Tuesday, January 31, 2012
I know our group has been back in Ohio since the morning of the 28th, but I have not had time to state my last important post....
This was an awesome experience and I would recommend traveling to Belize with this Senior Colloquium group to anyone!
Awesome first time out of the country and I have to be honest! I am not happy to be back in OHIO. This has been the first day without work and God has blessed me with excellent warm Ohio weather to adapted and gear up for Spring Semester!
To Everyone on the trip Thanks and especially to Dwight, Beth, Doug, and Kristi!
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Our trip to Belize was amazing. I am so privileged to have been able to take a J-term course in another country. Thank you Dr. Skon for allowing this trip to happen, you did an excellent job! I am so thankful that I was able to meet awesome new people from my school and create new friendships. You are all such cool kids!
Everyone, you were amazing and I'm so happy to have spent time with you!
Belize is unbelizeable. I love you and your beautiful people, land, caves, jungle, ruins, marketplaces, and beaches! *Tears* I hope to see you again soon :)
I thought I would post of few of the pictures from cave tubing. We tube down this jungle river for several stunningly beautiful miles, in the cool, clean, and refreshing waters of the Mopan river. We spend about half the time in the jungle, an half in the long, dark caves, each about a mile long. It was absolute darkness in the middle!
For the better part of the last month I've lived without my cell phone, make-up, flat iron, hot water, Facebook, and privacy. But I know that I've been living with so much more than I've been living without. The people I shared my life with in Belize were such a tremendous blessing! If you would have told me 25 days ago that I would let a nursing major sleep on my lap on our hour long boat ride, spend my nights playing cards with fellow business majors that I'd never had the confidence to talk to, or stay up late chatting with a girl I didn't think I liked all that much, I probably would've made a sarcastic remark like, "It will take an act of God." Well an act of God is exactly what I experienced every day while in Belize. I have grown and learned so much through my interactions with the people of Belize and my fellow travelers. I am so thankful for each person I traveled with and I pray that I was able to bless them even a fraction of the amount they blessed me. I know it will take a little adjusting not having these amazing people in my life every day but the memories made and lessons learned will stay with me forever.
Friday, January 27, 2012
...I've heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don't know if I believe that's true
But I know I'm who I am today
Because I knew you
Like a comet pulled from orbit
As it passes the sun
Like a stream that meets a boulder
Halfway through the wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
But because I knew you
I have been changed for good
It well may be
That we will never meet again
In this lifetime
So let me say before we part
So much of me
Is made of what I learned from you
You'll be with me
Like a hand print on my heart
And now whatever way our stories end
I know you have re-written mine
By being my friend
Like a ship blown from its mooring
By a wind off the sea
Like a seed dropped by a skybird
In a distant wood
Who can say if I've been changed for the better?
And because I knew you (x3)
I have been changed for good.
I think about Gladys and her kindness in Succotz. This lovely lady shared her family and life with me and Beth. We were able to share with each other in order to understand each other's lives and cultures more and more importantly how we can support each other as children of God.
I think about my students and friends from Alvin L Young High School. It was a privilege to see them all again, catch up with them, and help them prepare for their upcoming tests. It was even more touching to me when Jarod, Brent, and Marconi came to church in Succotz in the rain to see me one last time.
I think about Javier, one of our snorkeling guides in Caye Caulker. Javier was so kind and helpful. He went out of his way to allow us to have cool experiences like swimming with sting rays, sea turtles, and sharks. He also talked to me about his plans to move to England and join the British Navy.
All of these people and so many more have became large parts of my story and life. They have changed me and have made greater impacts than any of them realize. I know the thought was often that we were helping them, but in reality, they we're helping us. They will be in my prayers forever.
Thursday, January 26, 2012
I have just loved meeting the people of Belize who have welcomed us with open hearts and bright smiles. They always seem to be happy to see us and are always very genuine. They have such big hearts and are so easy going. The way they live here may be simple, but they are some of the happiest people I've ever met!
I feel like I have been changed by this trip, the people, and God. It has had such an impact on my life already. I have definitely been inspired by the way of life here and the way these people worship and live their lives. I want to take that back to the states with me and every where I end up going. I can't put it into words for you to understand, but there is one thing I know for sure. I will not forget this trip and what I have learned and experienced here. There is so much for me to do with my life and to bring glory to God through it. I have been given so many ideas for my future while on this trip. I've said it before and I'll say it again, God has big plans for all of our lives and we can do nothing better then to live for Him and do the best we can for Him!
