Missing teachers and sea creatures

The fact that I really can’t be bothered writing a blog and would much rather be fishing or snorkelling is a good sign about my life here. However, writing a blog certainly beats hand-washing all of my clothes, cleaning the house or planning lessons so, for the sake of productive procrastination, that’s what I’ll do.

After where my last blog left off, we had the famously crazy month of september. For the first week, the buzz about the school was because of the upcoming Gimnasiada. Sam and I assumed that this was some sort gymnastics show, partly because of the name but mostly because the decorations we made with the teachers were of gymnasts, weightlifters and footballs. It wasn’t until 1st grade started their dance routine to a ‘2 Chainz ft Pitbull’ song that we realised it was a dance competition. After about 5 different dance routines to ‘These Hoes Ain’t Loyal’ by Chris Brown, the shock had worn off and we were bored. One group stood out because of two boys in the group who can breakdance incredibly well; I will definitely get a video of it when I get my camera back (currently being repaired in Miami). The crowd went mental for this routine, nearly starting a riot and ‘New Friends’, the name of the group, won the Gimnasiada. What was surprising about the whole event was how much all the kids loved it. I can imagine similar events in the UK being very different, with kids forced to compete by teachers and embarrassment all round.

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The next day in school we met Jami and Ed, who we had heard and read a bit about. They are two Canadians who came to Roatan to retire have helped the school out a lot over the years. Their main contribution is the toilets which they fundraised for and helped to build about 7 years ago, before that the school had no toilets. This year they are giving two laptops to two of the best students in English in the afternoon (older) school so it my job to choose the two best pupils. As well as telling us about this, Jami invited us to play basketball with her and her group on Saturday morning. It turns out the group who were a  group of young boys when Jami arrived, are now a few men and their wives. One man, Clifford, recently returned from Alaska on a cruise ship and was ridiculously happy to be back home and with his family. This meant that he helped his wife with every shot and stopped anyone from tackling her. Overall this friendly Saturday morning session was very nice and filled Sam and I with confidence about our basketball playing skills. A couple of weeks later we turned up to a 8pm session with a group of fifteen or so 6ft5 Creole-speaking men, our confidence was brought back down. The first 10 minutes we listened to them argue about whether to let us play and the next hour was spent chasing these dudes around the court, sweating and barely touching the ball. Eventually, due to our teammate Marvin, we won a match and decided to call it a night. Marvin told me about how he loves rugby and had learned it off a past volunteer who called himself ‘Pompilio’. We often hear about past teachers but Pompilio, the one who learnt almost fluent Garifuna, is definitely the most famous.

The next big September event was Dia del Nino (day of the Child). A few days before, Sam  managed to get a few of the morning staff to agree to sing Bailando by Enrique Iglesias for the kids. This led to a few hilarious practice sessions in the English classrooms but in the end none of the teachers were up to it on the day so it didn’t happen. Since the school is essentially split into two schools, grade 1 to 6 in the morning and 7 to 9 in the afternoon, Sam and I got the benefits of two separate Dia del Nino celebrations. In the morning the kids came into school in their own clothes with food and drink. The celebrations kicked off with jokes from Profa Joyce. In the style of a prayer, Joyce made jokes about a few of the kids, which everyone including us found hilarious. Here’s an example:

