Monday, March 28, 2011

Three Cups of Tea

Gonzaga University
Presidential Speaker Series
Greg Mortensen
Promoting Peace: One School at a Time

Due to the early cessation of my Monday night class, I was able to attend the inaugural session of the Presidential Speaker Series at Gonzaga University. The speaker was Greg Mortensen, author of best-selling book Three Cups of Tea.

Gonzaga President Thayne McCullough began the evening with a glowing recognition of the speaker, Greg Mortensen, as well as the expected acknowledgment of sponsors and organizers of the event. The audience welcomed Mr. Mortensen to the stage with a standing ovation, which led to cheering when he held up a Go Zags sign.
Mr. Mortensen began with a joke about being in the wrong building (women's basketball game against Stanford was taking place at the same time), and then continued with the expected Thank You's and acknowledgments of student organizers and Gonzaga faculty and staff who helped put together the event.
After his acknowledgments, Mr. Mortensen began talking about community service. “A revolution is taking place” in community service. 50% of college graduates have a desire to make a difference in their communities, and as you go down into high schools and middle schools, that percentage increases.
Concluding his introductory remarks, Mr. Mortensen showed a DVD, Stones into Schools, about the situation in Afghanistan, and the progress that is being made with efforts to develop schools there, in spite of the ongoing conflict.
At the conclusion of the DVD, Mr. Mortensen talked about the connection between youth and elders. In America, only a small percentage of children speak to their grandparents about their history and important events that happened. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, most children speak regularly to their elders and access that repository of wisdom.
Following his remarks about connections between children and elders and the importance of schools and education, Mr. Mortensen spoke about the problems that children face around the world. In particular, he discussed the problems with child slave labor, still rampant in many parts of the world. He introduced the story of a child slave he met whose great desire was to get an education, and used that as his segue to explain “Three Cups of Tea,” his mission to promote peace through the establishment of schools. More information about “Three Cups of Tea” can be found at his web-site,
Mr. Mortensen gave a short overview of how the book was promoted, its success, and some of the accomplishments it has made. He concluded this with a summary of the priorities that US military commanders received from the elders in Afghanistan: to build schools and to fund higher education. This wrapped up with a typical military spending vs. education spending example.
After this, Mr. Mortensen introduced a local military hero and lauded the efforts he had made to help a remote village, and then finally began to tell the story of “Three Cups of Tea” and his personal journey.
In addition to speaking about “Three Cups of Tea,” Mr. Mortensen spoke about some of the other foundations and programs that came out of his efforts, such as the Pennies for Peace educational program. (

This is the first time I have heard Mr. Mortensen in person, but I have heard some of his other addresses, podcasted from various institutions, as well as some of his radio interviews. In comparison to the previous experience I have had with his addresses and interviews, I was initially disappointed with Mr. Mortensen's address at the Gonzaga University Presidential Speaker Series. Typically Mr. Mortensen has spoken about the efforts made to improve education in poor countries, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the personal journey that inspired his school-building efforts, and the ways that people can contribute.
In this case, Mr. Mortensen's address seemed very self-congratulatory. He gave a great deal of attention to the accomplishments he and his foundation have made, and then finally turned to what should have been the meat of his address, seemingly as an after-thought. In his defense, Mr. Mortensen continually sprinkled his address with praise for community service, calls for action, focused in the local community, and encouragement to all members of the audience that they really can make a difference and should never give up.
In conclusion, while I was at first disappointed with Mr. Mortensen's performance, I think it was a suitable beginning for the Gonzaga University Presidential Speaker Series. I hope that his calls for action and words of encouragement find a place in the hearts of the audience and more seeds of change social dynamism can be sowed by his efforts.

Back In Spokane

After spending a few days in Iowa with my parents, I took the bus across to Salt Lake City. In Salt Lake, I stayed at my brother's new apartment, and helped his family move. Then on Saturday night was the third annual cheese party, which was a great success, with lots of delicious cheeses to try.
Then on Sunday I took to the road again, this time in my car, which has been sitting these last couple months at my brother's. I took it to the shop on Friday to get the suspension worked on, but the struts need completely replaced, and would have taken more time than I had available. So I made the drive without, which results in sore-butt syndrome.
The drive was uneventful, and I arrived safely in Spokane on Sunday evening. Unpacking will take a little longer, but I have a little space of my own again, and started classes today. I am ready and excited to be in school again.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wending Home

The trip from Dangriga to Chetumal was uneventful, and a little bit faster than expected. When I went through Customs, I did not have enough for the exit fee, but I was able to borrow the extra from somebody else leaving Belize and repay her when we reached Chetumal.

