You Better Belize That!

The all-American girl goes global as her journey to become a teacher takes her from the bluegrass fields of Kentucky to the sunny coast of Belize! Stay tuned! GO TOPS!

My Belizean Thanksgiving and More!

Hello! Sorry it’s been a while since I wrote; I’ve been busy experiencing as much as I can before I leave! It’s crazy to think I’ve been here for almost a month!

I’ll start with my Belizean Thanksgiving! For most Belizeans, the last Thursday in November is just like every other Thursday in November! School is in session, restaurants are open, and life goes on as normal. Leah and I watched a little bit of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade before school, but for us too, life went on as normal. At school, students were still taking exams. After school we went to store called Art Box that sells art made my local artists. There were paintings, wood carvings, jewelry, and much more! The building itself was an artwork! After Art Box, we rode around town with Alberto while he ran errands, but it seemed like he was just making up this to do. Finally, he turned into our neighborhood and mentioned that he had a little Thanksgiving gift for us at the house. When we got there, our family, the other host family, and a few other people had decorated the back deck for a surprise Thanksgiving party! It was wonderful!!! There were decorations, food, drinks, everything! All week our family had been asking what kind of foods we have at home for Thanksgiving. I didn’t think anything of it, I just thought they were asking out of curiosity. But everything we told them was there on the table! Turkey, ham, stuffing, deviled eggs, rolls, cranberry sauce, and my favorite, sweet potato pie!!!!!!! Everything was so perfect! I will forever remember my Belizean Thanksgiving filled with warm breeze, good food, great music, and amazing people!! J

The morning after Thanksgiving, we boarded an early water taxi in Belize City, bound for Caye Caulker!!! Caye Caulker is an island off the northern coast of Belize. The water taxi ride took about 45 minutes and looked like the inside of a train you might see in NYC or something. So strange! When we got there we spent some time hotel shopping. We decided to stay at a Tom’s Hotel which is owned by Alberto’s uncle. Alberto is from Caye Caulker, so he has a lot of connections there! Only Leah and I were staying at the hotel. Meghan and Brandi stayed at Alberto’s sister’s house with Valerie. We were so excited to spend the weekend at the beach with Valerie!! We spent the weekend exploring the little beach town, shopping, eating, and relaxing!!

On Saturday, Leah, Valerie, and I went snorkeling!!!!!!! Led by our guide, Captain Ish, our group and a few other couples made our way through the Caribbean Sea towards the coral reefs! Our first stop was Shark Ray Alley! Captain Ish used chum stuffed in conch shells to get the sharks and rays to come close! I can officially say I’ve swam with sharks!! So cool! I took an underwater camera, so as soon as I get those developed, I’ll try to upload them! Next stop was the Hol Chan Marine Reserve! In Mayan “Hol Chan” means small channel, and it was just that. Here we snorkeled around a channel surrounded by walls of coral reefs. We saw eels, spotted eagle rays, sea urchins, an octopus, and lots more! Leah and I decided that seeing the bright green eel was like we had just swam out of the Little Mermaid! Very cool! The last stop was the Coral Gardens, which was a large area full of lots of different types of coral! I saw too many types of fish to count! On the way to the Coral Gardens it poured down rain, but we were glad for it because the rain was warmer than the cool breeze! The water the whole time was much warmer that the air outside, so we were always willing to jump right in at each stop! The food during our trip was so yummy! The second captain on our ship made a seafood medley that we ate after the first stop and then on the way back to Caye Caulker he made shrimp ceviche! All of the ingredients were fresh! It was a great addition to a great day!

Sunday morning we headed back to Belize City. Our host family was celebrating their son’s birthday at the Princess Hotel and Casino in Belize City, so we spent the rest of the day there.

And I saved the best for last! I GOT TO TEACH MATH ALL WEEK AT SCHOOL! Finally, after observations (Week 1), reviews (Week 2), and exams (Week 3), I got the chance to stretch my teaching muscles! And boy, did it feel good!!! The students and I explored division through the standard algorithm and lots of real world examples! I couldn’t have asked for a better week!

Tomorrow is my last day at United Evergreen Primary School! Gifts in hand, I’m ready for lots of pictures and goodbye letters from the students! I’ve already received so many hand-drawn pictures and letters! They’re all so sweet! I will forever remember this school and these students!

Saturday morning we’re leaving again for Caye Caulker and then Tuesday I head back to the States! This trip has flown by! I will write again from Kentucky!

Have a great weekend!