Dear Lord,

pray for Bianca who was so arrogant before the spelling bee

and then she was terrified when she saw the other contestants

she couldn’t even spell ‘sugar’ correctly

Amen

After a round  of these jokes, Sam and I were called up to the stage, partnered with another teacher and made to dance whilst balancing an orange between our forehead and the forehead of our partner. Somehow Profa Tilde and I won this round and got an orange as our prize. Next was a round of musical chairs then a game where you sit on a balloon and the piece of paper inside tells you to do something. I got lucky with ‘Jump’. Sam got very unlucky with the command to ‘dance Punta’. After a few Pinata’s, the kids and of course us, got to eat masses of food cooked by parents for each class. Then, because we are apparently Profa Joyce’s hijos (children) while we are here, we got some cake off her. It certainly felt at this point like Dia del Nino was as much for the teachers as the students. After lunch we were crammed into a 15 seater minibus with 25 people overall, still our record, and driven to Camp Bay. Camp Bay is a beach to the east of the island, past where the road is tarmacked. When we jumped out of the minivan and into the sea at Camp Bay, Sam and I both had another one of those moments where you just can’t believe where you are. The miles of white sand, palm trees and bright blue water give you the surreal feeling of being inside a holiday brochure. Apparently this beach isn’t as popular with tourists mostly because there is no reef so it isn’t good for snorkelling, but what that means for us is that there’s no stinging plants and annoying shallow parts of sea, paradise. We spent a few hours swimming, eating more fried rice and tortillas, trying to do flips into the sea like the students and eating illegal Coconuts. Of course once the kids realised I was tall enough to get Coconuts down without climbing they all made me get them down for them. After half an hour of plucking Coconuts for kids to drink and use as shampoo, I noticed the sign which said not to take any. The journey back to school was spent with all the kids touching my Adam’s Apple and asking what it was; it is a hard thing to explain in another language. That night I went to teach my first Adult lesson at someone’s house. I made the mistake of walking through the wooded area without a light and got swarmed by biting ants much to the amusement of the people nearby. Then, when I’d scraped a few hundred ants off my legs and feet, I got chased and very nearly bitten by the dog of the man I was meant to be teaching. Round here, you just have to know where the biting dogs are and avoid them. Overall Dia del Nino was a memorable day. Sam and I reflected on the fact that here, when it suits us to be teachers we can be teachers and when it suits us to be children, we can be children; what luxury!

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That weekend we were invited to a BBQ on Marbella Beach which is not quite Camp Bay but you still get the holiday brochure effect. The BBQ was hosted by Vegas, our Project Trust Country Representative who lives on Roatan and helps us out a lot, for his work colleagues for the week of Independence Day. We got a ride to the beach on the back of a Vegas Electric truck, which we had seen many people doing to get around but didn’t realise how much fun it would be. The highlight of the BBQ was the free frescos (soft drinks) and the update on world news from Vegas. Everything seems much more dramatic when you get all the news at once; Corbyn won, refugee crisis, Trump still leading polls and Guatemalan president in prison. Since then I got a nice package of magazines from home and I finally feel fully updated with world news up to halfway through September.

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The next day, after church Mary Lou took us to a gathering for the 1 year anniversary since a man’s death. Apparently it is Garifuna tradition to go to the house of the deceased a year after their death to talk and dance. All of the woman gathered in one room for a bit to sing and dance and this was clearly the traditional part of the event. After that there was punta dancing outside with everyone involved. Sam and I got a lesson off Benito, the man who plays drums in church, but it is still completely beyond me how to do the hip movements; Sam’s definitely better than me.

On the day before Independence Day, Sam and went to pick up Justin, the kid of one of the teachers who we take to Kinder every day, and got told that we were going to do a parade with Kinder. Since we had no idea this was going to happen, neither of us brought cameras or phones to take photos of the wildly overdressed kids. This mini parade gave us a taster of what the big day would be like- impressive, hot and repetitive. Of course the Kinder parade lacked some discipline, partly because putting 4 year old girls in victorian-style dresses and giving the boys fake guns is a recipe for disaster, but also because they hadn’t been practising twice a day for the past month like the main school. On the actual Independence Day we remembered our cameras (my phone) and managed to get some photos. Without a doubt the most entertaining group of the parade was the band, who are very well practised and have won two marching band competitions since Independence Day. At the front of the parade are the best students of the school, carrying the flags of the countries of Central America. Interestingly there are only four countries which they consider to be properly Central American- Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador. Belize, Panama and Costa Rica were represented by girls with sashes but they didn’t get the full flags like the big four. The flags were followed by the ‘queen of the school’, a fifth grader who either ‘sold the most votes’ or ‘looks best in the dress’ depending on who you ask how they choose the queen. Behind her is the Cadete, essentially an army drill squad with wooden guns; their permanently terrified expressions because of the drill sergeant is the most entertaining part of this. The rest of the parade was mostly cheerleaders, dancers and kids presenting Garifuna items. That night we went down to one of the local bars, Ruthies, and got another impromptu dance lesson. These lessons mostly involve people telling us to move our hips more and then laughing at us. Luckily there was one song to which the appropriate dance seemed to be ‘freestyle’ so we joined in properly for that one. This concluded Independence Day, which had been the talk of the Island since we arrived a month earlier.

