Grapefruit-o-lanterns. They Exist.

Well, there I was feeling all homesick for some fall in the Midwest—pumpkins, leaves, jackets, football—or at least a little Halloween fun in New Orleans, when lo and behold, I walk into the kitchen and they’re all carving  grapefruits.  They did it just like a pumpkin: cut a little hold in top, reached in and pulled out the insides, then very carefully, using gigantic knives with no handles and teeny little fingers and grapefruits, carved out spooky little faces. Then they put a candle inside, tied some ribbon to either end, and hung them on the doorknobs to greet trick-or-treaters, who don’t come on October 31st. They come on November 1st and 2nd for All Saints and All Souls days.  They even have a creepy little version of trick-or-treat: Eshpasha pa la calabera, si no me das te da cagalera.

Translation: Special porridge for the skull, but if you don’t give me, it will give you loose stools. Usually, then, the villagers give the kids some porridge and sweets, realllly wanting to avoid those loose stools.

grapefruit pumpkin 1

carving

grapefruit 4

grapefruit 5

On All Saints Day, they light little candles for the kids and babies who have died, and place the first plate of food they cook on the table next to the candles and wait for the steam of the food to go to the souls of the babies. After about half an hour, they say, “Okay. The souls are finished eating. Now it’s time to eat!”

They also place one plate of food and one little black candle on a chair for the anima soula: the lonely soul.  Each person gets a plate of food, including kids who come to the door, and a special plate is always set aside for the lonely soul.  The very next day, on All Souls Day, they do the same thing for adults who have died.

Also, we’re out of water again. The water went out Friday night, and by Sunday night—with no clean dishes, no reserve water in the drum and nothing to bathe with, people started asking around.  Apparently a pipe broke. I suggested we try to wash some dishes with the maybe 5 liters of water we had left in the drum, but Antonia said it wasn’t clean.  She said we have to be careful because these are the times when people, especially ones with babies, are desperate to use any water they can find to wash and cook and bathe, and people start getting sick from the unclean water.  Point taken. Taking a shower now costs $2.50 in 1.5L of Crystal water:

water

Update: it poured all day. Everyone ran outside with soap and shampoo and bathed, right there in the front lawn. I really wanted to lay all the dishes out on the grass, too, but I didn’t think of it in time.

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All kinds of things

Essentials: On the plane next to me was a girl from the UK spending a month in Belize and then a month in Fiji doing some kind of medical internship. On the other side was a lady from Belize City who told the med student and me everything we need to know about Belize City. She had been visiting her daughter in Florida and thought it was hilarious that we came from the UK and the US to study in Belize, and her daughter left Belize to study in the States. She wrote out her address and phone number on an index card and gave one to each of us. She told us to call if we need anything, like lunch in Belize City. We’ll go out, she said. Unless it’s hot, then we’ll order in.

After spending an hour in baggage claim and immigration, and another 15 minutes with no power—200 of us clamoring for carts and luggage and air—somehow the three of us landed right back in a row in the customs line and were able to say goodbye as our personal items were spread on a table for all to see.

Onward!

The minute I caught that first campfire and coconut smell and saw my first raccoon on a chain in the back of a truck (what?!) I knew I was home.

Racoon

David picked me up, and when I turned to thank the baggage guy, he was climbing in the front seat**. That’s Belize. Your luggage guy is your neighbor. The postal guy is your grandpa. The checkpoint guard is your cousin. **This guy would turn out to be Antonia’s principal at a new school 2 years from that point, and a good pal of mine.

We took off down the Western Highway at sunset—my exact favorite way to drive the Western Highway—and an interesting topic came up. I learned that the city is having a meeting tomorrow about a dam that was built a few years ago. It was contested by the Belize Zoo lady, along with many different environmental groups, and pushed forward by the electric company, the Belizean government, and those who wanted Belize’s electricity to come from Belize, not Mexico. The only problem was the entire dam. Environmentalists warned that the rock wouldn’t hold, the river would suffer, the quality of the water would decline, energy prices would go up, and the flooding would kill off the Scarlet Macaw (side note: The Last Flight of the Scarlet Macaw is a must-read. It’s a story about the Belize Zoo lady who fought against the dam, and the rich descriptions of the Belizean government and the people here are unbelievable. It’s full of history about Belize and Cayo District. And the author is funny. His first impression of Belize City had something to do with a pedal-by shooting.) Anyway, I read this book before I came, got really into the dam issue and had meant to ask about it, then right there out of nowhere, David brought it up. He said they were calling a village meeting to discuss the dam. Apparently the water is orange. The orange water is downstream from the dam, right in San Ignacio. This is the water they bathe in, play in, clean with, wash clothes and dishes in… It has something to do with the chemical makeup and silt that have filtered out and around the dam, and worse, in order to remove or fix the dam, they’d have to release the wall, which would flood all of San Ignacio and the surrounding valley villages, like Santa Familia. David said they came around this week to the villages with a blue siren and said: If you hear this sound, you have 2 hours to get out before the flood comes. Omg. I just knew that Zoo Lady was right!

I arrived in Santa Familila to a welcome surprise, and also termite season in my room. Antonia, Ricardo and Inez had spent the day rearranging all the rooms so Inez and I could be roomies and each have a bed in the room that doesn’t rain!

Welcome1

Welcome2

Welcome3

Before I could even unpack or think about how tired I was, they whisked me off to the Miss Bullet Tree pageant.

(I am trying to upload a video of a punta dancer, but it’s taking forever…)

Sunday I went to church, and then to Guatemala in the back of a pickup truck, then squeezed into a cab with 6 people and spent an hour in the Melchor hospital. Richard (the son of the principal I am staying with) had a cough that wouldn’t lift because of the dusty roads and needed to see a doctor today for asthma. But there are no doctors in Cayo on Sundays, and so we had to cross the border. There are apparently also no doctors in Melchor on Sundays, which is how we ended up in the hospital. He got his treatment, and I bought all my little Belize gifts for you all at 1/3 price from the Gulatemalans. Finally a Guatemala stamp in my passport… although I’ve already been to Melchor. Figure that one out. Wink!

Today I am supposed to meet with my supervisor and she will accompany me to Mary Open Doors to begin the internship. But I have not been able to reach anyone. None of us have ever met each other, and the last contact I had with them was 2 weeks ago, by email. I still took (read: chased after) the 8 o’clock bus, and if I have to hang around the French bakery eating Mennonite cookies until I figure something out, so be it.

I have a phone number, and I will soon have a phone- hopefully by the end of the day. I can receive calls for free, but your carrier will charge you for the international call. I can make calls sometimes. And I can text sometimes.

My phone number is: 011-501-621-8102.

If you see this number, answer it! It’s me.