Sahou Cassava Drink

Sahou cassava drink is usually served as a thick, warm drink.  Sometimes it is made with condensed milk or lots of sugar is added.  It is often drunk on chilly mornings to help warm you up.  As one of the staple Garifuna foods, cassava is used in many recipes.

Sahou Cassava Drink Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound cassava or 1⁄4 cup cassava starch
  • 1 grated coconut with 2 cups water OR 2 cups coconut milk (made from powder or from a can)
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon nutmeg 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Sugar, honey or other sweetener to your liking

Directions:

  1. Grate cassava and add about 2-3 cups of water to grated cassava and strain. Use the strained liquid to make the Sahou
  2. Grate coconut and add about 2-3 cups of water and strain (if making your own coconut milk)
  3. Add nutmeg, vanilla and cinnamon to a pot with the cassava liquid.
  4. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly
  5. Add coconut milk and continue to stir until it reaches your desired consistency.
  6. Add sugar, honey or other sweetener to your liking.
  7. Can be served hot or cold as a drink or as a porridge.  

Naguya Nei (I am Moving On)

Naguya Nei (I am Moving On)

This is one of the late, great Paul Nabor’s most iconic songs and a very popular Garifuna song.  It is an example of the paranda style of Garifuna music.  Ronald Raymond McDonald of Warasa used to regularly play this song and others with Nabor and his father’s family group, Umalali, across Belize.  One of the lines says “Lauba la banda habunana (They must have a band at my funeral)”.  Umalali were of course there as Paul Nabor’s favorite group and good friends to play at his funeral after he passed away in October 2014.

Naguya Nei (I am Moving On)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the Garifuna lyrics and English translation to this popular Paranda song:

Naguya Nei (I am Moving On)

Nati nuguya merumayatina (Brother, I am ill)
Wanwa nuguya merumayatina (Dear Brother, I am ill)
Balabada naru tura nigabana nay (I have tossed and turned in my bed)
Lau nuragu le hadan hara familia (With this ailment in the presence of my family)
Ayanuhayatina hama namulenu (x2) (I have spoken with my children)
Dame le gia nowen wanwa (Dear Brother when I pass away)
Lauba la banda habunana (They must have a band at my funeral)
Hawagu namulenu naritagua (It is my little ones I’m worried about)
Hawagu nisanigu naritagua (It is my children I’m worried about)

Malate Isien (Worthless Love)

Malate Isien is one of the most popular traditional Garifuna songs.  It is a catchy Paranda song, and as with many Garifuna songs, it relates to daily life.  In this case, it is giving advice about love.   It was originally written by Bernard “Gabaga” Williams.  Our group also regularly perform this song.

Malate Isien

There are various recordings of the track, and some feature only one or two of the verses.  Likewise in some live performances only one or two of the verses are sung.  Hopefully by documenting more of the known verses we can encourage groups to sing the entire song.

We have included English translation for the Chorus and two of the verses so far.  We will update with the translation of the last two verses when we have it finished – or if any of our Garifuna readers would like to contribute translations, then feel free to comment!

You can purchase this song (sung by Dale Guzman) and more from Stonetree Records, or if you have Spotify access, listen here.

Malate Isien (Worthless Love)

Madayagua harabana luagu tirau noufuri (Sing 2 times) (They have ganged up on my aunt’s daughter)
(Following 3 lines are sung 3 times)
Mabarase ba gia hau, mabarase ba gia hau (Don’t worry about them)
Luagu halugun heiginibu (How they tried to eat you alive)
Laduga heigadi gurigia  (For their love of human flesh)

Chorus (Sing 2 times)
Malati isien ganeiwa ruguti (Love that is bought is worthless)
Michiga ba purisima dan le misien ba (Don’t extend a greeting where you are not loved)
Malati isien ganeiwa ruguti (Love that is bought is worthless)
Malati dan le misien ba  (It is useless when you are not loved)

Gundabadina luni latigirunina mutu luagu niduun aü (sing two times) (I would gladly agree to be hanged for a crime I have committed)
(Repeat following 2 lines x 2 times)
Buguya haruguti buguya hebenene (You are their grandfather you are their godfather)
Buma hafureindera ligia lagarida bun aü (They learned from you now it hurts you)

Chorus (Sing 2 times)
Malati isien ganeiwa ruguti (Love that is bought is worthless)
Michiga ba purisima dan le misien ba (Don’t extend a greeting where you are not loved)
Malati isien ganeiwa ruguti (Love that is bought is worthless)
Malati dan le misien ba  (It is useless when you are not loved)