As this sign says at the Ocean Academy in Caye Caulker, and as it also says on countless posters and signs back at MVNU, "Be the change you wish to see in the world!". God has created us for a purpose and He blesses us with people in our lives, experiences, and ideas that drive us and guide us to do great things and to do exactly what that sign says. We are called to be that change in our world and Belize has inspired me to do just that!
Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Caye Caulker has been a fun experience. This year and last year have both proven to be very different because the two trips were with different people which have presented me with different opportunities. Both trips had snorkeling during the day time, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This year in particular, I got to hold a sting ray and swim with it. I also got to swim with many nurse sharks and even pet their face! Not to mention, the countless sea turtles, tropical fish, and coral. We also got to see a rather menacing looking Murray Eel. It was wonderful.
Now, for the "Night of Fright" (which was nothing like the one at King's Island!)...
Earlier this week, Christy asked if anyone would be interested in night snorkeling. I was considering it but hoping that other students would take on the opportunity. After snorkeling with the group on Tuesday, I realized that I must snorkel again. So, I told Christy I was in and this evening we began our adventure. We headed to dinner for an early meal at "Pandas," a Chinese restaurant near our hotel. It was a good meal that allowed us to get to know each other better. Then, we were off for snorkeling. We got suited up with wetsuits, flippers, masks, snorkels, and waterproof flashlights along with a retired middle school teacher from Oregon, Penny. After lots of chatting, we headed to the back side of the island to Shadrach's boat.
On our ride to the Caye Caulker Marine Reserve, we watched the sun finish setting and reviewed over what we would be doing and how we would be doing it. Christy braved the water first without a life jacket. Next went Penny, proudly clinging to her life jacket. Then it was my turn, I was a little (okay, a lot) nervous about it all, considering how dark it was and how hard the wind was blowing. I could see it blowing the water hard. I debated for a while on the life jacket. I can swim and snorkeled the whole time the day before without one, but the dark and pending 25 minute swim against the current had my nerves questioning it. Eventually, I just jumped in with my light on and without the life jacket. My first glimpse into the water freaked me out. I've never been claustrophobic but something about the dark made me feel that way, even though I was in the large ocean without barriers. I felt myself breathing heavily and realized that I needed to calm myself down before I ended up hyperventilating. We began to snorkel through shallow water. There were large black spiny sea urchins everywhere (and Shadarach had specifically directed us to steer clear of them to avoid a nasty sting). I was so worried about getting stung because they were all over the coral.
As we swam, I became more comfortable and the water became much deeper. Along the way, we saw lots of large lobsters, colorful fish, hermit crabs, a large barracuda, and an octopus. In the deepest water, we got to experience one of the coolest parts: bio-iluminesence. We had to turn off our lights and stay close to the coral (but not too close, so you weren't cut) and move our hands and feet to create the bio-iluminesence. It was so cool to see the bright glows all over the very dark water. We did this for a while and when we were through, we floated on our backs and looked at the stars. The stars were much brighter than those at home. After stargazing, we headed back to the boat. On the boat, we stargazed some more and then headed to shore. When we got back, there was a crocodile where the boat was to be parked, so we took some pictures of it until it swam off.
When the night was through, Christy and I got some homemade ice cream (the best I've ever had...Belizean Fudge and Coconut) and headed back to the hotel. Overall, it was an amazing and unique experience. I'm not sure I would ever do it again, but who knows, I'm always up for an adventure :)
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
I knew today was coming, and I wasn't exactly sure how I felt about it. Snorkeling. Now, I'm not exactly a dive-head-first into the water kind of gal; actually, I have a tiny bit of a water phobia. I'm just not too fond of floating while not being able to see what's around me. I've never been to a beach that's had completely clear water, only the murky green and salty, so needless to say I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Nevertheless, I was still pretty excited. I was determined to not let my fear overcome me and ruin an awesome opportunity.
Before I knew it, we got our snorkeling gear and were out on the boat. It took us about half an hour to reach our first destination, the shark and sting ray alley. Now, I don't know about everyone else, but I had no idea that we were going to be out as far as we were. In my head, the chances of me getting into the water was getting slimmer and slimmer as I saw the stretch of land we had come from get smaller and smaller. As soon as we anchored, our tour guides were throwing in bits of fish to get the attention of any life that was in the water below us. Soon, we not only had more young tuna fish around us than I could count, but also 4 nurse sharks. They were big, right next to our boat, and incredibly beautiful. As I'm sitting there, leaning against the edge and fully engulfed in the sharks, I see people getting their gear ready to head into the water.
