Cashew Time!

cashew-time-belize-2Today was another full day at the Maroon Creole drumming school. As well as the drumming, dancing, and eating, most days we get an extra lesson on a special topic like Creole crafts and clothing or a cooking lesson. Today was an adventure into ethnobotany. Emmeth, our Drumming Teacher, took us and showed us all the native fruits, vegetable, and herbs that they grow on their property. One of these plants is a cashew tree. The cashew nuts actually grow attached to the outside of the fruit, and are protected by a green shell that contains cyanide. The fruit turns a deep yellow color when ripe and is used to make cashew wine. The one in the picture below is not quite ripe, but you can see the way the nut grows outside the fruit.

cashew-time-belize-1Emmeth has been collecting the nuts for a while, so today we roasted them. It takes a good amount of skills to judge when the cashews are dry enough to cook and how long to cook them so that they don’t burn. To roast the cashews, they are loaded into a large metal pan with a few small slits in it and placed on top of the fire. Emmeth stirred them with a bamboo until they caught fire and started popping. After they had all popped he poured them onto the ground and rolled them around to put out the fire. Then, we all used wooden sticks and small stumps to break off the burnt shell.

The nuts tasted like the cashews you’d buy in the store, but warm and toasty, almost like popcorn. Many people have abandoned the traditional ways to roast cashews, but the taste of the fire roasted cashew is amazing and worth the work. Every day here there’s a new adventure or taste or cultural experience, and I love learning about the lives of the musicians. Every morning I wake up excited to see what the day will bring.

Guest Post By: Zoe Levine
West Virginia University

Guest Bio: Hello! My name is Zoe Levine and I am a senior music therapy major at West Virginia University. I’m from Shepherdstown, WV, and one of my all time favorite things to do is travel. Every time I travel I learn more about the country I’m in and about where my own narrative fits into the grand scheme and the global story. I gain perspective on my own culture as I learn about the history, geography, music and the daily lives of the local people. That’s why I’m excited to share with you one of my unique experiences in Belize.

Adapting to Belize’s Heat and Humidity

After being in Punta Gorda for about 9 days, I’ve adapted mostly to the heat and humidity. I can’t really tell how sweaty I am anymore. I’ve adapted mostly to this beautiful tropical climate now. I find it comfortable to wake up at 7 am every day, to eat strange seasoning, to try hot sauce and to be out drumming and dancing in the heat.

Our schedule most days consist of waking up for a 7:30 breakfast at Gomier’s, a restaurant that specializes in Vegan food, such as omelettes with peppers, veggies and herbs inside, scrambled eggs with bread and veggies and lots and lots of whole grains. Gomier conversed with us for a while; he talked about his health habit beliefs such as eating refrained carbohydrates, soda and excessive amounts of juice aren’t healthy. After breakfast we head back to the St. Charles Inn and get ready for our day at the Maroon Creole drum school. When we arrive at the Emmeth (the H is silent), the owner and founder of the drum school starts our day with a drumming lesson. We have learned Sambai, Funga, Brokdong rhythm, and Kunji. Sambai is a courtship dance held over the 3 day course of the full moon, The day before, the day off and the day after. Funga is an African rhythm, Brokdong is performed around Christmas and is well known. Kunji is the last section of the Sambai.

In the past three days, a professional dancer came from Belize dance company; Delbert. He taught us mostly the Broukdong dance, or one of the many versions; which you can find on the Belize dance company website or when you google Belize Dance Company. We learned the most the first day and cleaned it up the last two days.

In the afternoons after 3:30, we had as personal time- mostly used as writing or nap time. At 5:30, we had a short class discussion at Asha’s before dinner. Dinner at Asha’s is always amazing- lots of fresh seafood, fruits and veggies. And Asha is awesome and so is his wife Stacey.