Au gufuruma badina luni hahuluchunina mutu luagu niduru (sing 2 times)
(Repeat following 3 lines x 2 times)
Amuru haruguti, amuru hebenene
Buma hafurendera iweru
Larigien tagarida bun

Chorus (Sing 2 times)
Malati isien ganeiwa ruguti (Love that is bought is worthless)
Michiga ba purisima dan le misien ba (Don’t extend a greeting where you are not loved)
Malati isien ganeiwa ruguti (Love that is bought is worthless)
Malati dan le misien ba  (It is useless when you are not loved)

Numada rau wau mamada ba ya ubowagu
Tueidugien buguchu luma buguchili
Hagia rugubana bumadagu ubowagu
Ibidie bei mutu le lun bei lagumuchu bau

Chorus (Sing 2 times)
Malati isien ganeiwa ruguti (Love that is bought is worthless)
Michiga ba purisima dan le misien ba (Don’t extend a greeting where you are not loved)
Malati isien ganeiwa ruguti (Love that is bought is worthless)
Malati dan le misien ba  (It is useless when you are not loved)

The Lord’s Prayer in Garifuna

The Lord’s Prayer in Garifuna is beautiful. Even if you are not a Christian or not even a religious person, you will enjoy watching and listening to this Garifuna version of the Lord’s Prayer.  You can learn the lyrics and meaning of another classic Garifuna song, “Malate Isien”, here.

Lafureidun Aburemei

Waguchi Bungiu, lidan sun fulasu,
Nubi la barueihan woun
Aduguwa la le babuserum
Lidan mua, lidan sun fulasu. (aguyugua la)
Ru ru, ru ru, ru ru…

Translation:

Our Father, God, present everwhere
May your reign come to us. May your
will be done on earth and every where.

During the song everybody holds hands using their pinky fingers while swaying and bending knees to the beat of the song. At certain points of the song there is a bow and then everybody raises their hands together.

The full Lord’s Prayer in Garifuna is as follows:

Wáguchi Búngiu le siélubei (Our Father, who art in Heaven),
inébewalá bíri (hallowed be Thy name),
Nübinlá bidáani lun barúeijan ya uboúagu (Thy Kingdom come),
Adügüwalá bugúndan (Thy will be done),
uboúagu quei ladügüniwa bugúndan (on earth),
siélu (as it is in heaven).
Rúba fein buídurügütu woun lun wéyu le ugúñebei (Give us this day our daily bread),
Ferúdunabei wuríbati le adüga wamáalibei quei ferúduna wamániña ja adügübaña wuríbati woun (and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us),
Mígira báwa lun wáburujan lídoun wuríbani (and lead us not into temptation),
dísegüdarügü báwa luei (but deliver us from evil),
Ladüga anürü le arúeijabei, amürü le Súntibei Gabáfu, amürü le weírigubei lun sun dan. Ítaralá. (For the kingdom, the power, and the glory, are Yours now and forever. Amen.)

Dügü – Garifuna Spirituality

Barranco Dabuyaba

Here is a wonderful first-hand narrative of one women’s experience of Garifuna spirtuality in 1996 taken from http://judylumb.com/dugu.html.

An Extended Family Reunion

I was honoured to be invited to a Garifuna dügü by my friend, Sebastian Cayetano (Sab), because it is a private family affair, not a cultural event to which the public is invited. In casual conversations, the Garinagu translate the word “dügü” into English as “family reunion.” Indeed, families gather together, but not only the living relatives, the spirits of ancestors also attend. I have also heard it compared to our Thanksgiving. It is true that a feast is prepared, but it is done for the ancestors.

The Garinagu believe that unhappy ancestral spirits cause bad things to happen to people, such as making them sick, to get their attention. The purpose of the dügü is to appease the ancestors, to make them happy, and to heal the living of illnesses and other adversities.

This particular dügü had been long delayed. Twenty years ago Marcello Cayetano, Sab’s great-grandfather appeared to Sab’s father asking for a lesser ceremony, a Garifuna Mass. But Sab’s father was a well-trained Roman Catholic teacher and had left the Garifuna traditions behind, so the request was ignored.

Then two years ago things began happening in the Cayetano family. Sab’s identical twin brother, Fabian (Fab), had a serious accident, but he recovered completely. A niece was run over by a truck, but was not hurt badly. At another dügü Sab was asked to hold a dügü for Marcello Cayetano and his wife, Loretta Palacio Cayetano. Loretta Palacio was born in 1860, the first child born in Barranco and the granddaughter of the mother of Barranco, Magaruda, who had come to live there with her two sons.

