What an awesome time I got to have once again in the village of San Pedro Columbia! Gustavo and Catalina kindly opened their home to me for a second time, and I have all sorts of adventures on which to report!
First of all, as a special treat, I had a buddy on the bus in the form of Andrea! She was headed home for a few days because things have been a little quiet at Jill’s restaurant, so instead of getting off the bus at Gustavo’s house, I continued another mile or so to Andrea’s place. She wanted to show me where she lived, and I really wanted to see it. It seems so strange that she and I have gotten so close and yet I only recently found out her last name (Pineda) and only yesterday got to actually visit her home! When we arrived, there were a ton of people on the porch connecting the two small structures that comprised Andrea’s home. She lives with several of her deceased husband’s brothers, their wives, and their children. On the porch were four or five women and girls making tortillas with such skill that they almost seemed to do it lazily, while looking elsewhere! There were a group of men in a circle playing cards. There were also a bunch of children–three school-aged girls, a couple of school-aged boys, and three younger boys, all of whom were wearing only briefs, which was kind of precious, and completely justifiable considering the heat of the day. After putting down my things, Andrea and I walked toward her backyard and a few meters down to the river, which is BEAUTIFUL and which flows just behind her home. The people of the village go there to bathe and to do their wash, and the water is pristine, especially compared to the sea, which can get dirty and reach the temperature of bath water. I wanted to jump right in, but we didn’t have time because Gustavo and Catalina were expecting me. I played with Andrea’s nieces and nephews for a few minutes, and then Andrea and I began the walk back to Gustavo’s. It was so interesting to see the community that exists in such a small space among Andrea’s family members. There were probably about 20 of them living in two rooms and a porch, and living in comfortable communion with each other. How interesting to see the way that family members support each other and co-exist peacefully. Andrea is very blessed in that sense.
The walk to Gustavo’s house wasn’t long, and when we arrived, we found him chopping away and chatting with Catalina, who sat on a log nearby. The boys were playing with their slingshots and running around having fun. I know that I said it before, but I have to again compliment Gustavo and his family on their warmth. I immediately feel like a member of the family when I come to visit, and considering how different their life is from my own, I think it’s a tribute to them that they can make me feel at ease almost as soon as I arrive! After we’d caught up on things a bit since my last visit, Noemi and her daughter Juslyn came by on the next bus, and Gustavo climbed up his big avocado tree and shook down some avocados for Noemi and Andrea to take back to their homes. Gustavo is like a cute little boy, and watching him clamber up the tree so effortlessly was just so funny!
For dinner, Catalina served rice and beans with a cut of meat that I assumed was chicken. It was very delicious, and we had it with fresh lime juice and the ever-present corn tortillas, always delicious and made fresh by Cati. After dinner, Catalina was working on a piece of embroidery for Niki’s mom. She’s making her a pillowcase, and it’s so beautiful! Covered in colorful flowers and even featuring Niki’s mom’s name. She managed to complete it by my departure this morning, so I will be bringing it home to give to Niki next time I see her. While Catalina worked on the pillowcase, the rest of us hung out and talked. Gustavo told me a little about his upbringing and his parents’ approach to discipline. Apparently, his dad was very strict, but Gustavo has only respect for his dad’s methods because he and his ten brothers all graduated from school and have all become upright members of society. It’s clear that Gustavo learned a lot from his dad’s methods because his own children are incredibly polite and obedient. After every meal, they clear the table and was the dishes and say, “Thanks, Mom, thanks, Dad, thanks, Sarah!” I always laugh when they say this because I definitely don’t deserve any thanks! Even if I help with something–like making the tortillas–I think I’m more of an amusement and than a helper! We also got into a conversation about animals that scared us (prompted by Catalina’s memory of Niki jumping on a chair to avoid a spider in her boot–Catalina was CRACKING up at the thought of this, which was funny because she’s generally very quiet and placid!). I mentioned that although I have a pretty impressive tolerance for bugs, I am super scared of snakes and rodents. It was right around this point that Gustavo laughingly told me that I had eaten a RODENT for dinner! It wasn’t a rat or anything, but actually a Belizean specialty called a gibnut! While a member of the rodent family, a gibnut is actually coveted hunting game, and can get pretty large in size. Gustavo showed me a picture of one to give me an idea, and I was–and remain–very impressed with myself for eating such an unusual thing! Yea for new food experiences–and for only finding out about them after the fact!