Charlotte

The sounds of a treetop fight between two Howler Monkey families! I wouldn’t mess with those guys!

Xunantunich

Hello!!

The plan for yesterday was to arrange a meeting with the president of Galen University, but he was unavailable. Having already excused ourselves from school, Leah and I found ourselves with a free afternoon! Valerie was taking Kalina to a doctor in San Ignacio, so we tagged along. While they were at the doctor we decided to explore a Mayan temple site in town! As we walked up to the banks of the Mopan River we were greeted by a tour guide in a brightly colored shirt. For only US$30 he would take us up to the temples and show us around! So we took a ferry across the Mopan River and began hiking up a huge mountain. Cherry Hill has nothing on this hill! My calves are burning today!

At the top of the hill we toured a small museum which explained a brief history of the temples. The temples were first discovered in the 1850’s but the official date is 1938. In 1938, a man and his dog crossed the Mopan River and climbed the mountain to hunt. While in the jungle he saw the figure of a beautiful Mayan woman. The longer he looked the farther up the mountain she went, but then he fell asleep. When he woke up his gun, his dog, and the Mayan woman had disappeared. He brought more men back up the mountain to search for the woman, but instead they discovered the temples. The Mayan temple site was named Xunantunich, or Stone Lady.

For the next two hours, with the help of our guide, we explored the most amazing Mayan temples!!!! The site was massive and is believed to be the final resting place for many kings! The site houses the second tallest structure in Belize, El Castillo, which is believed to be a tomb where 13 kings are buried. The structure is so tall because after the first king died and was buried in the tomb, a new tomb was built on top of that one and the next king was buried there, and then another was built on top of that, and so on. The view from the top of El Castillo was incredible! You could see little towns and other mountain ranges. You could see the mountain where Cahal Pech is located, the Mayan temples we explored during our first weekend. You could even see Guatemala!!

While at the top of El Castillo, we were caught in the middle of a territory fight between two families of howler monkeys! One family was in the trees to the west of El Castillo and one was in the trees to the east! The startling sounds coming out of those tiny little monkeys was enough to stop you in your tracks! They sound like roaring lions! So scary!!

Other structures located on the site included six structures believed to be observatories, five of which had yet to be excavated! There was a palace for the king, ball courts for sports, shrines, and guard stations. There is still a lot of work to be done to excavate and discover more of the site!

I am amazed at the amount of detail in all of the structures! It’s almost like you’re back in time with the Mayans! Such an awesome experience!

In home news.. Yesterday, Leah and I had our first experience hanging our clothes out on the line to dry! Talk about getting to know their guests! Hopefully the dogs don’t pull them down! Yikes!

Today was the last day of exams for my students. This morning I observed exams in Spanish and spelling. This afternoon they were testing in science, but we left after lunch. Our WKU group attended a Women in Literature presentation at the University of Belize. Several women presented poems and short stories they had written. It was very interesting! The women were very talented writers! After the presentation we toured the campus and went to the bookstore where we all got UB tshirts! :)

According to the school schedule we were given, teachers are supposed to begin teaching new material tomorrow because exams will be finished. However, we’ve heard different things from teachers, administrators, and our host families. Usually the new term and new material doesn’t start until the week after exam week, which would be this coming Monday. So we’re interested to see what will actually happen.. I’m hoping we start new material tomorrow so we see that much more instruction before we leave!

But I can’t wait to explore Caye Caulker this weekend! Caye (pronounced “key”) means island. Caye Caulker is an island off the coast of northern Belize. There are reefs all around the island so hopefully we’ll be able to snorkel and see some wildlife! I’ll post again when I get back! In the meantime, check out my pictures on Facebook from Xunantunich!

—Charlotte

Beautifully Refreshed!

It’s my third Monday here, but don’t fear, somehow Mondays aren’t so painful in warm and sunny Belize! When I got to my classroom this morning, my cooperating teacher, Mrs. Harrison, greeted me with, “Oh, Ms. Charlotte, you look beautifully refreshed!” And boy, do I feel beautifully refreshed!! That’s what an amazing weekend in Punta Gorda and Placencia will do to you!!

Our WKU group took off school on Friday to travel with Dr. August down to a town called Punta Gorda, where he would be observing a teacher candidate. The trip south took about 3 hours, but that was because we stopped to site-see all along the way! Who knew there would be so many sites to see on the Hummingbird Highway!

