A Travellerspoint blog

On an Island...

Marine Ecology at Glover's Atoll

Living on a Caribbean island surrounded by coral reefs for five days was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. All those fresh coconuts to be shelled and ground, all those snorkeling trips, all that fresh fish to eat, those sunrises and sunsets—it really was a chore. Man, I’ve got it pretty rough down here, huh?

Enough sarcasm. That was the essence of the week. Besides a few lectures interspersed throughout the week, I spent most of the time snorkeling out on the reef. We even got to go out and check out the reef at night. The nocturnal species are just as exciting as the rest. I saw an awesome comb jelly called a Sea Walnut. I don’t have pictures of that one, but look it up. It has several rows of cilia that refracted the light of my flashlight and produced an undulating rainbow pattern. Awesome, right? This whole week was awe-inspiring. I am surely blessed to have had an opportunity to see the second biggest barrier reef in the world before it disappears. It is not certain, but 70% of the world’s reefs are already gone. My teacher told us to tell all our friends and loved ones, if they want to, to see them before they’re gone. Anyway, the pictures that I’ll put up tell most of the story, so just check them out.

This is my last post in Belize. The semester has been one of most fun, most educational, and most life altering four months of my life. I have much to do in the world if I am truly to care for God’s creation. Creation Care Study Program certainly lived up to its name. There are a thousand more stories to be told than I have reported on this blog. Catch up with me stateside if you want to hear them!

Shalom, friends.

Posted by in_creation 24.11.2012 07:54 Archived in Belize Comments (2)

Over the River and Through the Woods

An Internship in the Bush with SHI-Belize

It took four hours to travel a thirty miles into the bush for my internship with Sustainable Harvest International. SHI-Belize is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) in the southern Toledo district of Belize. They work with local rural village communities to improve the overall quality of life as well as conserving the integrity of the rain forests in Belize (visit sustainableharvest.org for the full scoop). Each village that has families enrolled in the program is assigned an extension officer who, over a period of several years, develops relationships with the families in the village. I worked with a different extension officer each week. Nelson was my supervisor for the first week in Dolores, and Ernesto was my boss for week two in San Benito Poite. I stayed with an SHI staff member of the weekend at his house in Pueblo Viejo.

Most of my work was right alongside the extension workers, assembling structures for the farmers to use as well as planting trees in gardens or forested farming areas. The first and second week of work differed only slightly, and merely in the types of structures we worked on. The first week consisted mostly of carpentry work. Nelson, Cerilo, Julian (a part time worker in Dolores), Liz (another CCSP student) worked on mobile chicken coops and solar dryers for drying cacao seeds. We also spent a good amount of time planting cacao trees in families gardens and forested farm areas. It is one of SHI's main goals to increase agroforestry (farming the forest) so that people will be less inclined to chop it down to plan corn and beans.

During my second week, which was in San Benito Poite, much of the work was centered on continuing work on latrines that were in various stages of completion. Some of the work I did was structural, like building steps up to the toilet room. Most of the work, however, was adding finishing touches that required more manpower than the extension worker, Ernesto, usually had on hand. I spent a good portion of the week mixing cement to plaster the outside and inside walls of the latrines. Working outside in the rain is not on SHI’s to do list. This is not a problem in the dry season, but the wet season becomes a bit tricky. Luckily, I had plenty to do inside when it rained. The first day I got to San Benito Poite, the rain drove us inside to apply some cement plaster to a wood-conserving stove. It is designed to use far less wood than an open fire stove, so people need to chop down fewer trees. The stoves also carry smoke away from ground level, reducing the amount of smoke inhaled by the women cooking.

In terms, of family life the culture was again much different than home. An entire family consisting of three generations lived in a one-room house. The families I stayed with were K’ekchi Mayans (I did learn a few K’ekchi words, but I can't spell them) and they were very hospitable. I slept in hammocks the entire time, but the most difficult thing about it was the cold. I didn't expect to be cold in Belize, but I almost froze at night. The thatch house we stayed in is basically made of sticks and some boards, so insulation was surely lacking. It is technically “winter” here, but I still sweat in the afternoon sun, so I wasn’t expecting to be cold at all. Anyway, I survived living in a thatch hut, and learned to enjoy going to bed at 6 P.M. when the sun went down, because there wasn’t much to do in a pitch black Mayan hut (the single solar powered light bulb didn’t last very long).