Sab knew a dügü would be a tremendous effort for the entire family, but Fab was in Jamaica finishing a degree that year. Sab accepted the challenge to plan a dügü, but negotiated a two-year delay so they would have time to prepare after Fab returned. That was acceptable to the spirits, so no more bad things happened to the family.

Indeed, preparing for the dügü was a huge job. They had to build a temple (dabuyaba) in Barranco because there was none. The dabuyaba was built to face east, with doors in the north and south. At the closed west end was the priest’s inner sanctum (dugeirugu) where the family retired whenever anything important was happening.

In addition to the dabuyaba, they also built a kitchen, a family house and a shed for the pigs, all made of natural materials with a dirt floor and thatch roof. They are located on the cliff overlooking the black sand beach with a view of the Bay of Honduras and the mountains of Guatemala and Honduras.

They also had to arrange for all the food. Cassava had to be planted and grown. Pigs and roosters had to be raised. The family members were assessed to cover the cost, a total of $40,000 BZ.

All 250 participants had two outfits made, one in green check for the Cayetanos and one in bright orange for the Palacios. All the descendants of Marcello and Loretta are both Cayetano and Palacio, so on Thursday everyone wore green check and on Friday the orange. The costumes were beautiful full skirts with coordinated blouses. The men wore dashikis of the same fabric.

The dügü was conducted by a traditional Garifuna priest (buyei) and his entourage from Livingston, Guatemala. Buyeinu (plural of buyei) are identified very early in life and serve as both priest and healer. The buyei was Esteban Palacio, one of the descendants of Marcello and Loretta. The entourage included a second buyei, a messenger, three drummers, eight singers, two shaka (sisira) players, and three cooks. The messenger was not a buyei, but had many functions in the dügü. He kept an eye out for the appearance of ancestral spirits, kept the copal burning, and carried messages to the buyeinu from the spirits.

One unusual thing about this dügü was the marriage of the Garifuna with the Catholic tradition. Sab and Fab are both lay leaders in the Catholic church and also very active in the movement to preserve and celebrate the traditional Garifuna culture. They have a brother who is a Catholic priest, Father Cal.

Twenty years ago, when Marcello first asked for a Mass, Father Cal was a newly ordained priest, fully steeped in the Jesuit tradition and did not believe in the traditional Garifuna religion. He was injured in a car accident and only recovered after a long period of time.

About that time Father Richard Hadel, a Jesuit priest who was an anthropologist, did his research in Belize and attended several dügüs. He convinced the Jesuits to soften their position. Father Cal described his own return to the Garifuna tradition, saying that Sab was always inviting him along for Garifuna events, so he has gradually gotten involved. He now believes his accident twenty years ago was caused by the ancestors whose request was ignored.

The dügü began with a Mass on Sunday night when the temple was blessed, both by the buyei and by Father Cal. The buyei dug a hole in the center of the temple, poured rum and then covered it up again. This became the point of power in the dabuyaba. Father Cal sprinkled holy water all around. Copal was burned at all times in the temple. Usually it was in the center, but sometimes the messenger smoked all the corners of the temple, too. Once the dabuyaba was blessed, everything brought in was blessed, like the luggage belonging to the people coming from out of town, who would be sleeping in the dabuyaba. Everything was placed in the center of the dabuyaba and blessed by the buyei by blowing smoke from a big hand-rolled cigar.

Termite nests were burned, too. They make a heavy smoke with a strange, but not unpleasant smell. I was told that the burning of termite nests keeps away the evil spirits.

Rum was used only for anointing people. It was never drunk. I was anointed several times with rum. If someone seemed to be in trouble with a trance, they were sprinkled with strong rum to bring them out of it.

There were a number of prohibitions. No one was allowed to come into the dabuyaba if they had been drinking alcohol of any kind. The drummers were required to abstain from sexual activity. No menstruating woman was to come into the temple. It was considered a desecration. Sab said that if one were to come, she would be embarrassed because the spirits would know and publicly chastise her.

The central event of the dügü is a feast for the ancestors. A group of people representing the family, called “adugahatiun,” went out to the cayes to gather fish, crabs and conch for the feast. Monday morning they were sent off in a beautiful ceremony, starting with a Mass in the dabuyaba. All the items that were to be taken out to the cayes, down to the motor oil, were blessed. Then the drumming and dancing started and the entire crowd, led by two women carrying flags, the solid orange for Palacio and the green check for Cayetano processed along the cliff and down to the beach. It was beautiful in the early morning light as everyone helped the four men and four women get the dories loaded and head out to the cayes.

