A Travellerspoint blog

I'm a Gardener.

So are you.

So I’ve been here a month. Strange—it feels like a week has gone by. I must have thrown my clock out the window because time is flying. Sorry—bad joke. Moving on. God and Nature finished up last Friday, and it was truly a wonderful class. Our professor was a man from Calvin College, Uko Zylstra. He truly has a passion for God’s Creation.

We talked much about the world (the earth) as being kin to the human species. We are kin in the sense that we were both lovingly created by God. In fact, human beings were created out of the earth. Genesis 2:7 reads like this; “the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man become a living being” (NIV). Many people have this idea that the human being is a soul with a body wrapped around it. This could not be farther from the truth. Wendell Berry puts it plainly:
The formula given in Genesis 2:7 is not man = body + soul; the formula there is soul = dust + breath. According to this verse, God did not make a body and put a soul into it, like a letter into an envelope. He formed man of dust; then, by breathing his breath into it, He made the dust live.

There is often a false sense of separation between man and earth that permeates the human mind-set, and it is compounded because, as a culture, we (Americans) have removed ourselves from the land. In the 1920s, something like forty percent of the American people were farmers. Now, our farmers make up less than two percent of the population. According to Genesis, I am animated dust. Even more, Genesis gives us a clear indication as to why God put us on this earth. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (2:15). We were intended, from the very beginning, to tend to the earth—to be gardeners.

This does not mean that we were put here to merely harvest what the earth offers us. Because we are intelligent, creative beings, and because God put us here to “take care of it” also, we are to help the earth to flourish. One of the two books we read for class was called Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture, written by Ellen Davis. She explores the role that the earth played in the lives, political and religious, of the Israelites of the Old Testament era. She also introduces a way of reading the Bible that I had never encountered—an agrarian one. The religious and cultural sensibilities that influenced much of the writing of the Old Testament were agrarian. The blessing of the “everlasting covenant” that God made with Noah (and with his descendants, and with every living creature that was with him) is contingent upon Noah’s obedience to his end of the bargain to “be fruitful and increase in number” (Gen. 9:7). In class, we explored what it means to be fruitful.

The “success” that is implied in fruitfulness has more to do with our intended purpose here than anything we can conjure up for ourselves. That purpose is to tend the Garden. If we disobey that, which is exactly what we are doing by exploiting the earth’s resources, we have disobeyed our mandate to tend the garden. Literally, the fruitfulness of the earth is directly connected to our fruitfulness simply because our job is to tend it. One of the most misinterpreted verses in the bible is Genesis 1:28 in which God gives Adam the instruction to have dominion of the earth and “subdue it”. If we are made in the image of God, who rules with love, justice and righteousness, doesn’t it make sense that we rule in the same way? Jesus, God made man, also showed us how to rule. When he came to establish his Kingdom on earth, he set himself up as a king who rules in servanthood and sacrifice. He was the Good Shepherd, not a domineering dictator.

So anyway, that was God and Nature. We talked a lot about farming, including the industrial food system and the opposite (the agrarian food system). I encourage anyone who wants to live well to educate themselves about where their food comes from. Some good starting points are movies like; Food, Inc., The Future of Food, King Corn, and Fast Food Nation. Also, I am currently reading a book called The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. It is a great summary of the state of the Food System of the United States—read it! We tend not to care where our food comes from, which has enormous economic, political and moral implications that stretch across the world. Not only does our food’s origin have to do with our health, but it also affects the health of the earth and, whether we knot it our not, our spiritual health. Eating is an essential part of life, and Ellen Davis, the author of one of my new favorite books (Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture) says that eating is an act that, whether we know it or not, explicitly expresses our moral and religious sensibilities. I would strongly agree.

This week I had Stream Ecology, the first of three units of our Tropical Ecosystems class. The last time I took a real science class was 11th grade-4 years ago! There is less to report about this class, unless everyone wants me to go on rambling about the invertebrate life of tropical streams. It was useful to understand the way water connects and gives life to people around the world. Our professor was Bill Deutsch, a professor at Auburn University. His work around the world with a group called Alabama Water Watch has had such a wonderful impact on the world’s understanding of the effects of our actions to the water of the world.

Next week is a reading week in preparation for the Environmental Literature class. I plan to take a few trips since we don’t have to be on campus. I also intend to make more of an effort to post more frequently, since reporting on three weeks of goings on is be pretty tough. I didn’t even talk about my home stay in a neighboring village called Succotz. I’ll post pictures, though. One thing to note is that the house I stayed in didn’t have electricity. Some of you ask, “How do they live?!” I would contend that the de la Fuente family was just fine with their lifestyle, even happier than many people I know at home who are so wrapped up in power cables they don’t seem to be living at all.