I brought over some homemade chocolate chip cookies to share with everyone, and they were a huge hit! Catalina asked me to write down the recipe for her, which I did, and I think I’m going to try to make a batch for them before I leave and send them over with Noemi. Gustavo and Catalina went to bed soon after dinner, but the boys and I stayed up and watched the movie “Beverly Hills Ninja,” which was pretty funny. I then wrapped myself in my awesome mosquito netted beaudoir for a restful night of sleep!
This morning, Catalina prepared my favorite Belizean breakfast, jippi jappa! She served it with avocado and beans and tortillas, and it was beyond delicious! I think I could eat jippi jappa every day! Sadly, that will no longer be a possibility very soon. I’m pretty sure it won’t grow in New Jersey! 😦 After breakfast, Cati asked Melvin to go to town and get some corn ground at the corn mill. Intrigued by the corn mill experience, I asked to tag along. This resulted in a fairly frightening bike ride on some very bumpy, rocky village roads! I’m beginning to wonder if my thoughts of a triathlon are crazier than I thought, because biking uphill was a struggle at times! Melvin was a gentleman, and when necessary he’d walk part of the way up with me. The lady at the corn mill was very amused by my fascination with the corn grinding process, as was Delvin. It’s pretty simple really. You bring your corn kernels, the mill staff person weighs the corn, puts it through the grinder with a teeny bit of water dripping in, and then pulls out the pasty masa that will be used to make tortillas. It costs ten cents per pound of corn ground, so Melvin’s container of corn only cost 30 cents and gave us a sizable bit of masa. So cool. On our way back home, we stopped at the village store to buy some chicken pieces, and I learned that many village families have a listing in the store owner’s notebook where the owner writes down their purchases until they come in and pay for them. It’s something of an honor system, and Cati later informed me that you can only buy things that way if you’ve established your trustworthiness, but it was really interesting to see that the store operates that way.
After a little post-bike-ride breather, Melvin and I joined Gustavo, Alex, and Delvin on the ethnobotanical trail, where I was quizzed repeatedly on which plants were which. I remembered a lot, but I forgot a lot too, and it’s so neat to see how much passion the boys all have for the natural healing resources that exist right in their backyard! I learned about one interesting plant family called the piper plants, which are often used to treat feminine ailments from infertility to menstrual cramps. Gustavo told me that the seeds of the piper plant actually resemble the female reproductive anatomy, which is so crazy and cool! I didn’t get to actually see a seed because the plant hadn’t borne fruit yet, but I look forward to learning more when I return to Belize and take the updated tour!
Once we’d tired ourselves out, we returned to the house for a lunch of fried chicken and tortillas and a few rounds of Phase Ten. Then it was onto the bus and back to PG! When I walked back into the bunkhouse, Nicole told me I looked ten years younger, and I actually FELT ten years younger too! Something about being with Gustavo and his family just brings me such joy and energy! As I was leaving, Catalina presented me with a beautiful pair of coconut earrings shaped into doves, and I’m so excited to wear them! I’m also excited to keep in touch with the family after I’ve returned home to the US. I’ve issued a lifelong invitation for them to come and visit me, and I hope that one day they’ll take me up on it!
Looking forward to a fun last day in Belize tomorrow, which will include lunch with Eliza (she’s here in PG–yea!) and a sunset dock date with Swithin, during which I plan on making him tell me his full life story. 🙂 Ciao, amigos!