Friday, October 29, 2010

spraying the cattle

I live on a working cattle ranch, which means I am surrounded by people who have been riding horses since the age of 6 months and wear cowboy hats without irony.  It also means they have to move cattle around and do stuff to them (that is a technical description), which is fun to watch.

These are some of the cattle gathered around the corral, which is the wooden structure you see in the background.  It has a kind of maze of fences inside, so the cows can be separated and mostly immobilized.

Here are my brothers-in-law working the cattle-- they separate out the calves and chase the adult cattle into the chutes.  

Two of my brothers-in-law.  Working cattle is serious business, you can tell.

Once the cattle have been pushed into the chute, they are herded down into a narrow area so they have to file one by one.  Just after I took this picture, one of the cows went after my brother-in-law and he had to vault over the fence.  It was funny. 

Sometimes cows try to go the wrong way.  This is one of the workers encouraging them to turn around, but it looks more like Karate Kid or something, doesn't it.

The next step is to spray the cattle down (for ticks), and then they are pushed out of the chute to freedom.  I have some more pictures, but for some reason blogger is rejecting them, so I'll try and put them up later....

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

storm pictures

This is now my all time favorite sunrise picture.  We came around the bend in the road and just breathed a huge sigh of relief to see the roof still on.  If you look closely you can see the ropes the roof is tied down with.

Daniel's flattened corn

A downed tree in the field across from our house.  The baby goats are using it as a jungle gym.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

all quiet on the western front

          This was written yesterday, a few hours after Hurricane Richard came through Belize

It’s 6am, and we are ok.  Belize was hit by Hurricane Richard last night, a category 1 hurricane that hit the country pretty much dead center and took a ride down the western Highway, leaving the country at the official border station at Benque Viejo, right down the road from us. So far, thank God,  most of the damage on  the farm seems to be downed trees and no power.  The hurricane hit us about midnight last night…not that I’ve experienced many hurricanes, but I have to say a hurricane at night is quite scary.  The whole country lost power about 8pm.  We were as  prepared as we could be, and had decided to stay at our house, but about 10pm the winds got threateningly strong, and we weren’t exactly confident in the ability of the roof to stay on the house.  So we packed up my cat and my computer, and moved down the road to the house Daniel grew up in, which is basically a concrete bunker.  We could see trees bending and hear crashing as they came down.  I kept wondering if we would hear the crash if our roof flew off… Love FM, the country’s hurricane central command, remained on the air and we were able to hear occasional updates.  Not exactly a comfort, as they tracked the hurricane’s path directly towards us.  We heard about the damage in Belize City, and knew that in a few hours we would be experiencing the same thing.  It’s uncommon for this area of the country to get a hurricane, usually hurricanes skirt the coast.  The center of the hurricane reportedly passed right over us last night.- I can’t say I noticed at the time, but it is apparent at our house that the winds came from all directions. 
So this morning we breathed a sigh of (astonished) relief as we rounded the corner and saw our roof was still on.  Daniel’s corn, sadly, is flattened.  We mopped out the ground floor of the house but for the most part, amazingly, everything is dry.  I think it’s helped that we’ve had 2 false hurricane alarms earlier this season, because we did a lot of prepping the house then. This time we mostly battened down the hatches and packed a few escape bags (an interesting ‘what would you bring to a desert island’ exercise).   Now I’m off to heat some water on our stove for a bath, and see if I need to head in to work.  But hopefully I will be able to stay home and take a nice nap.  
At about 9 this morning the national emergency organization (aptly called NEMO) called the all clear for driving on the highways, so Daniel and I went into Benque to see if we needed to report to work. We saw some downed trees on the way in, and lots of flattened grass, but no building damage.  Benque only had a few branches down, probably the hills surrounding the town blocked a lot of the wind, which is very fortunate because a lot of houses in Benque would never have stood up to the winds.  We heard later on the radio that winds had been measuerd at 92 miles an hour in Spanish Lookeout, which is about 30 minutes from us.  No work so we headed home.


Lunch time- still no power, and they are saying it probably won't be up for another 48 hours.  We decide to have a BBQ with our fridge contents.  Daniel salvaged some corn from the downed plants, and we had roasted corn with BBQ pork and trotillas.  Crossing our fingers that the rest of the pig in the freezer will stay frozen, else we are going to have a REALLY big BBQ soon.


At about 5:30 pm the power came on- such a relief.  We headed over to Daniel's parents to watch the news on TV- about 24 hours after the storm we are finally seeing some images of the damages.  Miraculously, it looks like everyone took this storm seriously and went to shelters- there are no deaths.  Lots of roofs off, about 200 houses between here and the coast flattened, and entire areas of jungle torn apart.  All the oranges and grapefruits have been torn off the trees down south.  But it could have been much, much worse, and I think the entire country appreciates this.  Everyone is saying some thankful prayers tonight.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

black orchid

This is the national flower of Belize.  One of the orchids we saw in the wild while hiking to the waterfalls.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

jungle walk

This past weekend we visited some friends who live way out in the hills.  I requested some hikes to see waterfalls.  Let me tell you, this was some serious jungle hiking.  I don't know what I was expecting, maybe meandering down some paths while watching butterflies go by, eventually arriving at a clearing with waterfalls... yeah, no.
This hike involved a machete and lots of hacking.  This is what the view looked like:

but eventually we found some unique waterfalls.  The calcium content of the water is so high that instead of the streams running in a rocky bed, they create their own cement- like bed when layers and layers of calcium precipitates on the ground layer.  I've never seen anything like it.