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The next week was the week when I finally went fishing, which I’d been hoping to do for a while. One of my students from Barrio Ingles, the Creole-speaking neighbourhood of the village, took us on a bit of an adventure. First thing we had to do was buy a line and hooks from the shop, then we wrapped the line around a plastic bottle and put the hook and sinker on. Then we walked around Barrio Ingles for a while asking all of Borry’s (the student) relatives for bait. This was the first real time we’d spent in Barrio Ingles and I hadn’t realised until then just how different Creole is from English; when the Borry talks to his family I couldn’t understand a word. I can understand a bit more now but it takes a lot of concentration. When we couldn’t get any bait we went to look for crabs, found one, killed it and set off to the fishing spot. Unfortunately crab isn’t very good bait and we didn’t have much luck for quite a while. Eventually, just before we had to head back for lunch, I caught a very small barracuda. My next fishing trip, later that day, was less successful but we finally got some sardines from Borry’s cousin. The people who live in Barrio Ingles are definitely the fisherman of the village and it seems like Borry’s entire extended family spend every day fishing or hunting. It was interesting to find that quite a few people ‘live off the land’ to some extent, even on this quite touristy island. After an hour so of attempted fishing, Borry took me to get some cane. This involved crawling after kids through thick undergrowth, getting cuts all over my chest and arms and then feeling very sick later after eating so much sugar cane; but it actually was very fun and tasty. After that I went fishing a couple of times in the mornings. The first fish I caught completely on my own, a tiny but just about edible tropical looking fish, I had for breakfast and it was delicious. Another time some kids saw me trying to fish and my own and when I they offered to teach me how to fish and I said yes, they took the line off me and fished for about an hour while I watched. They caught a few but they were too small so they threw them back in. When I finally got my line back and caught a similar sized fish, I was far too pleased with myself to throw it back again. Unfortunately, since then all my bait got eaten by a dog and I have yet to get some more. Next time we went out fishing with Borry, he managed to borrow his Uncle’s dorry (Borry and the dorry), a small boat without a motor. We rowed this out to the reef and fished off the reef. This wasn’t much more successful than our other trips (only a few small fish) and eventually we just decided to go swimming.

A few days after Independence Day was Day of the Teacher (dia del maestro) so of course we had no classes all week. For this we went to Profa Nilsa, the Garifuna teacher’s, house for a BBQ and cake. The BBQ food seems to be a very standard thing here- chicken with BBQ sauce, maize tortillas, refried beans and diced tomatoes. What was not standard however was the cake and alcohol free pina coladas. The cake, called Tres Leches, is made from a mix like all cakes here but this mix is everyone’s favourite for good reason. We managed to eat two huge pieces of this ‘very moist’ (it says on the packet) cake after the meal and get another to take home. The pina coladas were more like slushees made with coconut milk, pineapple juice, fresh pineapple and plenty of other delicious things. After the BBQ, one of the teachers collected everyone’s bones in a bowl and took them home to feed to her pet monkeys. In one of our free days Sam and I decided to walk to Havana Beach, which we were originally meant to be going to on Day of the Teacher. A few people on the way warned us that it was a long walk but since people here tend to take moto-taxi’s (tuk-tuk’s) to the other side of the village we didn’t heed their advise. After a nearly three hour walk, we got to Havana beach and were faced by a 220 lempira (£7) entry fee. Luckily for us it is low season for tourists and the man took pity on us so we got in for free. Whilst it was surreal being the only group on Camp Bay beach, its much more surreal being the only people on Havana Beach which is kitted out with sun-loungers, bars and an idyllic man-made island. We could only spend 20 minutes there unfortunately because we needed to catch bus home for tea, didn’t quite feel up to walking it back.