Whoa, whoa. Wait, you want me to get in the water...now? With the sharks? About that...
But before I could completely talk myself out of it, I got up, put on my flippers and mask and poised myself on the edge of the boat ready to jump in. Was I really going to do this? Come on Ashton, there's no way you're gonna let this opportunity pass you by....of course, I could just stay on the boat and watch everyone....having fun without me. Well, here I go! And I jumped.
As soon as I hit the water, I was seized by panic. I immediately found Mike's arm (my fiance) and clung for life. I shot him a look that said DON'T YOU DARE LET GO OF ME and I'm pretty sure he got the message because before I could start having a complete meltdown, he made me look at him and said “Ashton, it's ok! Just look into the water!”
Nope. Not gonna happen! I shook my head vigorously and I knew I was cutting the circulation off in his hand. But some sort of sanity broke through, and I knew what he was saying was right. So, in my moment of clarity, I quickly dipped my head into the water. And boy, was I in for a surprise.
It was incredible! Imagine being in the biggest aquarium you've ever seen, and then imagine being on the other side of the glass. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, how clear the water was. It actually wasn't as deep as I imagined, only about 2 meters. The fish, the stingrays, the sharks! I was completely overwhelmed with the beauty of it all.
My head came back up out of the water, and I know I had the biggest grin on my face. It took me a little while to loosen my grip, but soon I was off on my own. There was the occasional shriek as a ray or fish came close to me, but I realized that I was laughing at the same time.
I was having a great time! I can totally do this! Bring it on ocean! I am so....whoa.....whoooaaa.
And then I got sea sick.
Part II coming soon!
Anyway, back to the experience...
I was really nervous when we got to our first location after a long and pretty fun boat ride. It didn't help when one of our guides starting chopping up little fishes and throwing them into the water, making some hungry brown sharks and some huge fish come into my sight. They were literally a foot away from me in the boat. I could have reached out my hand and touched them easily. In my head I was saying, "Are we really getting in that water?", "I don't think I can do this.", "Seriously, they expect me to swim with a shark?". But, after I realized that they really did expect me to jump into the water teaming with feeding sharks and that every one else was going in and many had done something like this before, I plucked up my courage, pulled on my fins, attached the suffocating goggles to my head and plunged on in.
It was rough at first, getting used to the snorkel (again, such a weird word), and making my fins work the way I wanted them to, but I finally got the hang of it. Then it was time to have fun!
The animals we saw were so amazing! We saw all kinds of fish, tons of coral reef and different vegetation, manta rays, eels, sharks, and even sea turtles! I eventually got comfortable enough with my snorkel to hold my breath and go deeper under water and was able to touch lots of sting rays and swim next to them. Seriously, how amazing is that? When do you ever get to swim with wild exotic sea life? Can you Belize it?
We ate at an awesome restaurant after swimming the morning away with all the animals. I got a shrimp quesadilla, which blew my mind, and then we walked around the town for a bit, then we were back in the boat for round two! This time we saw a sunken barge under water and then saw some more coral reef and Kelsey captured a picture of one of the sea turtles!
Ain't he such a cutie? After we all ooh-ed and ahh-ed after the turtle, it was time to head back to Caye Caulker and our hotel for showers, dinner, and class time. But, since one of our guides, Javier, was so awesome he let me pull up the anchor! Such a cool thing to get to do. I felt like a pirate! ^_^
Monday, January 23, 2012
Today I finally found a coconut for my roommate Kelsey. She has had a mission for the entire trip to find a coconut and drink the water out of eat and eat part of it. We have not been able to get one the entire trip. They were always just out of reach, literally! But today when we arrived at the hotel and had a chance to swim in the pool for a bit, I met a man named Jim who has drinking from a coconut. I said hello, asked him about the coconut and he said he would go grab me one. Thus, I found Kelsey a coconut. We had a grand time trying to open it and get the water out of it. Right now it is in our mini fridge so the water stays cold and fresh! Love it!
