Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Craziest Birthday for a One-year-old

So last night was another cultural learning experience. Gustavo, the dean of the junior college, told us that he was going to have a birthday party for his one-year-old son, Gustavito (which translates to "little Gustavo"). We had a cab called for us by one of the teachers that was going to pick us up at 6:30 pm. I learned an important lesson last night; there is a concept called "Belizean time" which means that if you have an appointment at 6:30 pm, that means that you can count on having that appointment around 7:00 pm or thereabouts. The same can be said for teachers. Today I was taking roll during homeroom and the teacher who was supposed to take over the class for first period wasn't there. Margo, one of the science teachers traveling with me, started to realize she might have to take over the class because her partnership teacher didn't show up on time. He had dirt bike troubles and showed up 15 minutes big deal. That is just the way Belizean time works.   

But I digress, the cab ended up showing up 45 minutes late and we travelled to the north end of the island. It is not a particularly nice area as there are many shacks and trailers in this part of town, but we were there to celebrate an infants birthday, so it couldn't be that crazy...right? Boy was I stunned. The party was in Gustavo's front yard. There was a canopy and balloons, and a lot of beer. We knew where the party was, because they had a sound system blasting reggaetone music that would put some of the clubs to shame. Mind you, this is a Tuesday night and they are playing music that was entirely too loud for the front yard, let alone a neighborhood. 

As soon as we got to the house, people kept handing us plates of food. We had several dishes: chips with a spicy chicken dip, tamales wrapped in banana leaves (for extra flavor), conch ceviche, and sausage marinated in lime (strange, but really good). I ate so much food that I didn't even save room for cake. Probably the most fascinating part of this experience was the fact that they kept handing us beer, one after the next. I started to wonder if the teachers would be taking the day off on Wednesday, because they kept drinking and drinking. We were being responsible and decided to leave somewhere around 9:00 pm, which is even a little late for a school night. However, some of the teachers were trying to convince us to stay later. We then found out that those were the teachers who don't have to come to school until 9:00 am or 10:00 am. When we got to school today, it was obvious that some teachers were nursing a hangover because they decided to shoot some pool after the party (which ended around 1:00 am) and then they decided to go to the disco. They are a tough bunch to keep up with. 

Birthdays are obviously a big deal (even for a one-year-old). On Thursday the teachers are hosting a party for the people with birthdays in March. It will be held at the school, but apparently there will be a lot of food and some liquor as well. They don't mess around in San Pedro. 

I wanted to clarify a few things that I wrote in my last blog. Many people having been asking about the student population here, so here are some of the facts. School here is not paid for by property tax. Students must pay roughly $400 per term (and there are three terms in a school year). Kids are required to attend primary school, but they do not need to attend high school. However, almost all students do attend school (about 95%). However, whether or not they will graduate is a different story. For instance, first form is comprised of four different classes of roughly 35 students. Forms two thru four have only three classes of the same size. It was explained to me that roughly thirty students will drop out or fail first form. However, most students who make it to form two will make it to form three and almost everyone who makes it form three will probably graduate. One of the major issues that the schools are dealing with is that some students attend school, but cannot afford to pay. Instead of turning these students away, they will allow these students to continue coming to school, which is great, but funds are already low.

It has been an amazing experience to teach in classrooms without air conditioning, without technology, and without even the luxury of marker boards. Throughout the day I will usually end up sweating and then I'll erase the chalkboard and I'll be covered in chalk dust. I thought that my classroom at Laney was dirty because it wasn't cleaned everyday, but I've never come home feeling dirty and dusty before. This has really given me a new perspective. 

Speaking of new perspectives, the lesson I taught today was dealing with Wuthering Heights. The teachers like me reading to the students because they can hear the story in a different dialect. However, at one point we let the students read. Believe me, you've never experienced Emily Bronte until you've heard her words read in a creole accent: unbelievable. I always here a british voice in my head when I read this novel, but this put a Caribbean twist on it. I don't know that it's ever been read quite like this.

I realized that yesterday I didn't get to share one of my favorite aspects of San Pedro High School: the cantina. Instead of a cafeteria, they have a little shack where wives of the teachers come to cook and teachers operate during lunch time. On any given day you can have some of the more fascinating foods that I've mentioned, like fried whole fish or cow foot soup, or you can have meat pies, hamburgers, or fried chicken. It is a very different situation. We don't have any "free or reduced lunch" at our school. Many of the students who can't afford food, typically don't eat or wait for someone to share whatever they won't eat. Miss Usher usually ends up buying meals and drinks for those students who can't afford to eat. It is apparent that those students truly appreciate Miss Usher because she cares enough to use the
little money she makes (and believe me, teachers here don't make much money at all) and give it to her students and she is the only teacher who sits with the students during lunch time. It is one of the most endearing interactions I have ever seen between a teacher and her students. Above is a picture of the cantina.

1 comment:

  1. I think it's called Island time...but you may be right. We'll see when we go inland.

    Awesome story!