Guest Post By: Beth Miltenberger
West Virginia University

Bio: Beth Miltenberger
I just finished my fourth year, and have one more year left. My degree will be a Bachelors of Science in Psychology with minors in anthropology and world music. I’ve always been involved with music; I’ve played clarinet for over 10 years, I played piano for a couple years and I’ve been doing world ensembles for the past four years. I’ve taken African ensemble for 8 semesters, taiko ensemble for two, brazillian for two, and gamelan for four semesters. I would love to continue with music, hopefully world music or I would love to work with kids, adults in a psychology field setting.


“Hibam Lang Sho”

Throw it out and change it up. Literally meaning “throw it long shore,” this expression is often called out during Sambai, a Creole music and dance tradition taking place around a fire during the full moon. Attendants of this fertility dance will chant “hibam lang sho” to call for a change in the music. As drum instructor of Maroon Creole Drum School, Emmeth Young explains, the phrase comes with a bit of ambiguity. Some may actually use it to cheer on the drummers—to show they enjoy the energy as it is. Seems very different from asking for a change of pace.

Or does it? The two conflicting definitions actually go hand in hand. If we do truly love the energy, why stop the momentum? Why stay comfortable? As much as I love my life in the states, I came to Belize for a new flavor. I thought my mind was quite open before but not nearly as open as it became after calling out “hibam lang sho” and beginning my experience in the Belizean melting pot.

Jamming out on djembes with talented drummers at Emmeth’s has taught me to relax, and I don’t just mean my hands. As we’ve played together, I would feel the need to change up the rhythm I was playing when it was never called for. Emmeth always gives me a smile and a shake of the head when I’m trying too hard, mouthing out the beat in control, “dun… dee dun dee dun… digga dun.”

emmeth-young-1Playing in a drum circle with brand new friends has demonstrated so much to me about communicating and being a part of my community. The spotlight will come, but not without first contributing to something greater than yourself or even the individuals around you—the collective sound. Even outside of the circles, you won’t sense anxiety from most Punta Gorda locals. They aren’t the least bit concerned about being in the spotlight or you being in the spotlight, while the average American won’t stop asking, “What’s next?” or “When do I get more?” The people here toss those anxieties to focus on something greater, knowing the lead will come their way when time says so. “Speak!” My fellow drummers repeated to me as I was lost in our rhythm—insisting I play a solo.

We all need to call “hibam lang sho” once and a while. How else will we develop? I know about a handful of crappy dance moves that I thoroughly enjoy botching, and I could continue life with just those and be perfectly happy. The experience of immersing yourself in a new environment whether it’s across the sea or across the street is the only way to grow. Even if I can’t easily mix the Sambai move I learned today into American culture, I shared an experience with a new culture, and that will never leave me even if I forget how to actually execute the move.

Emmeth has adapted the Creole tradition by mixing in junjuns and djembes for more flavor. This is one example of how he has freshened up Creole culture to make it more relevant in his community, so the traditions live. Customarily, the lead drummer kicks off Sambai with seven solemn eighth notes and a small group of drummers begins the rhythm, “dun digga dun digga dun digga dun digga.” The lead drum part passes around open to improvisation. The village circles wide around the fire shouting call-and-response chants. One calls everyone to join the Sambai. The leader shouts phrases (phonetically) like “Ay mama da machula” or “Ayyyy machula,” and all respond, “Sambai da machula!” Another, “Koko faiya!” “Hokeenahneebay!” “Here! Here!” “Hokeenahneebay!” taken literally means all the girls and guys are ready for sex. Others tell stories about what’s happening in the village; stories we can still relate to today like a mother neglecting her child or a girl getting pregnant.


One at a time, members of the village dance into the center of the circle to show off their stuff. Once they finish, they must choose someone to replace them, and of course you don’t always choose just anyone. If two people choose each other over and over again, you might just cause a stir in the community. And yes, there’s a chant for that, too. Officially, you choose a mate by the end of Sambai.

