19 October 2007
September Celebrations - Finally!
Well, it’s been a long time, but we have much to share about the past month, particularly the September celebrations. The long hiatus has much to do with having no internet access and getting settled into our projects with our schools. Plus, these September celebrations really did keep us pretty busy too.
So, let’s start from the beginning. September is a very celebratory month for Belizeans with two major holidays and the big Carnival event. This year’s theme is “Independent, Strong, and Free. Belize Fi All Ah Wi” Things got off to a slow start when Carnival was delayed due to the impending threat of Hurricane Felix. The storm, although threatening, did not stop the Belizean spirit from coming out to celebrate all of the festivities for the month.
We started off with a military tattoo early in the month that Ginnie attended along with Johnny, Nicole, and some of the other boarders staying at Johnny’s host family home. The event was packed – standing room only at the Marion Jones stadium (what a scandal recent events have been about her – it’s all over the news here because, while she is an American citizen, she has deep roots here in Belize). We stood to one end of the stadium and watched a mock rescue of a man who was hanging from a rope off the ladder of a fire engine, a marching band play some tunes, a riot and the riot squad breaking it up, and a mock battle – filled with load canon shots and lots of explosions and a fighter jet flying quite low overhead.
On the agenda for the next day were various activities including an Expo with lots of booths and some good prices (interesting to all of us was the amount of toilet paper sold at this Expo, it must have been one great price!). The expo was held at the Saint John’s College campus and consisted of lots of food, music, and vendors. We geared up for Independence Day and got our Belize flag tattoos.
Prior to the Expo was the celebration of the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day on September 10th. We went out in the morning to watch the parade and saw Miss Udeen dancing by as she walked in the parade! It was a hot day, but fun to join in the celebration and excitement of the start to all the festivities of the month. The Battle of St. George’s Caye was fought in 1798 when the British Baymen defeated the Spanish and forced them off of the Caye to then declare British Honduras a colony of Great Britain. Legend has it that Baymen and slaves fought together to push the Spanish armada back from the reefs and caye. We also enjoyed a fair at the old University of Belize Technical College grounds that weekend, which was another event filled with food and music. There were lots of carnival games and rides at the fair – though we decided not to test out the rides. The Ferris wheel was moving faster than any either of us has ever seen and our peers who did take the ride were on it for over 25 minutes! It just truly did not seem like it would be fun. There was lots of cotton candy and ice cream, but we were missing the American carnival foods of fried dough and French fries – just not really available here, though I guess fry jacks are close to fried dough, but just not the same.
Once that weekend passed, we headed to school, which opened on September 11th and the celebrations continued as the students prepared for a School Children’s Rally that Friday. Anthony traveled with his school’s upper division students as they all came together at the Belize City Center for the Independence Day rally. Back on campus, the lower division students listened to the rally on the radio and all students got a special Independence Day bag of treats put together by the teachers.
The following week led to Independence Day and the Carnival parade. Independence Day is September 21, and Belize turned 26 this year. On this date in 1981, British Honduras officially become Belize and is a member of the British Commonwealth. Independence Day fell on a Friday this year, so Thursday night kicked off the event with a ceremony and fireworks at Memorial Park. Fortunately, we could see the fireworks right from the corner of our street, so we didn’t make the long walk down to the park. In a side note, the fireworks on the eve of independence day is a great idea since everyone has the next day off anyway – the US should consider that, I have often wondered why we do fireworks that night when everyone has to be up for work the next day! The next morning, we did trek down to Memorial Park to see the Independence Day parade. At the park, as students from high schools across the city gathered to march, there were many speeches by political leaders and special guests including the president of Nicaragua. We found a good spot to watch the parade and stayed for most of it – we saw a few high schools, the scouts, and some different cars come through, and the Prime Minister and other political leaders as well. It’s very different from the states as the PM just walked among the crowd with no secret service or special protection with him.
The rest of that day consisted of a Street Fete on Albert Street – a main thoroughfare where there are a lot of shops. Vendors sold food and other things all along the street. Being that we’d walked all morning, we never made it back to the Street Fete, but it’s alright because we can go next year and it would have been a massive crowd as it was for the fair and expo! The next day was Carnival!
Carnival was a lot of fun. Many volunteers came to the city for the weekend and we all met up at the flag circle to watch the participants parade through the streets. There were colorful, vibrant costumes and floats for miles. Two volunteers participated and they looked fabulous! It was a great time and we got to spend time with other volunteers and hang out. More importantly though was, on that day, Ginnie got a special treat when she found regular Dr. Pepper at SavU! That is a very rare occurrence as usually the only one to be found is diet. She was encouraged to buy it by second-year volunteers who appreciate the rarity of such a find.
Things have slowed down quite a bit as the month came to a close, but it was a great way to get to see the excitement and Belizean pride of the country.
In other news, we have been acclimating to our schools and are both now establishing schedules for our days with the teachers. We work at very different schools – Ginnie’s is a small one and Anthony’s is very large. He has 27 teachers to work with, while Ginnie has only 11, but she likes it that way! Our teachers are great and we both feel we have been placed well in terms of our styles and goals.
In other exciting news, we have our new wheels – that’s right the amazing beach cruiser! As the saleswoman wrote up our purchases, she named Ginnie’s “Pink Lady” and Anthony’s “Blue Man” so the names have stuck. Particularly the Pink Lady since it’s just perfect and has the whole Grease connection going on. While a vibrant pink-red was not Ginnie’s top choice, there really aren’t a lot of options when shopping for a Taiwanese beach cruiser. The bikes make getting to work a lot easier (well for Ginnie anyway since her trip is longer and she uses hers!) and we ride them to Spanish class three nights a week. Yes, we are studying Spanish. We started October 1st at the Mexican Language Institute. The first night we just had an introduction and impromptu oral interview to determine our level. Luckily we were both placed in intermediate. Despite having been out of Spanish classes for 14 years for Ginnie and 13 years for Anthony, apparently we still have a pretty good foundation and speak fairly well. It helps that we practice with our host family since they speak Spanish and we’ve worked around Spanish speakers throughout our professional careers and worked to comprehend whenever it was spoken.
That’s things for now. Oh, and we’ll sign off with the great news that we are moving into our own place a month early! Yay!! Soon we will once again be living on our own. While we’ll miss having people cook for us, we are excited to be able to start cooking on our own again and learning to make yummy Belizean dishes with occasional faves from home (pizza, pasta, turkey burgers, etc) that we have not had in four months! Some days you just want a good turkey burger and fries, you know? While we will have to make them chicken burgers, at least it’s still a possibility and coming in the very near future. We’ll be sure to post photos of the new place – we love it and are really excited to be heading back on our own after five months in other people’s houses. We also found that not being able to shop for our own food has made us love going to the grocery store and just imagining what we will cook, we somehow lost track of time today just walking through the aisles looking at marinades and such... the strange things you learn about yourself when in a new place!