Today we went to our first school, Faith Nazarene in San Ignacio! We arrived around 10:45 AM, after being delayed by a brief rainstorm, despite Jim's hope for us to be off of the roof by 10 AM. We started by constructing our own scaffolding with the help of several eager kids who jumped in and carried materials to the back of the school. While some of us constructed the scaffolding, others began to prepare the solar panels by drilling holes and attaching brackets to the sides. Another small group of us set up a ladder on the stairs and secured it by tying it with ropes to the bars of the window because we realized that trying to hoist the panels up via the scaffolding would be borderline impossible and extremely dangerous.
The school was 2 stories with classrooms on both floors for classes Standard I-VI (ages 5-16). They wore little orange dresses and pants as school uniforms. The kids were eager to come up and talk to us and hug us, and we played with some of them during their snack break. All of the children who walked past us while we were working were so excited and curious as to what these big blue rectangles were.
After all of the brackets were attached to the panels, we sent the first one up to the roof. A few of us were up there, two stories high, with Jim, receiving the panel, while the rest of us were securing the ladder and supporting the panel from the bottom. While installing the first panel on the roof, we quickly realized our measurements were slightly off. We adjusted the brackets of the first panel while on the roof and successfully installed it. Then those of us on the roof descended the somewhat rickety ladder and relayed the news to everyone else that our measurements were off and we would have to unscrew and reattach the brackets.
While Jim and Rob went to yet another hardware store to purchase more screws, the rest of us took our lunch break. The principal very kindly served us bigger portions of the same lunch the children ate: rice and beans, a chicken drumstick, coleslaw, and a plantain, a very traditional Belizean meal. As we sat around the schoolyard eating, we took the time to interact with the children. Carolina and Hannah played basketball with the boys, Meredith and Caitlin took selfies with the kids who loved seeing their faces on the little screens, Nora let them play with her DSLR camera, and Erin chatted with a student who was the harmonica player.
Jim and Rob returned with the screws and it was time to begin the installation! One by one, we hoisted the panels up the ladder with the help of David, Peter, and Allen, three students from the local technical high school who were learning about solar energy with us. We should note that the view from the top of the roof was worth the sunburn (see below for photo evidence). To install a panel, we have to drill a hole in each bracket in line with the wood paneling underneath the tin roof, caulk the hole to ensure that no rain gets inside, and drive the screw through the bracket into the roof.
Once we finished attaching the panels, we had to wire them from the roof to the inverter that we installed inside the classroom directly underneath the panels. We needed someone to go up into the attic of a classroom to grab the wires Jim fed through the roof. So Nora, being the smallest, volunteered to be lifted up ~10 ft and pull herself into the attic. The attic was dusty, dark, and damp, and she quickly grabbed the wires and sent them down. Then, she shone her flashlight around the attic and saw at least five bats hanging from the wall. She quickly jumped down with the help of the group.
Throughout our installation, the kids would rush over to see our progress in between their classes. They were very happy to learn that these solar panels would bring their school electricity and were also happy to make a few new friends in the process. Some returned for several hugs goodbye and we were glad to have made new friends.
By for now!
Caitlin & Nora
In between periods of panel installation and rooftop sweating, we've gotten the wonderful opportunity to see the sights, make new friends, and pet lots of dogs. Sit down, buckle up, and get ready because here is a super fun compilation of some of the super fun things we've done thus far in case you ever want to visit Belize (which we highly recommend, 10/10 A+ experience). HEADS UP: This is going to span several days because Belizean wifi is simultaneously our best friend and worst enemy :/
San Ignacio (3/9/17)
Downtown San Ignacio is the place to be early Thursday evenings, let me tell you. Jim and Rob let us loose to explore (*in safe groups of 2-3 students*) and we stumbled upon a shop owner/new friend named Carlton. Carlton’s shop is called “Back to my Roots” and he sold some really cool stuff like the rad hammock that Teahelahn is now the proud owner of. We talked about his life leading up to now and his visions for the future of his community. He ended every conversation with “respect” and I’m very grateful to have gotten to know him, even for a short while.
We journeyed on to a place called Tandoor where we tasted some of the local fares but more importantly, we met many dogs. Nora the Dog Whisperer proceeded to befriend one dog who followed her all the way to the van. Nora has since fallen deeply in love with the entire stray dog population of Belize. Seriously worried she won’t get through customs due to puppy smuggling. At the van, we ran into our new friend David (see previous posts) who had stopped to say goodbye!
