happens in the form of a handshake at around 5:45, which is why everyone waits until after 5 to vote.
  • The UDP party promised a national holiday on Friday if they win.Naturally, all the students, teachers, and bankers wanted UDP.
  • Primary School was canceled to keep kids safely at home.
  • Because UDP won, all current government (PUP) positions lose their jobs.
  • On voting day, one or two people in each party drive around all day and pick up people to vote who don’t have vehicles.
  • Each party provides a hot meal for their voters.
  • In the evening, families bring snacks and drinks to each others houses and sit around the radio with notebooks and manifestos until, like, 2 in the morning while they tally and announce the votes for each district.



  • The winning party, in this case, UDP—the first party change for Belize in 10 years—begins a parade as soon as the announcement is made, and the parade lasts all through the night and throughout the next day, which just means everyone with a vehicle loads in as many people as possible and drives through the villages honking and yelling.

Some other things I have been noticing:

  • Love really does conquer fear.Tonight I realized (as spiders and ants and cockroaches crawled across my path) that I genuinely love being here with the Flowers and Cabb families more than I fear the bugs.I harbored no bitterness toward the spider that crawled out from underneath my suitcase tonight.I just smiled and thought—Oh, Belize.You’re totally worth the trade.(If you know me, you’ll recognize this as a small miracle.)
  • No one ever eats oranges.They cut them in half and suck on them.They ask, “Do you want to suck an orange?” and then, when you’re done, it looks like this:


  • I learned how to make corn empanadas today, and then I helped Antonia make them for dinner.
  • I also learned how to make garnaches:


  • This morning I taught Antonia how to make “eggs in a basket” or, as my family calls them: One eyed sailors.Everyone got a kick out of them, and Antonia had to make about 3 before she could do it without burning the bread…Next week, we’ll do French Toast.Delish.
  • Here is the smallest banana I’ve ever seen (and there’s no need to laugh at my face.It was 2 in the morning on Election Day):


Well, Thursday is Valentine’s Day.That means double minutes on my BTL card, so if you receive a call from an unknown number, pick up!It might be me.

Also, if you want to chat- get on gmail Saturday mornings. I would LOVE to see your voice. (That was my mom’s joke. I’ll totally give her credit…)