These stream beds run over top off all the dead leaves and stuff, so there are really cool formations and almost-fosilized leaves everywhere.

Well worth the crazy machete-hacking to get there!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

living in a small country

the old gas station in Benque.  Any customers I’ve ever seen here come on bikes.

I’ve been in Belize a little over two years this time around and have started to notice that everyone knows who I am.  Not just former students or people from church, but random store employees and taxi drivers.  I do not know who they are, but they tend to know my name and where I live.  I grew up in a small town, but it doesn’t compare to here.  I think in the States people almost consider it impolite to be friendly and find out if you are connected somehow.  Here, I get scolded by Daniel if I walk by someone on the street and forget to say good morning or good afternoon.  When you get in a shared taxi, you say good morning to everyone else.  Often people say good morning when they get on a bus, and everyone choruses back.  The thing is, in this country you are bound to know someone on the bus or be related to them, so you might as well be polite all around.  People tend to strike up conversations with me when I am on my own, and inevitably they are friends with one of my brother-in-laws or a former student of Daniel.  Or a cousin.

Anyways, yesterday was a good example of what I mean.  I was waiting by the side of the road for a taxi, and one of the off-duty buses that parks in a lot across the road stopped to pick me up.  I started talking to the driver, who was from Corazol (about 4 hours north), filling in for a colleague.  We are good friends with one family in Corazol, and it turns out the bus driver lives across the street from them.  Then I went to the phone company to ask about internet for our house.  Before I could give the sales lady any info, she calls her boss and asks if they are offering service yet at Nabitunich (where we live).  I don’t know this lady.  Next I went to the post office, where the worker greeted me by name.  One of our farm workers was hanging out watching football with them.  Finally I headed home in a taxi, and the driver says, “Nabitunich, right?” as I got in. 

I like it. It's easy to be mistaken for a tourist here, which means higher prices and rude comments a lot of the time, so I'm usually glad when I am recognized. I’m still waiting for the vendors to stop overcharging me at the market, though.  That might take a few more years.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


proof that cats everywhere are the same (yes that is clean laundry).

 what you will find in the truck in the morning if you forgot to tie the goat last night

a very zen frog

alien invader on my porch


Lately I have been reading a lot (um actually I always read a lot... lately I have been reading even more).  And unlike the majority of time in Belize, I am actually reading some really good books (A small US college uses the cabins on the farm some semesters, and they gave me unlimited library access).  I know that I always enjoy book recommendations, so I thought I'd put a link up on my sidebar and post a little discussion about books I feel particularly strong about.

These first two books really should be read together.  I had heard of these books for a few years but never got my hands on them till now.... I wish I had read them earlier.  Both books talk about the current industrialized state of the food industry in the US.  And it really is not a pleasant picture.  Genetically modified food, terrible worker conditions, contaminated food "cleaned" with harsh chemicals.  For all people worry about eating in third world countries like Belize, at least I know mostly where my food is from, and I could watch it being processed if I so choose (our pig, for example, is going to bite the dust and live in our freezer fairly soon). I know my neighbors, and I know who does things cleanly. In a country where the average item you buy in the grocery store travels 1500 miles to get to you, there is no chance for quality control through customer knowledge.  And according to these books it doesn't seem the government is too interested in quality control as long as the big food companies keep giving them money.

Anyways, these books will provoke a lot of conversations if nothing else.  I highly recommend both.  Along with the books, we watched Food, inc.  and The Future of Food.  Daniel was so impressed with both documentaries he is showing them to all the science teachers at school and asking them to show the films to all their classes.

Friday, October 1, 2010

an ox

This is Major, my brother in law’s pet ox.  ‘Pet’ and ‘ox’ aren’t usually combined… people don’t often have 6 ft tall, half ton animals as pets.  Welcome to my family.  Anyways, a few generations ago oxen were common work animals around here.  They pulled wagons and plows, and moved heavy stumps.  Daniel’s grandfather had an ox that was trained to take cows to the slaughter house in Benque by itself.  They would tie the cow to the ox with a rope, tell the ox to go, and it would amble off down the road without any driver all the way to Benque.  When it reached, the workers there would untie the cow and send the ox home.  With tractors and trailers, people don’t use oxen much any more. 

Major has been trained to pull carts, but since there is never any need for it, he mostly wanders the farm and hangs out with the dairy cows (they get fed corn, so he tags along to steal some).   He certainly seems content with life.

* a note because my mom had no idea—oxen are bulls that have been castrated and trained to work.  Therefore, you can’t mate two oxen and get baby oxen, mom. 

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