Missy here. This is a long post. Therefore, I understand if you want to jump to the IMPORTANT stuff at the bottom!
If you look at all the pictures Evan posts, you might think that we are on a year-long vacation (and I realize that Belize is a tourist destination), but the work we are doing is very real and, for me at least, it is sometimes quite intense. So, I’m going to share with you our weekly schedule after some other tidbits. If you aren’t interested in the schedule – no worries – but for those wanting a deeper feel of the rhythms of our lives, here it is.
Annabelle said to me the other morning, “it’s better living in Belize than the States, right Mom?” I replied as I often do in these sorts of situations by saying, “In some ways.” I asked what she was talking about and she described walking to school without a winter coat and instead being in our short sleeves, looking at all the greenery and bright flowers, and that we get to walk everywhere and we’re in better shape. I didn’t point out that we were walking down a dirt road, past some shacks (and some nicer houses) or the many other ways that the States would be considered “better.” We often discuss how in some ways Belizeans are quite environmentally conscious – like reusing all manner of things and parts of things – and sometimes not so much. It’s all a matter of perspective.
The following morning Annabelle said that she likes school now that we’ve had a weekly routine for a few weeks and she’s adjusted to it. It’s surprising in a lot of ways, but she does seem to actually be enjoying school more than she did in the States. She still asks about homeschooling sometimes and is still showing signs of anxiety around school in different ways, but she doesn’t resist going like she would at times back home. The school pace is really rigorous and there is an emphasis on handwriting that was initially quite hard for her, but she says she’s gotten used to that. We’ll have to send a picture of her handwriting sometime because it’s quite remarkable how neat it is.
Another thing Evan and I are still getting used to is that Annabelle’s school schedule is quite different. In the States we would have almost 7 hours between drop-off and pick-up. Here, however, one of us has to meet her for her hour-long lunch break every day. We live close to the school – which is a very good thing – since it’s a lot of back-and-forth. It does, however, also mean that one of us has to plan on not working for several hours straight. We get about 3 hours in the morning when we can both get things done and then it’s hit or miss. It is helpful that I’m working with her school seeing kids and parents and some folks from the community.
Sunday: Church is at 8am. Since Evan helps lead the music, he gets down there at least by 7:30am these days. We usually end up home around 10am and then have a relaxing morning. Once we went to St. Hilda’s with Fr. David and Ms. Mary Beth for that service, and occasionally we will join them there although this makes for a very long day and lots of sitting still on hard benches for Annabelle.
The afternoon is spent relaxing and getting ready for the week because Evan heads back to church for the evening service around Annabelle’s bedtime. He will start to lead the music for that service in a couple more weeks.
Monday: 8:30am – Drop Annabelle at school (I timed it and this whole process can take about 30 minutes). I meet with students/families at St. Andrews School (where Annabelle attends) OR make phone calls and try to follow up with parents and organize my week.
Soon I will have to start working on my continuing education for my license during some of these morning times.
11:45am-12:45pm – Get Annabelle for lunch, try to make sure she eats enough and gets washed up, and then it’s back to school. Sometimes these lunch hours feel long and spacious and other times rushed.
12:45pm-2:30pm – Meet with our mentors, SAMS missionaries Fr. David and Ms. Mary Beth, about our work here and what they need from us and to answer any questions. While this is our formal time of meeting with them we try to spend time with them at other times too.
After school and getting Annabelle home it’s usually close to 3pm and we spend our time working on homework, eating a healthy snack, or running errands if she has been told she needs anything for school the next day. Daily homework that is due the next day has been a new thing for us. In the States she had weekly homework and she was often resistant to working on it. Interestingly, here she will often buckle down and try to get it done. Sometimes she has three assignments due the next day. Like I said, rigorous.
Tuesday: See Monday morning
12:45-2:30pm – Meet with more students and families as necessary
Tuesday afternoons Evan meets to work on practicing and preparing music for Sunday and then he teaches his guitar class so Annabelle is definitely my responsibility. While Evan has been really enjoying teaching the guitar class it is actually quite helpful to the kids too. One Mom even called Evan after the first lesson her son went to thanking him because she has been worried that he’s headed down a path of poor choices and this has given him a new focus. We see him all over town riding his bicycle and he’ll stop and talk with Evan. There is a noticeable lack of engaged men in the lives of many of the children here and Evan fathering Annabelle, teaching the guitar class, and engaging with many of the kids is beautiful. You can see the look of yearning on many of their faces when he talks with them. We have learned that 60% of Belizeans are under the age of 25. You can imagine all the implications of a statistic like that.
Wednesday: These are my long days. I either drop Annabelle off at school and catch a motorcycle ride with Evan or leave before Annabelle goes to school so I can catch a bus. I usually spend anywhere from 10-30 minutes waiting for a bus and then the bus out to St. Barnabus or St. Hilda’s takes about half an hour. It only costs $1 which is nice. St. Barnabus and St. Hilda’s are the two other Anglican schools that Fr. David oversees. St. Hilda’s is also an Anglican church. I have had to walk between the schools before and it is beautiful and hot, even using an umbrella to shade me from the sun. It is about a half hour relatively flat walk and is a great chance for me to pray for this land and the people in it – particularly those I’m meeting with. I pass Galen University and University of Belize Central Farm campus, Mennonite fields of corn and other crops, cows, a few houses and little shacks selling things.
