Hey there, lovely readers!
What a fabulous weekend it’s been! I’ve had the wonderful joy of getting to know the new ProWorld interns, and it’s been a joy getting to know them and watch them grow! A brief introduction to each of them…
Coi is a Central Michigan University student studying child development. She’s working at a local school, and it’s clear that she’s passionate about working with children. Luckily, her homestay family has lots of kids coming in and out of the house all the time, so she’s always playing tag with one of the little boys or climbing trees. I don’t know how she keeps up her energy in the heat, but she says that it’s not any hotter than Vietnam, which is where she lived until she was seven.
Nikki is a University of Maryland student who has become our resident photographer. She’s going to have some major difficulty deciding which of her many awesome photos to enter in the ProWorld photo contest! She’s small and athletic and full of vigor and humor and I kind of love her. We realized a few days into her time here that she and I actually met at a career fair at the University of Maryland. It’s funny to now get to know each other in such a different, and international, context. Nikki is living with Noemi’s brother, Gustavo, in a very rural setting, and she’s been so awesomely positive about the cultural differences she’s experiencing. I’d say she’s embraced it, in fact. At this very moment, she’s sitting on the couch in the bunkhouse steadily working away at the embroidery project that she learned from her homestay mom, Catalina. Nikki’s an all-round stud, and a real morale booster for the group.
Jamie is an absolute sweetheart from lovely Mizzou. I have a soft spot in my heart for Mizzou people because we had a group of Missouri-ers in Peru last summer and they were an awesome bunch. Jamie’s no exception. Like me, she’s very family-oriented, but also a traveler, and she’s super excited about public health. Super excited. Which is just awesome to see. She was in Ghana on a ProWorld group program last year, and it’s so nice to know that she enjoyed her experience enough to come back to another site on her own. I’m really enjoying getting to know her .
Haley is a darling from Roanoke, Virginia, but she studies at Ole Miss, alma mater of Michael Orr, the famous football player y’all learned about from watching “The Blind Side.” Haley’s a D1 cross country runner, which is sick in itself, but even more impressive is that she runs nearly every day here in Belize. I, for one, cannot figure out how she’s managing to avoid heat stroke, and have therefore concluded that she is super woman. She’s very caring and kind, and I’m very much intending on marrying her off to one of my siblings (ahem*younger brother*ahem). Haley has also been impressively brave and resilient in the face of some big “cultural surprises.” I don’t think she realized quite how “rustic” her homestay experience was going to be, and I know that at her age (19) I would probably have called home crying, but she has maintained a positive outlook against all odds. And we’d have huge amounts of fun being sister-in-laws–I’d adopt her into the fam right now!
In a nutshell, those are the lovely ladies I’ve been getting to know these past days, and I am humbled to be in the presence of such optimism and bravery and kindheartedness here in Belize. What a treat! They also provided me with an excuse to bake a big ol’ batch of chocolate chip cookies, which, if I may say so, were delicious considering the lack of traditional brown sugar and a rather temperamental oven.
Yesterday, I got to accompany the new girls, along with Ashley, the lovely intern who has been here since May, on an excursion to Blue Creek, a beautiful swimming hole and cave that you can actually swim inside as long as you have a guide, a life preserver, and a (super fashion forward) headlamp! Juan, Haley’s homestay host and the owner of Cyrila’s Chocolate, served as our guide for the day, and we also had a special cave guide named Silvana. Both of them were very hospitable and fun, and we enjoyed spending the day with them. When we arrived at Blue Creek, we had to hike into the cave entrance, which was pretty easy and took about 20 minutes. As we walked, Juan pointed out iguanas and certain unique trees, including a tree locally known as the “tourist tree” because of its red outer bark that peels off to show a white underneath (sunburn over pale skin).
At the mouth of the cave, we donned our life vests and head lamps and swam into what would have been utter blackness were it not for the little spotlights on our foreheads. There were bats flying around and the water was so cool and refreshing. The first few moments in the cave were a little scary, but once we were accustomed to the dark, we were laughing and having a ball. We swam pretty far into the cave, and encountered several small waterfalls and currents. I had one near-death experience which I was rather unfairly blamed for causing. We’d been following Silvana throughout the whole cave exploration process, so when he hopped across a little area of the cave with a strong current, I simply followed him assuming that he’d have warned me if he’d wanted me to wait. When I swam into the current, it turned out to be super strong, and I started going backwards and fell/slid down a small waterfall. The near-death description is necessary because there was a pretty huge rock that I could have hit on the way down. Luckily, Juan was able to reach out and grab my hand and pull me back to safety. I was a bit shaken up by the whole ordeal, which made me laugh, which I guess made Silvana think that I had intentionally slid down the waterfall for fun. UM HELLO Silvana, do you think I’m a MASOCHIST? When I climbed back to the rock where I’d been, he came and loomed over me (he was a pretty small guy, but I was crouching down so he looked somewhat scary…except that he was wearing only his underwear, which, while weird, is apparently normal for the cave guides because they don’t want to be bogged down by swim trunks…?). Anyway, Silvana proceeded to tell (read: yell at) me that I must be very careful in the cave because, and I quote, “the river is a machine.” While I understand Silvana’s concern for my safety, I remain highly resentful of his publicly reaming me out for something that I had done completely by accident. Getting yelled at is one of the things I hate most in the world, which is probably why I’m such a relentless goody-two-shoes. On the positive side, the PW girls got a real laugh out of referring to me as “the troublemaker” for the remainder of the day. Pish.
Once we’d emerged from the cave, we went down to the swimming hole, where we got to jump into the creek from a rope swing and a high dive. While the ocean is nice here, the creek is way more invigorating because of its clarity and wonderfully cold temperature! After taking several awesome pictures (thank you, Nikki Sholeman, you awesome artiste, you!), we hiked out to the entrance to the creek and Juan brought out the amazing lunch that his wife Abellina had prepared for us. There was chocolate, of course, but also coconut crusts, which are definitely one of the top three most delicious things I’ve eaten in Belize, and orange squash juice, chocolate banana bread, and pineapple slices. We were blissfully content.
We drove back to PG like happy little girl scouts and then hung out and relaxed in the bunkhouse hammocks. In the evening, we attended a memorial service for Jasmine Lowe, the 14-year-old girl from San Ignacio who was inexplicably murdered last week. Nicole did a beautiful job of organizing a candlelight vigil, featuring Emmett and company on the drums and several speakers from local places of worship and from the police station. It was a beautiful tribute to a beautiful and sadly short life.
After the ceremony, we went to Bamboo Chicken for dinner and drinks, and now it’s Sunday morning and we’re all feeling lazy and hot but generally pleased with life’s many blessings. I have lots more to write and to say, but this is getting wordy (sorry, Jul!) and I’m hungry. 🙂
Thank you, dear friends, for caring about me and following my adventures and sending your prayers and love southward to Belize! xoxo