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When we went back to school after our week break, it was the start of the fourth and final term. Foolishly I thought that school would get a lot more serious now that all the celebrations were behind us. Of course I was wrong and in the first we had the Coronation of the Queen. This seemed strange since we’d already had the march- the Queen’s only public event of the year. However, the Coronation was a big event in itself with the band, the cadete and flower tossers present. I can imagine similar events in the UK kicking up controversy about dressing up little girls as princesses, putting make up on them, and ranking young girls either by how good they look or how many votes they sold (still not sure how they choose the queen). At the marching band competition the following week, we saw that it isn’t just our school that dresses up ten year olds in ridiculous dresses. Some of the bands were very well practised and had amazing routines but by this point we’d had enough of marching bands and just wanted to be out of the sun. Of course the day after the competition, there was no classes because the school won first place. On our day off we bumped into some Jehovah’s Witnesses from Glasgow who recently moved into the nearby town. Nice to be able to speak fast and easy English and nice for Sam to hear a Scottish accent too.

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One memorable morning we were woken up by a small earthquake. I’d never felt an earthquake before and although it wasn’t a strong one at all, it reminded me that we’re living in an area quite prone to natural disasters. People still talk a lot about Hurricane Mitch and recently with the Hurricane in the Bahamas there was some worry that it would come this way. We weren’t very worried about this however, because we were too busy preparing and being exciting for our upcoming trip to Belize to renew our visa’s. I only had one thing that I was desperate to do before Belize and that was speargun fishing. I got talking to a kid who said he’d take me out speargun fishing (‘diving’ is what they call it) if I got a gun. I set off to Coxen Hole, the biggest town on the island, and asked everyone around where I could buy a speargun and some flippers. Turns out the only flippers I could find were brand new and cost too much, nobody knew where I could get a speargun. Pretty deflated I got off the bus back in Punta Gorda and the first person I asked said his friend had loads of guns and probably some flippers. This guy eventually sold me his flippers and tried to sell me his ridiculously good speargun for my monthly wage (£100). When he found out that I only wanted a cheap one like everyone else uses, he took me to his mate who would make it for me. In the end I paid 200 lemps for the main gun, 300 for the rubber (expensive as someone’s brother sends it from new york) and 100 for the spear and putting it all together. This is quite a bit more than you’d normally pay for a full gun but mine is brand new and people are quite jealous; in the end I paid 900 lemps for the gun and the flippers but I expect to get good use out of them.

On the actual day which I’d agreed to go ‘diving’, I didn’t end up using my brand new gun because the guy was still doing the final bits so he lent me his. Most of the time the divers go out in a kayuka (dorry if you’re in Barrio Ingles) but nobody would lend us one this time so we walked about an hour along the coast to the next cove along. We only got into the sea at about 10:30am; I had told Mary Lou that I wouldn’t be there for lunch at 12 but I hadn’t told Sam. Jesiel, the overweight 11 year old who I was with, led the way out into the deep water and we dived down to the bottom from time to time (about 20ft max), looking for lobsters or shells. I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to stay down there long and also couldn’t see anything- partly due to no glasses, partly due to water in my goggles all the time and partly because I wasn’t trying hard enough. For me it was entertaining enough to watch Jesiel shoot lobsters and pick up huge shells to sell. Then we moved into the more reefy, exotic area and looked for fish. I wasn’t sure which fish were good to eat and also every time I saw one and loaded my gun they disappeared. By this time, Jesiel had 4 lobster and loads of shells in a backpack on my back. This weighed me down quite a lot and I was soon far too tired to do anything but watch Jesiel. Somehow, despite the fact that he’s half my height and twice my weight, Jesiel didn’t get tired until a good hour after me and then we started to head back. By this point I was so tired that I just put my head down, breathing through my snorkel and swam straight ahead to get back to the cove we had originally walked to. I assumed we were going to walk back from there and so was very relieved to find out that we’d swam the whole way back, that explains why it took 1.5 hours to swim back. Overall we’d spent more than 6 hours in the sea without a break, nor breakfast, nor lunch. I’d also managed to spend 6 hours not catching a single thing which Jesiel had caught 4 lobsters, a few decent sized fish and loads of shells. I had (still have) blisters all over my toes from the flippers, completely shrivelled hands and even a shrivelled tongue which felt disgusting and salty in my mouth. I think Jesiel thought I hated the whole experience because I was complaining about my toes so much afterwards but it was actually great fun and I really want to catch something now. Most amazing to me was that this 11 year old who dropped out of school, does this regularly and then guts and scales the fish and sells his catch to local restaurants. That’s hard work for an 11 year old and its weird that while he’s doing this, there’s 17 year olds still in my 7th grade (year 7) class.