The area where St. Barnabus and St. Hilda’s schools are located is more rural and has a reputation for more crime and family dysfunction. And these realities are reflected in my work there.
The trip back to San Ignacio means either waiting under a hot bus shelter for a bus which can take anywhere from 30-45 minutes of waiting or asking if Evan can drive out to pick me up, or once I was randomly offered a ride by two single moms with their kids in a truck where none of the gauges worked. They were very kind and dropped me right off by Annabelle’s school. I think I’ll need extra deodorant on these days over the next few months as this is a long hot one.
Thursday: Thursday is my most flexible day as I’m usually in town and can meet with St. Andrews families or do some of the many other things that need to be done.
Friday: Annabelle gets released at lunch time on Fridays so we pick her up at 11:45am. While this means we only have about 3 hours to get anything done it is really nice because it feels like we get to start the weekend early with her. I often have parents who want to meet on Friday morning because that’s the only time they are available. Needless to say, my morning goes quickly. Last week I meet with 4 students and family members over the 3 hours.
Saturday: I think you all know by now that Saturday has been designated Family Fun Day – which is where most of Evan’s photos come from.
There are countless aspects to my work here which aren’t reflected in this sort of schedule – like all the meetings and documentation submission to the Ministry of Health (in the capital), the Ministry of Education (in the next town over), The Department of Labour (the local office and in the capital), the Income Tax Department, and three visits (so far) to two different Immigration offices neither of which is in our town. And all without a car. Our decision not to get a car is one we intentionally made, but it has certainly made some things more challenging. Of course, it requires an intentionality to what we do and it has also helped us to slow down which has been very good. There are many reasons we are here living and serving in Belize. Some altruistic and noble and some selfish. We definitely didn’t want to come here to burn ourselves out and are trying to be thoughtful about living more slowly, gently, and healthily.
I have also met with the local psychiatrist who spends half her time here and half in the capital. She is a visiting Doctor from Cuba and only speaks Spanish so her coworker had to translate for her. I also met with the psychiatric nurse who is Belizean and has been around for some years and knows all the ins and outs of working in this area. The psychiatrist and nurse actually go out into the community to find homeless people if they have mental health issues to make sure they have their medication.
And I went to the police station to meet with the Domestic Violence Officer who is the one I report abuse and neglect to. I felt I needed to talk with her after hearing a lot of what I would normally consider reportable things in the States. She was helpful and clarifying. These are amazingly dedicated Belizeans who work tirelessly, not only in San Ignacio, but the entire Cayo District and work 8-5 but are on call all the time. They deal with a lot of emergency situations with people who have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, other psychiatric issues, domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, and neglect. They were very excited for me to be here and they all keep reminding me that there are no other counselors of any sort in the District at this time. There was a District School Counselor but she left at the beginning of November. Thankfully, Fr. David has encouraged me to focus on the three Anglican Schools, but everyone wants to refer to me once they find out what I do. We’ll see. I am prepared to tell people “no” as necessary. I’m certainly not planning on going out on mental health emergency calls. Actually, the police officer told me that everyone really likes it when folks come from other countries because everyone here is so worn out from doing this sort of work all the time. She encouraged me to make sure I keep self-care as a priority. 😊
With doing so much walking everywhere we run into church folks and Annabelle’s classmates daily. They all love her and love to yell her name (one really likes to call her “Annabella”). There is little anonymity here which is uncomfortable for me, but can also be beautiful. One has to walk the walk or everyone knows it. We are getting into the loving our neighbors thing in a different way. We regularly talk to our neighbors (often from our porch which everyone is jealous of) and when we are walking to the grocery store (side note – it took 4 different grocery stores to find margarine the other day – butter is rarer and much more expensive). Grocery shopping is never a one-stop thing.
THE IMPORTANT STUFF
Great News – I got my Temporary Work Permit through Immigration. For anyone who cares, this allows me to volunteer not actually make any money working. The same will be true for Evan. Unfortunately, despite the fact that he applied a month before mine, his has needed to be appealed through no fault of his. Pray that his work permit can come through.
Great News – If you read the above then you already know this but Annabelle is really enjoying life here. We are still having bumps and she is still showing some anxiety symptoms, but when she talks about life here she is very positive. She loves taking the bus and seeing the countryside and the people-watching too. She also really enjoys riding the motorcycle and I think we’ve both been impressed with how safety conscious she is about it.
Great News – Now that we’ve been here over two months (10 weeks!) I think we’re all relatively adjusted to a lot of things – not everything of course, but most of the daily stuff. We are all finding things we really enjoy and we’re feeling more comfortable in relationships. While we might still be in the honeymoon phase of cultural adjustment, I think that it’s gone far more smoothly than I expected. There are only little things so far that we miss about the States, like being able to flush toilet paper, but we certainly miss our friends and family more by far than missing any conveniences.
Please continue to pray for our little cottage and the heating situation. It is not easy to deal with from a distance and a lot of the burden falls on Evan.
Please pray for the children here. While I often heard hard things in the States in my work, it was most often from adults who were distant (at least in years) from their trauma and it is difficult to hear while the children are still stuck in some traumatic and painful situations.
Stay tuned for the exciting news about Chewie!