I've been on a number of service trips with various churches and by myself, ranging from hiking through the Zongolica mountains, Mexico handing out bibles to doing construction on a hospital in rural Ghana. The question is always "what do I bring to this trip?" And the answer is always the same: Mexicans can pass out bibles, and Ghanians can build hospitals, but we go to work with them side by side to build and strengthen relationships. Often, I feel I come away from these trips feeling rested, and that I got more out of the trip than I gave.
Our church has had an on-going relationship with the Valley of Peace for a number of years, and I was excited to get to join in on one of the trips. Our goal was to dig the foundation for a community library because the previous one had been destroyed by a hurricane. All and all, there's not much to say about the job of digging a foundation. We'd wake up, eat breakfast, go to the worksite, and battle mud, monster fire-ants, and really tough soil as we dug out the footer, laid bricks, back-filled, and set re-bar. Our work would normally be interrupted by at least one afternoon downpour (Just to make sure that nothing ever dried out), and we'd return tired to our lodge to eat dinner, drink a Belikin or some coke with one-barrel rum, and hang out together.
To me, there's something therapeutic about working hard and being tired... but the most hilarious part of the whole construction project was when we were running behind schedule towards the end of the week, a neighbor brought over his backhoe to hurry up the progress. Yeah, while working hard is therapeutic, so is watching a backhoe do a days work in an hour.
The real fun of the trip was in the people we had the opportunity to meet along the way. Jose, the local principal of the school, helped us work every day, and it wasn't long until we learned that he had proudly played on the Belizean national football team. He challenged us to a game of football in his backyard against his family: which might have well been the rest of the Belizean national team because we got whooped. (Did I mention it was never dry there?) I also enjoyed eating meals at Omar's, one of the teachers, house with his family and drinking beers with the locals on work breaks.
The amazing thing about these people is their generosity makes you think twice about what it means to be rich or poor. Visiting Oscar, a carpenter who lives in a shack in the middle of an extremely impoverished part of Belize City called the burial grounds, we were fed an amazing lunch. After we ate, we learned that Oscar coaches a soccer team that plays in a nearby parking-lot, to keep the boys of the neighborhood out of trouble.
We also had the opportunity to do some amazing touristy things, like horseback riding, waterfall jumping, coffee estate visiting, snorkeling and sleeping at a remote fishing camp. The most funniest moment of the whole trip was when kevin attempted to show us how to ride a horse barebacked, and instead: managed to give the horse a hard knee to the hind-quarter. If you ever have the chance to go to Belize, I'd highly recommend it. And if you're near the valley of peace, I've got some new friends you can look up.