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With speargun fishing ticked off my to-do list, we were ready and excited to go to Belize to renew our visas. Sam and I got on the ferry nervously, remembering the horrible journey to the island. As it turned out it was completely fine and we got in La Ceiba with an amazing view of the mountains which are right on the coast in this part of Honduras. From there we got a coach to San Pedro, much cheaper than the one we got on the way here because it wasn’t air conditioned. We got whisked through the bus terminal at San Pedro and shoved onto a bus to Puerto Cortes. These busses (falsely named ‘directo’’ are different to the larger ‘chicken busses’ because they drive around the whole city, with a man shouting out the window ‘directo a Cortes!’ and trying to get people on the bus. Its quite interesting because its as if someone is going to suddenly decide they want to go to Puerto Cortes because the man shouts it. The man also runs into shops to get a drink or snacks for the bus driver and then catches up to the bus and jumps; its an impressive team to watch. When they’ve squashed the last reluctant passenger into some tiny space, we head off to Puerto Cortes and catch another bus almost immediately to Omoa where we spent the night. We met up with four other volunteers Rosie, Hebe, Hugh and Aled in Omoa and the exchanged plenty of stories. Rosie and Hebe’s is one of the only other projects on the Honduran public school system so they have the same holidays as us and we will probably be travelling with them in December and January. The next day the six of us set off for the Guatemalan border and then for Puerto Barrios, where we got a boat to Punta Gorda, Belize (Punta Gorda Belize is named after Punta Gorda Roatan where I am living). In Guatemala there were lots of presidential posters up, most notably Jimmy Morales’ ‘not corrupt and not a thief’ slogan. On the launch (small, fast boat) which we got across the Gulf of Honduras to Belize, we discovered that all the other passengers were also doing a visa run and were also volunteer teachers in Honduras. Like most white people in this area of the world, they were missionaries and whilst most of them were our age and here for a year, two women had come out when they retired and had been here seven years. What was interesting was that when I said ‘you must love it here to stay that long’, I didn’t get a very convincing answer – ‘I’m here because its my mission and god sent me’.

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Going through immigration in Belize, we immediately felt that this was a very different country to Honduras and Guatemala. The immigration office is full of posters about recycling, protecting the environment and even one encouraging people to seek asylum if they feel unsafe in their home country. The guesthouse which we stayed in was also very eco-friendly and run by an interesting man who has won big prizes for his eco-tourism work. He came to Belize because he didn’t want to live in the US after the Vietnam war, I couldn’t tell whether he’d served in it or not. Every morning him and his friend were deep in discussion about subjects from the internet to CSI conspiracy theories. The food in Belize was great. Every restaurant we went to had the same basic options: fry chicken, curry chicken, stew chicken, fry beef, curry beef, stew beef, fry fish. Served with either rice and beans or stew beans and rice. Since rice and beans is probably my favourite food in the world at the moment, I was in heaven. One night we also went to a vegetarian restaurant, which definitely wouldn’t exist in Honduras, where the chef made the most amazing hot chocolate with coconut milk, nutmeg and other spices. He also taught me how to dance to reggae music and offered us a tofu making course next time we’re in Belize. Everyone in Belize speaks english with a cool caribbean accent and got very annoyed with us when we automatically tried to speak in Spanish. It was very strange for me to see how completely different it was here just because a different group of white people controlled it (the British) but it was like a different world. For Sam and I it was less crazy because Roatan is also ex-British but we still found the lack of litter and professional looking post office. Belize were in the middle of an election so we saw plenty of activists and posters. One hilarious speech by an activist was all about how the the leisure centre, started 20 years ago, was still under construction – ‘We going to send Belmopan a message!’; it was all very dramatic. After a few days drinking rum, eating rice and beans, swimming and kayaking, I think we all realised how easy it would be to live in Belize. We met quite a few British and American people there who had planned to come for a short time and ended up staying. While we didn’t end up staying 8 years like one woman we met, we did stay a bit later and caught the later boat back to Puerto Barrios. This boat journey went via Livingston, Guatemala and then along the coast. Livingston is the Garifuna hub of Guatemala and looked very cool, multi coloured buildings just blend into the trees right on the waters edge. Originally our plan had been to spend a night in Tela on the way back but in the end we only managed to get to San Pedro Sula before the busses stopped. Luckily we found a great hostel with cool people and had a great night. The next night we were back in time for Mary Lou’s dinner and school the next morning; it did actually feel like coming home.