The first time I was called in, I tried out the Sambai move I was shown. Garbage. Hahaha. I was literally tripping all over the sand and falling into our faux fire. But the more I was called in, the more my feet began to accept. Jill, Emmeth’s wife who has done much to develop the school and the “Drums Not Guns” mission told me I was getting it by my last turn. To be honest, it still mostly felt like I was falling over. But in the end, it did feel good to fall.


We all should be able to change our mentality. It may not always be the easiest, but it is the most accessible option when faced with challenges. I can only do so much to stay cool in Belize. Go outside and the sweat pours no matter what. But what I can do is stop allowing it to bother me and toss those useless concerns to the shore. Put that energy toward caring about something that actually matters like engaging with human beings.

henry-iii-2The next day, we met Henry III, front man of the Tala Wala Vibration project with Emmeth and others. He had a captivating stage presence and put on a show for us with his guitar and harmonica, encouraging us all to join in. Everyone was handed at least a glass pint bottle, fork, and of course could utilize their own pipes to contribute to some spectacular jam sessions. In between songs, he would talk and talk. Many of his lectures were very inspiring such as his speech on consuming only things from nature and not the “devil’s soup” (rum). He raised his glass of water high, explaining its significance, “You must not distance yourself from the world around you. This is what is important.”

But not all of his speeches were so significant. As Emmeth would tell me later, Henry gets very excited when he has an audience, since they are not easy to come by in Belize. He would ramble about his travels and rich ancestry of Creole, Italians, Maya, Scottish, and even hinted at more. During one of his stories, his point was completely lost, so Emmeth called to him, “Hibam lang sho.” But he wouldn’t wrap it up. “Hibam lang sho. Hibam lang sho. Hibam lang sho,” Emmeth said again and again and again rolling his eyes. Finally, Henry calmly shut his mouth and picked his guitar back up.

henry-iii-3We all love to preserve our traditions, but what is more important is to move on. Henry told us as if he was the first to say, “It is sad, but all good things come to an end.” Keeping things fresh is always more valuable than struggling to isolate ourselves and preserve our stagnant cultures. On the contrary, culture dies when we fear change and can’t let it live—free to be shared with others.

Henry’s friends laugh at his ridiculousness, but he is a wise man because like most Belizeans, he understands the importance of changing it up. With his diversity and all the prosperous gifts of his land, he is rich. His words echoed those of Punta Gordian artist Dr. Ludwig V. Palacio.

Dr. Palacio

Dr. Palacio

by Dr. Ludwig V. Palacio

I am rich
with Vegetation,
and Mountains.

I am rich.
I have Creole,
and East Indian.

I am rich.
I have a cool house from the green forest.
I have fresh Fruits,
Ground food and Vegetables,
Fish from the sea,
And good friends for everlasting.

I am rich, my dear,
for I am Belizean.

Guest Post By: Cory Zinn
Falling Tree Media


What can go wrong with 11 University Students

Lazy Days are for Tourists: Students on the Vaca Dam

Saturday morning found 10 of my peers and I floating along a reservoir with jungle closing in on sides, bird calls echoing, and the sun high in a cloudy blue sky. The ramshackle pontoon boat we were welcomed on is owned and run by Ronaldo, a charismatic Belizean, with some help from his family. That day his first mate was Joey, a knowledgeable and quite kind of guy. We were there to learn about the effects of the dam from someone who had firsthand experience, and to see these for ourselves. Ronaldo was a fountain of information about the Macal River before and after the Vaca Dam was built. Some of the effects were apparent simply from looking. This made up only a small part of our day. Over the course of about 5 hours we visited 3 waterfalls, swam, tubed, and climbed in and around the dam.


We first headed up the reservoir to see the river became a dam. Here is where the most obvious differences were apparent. The murky riverbed began to clear up and change to sand and the water began to move faster. Further down the reservoir, the jungle seems as lush as ever, birds still sing and animals still live (and thrive in some cases) in the Vaca Dam site. As we spoke more with Roberto and Joey about the dam, less visible effects were apparent. There are less fish in the river, and those that are left tend to be small with higher mercury levels. The water falls and rapids that made the Macal so inviting for rafters have been swallowed up. The rising water covered a Mayan site. An entire ecosystem was disrupted for a few megawatts of power. These are the unseen sacrifices that allowed us to float around on a pontoon boat for a day.