The bus dropped us in Chetumal at a gas station, which was not where we departed from on my way down, so I had no idea where we were. No problem, I just took a taxi to my hostel, for a couple bucks. It was just getting on dark when I arrived at my hostel. The hostel in Chetumal was more like a hotel. I actually prefer hostels with shared dorm-style rooms and public areas to private rooms, because you get more of a chance to meet the other travelers. The restaurant across from the hostel was closed, but there was Domino's takeout just up the street, so I had a medium veggi pizza for dinner. No lunch, so I ate the whole thing.

The next morning, it was very easy to find the ADO bus terminal, because you go out the front door of the hostel, and the terminal is right there, across the street. There is a little park you have to walk through, but no big deal.

I arrived in Cancun in mid-afternoon, and walked to the hostel. It wasn't far, but the directions were not entirely clear, so I was actually grateful for the people who want to help you from the bus terminal for a few bucks. I found the hostel and checked in, and then went out to see some of Cancun.

Because I was only there the one evening and next morning, and because I'm pretty well past the whole partying scene, I stayed downtown and returned to the hostel pretty early, rather than heading down to the beach and engaging with the Spring Break crowd. I found some delicious veggie burritos for dinner and lunch the next day. The hostel served a very light continental breakfast of juice and toast.

I took the shuttle from the bus terminal to the airport rather than paying a lot of money for taxi the next morning. I got off at the wrong terminal, but the airport had its own free shuttle to take people between terminals. I checked in and got to the gate just a few minutes before they started boarding. The plane was in the air a few minutes late, but made up the time and landed at Dallas-Fort Worth International on time.

From there, its disembark, go through customs, reembark, and fly on to the Moline, Illinois airport where my parents were to pick me up. Customs was extremely slow. I got through customs at 7:25, and my flight started boarding at 7:20. I handed over my checked bag to the airline agents again, passed through security, caught the sky-tram to the proper terminal, and made it to my gate just before final boarding call. I think only one person got on the plane after me.

We flew to Moline, and I texted my folks to let them know I was on the ground as soon as we were allowed to turn our phones back on. It was just Dad to pick me up, so he greeted me when I left the secured area, and then we waited for my baggage claim. And waited. And waited. Then they announced that all the baggage had come through already. Okay . . . no luggage.

We waited for them to come open up the airline claims counter, and did the necessary paperwork, then made the drive to Cedar Rapids. Thus concludes the international portion of my trip. I still have the duration of my stay in Cedar Rapids and then my next visit in Utah before my return to Spokane, but I expect to be in Spokane March 27, in time for classes March 28.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Dangriga Again

I am in Dangriga again today. Dangriga is a town in Southern Belize, about halfway between Punta Gorda, where I was staying before, and Belize City, which is the capital, and also the approximate mid-point.
Like Punta Gorda, Dangriga is coastal, but the ocean is more approachable. There are stretches of sand that approximate beaches. (The real beach in the south is in Placencia. That's where everybody goes. I am staying in a small hostel, which has a veranda that looks out over the ocean. Well, kind of. It looks out over a park which abuts the ocean, but there are no structures between the veranda and the ocean. I went out earlier today and went swimming with a group of people who are here on a study abroad trip from Wisconsin.
I am in Dangriga for two nights. I arrived yesterday, and will be leaving tomorrow. Last night there were only three of us staying in the hostel, but it looks like it may be more tonight. The other two last night were two girls, originally from France. One now lives in London, and works as a flight attendant for British Airways, and the other lives in Chiapas, I think, learning about perma-culture.
I walked around a lot more of Dangriga yesterday than I was able to see last time I was here, and went out for dinner with the two French girls. I am continually surprised by the quantity of food you get at these little Chinese restaurants. You order a small plate, and it's a heaping plate that I would consider normal-sized, not small. I don't know how much a large is, I can usually just finish a small.
Tomorrow I will be continuing onward to Chetumal. I hope that I will have another chance to write from the hostel in Chetumal, but no guarantees.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Homeward Bound

Today is my last full day in Punta Gorda. My bags are mostly packed, and I am ready to move on. Tomorrow (Saturday) morning, I will turn in my keys and strike north for Dangriga. I will be staying two nights in Dangriga, and then on Monday continuing north. I will cross the border into Mexico again, and stay the night in Chetumal.