Since Belize, and even since I started writing this post last week, a few interesting things have happened. In school on monday I noticed that loads of the kids were making lantern/torch things out of wood, cellophane and candles. This, we soon learned, was for the upcoming ‘torch march’. This meant that for a few days, I had to confiscate matches and candles off kids who were using them in my lessons. The march itself was quite beautiful at the beginning but soon descended into complete anarchy. The calming vision of candlelight flowing through the village was soon a chanting, running mass of kids with flaming torches and revolutionary sounding chants. The thunder and lightning added to the mayhem and soon most of the candles had gone out. One had put an oil lamp instead of a candle in his torch, kept the anarchic atmosphere going and everyone ran through the streets back to the shelter of the school; probably terrifying inhabitants. Once back at school, some kids got under shelter and lit their torches again trying to regain the beauty of the first 5 minutes. The less sentimental students however, decided to smash up their torches and have a bit of a riot. All in all it was great fun the students and me as well although I would’ve much rather been a student. It was after this we noticed that Norlan, the student teacher who should be at the school until December, hadn’t been in the school for the past few days.

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The next event was my 19th birthday. I’d already seen the Belize holiday as a kind of birthday celebration but I still had great fun on my actual birthday. I spent most of the morning talking to family on the phone which was very nice, first time speaking to Anya (my sister) in over 2 months. In the afternoon I was teaching but there was a very distracting smell of cake permeating the school. Of course when the kids found it was my birthday they all had one thing to say ‘gimme some cake teacher’. When the last students had finally left, out came the cake which Sam had cooked from the instructions of Profa Olga and Profa Joyce. I got the cake smeared into my face by the headteacher claiming its a Honduras tradition, I’m not so sure. The cake was great and I couldn’t help eating 2 massive slices before dinner and another after dinner. Another two pieces for breakfast the next day and I felt like a very mature 19 year old, no parents to stop me eating all the cake I want. One person was missing however- the student teacher Norlan. It turns out that while the Sam was cooking the cake, Profa Ligia (the head) had come in with her ingredients for a cake. She then promised she’d make me one next week. Then she decided that to deserve the cake I needed to get a haircut (everyone hated my long, messy hair). Of course I got a haircut the next day and I’m still waiting for the cake. The barber shop was a fun experience because the guy had obviously never cut a white person’s hair other than Sam’s a few days earlier. Most of the haircut was spent around the sideburn area. The people here want very clean, sharp lines around the edges and the barber went through a few razor blades just sharpening all the edges of my hair.

