Thursdays are for Arts & Crafts

nefry's retreatI am lucky to have the best, and possibly most unique, work-life-balance on my co-op in Belize. Because I self-designed my co-op I definitely don’t have a traditional office environment. In fact, I actually live with my two bosses and their family, and we all work from home. Nancy and Jaime, the husband-and-wife team who founded Barzakh Falah and supervise me on my co-op, have a beautiful home and a loving family.

Every morning we all have breakfast together at 7:30, Jaime takes the kids to school, and afterwards we all pull out our laptops and start our work day at the kitchen table. Around noon, someone will leave to take food to the kids for lunch (parents are invited to picnic with the kids at the schools here). On the way back, they’ll bring Leo home, since he attends a half-day school. All is quiet for a few more hours until the girls get picked up from school at 3:30 and come home. Once they’re home, all productivity is lost for a few hours while we referee after-school activities and prepare dinner. Sometimes I stay on my computer typing away, but work for me typically resumes after dinner.

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Yahzzarra, Jasmine, & Victoria

On Thursdays, Jasmine’s best friend in the whole wide world, Victoria, comes over for arts and crafts. Her mom Ms. Deb, comes along too. The adults drink coffee (for Nancy and I, it’s probably our 3rd cup of the day) and snack on ginger cookies, while the kids tackle the project of the week. Victoria’s family is actually from California, but relocated to Belize a few years ago to give the kids a cultural exchange experience while being homeschooled. Last week the kids made stenciled t-shirts with fabric pens and showed off their button bowls from the week before.

Having lived this lifestyle for 2 months, I now completely understand why Barzakh Falah had very little online presence before I arrived. With all of the meals, pick-ups, drop-offs, and play dates, Jaime and Nancy can really only manage the most essential functions of day-to-day operations for the non-profit and other small projects they run. To give you a better grasp of what the family is like, here’s a little more information on all the characters:

The Adults:

Nancy (or Mom) wears many hats. She is a “retired” activist, a humanitarian, an entrepreneur, a chef, a fantastic mother who parents with spunk, and most recently, a cook-book author (click here to check out her first book!). Nancy’s ability to keep the whole family glued together while managing several small businesses is truly inspiring.

Jaime (or Dad) is the architect behind Barzakh Falah. He has degrees in architecture and eco-sustainable building. He manages and supervises the hard labor when we have volunteers. Also makes excellent lime juice slushies and iced “hot chocolate”.

There is another co-worker, Louis, who also lives at the house. Louis helps out with everything from shuttling kids around to booking volunteers for Barzakh, while running his own construction contracting business. He is a master coffee-maker and makes sure to keep everyone heavily dependent on a caffeine drip.

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Louis, Jaime, & Nancy

Grandma and Grandpa (Nancy’s parents) don’t actually live with us, but they might as well. They are right next door and frequently call one of us over for various things. Common requests are: “can we borrow your toaster” and “Leo can you feed our dog.” But having a good relationship with Grandma and Grandpa has advantages- they have the best snacks. They currently split their time between living here in San Ignacio, and a house in Chetumal, Mexico.

The Kids:

Xena is the oldest- the 17-year-old Instagram star, who is sure to become internationally famous at any second. She’s just starting the college search, so we talk quite a bit about what my life at university is like, and what she might want to major in. Her biggest dreams at the moment are to turn 18 and to move out of Belize.

DSC_0020Then there’s Leo, a 14-year-old genius already attending an accelerated high school. Until recently, he was pretty sure he wanted to be an astrophysicist, but since it’s not statistically realistic for him to become an astronaut… he’s decided to lower his expectations and pursue Biomedical Engineering so he can build prosthetic limbs. Not to mention, he’s quickly becoming an excellent photographer.


Jasmine
(Jazz) is 11, and “aaallmost 12” as she would tell you. At the moment, Jazz is tackling the biggest challenges of 5th grade- spelling and memorizing Bible verses (the two youngest kids attend a Mennonite school- more on this later). She always wants to know how your day was, and if you’re ever looking to split an orange, she will always be willing to take on the other half.

Finally, there is Yahzzarrah (or Yaz). 6 years old. Adorable. She has absolutely everyone wrapped around her finger. Currently going through a phase where she pretty much refuses to eat anything except for Nutella, fried plantains, and grapefruit. But hey- at least she likes grapefruit right?

Are you exhausted just reading this? Now try a work-from-home lifestyle while being surrounded by this crew 24/7. Don’t get me wrong though, I really do enjoy living here. I’m so glad that I’m getting to experience what it’s like to grow up in a big family that is so different from my own.

I can’t leave a blog post without doing a little bit of “work” for my co-op so please give us some love on social media! LIKE/ SHARE/ FOLLOW Barzakh Falah because the best thing you can do for a tiny non-profit, with almost no effort, is to make it visible to others:

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Caye Caulker is my favorite color

img_0440This is the blue out of your crayola crayon box. That unbelievable “no-filter-needed” cerulean blue that doesn’t look real- even in real life. This is Caye Caulker.