After these sobering, observations we went on to enjoy what this new dam had to offer as a source of entertainment. We floated down stream to the mouth of a small stream. After a short walk along this stream, path opened up to a clear swimming hole, surrounded by jungle and accentuated by a waterfall. It was straight out of a jungle fantasy novel, without the cheesy love story. Some swam about in warm, blue water, others climbed the rock surrounding the waterfall. We returned to the boat wet and ecstatic.

We then went to get a little wetter. The second waterfall that we visited was called the Twin Falls. Roberto steered the boat into the mist, ensuring everyone experienced the cool spray of water. He then scrambled up the rocks around, with a few of the students following him, to jump off into the calmer water around the waterfalls.

The second waterfall we visited was by far the most interesting. Water flowed through limestone, collecting minerals. These create calcium deposits that allowed us to climb up the tiers to a few different pools. As we examined the waterfall a little more, we saw leaves that had been trapped in by the calcification process. Entire logs had been calcified, creating the waterfall and the small cave beneath it.

After this excursion, we went to the actual dam. Looking at this structure, one could forget that this is what has cased such massive changes to the Macal River. It is small in comparison to many dams I am used to seeing. While we docked the thought “smaller things have a tendency to make a bigger difference” kept popping up in my mind. Such a small concrete structure in the enormity of nature can result in such a large change.

Guest Author: Izzy Mumm

Bio: I am from Steamboat Springs, a small resort town in Colorado, USA. I have always loved travel and gaining more perspectives to inform my worldview. I am interested in story and its role in history and community. I have come to Belize as a part of a class on community development, organized by Toucan Education Programs.


Our Twenty-eight-day Adventure!

What to Expect When You Don’t Know What to Expect

our-28-day-adventure-greenBeing from a low income single parent family, I never expected to travel abroad during college. While my friends were spending their time out of the country during the semester, I was busy working part time and paying my bills. So when it came time to figure out what capstone I was going to do to complete my time at West Virginia University my mind came up blank. Being a multidisciplinary studies major, a major that allows you to take three or in my case four minors in place of an actual major, I had options. Normally options are not a problem but for me they tend to lead to a stand still. Two of my options for a capstone course were both music recitals, one for voice and the other for world music. I have terrible stage fright so both of those were really not options for me. The other choices seemed dismal. I wanted to do something that would make all the work I had completed in the last few years seem worth it. When Professor Vercelli mentioned a trip to Belize and how I could use the course as a capstone I was immediately drawn and in the same moment conflicted. I wanted to go badly but I wasn’t sure that I would be able to afford it. After a phone call home to my mom who told me that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, I committed to the trip. A study abroad trip to Belize would be my final class as an undergraduate student, I would walk across the stage in May for an official commencement and three days later I would be on a plane.

No one really tells you how to pack when you leave the country, especially to a place that most people don’t know the location of. When I heard Belize, I thought “heat” “tropical” and “beach”. So bathing suits, breezy shirts and shorts were definitely needed. But how much of what to bring was the hard part. After finding out that we would have a place to clean our clothes, I tried to follow the ‘less is more rule’. I wish I could say I followed that rule, but in the long run I’m glad I didn’t. When I thought ‘heat’ I thought summertime Morgantown, West Virginia heat, and I was pretty far off. I had never been to a place that was so humid. Outfit changes and multiple showers a day were no longer choices but necessities. So in the long run, I wish I had packed more shirts. Packing tons of athletic shorts and sports bras has been a saving grace so far. And as for the bathing suits, well, those have definitely made themselves useful. I may have gone a tad over board on the underwear, but at least I know I won’t run out.