First, we met the Sleeping Giant, which is a mountain that looks like the silhouette of a man laying down! It was the coolest thing! When Dr. August first told us about it, I was like yeah right sure! But it really does look like a man, all the way down to the shape of his chin, nose, and ridged forehead! Pretty neat!!

From there, we stopped to see waterfalls, orange tree fields, banana tree fields, grapefruit tree fields (we picked some of those :) ), momma and baby pigs running across the road, and even lineman working power lines and climbing poles (we stopped the car to get pictures to show Colten)!

When we came around a bend in the road and saw nothing but ocean, we knew we had arrived in Punta Gorda! While Dr. August observed in the classroom, the group and I wandered around downtown PG! We explored the piers, the fresh food markets, and, of course, a coffee house! Except this time I got a fresh fruit freeze, banana and papaya! YUM!

Shortly after that we were back on the road! Next stop was a village called Forrest Home in PG, where Valerie grew up and where her mom and step-dad still live in a quaint little house on a hill! I can’t get over how welcoming they were to us! We were greeted with hugs and plates full of hot, delicious lunch! We had cahoon cabbage, roti, and freshly squeezed lime juice from her lime tree! Delicious! After lunch, Valerie’s step-dad, Leroy, showed us the PHENOMENAL work he had been doing! During our first week in Belize, Valerie told us that her step-dad was an artist and that we could simply describe what kind of painting we wanted and he would whip it right up! And he did not disappoint! Check out my Facebook to see pictures of all the paintings he made for us! Most of Val’s family still lives in Forrest Home so we were able to see and meet some of her other family members. We also got to see where she went to primary school!

From PG we were BEACH BOUND!!!!! Placencia is a peninsula in the Stann Creek district of Belize, about halfway between Dangriga and Punta Gorda! We traveled down a windy road to the very tip of the peninsula where the main town,
Monkey Hill, was located. With the help of Dr. August’s Belizean connections, we booked two nights at the cutest purple cabana just a few sandy steps from the beach, and for only US$40! SCORE!

Once we were settled in our cabana, we set out to find some dinner! Val had recommended that we visit Tipsy Tuna! She hasn’t steered us wrong yet! The fish tacos at Tipsy Tuna were so yummy! Live Caribbean music and beach-side tables made the experience even better! It was bedtime for these cross-country travelers! Being up since 5am wore us out!

Our internal teacher clocks woke us up early so we were able to see the gorgeous sunrise! We walked the beaches around our cabana in our pj’s for a while before we went back in to change into our swim suits! Sadly, it was cloudy for most of the day. However, it wasn’t until it started sprinkling that we called it quits on the beach and went to do some site-seeing! It was only 10am at the time so first stop was breakfast!

Friends Near The Pier caught our eye for their endless cups of coffee with a meal! We were pleasantly surprised to find out that the little breakfast nook was owned by a newly retired couple who had moved to Placencia from Pittsburgh! I had tropical pancakes topped with bananas, pineapples, coconut, cinnamon sugar, and whipped cream with coffee and freshly squeezed OJ on the side! Talk about delicious!!!!!

After breakfast, while waiting for the sun to come out, we walked around through all of the little shops in town! My favorites were the stores selling hand-made jewelry! The sun never really came back out but we still went back and enjoyed the beach for a while! I even found three big starfish!! Later we had dinner on the beach.

The next morning we had to catch a bus back to Belmopan at 6:15am, so we were up early saying “see ya later” to the beach! The bus took us from Placencia, through Dangriga, and back home to Belmopan!

After a quick Sunday nap, the group, led by Valerie our tour guide, went to St. Herman’s Cave and the Blue Hole National Park! The Blue Hole is a 25ft sink hole in the jungle where you can swim! We only stayed a few minutes because it was about to close and it started pouring rain! The rest of our Sunday was spent resting up and uploading lots of pictures! So check them out!

Today started exam week at school! The students were tested in math computation, creative writing, and health today. I was a reader for a student with a reading disability during the math and health exams. Tomorrow students will be tested in math problem solving, reading comprehension, and social studies. On Thursday they will be tested in science, spelling, and Spanish. I look forward to Thursday because I’ll hopefully finally see some new material being taught!! Cross your fingers!! But no matter what, so far this has been a great learning experience, in more ways than one!

I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving holiday this week!! I miss my family, Colten, and my friends so very much! I hate that I will be away during such a special time of year but know that I am celebrating here in Belize and I’m there in spirit! I love you all!!!! Gobble Gobble!!

—Charlotte

Culture Shock

My second week in Belize has definitely been interesting, both in and out of school! I would describe it as a major culture shock!

