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Jessica Garcia Field Blog 3, July 1, 2019

Returning home from a field experience is always so bittersweet. On one hand, I am so excited to see my daughter; yet on the other, it is heartbreaking to leave Belize so soon. Though this one particular experience is over, I am ready for what is yet to come in my professional future.

As I settled into Belizean culture, it was easier to start applying my anthropological lenses learned in my classes at CSUSM. Not only did we get to explore the Maya through our excavations and travels to different ancient sites, we also got to get to know the living Maya here in the present day.

Belize research teamFrom left: Andres Berdeja, Mike Mirro, Jessica Garcia, and local Maya guide Javier Mai
Our work days were also filled with cultural knowledge-sharing through our guide, Javier. Javi is 55ish and a husband, father, grandfather, farmer, and community healer. He has an all-around wealth of knowledge and has worked with many different researchers from many different scientific fields. The more time we spent with him, the more information he shared. I quickly realized that the jungle is not just loud and filled with creepy-crawlies, it is a living entity filled with foods and medicines to help life thrive. Walking through the jungle, Javi would show us different plants and tell us what they were used for. Having previously taken Medical Ethnography with Professor Mike Wilken, I recalled my ethnographic toolkit and had the ability to delve deeper into the conversations with Javi and see the jungle through his eyes.

Because he has worked with biologists before, Javi gave us good advice on how to make useful and accurate field journal entries, and how to properly photograph a plant. He said to take a picture of both sides of a leaf, its stem, and the entire plant because this is the best way to identify the plant later. He said shamans and botanists identify the species of a particular plant by looking at both its leaves and stems. He told us, "When you go out to make your collection of plants, you ask the plant permission first and never take more than you need." He also advised us to pick the youngest shoots because the new growth has the most beneficial medicinal properties.  

Before lunch one day, he went over to a tree and grabbed pods off the ground. The pods looked like shriveled brown cherries with giant black pits. With a smile, Javi said, “natural soap!” He told us to pour water onto our hands and then he cut into the fruit and squeezed its oil onto our hands. With water, the oil got sudsy and had a beautiful scent that slightly reminded me of pineapple. Yet, it also gave off a warm scent that you’d expect to smell at Bath and Body Works. Being an archaeologist, I’ve gotten used to the fact that lunch usually comes with the nutrient dense dirt on my fingers, but thanks to Javi, we got to eat our lunch with clean hands every day. He also showed us plants he uses to cure colds, diabetes, arthritis, and even what to use if stranded in the jungle and needing survival items, things such as rope and different foods and so much more.
natural soapA pod of the 'natural soap' we used to wash our hands every day before lunch in the jungle. 

Our last three days were spent at the Belize Archaeological Symposium. The presentations were progress reports given by every archaeologist who holds a permit for research in Belize. Being here was such an amazing experience because we got to see archaeologists from different walks of life in different stages of their careers. None of the information we learned hasn’t even been published yet, so it felt really cool and exclusive to learn about it before it gets into textbooks. Watching the different types of presentations allowed me to gain confidence in my own future in public speaking. Though I can be fearful of giving speeches, Dr. Spenard reminded us that everyone hates speaking in front of others, but the beauty is we all have information to give that others would love to have. Attending this conference was the best way to end our trip. Now that the surface has quite literally been scraped, it is time to prepare a few presentations of my own about the work we did in Belize.  

Working with Dr. Spenard is such a privilege, and I would recommend it to each and every student looking to pursue archaeology. He is extremely kind, caring, and most importantly, patient. I've worked with other professors from other schools in the past, and I can say with firm confidence that this trip to Belize was by far the best I have experienced– all thanks to Dr. Spenard and the encouraging and supportive faculty of the CSUSM Anthropology Department. The professors at CSUSM have more than prepared me for this experience, and each and every one of them deserve a thank you for their knowledge that they've provided us. From the bottom of my heart, thank you all.