It’s been two months since I left Belize.
Two months. Two full moons. Two cell phone bills. It seems like a decade ago.
Here in New England the leaves are changing. There is a bite in the air each morning. The ocean looks grey, no longer warm and inviting.
In Belize, however, it’s still summer, or at least some version of it. It’s that season where shoes and shirts are optional. The salt air along the coast hangs thick and fans are mandatory for sleeping. It’s always that season in Belize, a perpetual Caribbean waltz where “Go slow” is more than a suggestion. It’s a way of life.
In the Cayo District 100 students are cracking their books. They have names like Chris and Karen and Joshua. They are wearing uniforms, pouring over worksheets, sitting at attention while the teacher talks and then goofing behind her back each time she turns. They are laughing, smiling, passing notes, switching from English to Spanish to Creol as comfortable as dancers, a veritable language cacophony.
And if you listen close each time they switch to English you might notice something: their mastery has grown. They use the language with a slice more confidence than last year, something over the summer made it build, thicken. They are learning to wield it rather than be driven by it. They don’t just know English, they are becoming English speakers.
Us. We happened. Me and 30 other volunteers ages 14 to 40 spent two weeks sweating through the Belizean summer to get these 100 Belizean students talking that way. For that two weeks they were sitting at attention for us, and then of course goofing behind our backs. They learned our language and our names, played our games and sang our songs. They made us laugh, and when we left made us cry.
That was two months ago. Today sitting with my cup of hot apple cider in my kitchen watching the autumn wind pull leaves across the lawn it seems much further away than that. It seems like another lifetime, another world, a distant past.
But there is always next summer. There is always another classroom, another 100 students. There is always a roomful of kids excited to sing songs and play. But next time they won’t be strangers. They won’t be students or kids. Next time I will call them friends.