In celebration of Hannah’s last few days in Belize, we departed on an un-Belize-able weekend getaway. (HA. Un-Belize-able. You can’t even blame me for using that pun because I swear to you, it is on every single tourist t-shirt in the country) Puns aside, this island is something magic. Maybe it’s because I never went to Disney World or other fancy Caribbean destinations as a kid, but the seaweed littered, rocky beaches of the southern coast of Cape Cod simply cannot compare. A quick 45 minute water taxi can transport you to this little piece of paradise directly from the port in Belize City. Be warned though- this isn’t a cruise ship. It’s a full throttle speed boat with people packed in like sardines. The whole way there. Prepare for wind. See video for our reactions to this part of the adventure:

 

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” Go Slow” is Caye Caulker’s motto- and trust me, it’s not just a suggestion. You can feel it as soon as you step off the water taxi- you’re on island time now. It’s actually nearly impossible to move quickly. The only form of transportation on the island are golf cart taxis that roll along sandy pathways barely wide enough for a car. Although the island is so tiny there is really no reason to use them. Wandering on foot, or by borrowed bicycle, is by far the best option for getting around. You might find yourself moving even slower than usual if you’re suffering from a lobster food coma, or if you’ve been sipping rum punch in a hammock all day.

Despite our inevitable participation in the lobster-eating and rum-punch-drinking, Hannah and I’s main purpose on Caye Caulker was snorkeling. There are dive and snorkel shops every few feet on the main pathway of Caye Caulker and it can be a bit of a daunting task to choose the right one. Luckily, as soon as we arrived at our hostel (Bella’s Backpacker’s), a fellow traveler immediately gave us a raving review of Stressless Tours- a new eco-friendly shop on the island. It’s hard to argue with that, so we set off to book with them for the next day. (*Side note:* All snorkeling tours are a standard price of $65 USD on the island- but it’s well worth the money)

One life-changing lobster dinner and a picture perfect sunset later, we were off to bed to prepare for the long day ahead.

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Sunset on Caye Caulker island

The next day was a reality check.

I’ve never had a snorkel in my mouth, I can’t remember the last time I swam for that long continuously, and I forgot what true seasickness feels like. Despite the fact that I pulled 2 consecutive all-nighters last semester, I’ve never experienced physical exhaustion quite like this snorkeling experience. Yet every time we jumped off that boat, it all just melted away. It was really just breathtaking.

From here, I really don’t have any photos or video that can possibly explain how insane this trip was. For a while I had some serious regrets about not renting a GoPro for the occasion, but now I’m glad that I didn’t have the distraction. I think by really looking around, instead of fiddling with a camera, I got the most out of the experience. Just know that it was absolutely mind-blowing.

For the most representative footage of a Belize Barrier Reef snorkeling experience please see Finding Nemo. Our tour guide was essentially Mr. Ray.

Betraying Boston

I recently had a religious awakening.

No, it’s not quite what it sounds like. I had a religious awakening through… LOBSTER.

Everybody knows these guys:

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Photo Credit: New Meadows Lobster

Bright red. Boiled and served with butter & lemon, a pile of coleslaw, and corn on the cob. Maybe a cup of clam chowder if you’re feeling fancy. And the whole thing has to be laid out on top of a checkered red tablecloth. The set-up of course, must include some minor hardware to disassemble the meal, and maybe even a plastic bib for the over-dressed diners at the table.

As a die-hard-drink-ice-coffee-in-a-blizzard-New Englander, I knew thought that this was the only way to eat a lobster apart from a COLD (yes cold) lobster roll with mayonnaise (not butter). I apologize if I have stepped on some toes in the highly controversial “Hot vs. Cold” lobster roll debate, but this is just how I feel. I can’t help it!

But the Caribbean lobster experience is totally different from anything back in Boston. To start- they’re not the same lobsters. Instead of the giant-clawed beasts from the cold waters off of Maine, we have these guys: The Caribbean Spiny Lobster.

Without those giant claws (instead they have two massive horns that stretch out for several inches), the main source of meat is in the tails. Grilled to juicy perfection, seasoned with garlic & “complete” spice mix, and finally drizzled with a balsamic glaze… it was simply unbelievable. The perfectly cooked lobster practically fell out of the shell.

Wish Willy’s on Caye Caulker served not one, but two lobster tails, with a heaping pile of summer squash salad, rice, and spicy papaya salad. The result? A hefty food coma which I rode out lounging in a hammock while enjoying the island breeze. All of this? Less than $10 US. 

My name is Alexis. I am a born & raised Bostonian, and I will never be able to appreciate a New England style lobster again.

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