Sometimes You Have To Make Choices

When Sylvia and I arrived in Belize a month ago, she had a very definite assignment—to paint Oscar’s apartment with a fresh coat of non-blue paint. It took the full 10 days of her time to accomplish that assignment because there was a good bit of prep work but she got it done and the apartment looks great.

The color here is not really accurate, but you get the idea. The whole apartment, including the ceilings used to be a light blue with spots that were a darker blue because they couldn’t match the original paint.

Sylvia liked how the bathroom paint complemented the preexisting shower curtain.

I did not have such a definite assignment. When I arrived I thought I might work on the master bedroom in the second floor of the main residence and then on the electricity of the first floor of the school and then put together the rest of the room dividers that the last work team had prepared.

However when I arrived I discovered that Ms Athina had a list of her own.  The classroom needed some attention. The whiteboards needed trays to hold the eraser, the desk that was currently holding the water dispenser needed to be replaced with a purpose-built table, and she thought there was still too much echo in the room.

I had just gotten busy on those things when the fireman arrived. Ms Candi called me into the office where it was explained that we would need fire extinguishers, battery backup exit signs, and battery backup exterior flood lights.

This began a search for the necessary parts. The fireman said that these things could be purchased at the place that supplies the propane tanks so off we went, Ms Candi and I, to see what we could find out. Yes, they had the fire extinguishers and exit signs. The fire extinguishers were $110 bz ($55 USD) each. I could live with that. They did not have the exterior flood lights. But when I asked about the battery backup exit sign I was told that they only had 2 in stock and that they were $480 bz ($240 USD) each. I about had a heart attack. We decided to see if anyone else in town had these items.

So it was off to both Habet hardware stores, then Benny’s, and Ace. It turned out that the gas place had the best price on fire extinguishers but that Benny’s had exit signs for $110 bz ($55 USD). Better yet, when I bought a whole box they cost $87 and with our discount they were $78 bz ($39 USD). Now if you look them up online in the US they can be purchased for about $20 but it is typical for things like this to be double in Belize.

Oh, and no one had the battery backup flood lights except Habet and Habet and they only had one. I asked if they would be ordering and the nice lady said yes but that it takes 6 to 8 weeks for any orders to arrive.

All this exploration and purchasing took most of two days—because it’s like that in Belize.

Nevertheless, I arrived back at school prepared to complete the work in the classroom, finish the work in the bathroom that serves the large meetingroom and begin the work on the installation of fire extinguishers and exit signs when I casually asked Ms Candi where she was planning to have graduation.

“We can have it here, can’t we?” What an innocent question. Of course we can have it here but the only real possibility is the large open room in the lower level of the front building that will become the meetingroom and community center.  It has electricity issues, a ceiling that looks awful and needs to be removed anyway to see if there is any termite damage above, and it does not yet have windows and a door. No problem. Time to go to plan B.

Chico could start the doors and windows on Monday and assured us that he could be done in a few days. I emailed the attenders of our small Friends Meeting and asked if they could help tear down the old ceiling. And I began tracing electrical circuits.

Omar takes a turn breaking out a window opening while dad looks on. Mom, MIriam Loh, awaits her turn.

The ceiling work proceeded more slowly than we expected because what looked like drywall was a textured drywall finish on hardboard that had about a zillion nails in each board.  We were only able to complete about 20% of the ceiling demolition on Sunday after meeting (see earlier blog).  I knew that we needed to get this done so I asked Ms Candi if her son, Tonie, a high school sophomore, would like some work. He was glad for the work and I also hired Lisanie, our valedictorian, to help. (Lisanie is a boy’s name.) It took the two of them 4 days to complete the job. The really, really good news is that there is no termite damage in the floor/ceiling joists. There is some termite damage in the floor above but we knew that anyway.

Just as the renovation of the bathroom was beginning.

Completed except for a good floor cleaning.

While those guys were working on ceiling, windows, and doors, I was renovating the bathroom that serves that big room. When that was finally complete except for the electrical work (see “I hate plumbing”) I began working in the main room.

I had Tonie help me trace the electrical circuits and I began removing the old, ungrounded, wires. Meanwhile time was passing and I was scheduled to fly to Indiana on Tuesday morning. Chico proceeded apace on the windows and door and his “few days” lasted 9. On Friday his man John started stuccoing the large rough looking beam in the front of the room.  Meanwhile, Ms Candi and Ms Judy Lumb (acting clerk of our little Friends meeting), had painted most of the room. The ceiling was being left open for now with the modern “industrial” look.

At this point all my effort was concentrated on getting the room ready for graduation. I had to install the electricity in the bathroom, lights and ceiling fans in the main room, and, maybe, just maybe, get electricity to the outside lights for the lower level.

I was doing ok and thought I might actually make it when on Monday evening at 5:30 I opened the box on the third ceiling fan and discovered that it was not the same color as the others. Then I looked at the fourth fan and discovered that it was also the wrong color. Hardware stores in Belize close at 5:00 pm. I decided to complete everything I could except for the ceiling fans, be at Habet when they opened at 8:00 am, get the fans and see if I could install two ceiling fans before I had to leave for the airport at 9:30.

And so I was. I got the new fans, hurried back to school and at 9:21 we flipped on the breaker and tried the light switch. It worked. Then the first ceiling fan. Yes! Then the second ceiling fan. Both worked fine.

Can you see the ceiling fan moving in the upper front right of the photo? Ceiling treatments are still up for discussion but some open concept will probably prevail.


Tonie gave me a high-five.

I hurried upstairs, changed clothes, and we were on our way to the airport at 9:30.

They held graduation in the room on Sunday.

Antoine Bevans receiving his diploma

Of course the exit signs, first floor electricity, room dividers, security cameras (not to mention that second floor bedroom I was going to work on) are waiting for my return as well as all those other jobs that I’ve not even thought about yet. Anyone want to come help? I will be in Belize from August 8 to September 5, from October 10 to November 20 and again January through March

3 thoughts on “Sometimes You Have To Make Choices

  1. Thanks for all that, Dale, for your hard work, and, especially your sensible way of navigating the Belizean reality which requires flexibility and ingenuity. I had planned to come to Commencement but we had two ominous weather situations, massive rain headed our way and a low over us that threatened to develop into a hurricane. So I ended up hunkered down upstairs in hurricane mode. It was great to see the photo of Commencement. Sorry I wasn’t there.

  2. It sounds like yet another building “adventure” for you Dale and Sylvia! “God is not unjust: He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him as you have helped His people and continue to help them…Hebrews 6:10)

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