That week, the school was very busy planning for the next Gimnasiada, this time with other school in attendance. Last minute rain meant that we moved everything to the Centro Communal (community centre), a big nice empty building which is apparently not used much. This Gimnasiada was a much bigger and better event than the previous one. One school, confusingly nicknamed ‘Honduras’ (instituto tecnico de Honduras), had a huge crowd who went absolutely crazy every time they were mentioned. They also had two very good teams who did interesting dance routines. Some of the other schools were good but they all did the same kind of routines, often to many of the same songs. Of course ‘Honduras’ won first and second place and the crowd went crazy. Something about the crowd felt very American to me and it was hilariously cheesy to watch them. It also made me curious of the ‘Honduras’ school, which is quite nearby in Jonesville and I’ve heard a bit about it as the first school on the island. A few days ago we got a chance to go for a Festival de Teatro (theatre). This is essentially the same as a Gimnasiada but instead of dancing, the students perform a play. In contrast with the UK, this seems like quite a cool thing to do and we had a huge competition in our school to decide who could go to the actual competition. Since the students had only been practising for a week and half, I had very low expectations. Somehow they had actually put together quite a good play, with one very impressive actress. The content of the play, including a rape scene and a castration scene, was surprisingly adult considering its a conservative country and some of the actors were 12. The other plays were also good but throughout all of the acts the crowd where constantly talking, meaning you could only hear the loud actors. The final act involved some very over the top dancing, then a play at least twice as long as all the others. We had to leave before this play ended but we found out in the bus home that our school had won. That makes two marching band competitions and one theatre that we have won recently and everyone is very happy with it; everyone except Norlan who has still not appeared and nobody has heard from. Where are you Norlan?

Last weekend we took our first trip to West End, the diving and tourist centre of the island. We spent the night there and it felt like a completely different country to Punta Gorda, despite being only 1.5 hours on the bus. Food and drink was almost twice as expensive and more people spoke English, although not everyone like the guidebook had said. Once again there was a surprising amount of British people, both tourists and residents. We had a really good night, despite the fact that its still low season and there weren’t many people and will probably visit again before we go off travelling in December. Before that however, I’ve got to finish up the year with my students. I’m feeling much better about this term than the last one and I’m even going to try and do speaking and listening tests with my classes this term because at the moment the people who can speak well and not write are losing out. I’ve been much more strict with the marks this term and I still have quite a few students on 0 because they either don’t turn up or don’t do anything when they do; I’m a bit worried about the reaction when the results are sent home. On the 27th of November we have graduation with 9th Grade which should be cool. Then we’re off on our travels. I think from now on I will only write blog posts about one event/thing at a time since they are getting far too long. Big thanks to Sam’s diary for reminding me of everything we’ve done over the past 2 months, I definitely wouldn’t have remembered to include everything. The photos are also Sam’s since I’m still waiting for my camera to return. Thanks to everyone for the comments on my last blog and to those who sent birthday cards. Next blog will probably be during travel time if I’m not too busy.

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Recipes from watching Profa Nilsa’s Garifuna cooking lessons.

Yucca Cake (4th Grade)

Ingredients (obviously nobody has a clue about quantities)

Cassava

Milk/ Coconut Milk

Margarine (probably nicer with butter but it doesn’t exist here)

Sugar

Baking Soda

Nutmeg

Vanilla

1.Peel the Cassava using the point of the knife. Only a couple of the kids could do this step because the rest ‘are bad people, them no help they mothers with cooking’.

2.Grate the Cassava using the Eigi (a piece of wood with gravel embedded in it; essentially a Garifuna grater). It becomes a mush and you need to take any strands out of the mush as these are bitter.

  1. Put sugar in a pan to brown it.
  1. Add milk, margarine, vanilla and cinnamon to sugar
  1. Add this to the Cassava mush in a deep baking tray.
  1. Add baking soda
  1. Bake

Machucca (5th Grade)

Ingredients

Plantain

Coconut

Fish

Lobster (optional)

King Crab (optional but highly recommended)

Garlic

Maggi (consommé)

Chilli

Solantro

Oregano

Albaca (don’t know the english but its a herb)