Last week at United Evergreen, with all of the Cultural Day events, I didn’t see much instruction. This week is review week for all of the end of the term exams, which will be taken next week, so I was able to see more instruction. Students have been reviewing all of the concepts they have learned since September. For the most part, this feels normal to me and school days have been productive, but at some points, I am way out of my comfort zone.

The relaxed, carefree nature of most Belizeans (which, don’t get me wrong, is a good thing outside of school) causes quite a bit of chaos in the classroom. I have found that there is not much classroom management, or the type that I am used to.. Interruptions are very common and it takes a long time to get back on track. The students remain in the same class with the same teacher all day (like in US elementary schools), so there is a set schedule of specific subjects that need to be covered each day. Very rarely do we get to everything on the schedule.

Students have a lot more freedom at school in Belize than in the States. There is one 15 minute break/recess in the morning, an hour and a half lunch break, and then another 15 minute break/recess in the afternoon. Students can go home for lunch or bring their lunch to school. During breaks and lunch there isn’t much child supervision, which is shocking to me! Students can be seen running wild and horse-playing! I’m surprised more students don’t end up hurt every day!

The Ministry of Education in Belize requires teachers to have certain things hung up in their classroom. This list includes: pictures of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, the Belize pledge, the Belize symbols, maps of Belize and Central America, alphabet (Eng/Span), appropriate manners (Eng/Span), months of the year (Eng/Span), colors (Eng/Span), library, classroom rules, and LOTS more. Luckily, my cooperating teacher, Mrs. Harrison, has been teaching for 22 years so she has most everything on the list hung up in her classroom. But a lot of the classrooms that I have seen in the compound do not meet regulation. Teachers are graded at the end of each year. Teachers are required to meet regulations in classroom materials, classroom management, teaching standards, etc. Not meeting these requirements could cost them payment raises, or even their jobs.

While on the subject of teacher requirements.. Teachers have to have everything they distribute to students (classwork, quizzes, tests, etc.) approved by the principal. They are not permitted to use anything found on the internet. They must create everything they use and get it to the principal in time to have it approved so that it can be given back in time to use it in the classroom when needed. THIS BLOWS MY MIND! Since I have been here, we have been unable to do something during class because there was a huge backup with the principal.. This just adds to the interruptions and chaos.. I’m sure you can imagine my frustration..

However, I understand that coming from the States all of this is very new and different to me; hence, the culture shock! I’ve spoken with Mrs. Harrison about the differences. She agrees that there is something wrong with the system. Since she has been teaching for such a long time, she has seen changes take place, both good and bad. She hopes that soon this “reinventing-the-wheel” stage will change for the better.

Now, a little bit about Tuesday. On November 19th of each year, Belizeans celebrate Garifuna Settlement Day. This holiday celebrates the day that the Garifuna people arrived in Dangriga, Belize on two little boats. Schools are closed and there are huge celebrations all of the country. The main events happen in Dangriga. Early on the 19th, there is a re-enactment of the boats arriving on the shore and then a huge parade and opening ceremony. Throughout the day there are many festivals, presentations, and activities to take part in. The group of Galen University students that we went with were performing a song and dance at several venues during the day. We actually missed the re-enactment, opening ceremony, and parade because when we arrived in Dangriga the group had to go straight to the first venue to set up. That was a bummer..The rest of the day was interesting. My favorite part was probably a drum making presentation we took part in. Garifuna people are known for their drums. As a group, we helped make a traditional drum. I will have to post pictures of me helping make the drum later because they are on another students phone, but I have a lot of other students.

Tonight I got to experience a Belizean football (soccer) game! The team that was playing was the junior team (18 years and under) and they were playing Honduras! Sadly, Belize lost, but it was still a cool experience! Lots of cheering, yelling, and vuvuzela horns!!

I have very high hopes for this weekend! Tomorrow we are taking off school to go south with Dr. August to Punta Gorda for an observation he has to do for Galen. Then he will take us north to Placencia, which to me means one thing and one thing only… BEACH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thank goodness!! That’s just what I need!

I’ll write again soon!

—Charlotte

Lionel Richie ft. Akon

—Just Go

My new favorite Caribbean style song:Just Go by Lionel Richie ft. Akon! Imagine listening to this while swinging on a hammock in the cool sea breeze! PARADISE!

My Belize Jungle Book Weekend!