After we got the coconut, we just went out on the town and looked around in lots of shops and restaurants. I got some Chinese food and Kelsey got a stuffed burger. I think she got the better deal today. That sandwich was awesome(I know cause she let me have a bite, YUM!). Next, we went down to "The Split", which was the place to hang out for everyone on the island. There isn't really a "beach" like I am used to. People were laying out on wooden docks or on a stone outcropping kind of thing in the water. It was surely a different experience, but also one that was way awesome. I had a great time today, and can't wait to experience the rest of Caye Caulker.
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Today we went to an Anglican church this morning, and I will say it was a lot different then what I am used to. There was a lot of up and down, and communion was served.
After church we had lunch at the Best Western Hotel. It was quite nice to have something more "Americanized" but at the same time have a Belize twist. We had a choice of bbq chicken, some sort of pork rib, and lobster, as well as rice and beans, refried type soupy beans, and mashed potatoes.
After lunch we returned to the hotel to get prepared for cave tubing! The vans arrived around 1:30 and we all piled in for the, about 45 minute to an hour ride to the location. We walked quite a way until we reached the cave where we were starting. The tour guide informed us that we were going to be able to do two caves on this trip as opposed to one. So all was going smoothly we went through both caves and it was AMAZING!!! It wasn't until after the last cave that I ran into trouble. The current picked up quite a bit and the river was making a right turn, but no matter what I did I continued to go right. That was until I came to this wall along the bank. It wasn't a concrete wall or anything, it was just a wall of tree limbs and weeds. Well, I ended up trying to move one branch out of my way and in the course of doing that another tree branch snapped towards me and smacked me in the face. This is the injury I received in the process. Needless to say I will most likely have a black eye when I wake up in the morning.
Well tomorrow it's off to Caye Caulker!! I'm super excited to head out there! Here's to a great week!!!
This morning, we went to an Anglican Church in Belize City. It was celebrating its 200 year Anniversary, and the oldest church in the country of Belize! The church was beautiful, inside and out. Everyone was very welcoming to us and loved having us visit. The service was not typical to what I am used to, it was up-down, music without instruments, several congregational prayers in unison, led by a female Bishop, readings by high school students, one even had a beautiful solo, and a communal communion. Many differences that I am not accustomed to, but I really liked seeing how different denominations in different countries worship. As the preacher said at our very first church we went to in Succotz, "No matter where we are, where we come from, we all serve one God." So true, and such a comforting feeling to know His omnipresence is bigger than we can ever know. The church service was shorter than any of us had anticipated, but it was a wonderful experience. Each mission trip I have been a part of, I have had the opportunity to experience a new kind/denomination of church, and this one has exceeded all expectations.
This morning we left at nine to go to an Anglican church in Belize City. It is the oldest church in Belize. The service was lead by the high-schoolers and they were all dressed in uniform. I didn't know what was going on for the beginning until we got handed the booklets and could follow along. It was over in an hour, the shortest church service we have been to so far. For lunch we had a buffet at the Best Western Hotel. There was chicken, lobster, potatoes, rice and beans, potato salad, fresh fruit, about six desserts and more. It was all very delicious and the best meal we have had in three weeks.
We got back and hurried to get changed and packed because we were getting picked up to go cave tubing. The drive took about an hour and we snuck in a little nap. Katie and I rented water shoes because shoes were required. Everyone had to get head lamps, a life jacket, and an inner tube. We walked through one little section of the cave on our twenty minute hike to the river. When we finally reached the dock we put our tube in the water then turned around backwards and fell back. Havier, our tour guide told us the water was “refreshing.” It was clear in the shallow parts and a pretty blue green in the deeper parts. The first cave we had to paddle most of the way because the water moved really slow. There was a current that took you down into the second cave and if you didn't stay to the left you could run into a rock. At one point Havier told us to turn off our head lamps and it was pitch black. The caves had a couple little water falls and we were about 50 feet under ground. Once we were out of the second cave we got to float down the river for a few minutes. That is when I discovered Kelsi had a cut under her eye. She explained it was from a tree branch that she wasn't able to dodge in time. We had a fun time and it was well worth the money. I can't believe we almost picked a museum over cave tubing.
We got back to the hotel around six and I was hungry. We tried to find out what we were doing for dinner but no one knew. Then we finally heard we were walking to get pizza. We were all under the impression that we were going to sit down and eat, until we saw how tiny the pizza place was. Twenty of us definitely couldn't all fit. Tomorrow we are getting on a boat to go to Caye Caulker, we have to leave behind our big suitcases and just take what we will absolutely need for four days.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
We left Columbia today as we begin the last week of our amazing time here in Belize. The hours spent on the bus are a great for reading and reflecting. I just finished Light Blue Reign, a book about the history and success of basketball at the University of North Carolina. College basketball is one of the things I am missing most and I'm so glad my Tar Heels have a game the day after we return home.