Salt

  1. Peel the plantain. Slice down one of the ‘spines’ and peel it lengthways (it doesn’t peel like banana). Put the plantain in a pot of boiling salty water for up to 20 mins or until soft.
  1. Grate coconut using Eigi and mix the mush with a bit of water. Strain the resulting milk into a pot. This is the only liquid of the soup so you need a lot. If the coconut is hard, chop it up and blend it with some water, then strain it.
  1. Fillet and scale fish, then chop off undesirable parts like fins, tails and a hook which one kid found in a fish (‘thank the lord he found that’).
  1. Put slices in all the fish then rub the slices with salt and consommé (Maggi)
  1. Coat the fish in flour and fry it in oil so that it doesn’t collapse in the soup.
  1. If there is Crab, smash it a bit so that it has cracks in it.
  1. Put Fish, Crab, Lobster, Garlic, Chilli, and Herbs in the Coconut Milk and simmer.
  1. Take the plantain out of pot and put it into a huge mortar (can’t remember the Garifuna name). Using a pestle about 5ft long, mash (in spanish Machucar, hence the name) the plantain for a very long time. Until you are sweating all over and the plantain resembles mashed potato. I suppose if you’re trying this at home you could just blend the plantain but here the mashing is the most important part of the dish, and only the men can do it.
  1. To serve fill a bowl with the soup including plenty of fish and crab. Have another bowl with the mashed plantain. To eat dip the mashed plantain into the soup with a spoon. For a true Garifuna experience eat the fish heads whole and spit out bones in any direction at anyone around you.

 

Here’s another list of food, because making lists of food is my new favourite thing to do:

Fritas – Fried dough, normally served with beans and scrambled eggs

Tajadas fritas – Minced meat piled high with fried plantain chips on top of a cabbage salad.

Tamales – Meat encased in a dumpling dough (either maize or normal flour). Mary Lou got up at 4 in the morning to make these. A few days later, by pure coincidence, I read an article about tamales and how the ancient art of making them is a dying skill.

Soda bread – Another type of bread, similar to Janicake but with vanilla and cinnamon. Very nice but more of a cake than an accompaniment to rice and beans.

Pan Dulce – Very sweet, crumbly bread.

Bon – Very sweet bread with cinnamon.

Semita – Sweet bread made with eggs.

Chata fritas – Deep fried, mashed Chata (relative of banana). Almost a dessert but of course considered a savoury food here.

Chata dumplings – Dumplings made of mashed Chata, cooked in coconut milk.

Almonds – There are almond trees which have fruit about the size of a lemon. Cut open the   dark, unappetising fruit and there’s a tiny almond in the middle.

Cane – After a 15 minute walk trying to keep up with a group of kids, crawling under and over extremely thick reeds and mangroves, we found some sugar cane. The kids go at it immediately with whatever knives they’ve borrowed from their dad. Each kid takes a few meters of cane. We peel it, munch it and spit it out on the walk home.

Topo’s – Every parents meetings at the school, or public march or competition, there are a few mums selling topo’s. They are essentially little bags filled with frozen (sometimes just chilled) juice. If anyone has pink topo’s (made with milk and cinnamon) they disappear fast.

Pap – A drink which Mary Lou made us once. Has some kind of milk (maybe made with cassava flour and water), cinnamon and many other ingredients. Kind of reminded me of rice pudding.

Taco’s – Sold by Guatemalans in Belize; 3 for a Belizean dollar. Very small wraps with some chicken and chilli.

Fry Taco’s – Exactly the same as above but deep fried and only 2 for a dollar.

Yucca cake – Cake made with Yucca (Cassava) and plenty of other ingredients. Very wobbly, filling and delicious.

Tres Leches – A cake mix which everyone, including us, absolutely loves. Profa Olga made us it for Dia del Maestro.

Cancake – A sweet cake made with Maize flour, coconut, vanilla, cinnamon and sugar.

Rostias – Fried rings of dough made with Maize flour, sugar and milk.

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6 thoughts on “Missing teachers and sea creatures

  1. Love hearing how you’re both getting on, these are top blogs! A belated Happy Birthday Leo and big hugs to Sam!! Sounds fantastic, take care xx

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  2. Great to hear all going well. Sounds fantastic – makes me excited for Tom. Belated birthday greetings from all of us too! x the Abel Clan

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  3. Where are you travelling now ?
    We are gathering in Oxford for Christmas.. Oliver coming from Thailand with wife Rin and baby Sophia now 2 months old, yay!
    Hope Norlan is OK… keep safe yourself. x Susie & all.

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  4. Dear Leo

    I hope all’s well with you. I get updated by Julia about your travels which sound fantastic.

    I wonder if it may feel a little weird celebrating Christmas in the Caribbean, but I hope you have a great time!

    Love Marta

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