Scenes from my first weekend in Belize could have come straight out of The Jungle Book movie! It was absolutely incredible! The weather was perfect; not even one rain drop! Honestly, I would be perfectly fine with rainy school days if we could have beautifully, sunny days like these on the weekends!

Friday:

After a nap when we got home from our first full week of school in Belize, Leah and I went out to dinner with the whole August family! We went to a cute little shack called the Pupusas Shop, which sold authentic El Salvadorian food made by a woman from El Salvador. We ordered plate after plate of pupusas (round tortilla pockets filled with cheese and beans), garnaches (fried tortilla covered with refried beans, cabbage, carrots, and cheese), and ponades (fried triangular tortilla pockets filled with cheese, beans, and chicken). The food was washed down with a yummy drink called Horchata, made of water, rice powder, and sugar! EVERYTHING WAS DELICIOUS! And so cheap! Everything, drinks and all, only US $13!! We’ll definitely be going back there! After dinner, Leah and I had the pleasure of meeting Alberto’s mother and sister! They were such sweet people!

Saturday:

The first day of our weekend began with yummy scrambled eggs with sausage and peppers made by Valerie! She offered to be our tour guide all weekend and what a great tour guide she was! WE ARE SO SO SO THANKFUL FOR HER!!!! After breakfast, we scooped up Meghan and Brandi from their house and headed down the road to The Belize Zoo! Here’s where I turned into the girl version of Mogli! The people who opened the Zoo pretty much dropped fences into the jungle and created enclosures for animals! Everything was outside and under the cover of beautiful jungle canopies! There were structures you could climb that would give you different views of the animals in their natural-like habitats! All of the animals in Zoo could actually be found in the wild Belizean jungles; so NO IMPOSTERS! Most of the national symbols of Belize could be found within the Zoo boundaries! I think the Tapir, the national animal of Belize, looks like a cross between an anteater and a pig, when really it’s in the horse family! Can’t imagine that? Check out my Facebook (link at the bottom) to see pictures! The Spider and Howler Monkeys played in the trees and showed off to keep your attention! They were so cute hanging upside down from their tails, but the Howler Monkeys were not so cute when they howled! The sound that came from those tiny animals did not match at all! It sounded like a roar from a lion! WOAH! And to talk about Woah, the Jaguars were next!  JR Buddy and his other jaguar friends kept us entertained for quite a while! They would sniff you through the fence, roll around, play with their tails, and eat snacks from the Zoo keepers! I could have watched them all day! At one point during feeding, one of the jaguars got too close to the electric fence with her wet nose; she leapt back into the brush and didn’t come back out for a while! Poor thing, but at least it keeps them at bay! In addition to all of the other wonderful animal exhibits, there were also Zoo Adventures you could take (and so cheap, only U $5). First we fed Runt, a Toucan, which is the national bird of Belize! Would you think Toucans liked raisins? I didn’t, but Runt scarfed them right up! When Runt was a baby, the tree where he lived collapsed and fell on him, causing him to be blind in one eye. I had to hold the raisin up to his beak on his good side! His beak felt like really thin plastic! However, my most favorite Zoo Adventure had to be high-fiving Lucky Boy, a Black Jaguar! In July 2013, Lucky Boy was rescued from a resort in a Belizean costal town, where he and another Jaguar served as entertainment. Months before the rescue, the American owner abandoned the resort, leaving Lucky Boy and another Jaguar to die. When Lucky Boy was found, he was skin and bones, and had ground down his four front long teeth trying to escape his cage (in the pictures on Facebook, you can see that he has no front teeth). The other Jaguar was not so lucky.. But now, Lucky Boy is healthy and happily giving high fives to anyone brave enough to enter his cage! But no fear, there is a small cage inside of his cage where the adventure takes place! The experience of being that close to a wild cat was exhilarating! I TOTALLY recommend it! Along with everything else at the Belize Zoo! I will always be Team USA, but Belize wins in the Zoo category! HANDS DOWN! So cool!

But our Saturday wasn’t over yet! From the Zoo we went back west to San Ignacio! San Ignacio is a much faster paced town than Belmopan! From the moment we crossed over the bridge from the neighboring town into San Ignacio there was constant motion! There were busy streets full of people bustling about, enjoying their Saturday! Block after block of shops and restaurants, and too many street carts selling odds and ends to count! We parked the car and went off to explore Downtown (kind of like the town square). We wandered through the shops and checked out a Punta (Garifuna music) festival! We ate at a new restaurant right on the square called Fuego! From our table on the porch we could people watch and see the kids playing in the fountains! And the food was delicious! I ordered a round of fried plantain chips with a yummy dip and for my entrée I had lime spritzed shrimp skewers! Great meal and great company!