The culture was also something to get used to. It was a new experience for me to be a totally alien presence in a very quiet village that does not get many visitors from outside the community. Arriving to the villages in a pick up truck, which draws enough attention by itself, I stepped out and everyone immediately knew that I was a stranger simply by the color of my skin. It was not an uncommon occurrence that people, especially children, would stop in their tracks on the road to watch Liz and I work at whatever we were doing. Whoever I met was very curious to know why I was in the village, what I was doing, and where I was from. That has been an overarching theme of my time in Belize, but it was magnified in the remote villages.

That’s it for the internship. Next week is, Marine Ecology, our last unit of Tropical Ecosystems. Our class will spend 5 days on Glover’s Reef, which is one of the best places in Belize to see the marine reef ecosystems. I won’t have much in the way of reflection on an ecology class, but I will put up some pictures (here’s where I get to use my underwater camera!). I return in about three weeks, so my final post will likely be a short closing remarks. Keep me in your prayers as I travel about and wrap up the semester.

Shalom, friends.

Posted by in_creation 17.11.2012 08:37 Archived in Belize Comments (1)

Travel Week

I’m sitting here at the end of two weeks of Sustainable Community Development watching Avatar with several of my classmates. My apologies for the inconsistent reporting, but the timing of Internet access is much trickier here than at home. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I won’t be able to include everything that travel week and these past two weeks of class in one post, so you’ll get the shortened version. For the full story, talk to me when I return! Also, I’ve posted some pictures of the highlights.

Travel week began with a school trip to Tikal in Guatemala, one of the biggest Mayan ruins in all of Central America. We toured the site for about five hours, not even close to enough time to see it all. Some mischievous spider monkeys followed us for a good while, and there were incredible birds everywhere we looked (I’ve gotten pretty excited about birding these past few months). The ruins were absolutely astounding. I’ve never really had the desire to time travel until being at a Mayan ruin site. To have seen how such an advanced society lived would be an insane opportunity. Anyway, Tikal was just the beginning of week of adventure, so I’ll skip to the exciting stuff.

From Tikal our group was dropped off in Flores, Guatemala to begin our travels. Several of us took an overnight bus from Flores to Antigua, which was once the capital of all of Central America. Its European influences are obvious in the architecture of buildings, especially the churches. Now it is a tourist destination, with tour agencies on every block, as well as a high-end shopping center for the wealthier Guatemalans in the area. Anyway, a few of us camped at the tourism police station for free. I forgot to get a picture of the campsite, but it looked like it had been some sort of estate. The police barracks were right next to us so we felt pretty safe, and there was a dormant volcano towering over us right outside of town.

Our Antigua adventures consisted of navigating the enormous market and exploring the city itself. I’m not much of a coffee drinker, but the coffee in Antigua was the best I’ve ever had. I guess it’s true that Guatemalans grow the best coffee. Monday of that week, we hiked Volcan Pacaya , which is still active (it erupted two years ago). The hike took about an hour each way, but we didn’t get to the top. Our destination was a thermal vent that was spitting out hot air about 200° F that we roasted marshmallows in. Once we passed the tree line, the ground was just loose volcanic rock that resembled fine gravel. The best way to get down the slopes without slipping was to run. I must say that sprinting up and down hills at the top of a volcano was probably one of the best opportunities I’ve had this semester. Oh, and the clouds! We were right on the same level as most of the clouds in the area. Backlit by the setting sun, they were bursting with oranges, reds, pinks, and purples. What a sight!