For those of you who are as miserable at both geography and history as me, the area that is now Belize was once a part of the great Maya civilization. We visited Xunantunich (a word we’re all still learning to pronounce) and climbed to the very top. Xunantunich stands for “Stone Lady,” referencing tales of an explorer who visited the ruins and reportedly saw an apparition of a beautiful woman in white. The frightened explorer dropped his knife and ran from the spot, only to return with no woman in sight. Others have claimed similar experiences since. Part of the ruins have been restored and parts have yet to be excavated. No one got injured or fell off (in case you were curious).
Pirates of the Caribbean (also 3/10/17)
We stopped in Corozal and I SAW THE OCEAN FOR THE FIRST TIME AND IT WAS GREAT. It looked like Lake Michigan but different. Carolina jumped straight into the water in her clothing. So clearly she loved it the most.
The Jungle Book (3/11/17)
Today was the day of fun. Every day has been fun but today was the designated day for fun. We went on a jungle river boat tour with an insanely knowledgeable tour guide name Eddie. Belize’s ecology proved to be as diverse as its people and the mosquito Gods had mercy on our souls. A spider monkey named Pancho jumped on our boat, we saw a baby crocodile, and a cornucopia of fun birds (to name a few). Lisa’s hat flew off the boat. It was a wild ride.
The boat brought us to Lamanai, another larger ruin of the Maya civilization. We once again proved our love of climbing things and trekked to the very top of the three excavated temples. The tallest of which, the appropriately named High Temple, is estimated to be 2,100 years old. Eddie taught us that the name “Maya” is (unsurprisingly) a colonial mistake. When the natives were asked where they came from, they replied “mayab” (a word I’m spelling phonetically but almost definitely incorrectly), which means “I don’t understand.” This became what we now know as the Mayan Civilization, which unfortunately translates to the “Nothing Civilization.” The real name is believed to be “Masawhal Chuc.” We learned loads about the Maya civilization, ranging from their religious to their surgical practices. Our heads swarming with new information, we returned to the boat where Eddie let us drive. No one crashed.
That’s All I Have to Say for Now (all of the days)
Thanks for tuning in--we’re having an amazing time. Belize is incredible, the people are amazingly friendly, and the weather is beautiful, especially considering we know it’s snowing at Kenyon!! Don’t worry, we’ll bring some sunshine back with us via our awkward sunburns.
Erin et al.
We all woke up bright and early to start adding to the solar panels already installed by Jim and Doug on the Log Cab-Inns, where we're staying. We only took 3 trips to different hardware stores! We worked on the installation with our new friends David, Peter, and Allen, who are about our age. None of the students on this trip had installed solar panels before, but I think it was a successful first day! Going up on the roof was a little scary, but I think we all have a healthier fear of death now. The whole process was pretty fun, and I'm definitely excited for more installations. I do think that there's a certain bonding that occurs between us when we're all up on the roof together and terrified of falling (or is that just me??) After we did the installation, we went to Spanish Lookout, a little town at a slightly higher elevation than the land around it, and got ice cream (two of our hardware store visits were here). On our way to Spanish Lookout we crossed a river on a hand cranked ferry! Teahelahn, Hannah, and I all got to try our hands at it. We then went to Belmopan to get SIM cards for phones, and explored the market there. Carolina bought ciruelas, mame, and plantain chips and graciously shared with all of us. I'd never had any of them before, but I am so in love with mame. Overall it's been a really wonderful day with a group of wonderful people. I couldn't imagine a group or situation that would make me look forward to the next few days more.
The trip started off well with some of us going to bed an hour before leaving for the airport and some confusion as to where everyone was, but we eventually arrived safely in Belize. We excitedly gathered our bags and left the airport. Walking outside to a beautiful day, we were suddenly caught in a tropical downpour, which we except to be a reoccurring event this trip. After piling into a van and squeezing our luggage into two pickup trucks, we began our journey. After an hour drive on the Western Highway, one of three highways in Belize, we stopped for the second best nachos in Belize at Cheers. They didn't disappoint. We then continued our trek across Belize, arriving at the Log Cab-Inns, where we will stay for the next three nights while installing solar panels. At seven o'clock we all sat down to a lovely meal of grilled Tilapia, roasted potatoes, vegetables, a roll, and chocolate cake for dessert.
Looking around the beautiful country with bellies full of delicious food, we are all really grateful for each other's company and are excited for the projects ahead.