After dinner we headed up the mountain to tour the oldest Mayan temple in Belize, Cahal Pech! We got there at the most perfect time. We were the only people there and the sun was beginning to set so it wasn’t too hot! Inside the information booth there was a scale model of the site, but it didn’t do the real thing justice AT ALL! Thankfully there was a guide to show us around the site! Valerie said she was glad he was there because even though she had been there before she wouldn’t have been able to give us the information like he did. I learned so much! The beginning of the tour was a long walk up the side of the mountain.  What looked like just a grassy, tree-lined hill was actually the exterior walls of the temples! When the Mayans abandoned Cahal Pech, they filled in all of the rooms and covered everything with dirt and rocks so the site appeared to be just a natural hill. Only after archeologists began digging around did they realize that there were actually temples under the dirt! They left the exterior walls covered to show the natural looking hill. The view when you rounded the hill and entered the first plaza was absolutely breathtaking! Huge, intricately built temples rose from the ground all around you! The tour guide led us through all of the different plazas, pointing out the commoners’ plaza and how it was separated from the royal plaza! He showed us the King’s temple and living quarters! I even got to sit on the King’s throne and see his view of the royal plaza from the throne (pictures are on my Facebook)! The guide led us through the rooms in the kings living quarters, explaining every little detail the Mayans considered! They thought of everything when building the temples; so far as doorways tall enough for the King to walk through with his huge headdress on! So clever! We walked through the kitchen and the area where sporting events and sacrifices took place! The coolest part of the whole experience was that archeologists are STILL excavating the site, so over the years more and more of the temples and the grounds will be discovered and more will be learned about the lifestyles of the Mayans! I can’t wait to see the other sites in Belize!

Before heading home, we stopped at the beautiful Cahal Pech Resort! The resort sits on top of the mountain and overlooks San Ignacio! The view from the pool deck is amazing! We are definitely going back there to stay this month! Or at least to swim; a day pass is only like US $5!!

Sunday:

From the Cahal Pech Resort, we headed home to rest up for Sunday because we would need all of our energy to ZIP LINE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! For those of you who, like me, had never zip lined before, YOU HAVE TO ZIP LINE YOUR FIRST TIME THROUGH THE JUNGLES OF BELIZE!!!!! WOW! There is no way anything is better than it was yesterday! The four WKU students, Valerie our tour guide, and even her 4-year-old daughter Kalina went to Caves Branch Outpost in St. Matthews to zip line on 8 different runs! They ranged from bunny runs to 1000 ft. long runs over a rushing river! It was a beyond exhilarating! We had two guides during our adventure: Jose, who always went first to meet us on the next platform, and Rafael, who stayed on the platform to hook up your pulleys and then carry little Kalina across. Some of the cables were positioned so that the run was slow but some were really fast! The fourth run was 700 ft. long and really steep so once you got close to the platform you had to really put pressure on the cable to stop. I apparently wasn’t applying enough pressure on the cable so I came flying onto the platform and Jose had to apply the emergency brake system to stop me!! The mixed emotions on my face of sheer terror and then hysterical laughter can be seen in my pictures on Facebook! The whole thing was quite comical, even Jose got a kick out of it! The 1000 ft. run over the river was eventful also! It’s obviously very long and straight, and with an added bonus of going against the wind; so if you’re not going fast enough at first, you won’t make it all the way across. Jose had to guide me through manually pulling myself the rest of the way to the platform! But the view I got to see of the river and mountain side while I pulled myself in was incredible! I wish I could share my mental pictures with you!!! Before each run, Meghan and I took turns going first so we could get pictures of each other taking off and landing on each platform! The platform views of the mountains and clear blue skies made for some really pretty pictures, too! After zip lining, I treated myself to my first Coca-Cola Light (like US Diet Coke) since leaving the States! For those of you who know me, you know an entire week without Diet Coke is HUGE for me, so it was definitely a treat!

From there, we went to Meghan and Brandi’s house for a yummy lunch made by their Belizean Mom, Jenn! On the way there we stopped at a little fruit stand on the side of the road! The sweet little lady talked me into buying two huge pineapples and more mini bananas! YUM! Then for the rest of the day we laid around at home to rest up for our second full week of class here in Belize!