On Tuesday, Connie and I started our travels back to Belize through the Guatemalan port city of Puerto Barrios. We arrived to late to get a water taxi to Punta Gorda, Belize, so we stayed overnight and caught the boat Wednesday morning. After we arrived in PG, we sought out a place to stay, and things got pretty interesting. We asked the owner of a hostel if she let people camp, and she said she didn’t. As we were leaving, a man who had overheard our conversation approached us on his bicycle and offered to show us a few places we could camp. His name is Mitch, and he is an expatriate American who moved to Belize several years ago. I’ll say he was a little “out there”. He talked a good bit about the One Spirit and was generally cryptic in conversation. He showed us a few patches of grass in between the road and the Sea that we could pitch a tent, but finally led us to his house and welcomed us to stay there. We were a bit skeptical, but he seemed pretty harmless (and it was super cheap).

Our time in Punta Gorda was very relaxing, and we didn’t do much more than exploring the town and eating at local restaurants. On Friday, we met an older woman, Zenovia, at the market who made a little extra money by taking people to her farm in a neighboring village. We decided to pack up and join her for a dory (canoe) ride up the Columbia River in a town called San Pedro Columbia. She and her husband Ignacio lived on and operated a small cacao farm in the hills right next to the river. We enjoyed a small tour of their garden and a delicious meal of fried red snapper, fresh picked greens from the garden, and the best corn tortillas I’ve ever had, which we helped to make. I wish we had had more time to see the rest of the farm, but Saturday morning marked the start of our return journey to campus.

Sustainable Community Development has been a pretty good opportunity to understand how Belize fits into the global picture economically, socially, and politically. I won’t bore you with the details, but you’ll get stories from me when I return. On Monday, I’m leaving for Punta Gorda again, but this time to start my two week internship at a place called Sustainable Harvest. I’ll check in again after I return from there!

Shalom, friends.

P.S., the week before travel week, our Forest Ecology class took a night hike on campus, and I almost tripped over a 6 foot Fer-de-Lance (the most aggressive and poisonous snake in Belize). Our teacher and program director promptly killed it and it is now curled up in a jar in our library. Cool, right?

Posted by in_creation 03.11.2012 09:41 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

(Re)Imagine the Earth

To sum up this week would be impossible. The ways in which we delved into the human spirit in relation to the earth was incredible. Formerly titled "Environmental Literature", our class this week was called "Imagining the Earth". Drew Ward, an environmental literature critic and writer, introduced us to a new way of seeing the earth. We questioned the imaginary line that we have drawn between ourselves and the earth. We have made it the "other". It has become an inanimate entity apart from us. It has become a stagnant figure, only a landscape to momentarily distract us from our lives. We have more important things to do.

We worked out ways to define what Environmental Literature is and is not. More importantly, however, we reflected on our kinship with the earth. I could try to explain that relationship, but there are so many people who do it better. If you care about what happens to the earth, read what they have to say. Actually, let me re-phrase that. If you care about what happens to yourself and your children, if you care about the well-being of your soul, read them. Read Wendell Berry. Read his collection of essays,The Art of the Commonplace, read his poetry. I know that I will continue to read him when I get home and have access to a library again. I will likely read him for the rest of my life. He is a prophet. He speaks for the earth just like Isaiah and Jeremiah. Read Rachel Carson and Aldo Leopold.

Oh, and if you were wondering where that line between us and the earth was moved to, I might ask you if there ever was a line. The earth is one idea. Humans are a part of the idea. Nothing more. If you don’t believe me, and if you’re curious about how that works, we can talk. The answers are all around us. A lot of the answers are in scripture, but most of them are inside us. We are made of the same stuff as the earth. The earth is in us. When we die, it reclaims itself.
I don’t want you to have any excuse not to read Wendell Berry, so here is a poem:

MANIFESTO: THE MAD FARMER LIBERATION FRONT

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise, vacation with pay.
Want more of everything made.
Be afraid to know you neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery any more.
Your mind will be punched in a card and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something they will call you.
When they want you to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something that won't compute.
Love the Lord. Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace the flag.
Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot understand.
Praise ignorance,
for what man has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium.
Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion--put your ear close,
and hear the faint chattering of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world.
Laugh. Laughter is immeasurable.
Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap for power,
please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head in her lap.
Swear allegiance to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and politicos can predict the motions
of your mind, lose it.
Leave it as a sign to mark the false trail, the way you didn't go.
Be like the fox who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Copyright Wendell Berry.