Shalom.

P.S.

Write me letters!

Posted by in_creation 11:45 Archived in Belize Comments (1)

A Mighty Meal

Orientation (again) and Caye Caulker

The end of orientation was an adventerous time. Our group spent much time taking trips and continuing to become more and more of what can be called an “intentional community”. This community is designed to bring once-strangers into a close bonded group of individuals who strive to learn what it means to live as Christ-centered persons on the earth. One thing should be mentioned about the group I’ll be studying with. Because this program is centered around “creation care”, many of my classmates and now housemates are environment studies/science majors at their respective schools. There are a few of us non-environmental majors, but most of us have a heart or at least an interest in learning more about the world and ourselves as we try to live well here on this planet. That being said, it will be an interesting semester to observe others, and especially myself (a creative writing/theology student) in an environment which is intentionally focused on, well... the environment.

Now for the interesting stuff. My last post was last Sunday, which I must admit to being a pretty weak post (my sincerest apologies for that). I was hastily attempting to get at least something down on the fly when Connie and I happened to find ourselves at a restaurant with an internet connection. The next day (Monday 8/27), the whole group spent several hours digging two new beds in our campus garden, which already includes banana, guava, lime, orange, pineapple trees as well as squash, watermelon, pumpkin, potato, and a thousand other crazy tropical plants that I can’t recall. Blisters were inevitable, but were signs of a job done well.

Wednesday and Thursday marked trips to the Belize Botanic Gardens and the Belize Zoo respectively. The Botanic Gardens was an incredible 40 or so acres of story after story. Acres of stories? Yes it’s true, but only because our guide, Willy (a true Mayan), gave us a story for every plant he stopped to show us. He told us about a time when a man he knew had become afflicted with swelling and intense pain from handling the berries of the Poisonwood tree. Willy boiled the bark from another tree and used the sappy water to cure the symptoms. Essentially every plant we stopped to smell, taste, touch, or avoid for one reason or another could be used to treat any number of common or uncommon ailments. And after leading the group to a traditional Mayan hut, he proceeded to tell us about his mothers attempts to break him of the habit of bedwetting when he and his dozen or so siblings lived in a similar hut about the size of my living room. Needless to say, it was an educational and entertaining experience.

Reporting now about the Belize Zoo would be interesting, but I will save it for later, because I might get to do my two week internship there if I so choose. It’s either the Zoo or a farm (Central Farm to be exact). The Zoo is much shadier than any farm will be, and I’ve already felt the wrath of the tropical sun. Time will tell if I can get used to the sun and heat enough to be willing to work 80 hours outside in it.

Thursday was the start of our first travel opportunity. After the Zoo in the morning, all 17 of us students set out for Caye Caulker (caye is pronounced “key”). We didn’t have to travel as one group, but those of us who weren’t too particular about our first travel adventure (or just too lazy to plan something ourselves) let the enthusiastic types plan our first collective toe in the water of unsuperivzed Belizean adventure. Caye Caulker is a small Caribbean island off the northeastern coast of Belize. For all intents and purposes, it is a tropical island paradise. It is smaller than its neigbor to the north, the Ambergris Caye, which is reportedly more developed, but more expensive to visit and much less laid back. Who knows how an island can be laid back, but maybe I ask too many questions? Oh, well. Anyway, Connie and I were accompanied by two others at a hostel called Tropical Oasis where the girls pitched a tent and I set up my hammock, which has a mosquito net and rainfly attached and acts as my tent. Caye Caulker is certainly a tourist destination, and there are many touristy things to do, but most of what our smaller section of the 17 did was eat and relax seaside. On Friday, we did take kayaks out on the western side of the island where the water is smoother, and did a few minutes of exploration of the sea life with a snorkel and mask.

The highlight of the weekend and of the semester so far started with an unconventional meal. Constance had been looking to try snapper since we got on the island, and on Saturday I saw a man on the side of the road by the beach with just a grill and a chalkboard advertising his menu. Snapper was included on the menu, so we decided to stop since this guy’s food was likley to be the cheapest around. Connie and I ordered a snapper to split and the man (who’s name we never did learn) greeted us as if we were his first customers ever. Surely his business wasn’t booming, but he had clearly been around for a while. He told us that he had caught his fish personally and was going to treat us with his best recipe, which consisted of veggie stuffed snapper with garlic and his own homemade barbeque sauce accompanied by beans, cole slaw and tortilla. A few friends who knew where Connie and I were planning to eat joined us and ordered snapper as well. The influx of business made our grill man even more excited, and he began telling us his culinary secrets. Weirdly, he was overly cautious to ask us several times if we were allergic to many of his ingredients. He mentioned that a man he served several weeks ago puffed up because of the garlic in the fish… I digress. We were a bit worried that the reason this guy had very little apparent business at the time was due to incompetance or his overbearance about allergies. However, it the food turned out to be delightful, exquisite, scrumptious, and all the rest. Maybe it was the cool breeze or the moon out over the light blue water in the evening, but I will say with confidence that I had one of the best meals of my life on Saturday.