Instead of continuing on buses for days, the way I came down, I will spent only six or seven hours on a bus, continuing up the Caribbean coast to Cancun. I am spending one night in Cancun, and the next afternoon I am catching a flight from there to Moline, IL. There is a layover, but I don't remember where. Dallas, maybe. Presumably, Moline is somewhere in the vicinity of Cedar Rapids, IA, because it was given to me as one of the three airports my parents can pick me up from.

I will be staying in Cedar Rapids with my parents for a few days, and then on Monday, March 21, catching Greyhound again to Utah. Then I will spend the rest of the week in Utah, and drive back on Sunday, just in time for my classes to start on Monday morning.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Amazon Kindle

I love my Kindle! I have to admit that this trip would have been a lot different without my Kindle. It is quite probably the best purchase I have ever made. As I have noted previously, I have done a lot of reading on this trip. That has been helped considerably by my Kindle. I don't think I could possible have carried as many books down here as I have read during my stay. There is a public library here in Punta Gorda, which I have visited many times (especially since realizing it has free wi-fi), but I do most of my reading on my Kindle.

I love a good book. I love the feel, the heft, the smell, the dust that makes me sneeze, the riffling feeling as I let the pages slip through my fingers, but when it comes down to it, what I love the most about books is what they contain. I love the story, or the information, the ideas of the author, writ large in fiction or non-fiction, poetry or prose. What I love the most about books is all there in the Kindle version, every time, and . . . when it comes right down to it, I find books intimidating.

I have a decent library of a thousand volumes or so, many of which I have read, but most of which I have not. They were acquired in various ways, yard sales, thrift stores, book shops, library sales, many of them originally purchased with the intention of reselling online. Many I have never had an interest in reading, but most I have told myself that someday I would read them. At some point, in the distant future. Right. . .

When I would look over those shelves for something to read, I would stare dolefully for a few minutes, completely overwhelmed, and finally settle for something comfortable. Something familiar, something I have read before, some slim volume, or maybe even something required for a class; less intimidating, because essential. Rarely would I opt for the classics I've been putting off forever, because that fat volume of Homer or Dickens or Proust or Dostoevsky or even Twain is . . . just . . . so . . . formal looking!

On my Kindle I can sort everything into collections: Business, sci-fi, (quaintly labeled Syfy on my Kindle, because hey, it's MY Kindle, I can call my collections whatever I want), Classic Lit, Modern Lit, Folklore, Politics, Philosophy, Economics, Religious, Chess, anything! Then I can fill a collection with everything I might read, and pick just one to work on. When I'm bored with something, I can decide if there is something specific I want to read, or grab the collection I have read the least recently, and tackle whatever I'm correctly reading in that category. The Kindle conveniently allows me to sort by most recently read, so it is very easy to see what collection it has been the longest since I have read.

Instead of staring at my full library of Kindle books, and dolefully thinking about which book is currently the most interesting or the least intimidating, I can pick a collection, or pick a title, or tackle the least recent collection, and make a little progress in one book. Then a page or two or twenty or a hundred at a time, I make progress in all the great books I might have actually read . . . some day. And instead of staring dolefully at my bookshelves for a while and then giving up and turning to my computer or television, I actually read. Throughout my stay in Belize, I have finished, on average, one book every day or two. Now, many have been short little books on various subjects, but not all. I have finished several Sherlock Holmes novels, some Mark Twain, some Marcel Proust, some Jules Verne, and many others.

