Tuesday, November 10, 2009
The Daily Grind
My stay here in Belize is half over already; time sure flies! I feel pretty settled into the daily grind of life here. A typical day starts with a 6:45am alarm. After some morning yoga, I get dressed and head off to school. Sometimes I’ll make an egg burrito at home or I’ll pick of a stuffed fry jack on my way to school. A fry jack is fried dough, much like a sopapilla. The first morning I ever woke up in Belize (2004), I had a fry jack with fresh jam and honey in Crooked Tree and I have loved them ever since. Since moving here, I’ve discovered the stuffed fry jack, which usually comes with beans and either eggs or chicken. I have tried lots of different fry jacks on the island in search for my favorite. Café Maya, conveniently located on my way to school, has the best stuffed fry jack for a whopping $1.50. It’s hard to beat that value here.
I get to school around 7:30am to check my email and prepare for the day to come. First class of the day is language arts, which is when I work with my two remedial reading students. They have made good progress in the past couple weeks but unfortunately have a long way to go. We work on flash cards for the first 20-30 minutes and then spend the remainder of the hour reading books, such as Dr. Seuss. Oh, how I love Dr. Seuss. The school library has a great collection with close to 50 of his books.
Next up is math. At the start of the math class I administer the day’s multiplication time test. The kids are still enthusiastically working towards their ice cream party. They look forward to my returning the quizzes after lunch, all hoping to see their score go up. It’s hard for the teachers to give feedback to each student with 35 in a class, so I think the students really like to have the immediate and consistent feedback of the quizzes. One of the standard V boys had a recent epiphany and has started studying hard. He said that he used to skip school to watch TV but now realizes how foolish it was and is working extra hard to catch up. He stayed after school on Thursday to make up a math quiz that he missed because he was working with an English tutor. One of my reading students has also started to take initiative learning to read. She asked me the other day to help her pick out a good Dr. Seuss book to check out. It is events like this that make my day!
After the multiplication quiz, I stay in Miss Laura’s class to help the students with math. As they work on problems, I walk around and help check the students’ work. With a divide-and-conquer method, Miss Laura and I are able to give more students personal attention. Occasionally, I’ll pull students out individually who need some extra one-on-one work to understand the concepts. We’re still working on the basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. It is pointless to move onto fractions, decimals and exponents if the basics are not yet mastered.
Once math is over, I usually head back to the office to grade their quizzes and have some lunch. Lunch at the school is wonderful and usually my main meal of the day. The kitchen ladies cook traditional Belizean food like rice and beans with stew chicken, chicken soup, or ground beef. Last week someone brought coolers of fresh fish in so we had fish fry. Yum! Once a week is either hot dogs or bologna sandwiches, not my favorite but it suffices.
Lately, I’ve been spending the next couple hours in the office working on a grant proposal to build a sea wall on the property and to restore mangroves. Even though I’ve been working on it 3-4 hours a day for the past 2 weeks, it is so easy to get distracted in the hustle and bustle of the office. There are always students coming in and out with every problem you can imagine. Linda, the office manager, is there all afternoon and we have a grand ol' time. Often I get pulled out to do something else like substitute or help out in other classes. On Friday there was an outbreak of head lice and the school had to send about 40 kids home with some lice shampoo. I took some home to wash my hair with just in case.
By 4 in the afternoon, my brain is usually fried and I stop doing work for the day and use the remaining hour that the office is open to catch up with family and friends online. I have been begrudgingly starting the inevitable job search to find a chemical engineering job to start this spring. In between chatting online, I’ve been updating my resume, searching job listings and writing cover letters.
At 5 o’clock the school closes and I head home during rush hour. Rush hour here is a stream of bicycles and golf carts that leave the resorts north of town and stream over the footbridge back into town. While it doesn’t compare to bumper to bumper traffic, it does get a little chaotic to navigate the sand streets covered with water-filled pot-holes and pot-"ditches". When the road gets wet here, as it so often does, the surface becomes the consistency and color of freshly mixed plaster. (Luckily I haven’t slipped yet.)
Now comes the big question of the day, should I cook at home or pick up food on the way home. I cook 3-4 days a week. The problem is that I don’t have a refrigerator and it is really hard to cook a meal for one and not have any leftovers. Fresh fruits and vegetables are few and far between, so most food comes in cans packaged for more than 1 person. Therefore, my cooking is limited to rice and beans (see picture), Campbell’s soup (very expensive here), eggs, macaroni and cheese (carefully using only part of the box), or pasta with some canned vegetable. So… it is a lot more convenient to stop at a place like Vern’s Kitchen (my favorite) and get stewed chicken with rice and beans, coleslaw, cucumber and fried plantains (if I’m lucky) for $4.50. I get a balanced meal with just the right quantity for a killer price. It’s hard to beat.
By the time I get home, I’ve got about 4 hours to entertain myself with books, movies, and solitaire on my little netbook before I’m ready for bed. Occasionally I’ll hang outside and chat with two of my neighbors. I don’t go out at night by myself here. Living in a very male-dominated society, it is not safe for me to venture out to bars or clubs alone. I don’t want to take the chance of crossing paths with the wrong person at the wrong time. I don’t have much of a social life outside of the school down here, but I knew that would be the case before coming down here.