I could not have asked for a better first weekend in Belize! Everything was perfect and I know it will only get better! And, as an added little tidbit, I am currently typing this blog while laying out in the sunshine on a hammock on the beautiful hand-built back deck at my pink house! THIS IS THE LIFE!

Until next time, Adios!

—Charlotte

Rain or shine, life goes on in Belize

Hello friends!

Yesterday was absolutely beautiful! The morning was pretty chilly but by the afternoon it was warm with sunny skies! Leah and I walked to school for the first time yesterday morning! The walk takes about 20 minutes. The roads near the school are all paved, but close to the houses the roads are dirt and full of potholes and puddles from all of the rain. Hopefully by the end Leah and I will have found the best path to take to avoid soggy shoes!

Upon entering the school gate I was sweetly greeted by three girls from my class, asking how I was doing and if they could escort me to class! I was honored! :) The bell to begin the school day rang as we got to class. The school day begins with the students lining up outside their classroom door to recite the Lord’s Prayer, the Belize pledge and song, and the classroom rules. The class leader (one of the many jobs assigned to students each month) then leads the students into the classroom to begin instruction. We immediately started math problem solving. Mrs. Harrison and I monitored as the students worked to solve multiplication problems about ticket, fruit, and lunch sales. We spent about an hour on math and then the bell rang for a school-wide break. During break the students are allowed to buy snacks from the different vendors around the compound, play on basketball court, or play games in the classroom. I am amazed by how often these students AND teachers eat! I feel like they are constantly eating something. The strangest snack I’ve seen so far is a small bag of chips with some kind of dressing poured inside, which they call chips and dip. Students often offer me little candies or fruit they’ve purchased.

After break, we practiced penmanship by writing cursive B’s, both upper and lower case. Then it was time for lunch, which Leah and I spent at home again. Kalina’s nanny made a traditional Belizean meal of chicken served with a rice and bean mixture! Lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day for most Belizean families, but today was just a little snack.

Back at school it was time to practice for our class presentation of the Garifuna culture. Mrs. Smith, the other Standard 3 teacher, brought her students to our class to set up and go over the lines. I only stayed and helped for a little while because at 2:30 Valerie came to pick up Leah and I to go to the market.

Every Tuesday and Friday the town of Belmopan hosts Market Day. Locals come together to sell home-grown fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts, etc. Valerie mentioned that usually there are a lot more people selling food than there was that day because of all the rain. Regardless, we were still able to find things we had never seen before! Like the tiniest little bananas and a strange looking fruit called a Mangosteen! Both fruits were delicious and will be great snacks after school!

After the market Valerie took us to a little coffee shop called Moon Clusters Coffee House because Leah and I had mentioned how much we love coffee! And boy, was it a treat! We both had iced cappuccinos! Yum!

Back at home, Alberto and Valerie started preparing dinner while little Kalina put on a ballet show for Leah and I! So cute! Meghan, Brandi, and their host-mom, Jennifer, joined us for dinner! We ate baked red snapper fish and made our weekend adventure plans! I am so excited for all of the things we plan to do, like viewing the Mayan temples, caye (island) hopping, exploring the different villages, zip-lining, the Belize Zoo and Museum, and lots more! After dinner we sat around and talked! Alberto and Jennifer are old colleagues so they had a lot to catch up on and funny stories to tell!

Today it rained the most since arriving in Belize! Thankfully, it stopped raining long enough for us to get to school, but as soon as we arrived it started right back up! Once at school we began preparations for our Cultural Day presentations. The students and I helped Mrs. H and Mrs. Smith decorate the room. I also helped students practice their speaking parts! All day our class presented their information about the Garifuna culture over and over for each class that visited our room! There was information about the Garifuna people’s history, beliefs, food, clothes, music, and dance. Students whose families are from the Garifuna background wore their own traditional clothing! There was even a group of students who performed traditional Garifuna dances to music at the end of our presentation! The teachers made traditional Garifuna food to display, so we were able to try a couple dishes. We tried Tapou and Bundiga, both made with green bananas, coconut milk, and spices.

There was a torrential downpour right before the break for lunch, so instead of risking getting poured on during our walk home, we decided to take a walk around the school to find somewhere to eat. We knew we were close to the coffee house from last night, so we made our way there and was able to find a large food court called Tibbz. The food was mostly Mexican. I had nachos! Then it was back to school for more Garifuna presentations!

Today was a great day full of learning and laughing! The kids were so well behaved and very passionate about their presentation! People from Belize are very loyal to their cultures, even those that aren’t their own! It was truly inspiring!