As we drive along I try to remember everything I have learned thus far; about the country and people of Belize, about the people I am blessed to travel with, and about myself. I knew this trip would be a tremendous experience but it has definitely exceeded any expectations I had prior to our departure. God has been teaching me a lot through the people of Belize and the members of our groups. Papa Yerx even has me considering a return trip during Spring Break.
After a quick fuel stop, our bus, which has been faithful despite what we put it through, was struggling. Dwight (always our savior) and Damon Macgyver-ed it to make it to the Garifuna Museum, where we were headed to learn a little more about Belize culture.
Our miracle mechanics having had the time to better fix the bus, we left the museum and headed for Cheers, one of our most frequented establishments of the trip. On the way, the SIFE van blew a tire. This day is just awesome! But for some reason I feel more at ease when things don't go as planned here than I would back home. I'm not sure why that is but I just feel like no matter what happens (bus gets stuck or breaks down, van blows a tire, Damon and Kyle fall 10-15 feet, I almost pass out, bats in the dorm, bug bites) we will get through it. There has just been a sense of peace and God's hand on our group and I am tremendously thankful for it.
Yesterday, was our last full day in a village. We had class for much longer than any of us could have expected. Our class was full of tense discussions regarding affirmative action. Following class, Dr. Skon, Amelia, Sarah, Katie, and I went on about a 2 mile walk to "downtown" San Pedro Columbia. During our stroll, we got to go into a couple local stores, meet the most adorable puppy that followed Amelia and I, see an old church, and try some homemade yogurt made by a lady named Mary. Last night, we played with the kids one last time. I always hate the thought of leaving and saying goodbye. Last year, when I left Succotz for Caye Caulker, I cried so hard, heart broken that I was leaving these people that I had learned to love. This year I'm leaving with a smile, not that I'm happy to leave (however, I will be happy to see my family next weekend) but because I know that God has used this time in Belize to minister to me through the people of Belize and hopefully I have been able to do the same.
After I was awoken by an important meeting that was stationed between my bed and the men's restroom; I felt another important sign that was pointing me towards the Village of Columbia.
I grabbed my sneakers and knapsack packed with a water and hit the road jogging. I did not make it far before I felt the heat slowing my feet down to a walking pace. When I walked up the last hill before the village I saw Dr. Skon and with some students from my Senior Colloquium course. I stopped to chat for a minute and Dr. Skon informed me that the road makes a loop around the village. After our brief discussion about directions I found an interesting sign about the Women's Group Corn Mill*
As I rounded the corner I saw the road that led to the river and the Mayan Ruins. I walked down to the river and thought about two days ago when the bus was stuck in the mud at the ruins. After a quick remaniance about past times, I headed around the loop of Columbia and saw a strange site.
This structure caught my eye. There are many structure throughout Belize that are half finished or started and abandoned. This particular building seemed that it was used at one time and I found the benches surrounding the building strange. There seemed to be some purpose to the labour used to construct and paint the structure but that purpose has dissipated. Strange?
The sun started going down as I rounded the right end of the village bend. The hill rose to a slight incline to a hip-hop happening playground/school. There were children everywhere when I rose to the hilltop and the ground had been flatten long ago for the establishment of the Roman Catholic School that was in great condition after 68 years of use. The children shot a soccer ball B-line towards the walking direction in an attempt to get me involved. I showed the kids my Futbol Skills, which didn't compare to the 9-14 year old pros, but it was a solid try to socialise with the locals. By this time the sun had lowered itself and the daylight was slowly fading. This was my sign, I said my goodbyes and tossed my knapsack on and headed towards home. This would be my last night at the Columbia Nazarene Camp-ground.
Friday, January 20, 2012
How can you not love those little faces? This is Nathan and his sister Faustina. They live on the campgrounds and have been our buddies this whole week along with the rest of their siblings and cousins and friends. I'm not sure all of the relationships of the kids here, but there are always alot of them and whatever happens it is always fun! There is usually some soccer being played with the kids after dinner, with Nathan trying to chase the ball around with his stumbly walk. He is so precious. I really am going to miss all of these little ones here at the camp.