But wait! There’s more! Through conversation, we learned that our chef for the night was helping to coach a young adult basketball team on the island and that they were having a game later that night. He urged us to come support his boys. He told us that he was trying to keep them out of trouble by training them on the court. After dessert, a few of us did decide to go check out the game, which turned out to be the place to be on Caye Caulker that night. The small blacktop court with bleacher seats for only about two hundred spectators was packed. The D.J. was bumping too, blasting mostly reggae/rap mixed with a few things I recognized from pop radio in the U.S. Our grill man found us and sat through the first game while we waited for his boys to play in game number two. His boys turned out to be quite the ball players and not boys at all. There were some teanagers but many of them were older than me by more than a few years. It must have been a young adult amateur league. We were treated by our new friend to a drink that was called something like seaweed or seawheat. We couldn’t make it out through his thick caribbean accent. It reminded me of eggnog, but was apparantly comprised of milk, egg, seaweed, ginger, nutmeg, and a few things I can’t pronounce and won’t try to spell. “Our boys” won their game handily with our new friend standing by, proud of his work. He was truly a good man, invested in his community and working hard to support his family on an island that is not forgiving to those who have little to offer, especially to us tourists who drive much of the economy. However, our man had much to offer—fish, drink, basketball, five star service, and a welcoming heart. It was a night I will not soon forget.

Today was the beginning of class! It may mean that our lives become less adventurous in a way, but it also means that we are less tourists than we appear to be. Although I will always look like a tourist to the majority of the locals here, I will not always be one at heart.

Shalom, friends.

Posted by in_creation 15:36 Archived in Belize Comments (1)

Orientation

I'm sweating. That is the constant reality here. I have been sweating since I landed at Belize CIty International Airport (one that looks more like a bus station than an airport). The heat is always present, but the sweating is due to the humidity. We are in the jungle after all.

Orientation week has been an adventure so far, and I didn't expect much else. We've spent much of it getting to know one another (there are 17 students and 5 staff members). We've spent some good time in town yesterday and will do so again today, but our biggest excursion so far was a trip to Black Rock Lodge about a 40 minute drive into the jungle. We hiked upstream along the Macal River and tubed down for about a half hour. On either side was dense jungle which is nothing less than boisterously alive with sound. Birds, monkeys (which I haven't seen yet), and cicadas that screech rather than chirp. I'll include a video of the "falls" that we went over before exiting the river.

Campus is nothing less than a paradise. Aside from the lack of hot water (showers are much better cold here anyway) and machine clothes washers, it is a joy to live in. Here is a link to an album of pics of the campus. https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150334380344344.363651.199472899343&type=3
We've spent most of our time in town in San Ignacio, which is across the river from Santa Elena which is closer to campus. Pictures are sure to come as the semester goes on. I figured that I should pay more attention to the locals, who are very friendly and relaxed, than to my camera for a while.

Shalom, friends.

Posted by in_creation 10:04 Archived in Belize Comments (5)

In Transit

The bags are packed. Although I won't be on a train as the title of this blog might suggest, I will be heading South in a couple days ("Southbound Train" is the name of a song I enjoy). Those of you who pray, please do so for safe travels, a productive and enriching semester, and most of all for safe travels. My travels begin with a flight at 6:30 A.M. EDT this Wednesday and will conclude with an arrival in Belize around 2:00 P.M. EDT the same day.

It is not likely that I will have much access to the internet and the like for the first several days after my arrival in Belize. Therefore, do not anticipate "I'm here!" messages. I would not have very much to report besides that anyway.

If you would like to write me, and I hope that you do, please address your snail mail as follows:

Justin Thompson-Henney
c/o Creation Care Study Program
Santa Elena Post Office
Santa Elena, Cayo District
Belize
Central America

It will take around 10 days for your letters to reach me and a similar span of time for mine to reach you. If you send a package, keep in mind that I will not have much luggage space to carry things home that I didn't initially bring with me.

Commenting on these entires is allowed to everyone for the first 10 days after I post it. After that, you will need an account with Travellerspoint to comment. My entries should be less than 10 days apart (at least I hope), so you should be able to get a message to me almost all the time.

Above is the map showing the location of my future home for 4 months.

That's all.

Shalom, friends.

See the itinerary of this trip, and details about each destination.

Posted by in_creation 22:15 Archived in USA Comments (3)

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