Next week is Forest Ecology. I'll likely have more pictures after that, so look for them.

Shalom, friends.

Posted by in_creation 06.10.2012 13:03 Archived in Belize Comments (1)

Kimo's place

A farm in the woods.

Since she had such a wonderful time on this trip, I let Constance write up this post:

During our first week in Belize, the CCSP staff brought a man named Kimo Jolly in to talk with us about what Belize is like today and what that has to do with us. Kimo has lived in Belize most of his life and has been very involved with watershed protection and restoration. He lives on a small farm and works with a number of international student groups like our own. Kimo was…controversial. A lot of students felt frustrated at the end of his talk with us because he has some seriously pronounced views on things such as foreign aid, international development, new colonialism, etc. In my experience, people can get a little touchy about things like that, and strong opinions like Kimo’s don’t always go over so well. While many students weren’t so crazy about a lot that he had to say, Justin and I thought he was great (really all it took for me was hearing that he lives on his own farm – I loved him from then on). Truly, I think it’s so refreshing to hear people go beyond “It’s just so hard” when discussing really tough issues; we need people like Kimo who will push that conversation farther, who will say “Yes, it is hard, and this is what we need to do about it.” Maybe he wasn’t 100% right about everything; maybe he was. Regardless, he believes in a solution and works to convince others to believe in it too.

So anyway. Justin and I decided a couple weeks after he came to see us that it would be really wonderful to go out and see him. His farm isn’t so far from campus, and taking the bus there isn’t very hard at all. We got his email address and asked him if we could come, and a week or so later we were on the bus to Benque, having arranged to meet him at the bus terminal. He arrived in his pickup truck, Justin jumped in the truck bed with Kimo Jr, and a mile and half of very bumpy roads later we were at his farm.

He, his wife, and their two kids live on 25 acres of largely forested land. As he explained to us, he’s very dedicated to avoiding the slash-and-burn type of farming that characterizes most farms in Central and South America. Instead of focusing on growing nutrient-intensive crops like corn, which need the nutrients provided by freshly burned forests (or added fertilizers) to grow well, he’s been experimenting with various plants and trees that already grow well in the forests – like avocados and papayas. He also grows a lot of sweet potatoes, cassava, and other root crops that seems to not need much added fertilizer. His gardens were unlike any I’ve ever seen – no straight rows, no bare dirt to be weeded. In fact they looked at first glance like giant plots of freely growing weeds, until he started pointing out crops – there’s sweet potato, look how well it’s growing; here’s some of the corn we tried, but as you can see it’s not doing well here because we haven’t burned; this little guy is an avocado tree; here we have cassava, which is also there, and there, and over there. And you realize it’s just different levels of plants that are native to this region, growing or dying as they will without chemical pesticides, herbicides, or burning. This type of growing was completely new to me. Even organic gardeners spend a large amount of time trying to grow things that don’t grow well, either because of bugs or weeds or lack of nutrients in the soil, instead of simply observing what food crops are already growing in the wild and cultivating those.

The most wonderful thing about spending the day on Kimo’s farm was just talking to him and his family. We talked about so many different things: cooking; homeschooling (his kids are homeschooled); the importance of people getting back to the land (we talked about that one a lot); building with what’s on hand instead of buying materials; chickens, ducks, sheep (he has all three); secondary and tertiary education; the immorality of owning a washing machine. His wife made us a delicious lunch and his ten-year-old daughter made a really delicious pound cake from scratch, which left me impressed and very happy.

At the end of our visit we got him to give us a list of other farmers in Belize to talk to and hopefully visit. We are both really looking forward to travel week, when we will spend a couple days in Guatemala and then come back to Belize to do a little farm tour, seeing other models of farming in practice here. This one experience was so rewarding and educational, and we can’t wait to have more like it.

Justin here. What a wonderful trip it was. We plan to go visit Kimo and his family again before we leave. This coming week is Environmental Literature followed by the second section of Tropical Ecosystems- Forest Ecology.

Shalom friends.

Posted by in_creation 29.09.2012 09:09 Archived in Belize Comments (2)

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