In summary, without equivocation, I love my Kindle! I love the door it opens for me, to actual reading, instead of just collecting books and dreaming about someday reading. I still love books, and will always keep a library, but it may just be physical copies of books that I'm actually reading, or have read, on my Kindle.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Six Weeks in Belize

I have been in Belize for six weeks now, give or take a few days. It has been a great visit, although, I have kept the typical “tourist” adventures to a minimum. Now and again, like tonight in the park in the main square, I meet people and have a conversation. For some reason, people just do not comprehend my visit.

“How long have you been here?” About six weeks.

“What did you come down for?” To take a break from school; clear my hand.

“So you're here with others?” No, by myself.

“Where do you live? Do you stay in a hotel?” No, I have an apartment, right there.

“Six weeks?!!? By yourself? What do you do?” Well, I read, mostly. I do a little writing. I go for walks. I do a little yoga and meditation. I use the internet some. I used to watch movies on cable most every day, while I was cooking dinner, but I gave that up a week or two ago and unplugged my TV.

People can't seem to wrap their heads around it. Why would somebody travel thousands of miles to rent an apartment, and then just sit around and read all day? Well, frankly, that is exactly what I did. I picked Belize for three reasons.

  1. It's in Latin America, where the dollar stretches further, so I can keep my costs down.

  2. I understand the language.

  3. It cost very little to travel down here and did not require expensive Visa applications.

I came to clear my head, because I was burned out on school, to decide if I wanted to stay in accounting, switch to business, drop out and try something else, or simply disappear. It took a little time, but I got what I came for. I know I want to stay in school, and actually increase my course-load the next couple of semesters, to graduate next year. I know I want to switch to business and focus in finance, instead of continuing in Finance. I succeeded in clearing my head.

In having no schedule and no need for one, I discovered the value of developing a schedule. In having no forced routine, I naturally fell into one, and learned my personal need for routine, in spite of how I've constantly chafed at routine. It was not routine that was a problem, but the pointlessness of it. I need good routines, that support me in clear goals that I am fully aware of.

In having no lessons forced on my, and no direction given my, I discovered lessons and direction within, in lessons I have previously learned, and in my personal patterns learned from reading, rereading, and typing up the one Journal volume I brought down with me, which spans the last three years.

In short, it sounds like my days are lazy, but they are very busy in a non-apparent way. It seems like they are pointless, but they have been more valuable to me, less pointless, than any other contiguous six week period of my whole life, with the possible exception of the time I spent in the CTM in Sao Paulo, Brazil eight years ago. I am extremely grateful for the decision I made to make this “pointless” trip to Belize.

That said, I'm also ready to see my family and friends again, and return to normal hectic life.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Random Search

I was out for an evening walk when I was stopped by the police and searched. They were looking for drugs and weapons. Of course I had neither. They asked me where I was staying, where I was from, if I had a passport, and then what my Kindle was. I didn't have my passport with me because I have never been stopped before, and usually leave it in my apartment when I go out, unless I am doing something for which I know I will need it. It was a short event, and didn't bother me in the slightest, but it is in the nature of such events to leave one's heart pounding and breath a little short after.

I finished my walk and then sat in the park in front of my apartment to do some reading for a while. While I was sitting there, the truck drove down Main Street, but they did not bother me this time. I suppose one search in an evening is enough, right? I do not know if such random searches are the norm here, but I know Belize has been stepping up its efforts to deal with drugs in the last couple of years.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Midnight Shootings

I was awakened last night, in the middle of the night, by gunshots. There were several that sounded like they came from Front Street, behind my apartment, and then a minute later from Main Street, in front of my apartment. It freaked me out, and I got up and hid in my bathroom, where I thought I would be least likely to get hit by a stray bullet. I did not look out the window to see what was going on, because I did not have my contacts in, and I did not know whether it would make me a target. Then as I was cowering in my bathroom, I realized that the edge of the balcony and then my front wall were both very solid, and there was no risk of a stray bullet passing through and hitting me while I lay in bed, so I went back to bed.

I found out today that there was a shoot-out between some people and the police, which ended in front of the ScotiaBank, which is next door to my apartment, to the south. One person was taken to the hospital in Dangriga, and at least one person was arrested. I did not learn whether the person in the hospital was in custody or whether he was a police officer.

And here is an article I found about it.


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