our-28-day-adventure-seaArriving in Belize itself was and continues to be one of the most overwhelming experiences of the trip so far. Many of the other students on this trip have traveled outside of the US before but I was completely enthralled with everything. There are so many differences between where I’ve been and where I am now. I’ve never seen water so blue, land so dense with greenery and such a nonwhite population. Here I was in a complete foreign place dumbfounded by Barbie dream house blue water from several thousand feet in the air. Everything seems a little less relevant at that altitude. I was no longer nervous about being so far from home. I was excited, captivated, and speechless to what I saw as I sat in the cockpit of this tiny plane taking us to Punta Gorda.

our-28-day-adventure-fresh-foodI didn’t know it then, and it may seem a tad early to say this only ten days into our twenty-eight-day adventure, but I have been moved by this tiny place. The people have been overwhelming nice and welcoming. I haven’t gone to a place within Punta Gorda and felt awkward or like I was taking up too much space. The merchants have been sweet and understanding as I try to do mental math on the fly to pay for items. The food! Saying that the food has been amazing is simply an understatement. Fresh fruit juice, seafood, fruits, and vegetables with every meal, as well as pepper sauce and amazing service. From Asha to Jill and Marie and Gomier, everyone has been extremely helpful and understanding of my pescetarian diet. our-28-day-adventure-musicBut most importantly the music. Ten days into this trip and I have already been apart of and witnessed many jam sessions with incredible talented musicians and learned an incredible amount from these musicians as well. Something about this place, makes it easy to be creative and to have an honesty to that creativity. While I’ve already experienced so much within the short amount of time in Punta Gorda I’m excited to continue to let this place change me and I’m hoping that I can pocket some of this creative energy and take it back with me to the US.


Jaguar Encounter in Belize!

belize-zoo-signbelize-zoobelize-zoo-toucanThe last day we were there; we had day open for excursions; four of us chose to go to the zoo. We had a ride there in the morning arranged by our tour guide, which took about an hour. We paid BZ $100 (US $50) for a jaguar encounter, we entered a cage in the jaguar enclosure where we fed him some raw chicken, and felt his paws. This particular jaguar was raised in captivity; his mother was rescued from a farm where she was killing sheep. It was unknown that she was pregnant. We also later hand fed a tapir some carrots; his name was Indy. Tapir are related to horses and rhinos; but to be honest I don’t think Indy looked like either. Indy was incredibly gently while eating his carrots, he even let us pet him. I like how the Belize zoo was run; all the animals there have been rescued or have been born in captivity. Before the animals are put in the zoo; they attempt to rehabilitate the animals into their own environment.

Guest Post By: Elizabeth Miltenberger
West Virginia University

International Conch Recording Artist

Today, we were gifted the chance to record an album of the music we had learned during our stay. Our teacher, Emmeth, came up from Punta Gorda to Hopkins to play with us, and it was definitely an experience to remember. We first recorded all of the songs that we learned from our stay with him, including Sambai, Brukdong, and Kunji. Kunji and Sambai featured all of us playing Sambai drums, taking turns singing various Kriol songs, and Mike playing shakers. Brukdong was my personal favorite, which alongside drums and shakers featured some conch shell magic from yours truly (I am far too excited to add “international conch recording artist” to my resume).

Next, we began to record our Garifuna songs. On Paranda, I played the Segunda drum and certainly got my workout in. For Punta and Hughug I played a primero drum. Our Garifuna teacher Warren showed us variations on each lead part to “spice up” the song, and would give us calls throughout the songs to let us know when to throw in the variation. He would also call out at the very end so that we would play a synchronized ending pattern together.

Lastly, we had the chance to record a vocal track, on which we sang the Paul Nabor song “Naguya Nei.” The song is written by a man who is passing on, and wants to make sure that there would be a band at his funeral. The song has a sweet melody that I constantly find myself singing. By the end of this recording session we were all dripping with sweat but had a blast regardless! This was an experience I never thought I’d have but I am so blessed to have had this opportunity. Our time here is coming to a close and it is so bittersweet!