I hope everyone is having a great week so far! I’m missing my family and friends very much! Thanks so much for all of the love on Facebook and through texts! It’s making being away from home a lot easier!

I will attach pictures soon from yesterday and today! Just a hint — if you look at the pictures on a laptop or desktop the captions will show up, but not on a phone or tablet!

I’ll write again soon!

—Charlotte :)

Greetings From Belize!

So much has happened in the last 24 hours but it’s been wonderful!

My flights from Nashville to Dallas and Dallas to Belize went by so fast! I could barely focus on the book I brought to bide the time, but another WKU student traveling with me brought a book about Belize. We spent the entire flight reading through the book and talking about everything we wanted to do while in Belize! The realization set in that we were really spending the next month in a foreign country when we saw the breathtaking coastal views from the airplane windows and the sticky, humid air hit our faces when we stepped off of the plane! “We’re really doing this!” is all that we could find to say as we waited to touch down in Belize City, Belize and as we waited in line at customs.

The Belize City airport was small and full of tourists. It took about 30 minutes, but we successfully got our passports stamped and found all of our luggage (THANK GOODNESS!). Waiting for us outside the airport were three friendly faces: two Galen University (the school partnered with WKU to make this trip possible) students, Joshua, a spunky drummer and Christy, a sweet environmentalist, and Mr. Owen, our bus driver! From Belize City we traveled west on Western Highway (clever name ;) ) and talked about everything under the sun. The first town we came to was Hattiville, where we stopped at Cheers to try some local drinks before heading to the town called Belmopan, where we would meet our host families. Mr. Owen dropped off the first two WKU students, Meghan and Brandi, at their home, then took Leah and myself to our home! The August family is so nice and they live in a PINK HOUSE! It could not be more perfect!!! A yummy dinner was served for us and we were shown to our room! Leah and I share a Disney princess themed bedroom with bunk beds, which belongs to 4-year old, Kalina! :) The oldest son, Xian, is very shy, so we haven’t seen much of him yet. The first night in our new home was comfortable and very homey!

Today, our second day began early, with pancakes for breakfast, before we headed to the Galen University campus in Belmopan. The four of us met with the Provost and Mr. August for an orientation about Belize, the culture, people, schools, and attractions. Then we were each taken to our schools. Leah and I are teaching at United Evergreen Primary School. The students are separated in grades like in the US except they’re called standards. I am with Mrs. Harrison in Standard 3, which is the equivalent of 4th or 5th grade in the US. Students range from 8-12 years old and belong to many different people groups, including Maya, Mestizo, Creole, Garifuna, etc. The students were working on multiplication when I arrived in the classroom. Soon after I got there it was time for lunch, which is an hour and a half long. Students and teachers are allowed to go home for lunch. Leah and I went home and had lunch made by Kalina’s nanny. Back at school at 1pm it was time for reading, but only for a few minutes.

During the month of November the people of Belize focus on their culture. There are a lot of parades, festivals, demonstrations, enactments, etc. After lunch the students and teachers took a bus to a store in town where a famous Belizean musician was performing. There were dancers, singers, and lots of drums! The kids loved it! They danced and played in the rain! Yes, the rain! According to the students, it has been raining for the last month because this is the rainy season. Today it rained on and off all day! Thank goodness I bought my umbrella! Once we were back at school the students practiced their lines for the schoolwide cultural presentation that will take place over the next three days. Our class is presenting on the Garifuna people. After practice the students were given a break to play games until the end of the day. I played sight word bingo with the students and worked puzzles. The kids are so sweet and curious about me. They asked questions about literally everything. I even got asked is I was friends with Justin Beiber? :) I told him no, but that I was a fan of his music, which he then followed by singing a medley of JB songs! I was very impressed!

After school, Dr. August and his wife, Valerie, took us to a little store. They were shopping for a present for a preschool boy in Valerie’s class. After shopping we returned home. Valerie made an authentic Belizean dinner of eggs and beans with HOMEMADE tortillas. I plan on perfecting her recipe before I leave so I can make them when I return home! Following dinner, the family, Leah, and I spent time talking and getting to know each other! I look forward to learning more about them, their people, and their culture!

I hope this wasn’t to drawn out! I just felt like there was so much to tell y’all! Tomorrow Meghan and Brandi are coming over so that we can plan all of our weekend adventures! Hopefully we’ll be able to plan for everything on our wish lists! Wish us luck!

I’ll write again tomorrow!
—Charlotte