Guest Post By: Jamie Hall
West Virginia University


The Maya, Iguanas, and Royalties

After spending two weeks in Punta Gorda studying creole drumming with Emmeth Young and creole culture with his wife Jill, my study abroad group from West Virginia University made it’s way to San Ignacio where we stayed for about five days. It was a complete change of scenery from Punta Gorda. Being a coastal area, Punta Gorda was sandy and constantly humid, but the area seemed less populated. San Ignacio seemed like it was more populated, but mainly because the area was smaller. While there was a small river that ran through the town, San Ignacio wasn’t sandy or humid, in fact heat seemed to get trapped there and it sweltered most days. San Ignacio was also very different than Punta Gorda based off of what we experienced there. We mainly learned about the Maya culture, visiting Xunantunich Archaeological Reserve as a group, visiting Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave on a free day, and listening to a lecture on Ancient Mayas by the Dean of Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Galen University by Ms. Sherry Gibbs. While we spoke a little on the musical aspects of the Maya culture we mainly focused on the Maya people of the past and their thriving culture in the present. While in San Ignacio was also visited Stone Tree Records. It was my first experience in a recording studio. While the space was small, it was filled to the brim with guitars, recording equipment such as mixing boards, microphones and amplifiers, and awards. It was really interesting to hear about the way intellectual rights where handled in Belize. Learning about how there really wasn’t a way to make any money from royalties, which is completely unheard of in the United States, was mind boggling but after some conversation with some of the staff at the recording studio and within our group I slowly understood the differences between Belize and the US that would cause the major discrepancies in regards to the music industry. That same day we went to the Green Iguana Conservation Project at the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. While there we got the experience of a lifetime, where we interacted with both the adult and young iguanas. I quickly found out that most of the iguanas there had absolutely no fear of humans when it came to retrieving bananas. It was a really cool experienced to be extremely up close and personal with so many iguanas. While we didn’t spend much time in San Ignacio, I truly enjoyed learning more about a culture that has truly withstood the test of time, as well as learning about some of the native animals that live in Belize.

Guest Post By: Lauren Baylor
West Virginia University


Hopkins Belize

The fact that I’m getting six credits for this trip still blows my mind. Hopkins especially feels like our own little paradise where class is on the beach and life moves a little slower. Hopkins is a small Garifuna town on the coast and is home to about 1,000 people. Two days ago our evening class was a Paranda Blues concert, and yesterday we spent all day snorkeling.

Paranda Blues
We’re in Hopkins for the last leg of the trip to study Garifuna music and culture, so the other night they arranged for us to have a private concert and talk with the members of Paranda Blues, one of the hottest bands in the area. They play a genre called Punta Rock which mixes traditional Garifuna music with modern instruments. Their name comes from another genre of Garifuna music, paranda. We had a pretty awesome time getting down and dancing on the beach. After they played Punta Rock for a while they all sat down and did some of the traditional Garifuna drumming Punta Rock is based on.

The ocean has been weirdly still lately. I walk down in the morning and it looks more like a swimming pool than an ocean. It made for the best snorkeling conditions yesterday! It was clear and calm and there was so much to see. There were coral and fish in every color and shape. I even saw two spotted rays. I wish I could have taken pictures of the adventure, but I wasn’t risking my phone out on the water.

Not So Glamorous
hopkins-belize-blogThe not so glamorous part of our snorkeling adventure were the nasty sunburns some of us got. The sun is bright and hot and you have to be really careful. The warm weather also fosters a ton of creepy crawlies like sand fleas and mosquitoes. Hopkins has had fewer mosquitoes than Punta Gorda, but two days ago I did catch a scorpion in my friend’s bathroom. I think this may be one of my cooler accomplishments and would really appreciate you all referring to me as Zoe the Scorpion Hunter from now on.

Guest Post By: Zoe Levine
West Virginia University