Meanwhile in the dabuyaba there was quiet singing, some drumming, and a little dancing. Each day began with a Mass and all prayed that the dügü would be successful. One afternoon the entire congregation walked reverently around the village singing hymns and praying as they went. I fasted during that time, my own spiritual practice.

By Wednesday night the excitement was building. During the dancing I saw my first spirit possession, “onwehani” in Garifuna. “Onweha” is the verb meaning to go into a trance and act as a medium for an ancestral spirit. There were several onwehani that night. The singers are mediums for spirits who were buyeinu during their lifetimes. The lead singer’s spirit had much to say. I saw her speaking to several people who were listening respectfully and nodding to indicate they had received the message.

One young woman onweha right in front of me, but she did not say anything. There was another woman who fainted often and fell on the person nearest her, but she never talked either. Everyone just supported her and continued dancing, usually with her behind them, arms around their neck.

I wondered if my ancestors could hear these drums. I thought of my grandmother’s great-grandmother, Grandma Hollenbeck. I finished a quilt that she started, one I called the “six-generation quilt.” I was told that she owned a shop and smoked a pipe. The next night we were all warned that there was smoke in the corner where I was sitting. Everyone vacated that corner and my attention was drawn elsewhere for a time. When I looked back to the empty corner, there was a woman smoking a pipe and looking straight at me, legs spread apart, one hand on her hip and one on the pipe. It was just the way I imagined Grandma Hollenbeck. But the tobacco she was smoking was so strong, so awful smelling, that I immediately got sick and had to leave. Still, I was impressed. I got exactly what I asked for, a sign that I was participating at a real level in this dügü.

The return of the adugahatiun from the Cayes was like the send-off in reverse. The day began with a Mass in the church. Then everyone went to the seaside to watch the dories return. In the stillness of the early morning they paddled in, each showing a flag, one the Cayetano green check and the other the solid orange for the Palacios. As they got close, everyone waded out to greet them and unload the fish, crabs and conch. To the beat of the drum and the sisira, the entire group, all in green-checked costumes, danced up the cliff to the dabuyaba.

The most powerful part of the dügü was the mali, the opening to the four cardinal directions. The whole group faced each direction, beginning with the west, and the drums played a slower, deeper beat. The singing stopped, but the sisira continued slowly and deliberately. As one, the whole group began to very reverently lean down toward the ground. The space from the center to the door was cleared and the buyei probed the ground with his wand, backed up by the singers and the drummers with the entire crowd behind.

Then suddenly the beat speeded up, the singing resumed and the whole group raised up to move to the next cardinal direction. Malis invited the spirits into the dabuyaba several times during the day and night for the rest of the dügü. The first mali took about 30 minutes, but they got longer and even more powerful as the dügü progressed.

On Thursday the preparations for the feast continued from the time the dories were unloaded and the procession brought everything to the dabuyaba. Two pigs were killed and dressed. The two carcasses were hung at the north and south doors to the dabuyaba for some time.

Everyone was asked to bring a rooster as a gift for the feast. All these roosters were tied to posts in the dabuyaba, so their “cock-a-doodle-doo” was a constant sound throughout the dügü. Occasionally two of them would get into a fight and have to be separated. There was one dance in which everyone held roosters by their two wings, casually down at their sides. The roosters were presented at the altar in the dugeirugu. Then they were killed one by one in the front of the temple with a very dramatic chop.
On Friday a 30-foot banquet table was placed in the middle of the dabuyaba. The cooks came in with the prepared food and filled everyone’s plates. Each person reverently placed their plate on the table and prayed silently that the ancestors would enjoy their feast. They also brought soft drinks, opened and stoppered with cotton. The food was left out for several hours for the ancestors to eat.

Banana leaves were spread on the ground with some food from the table. All the children encircled the leaves and, at a signal, they went for the food. Some of the food was buried; some was dumped at sea and some was distributed. No other food was cooked that day. Everyone was supposed to join the ancestors in their feast. Several people asked me about our Thanksgiving, wondering if it was the same as this. I said that families gather and a feast is prepared and eaten, but Thanksgiving has no spiritual depth, no drums, no dancing.

The marriage between the Catholic and the traditional Garifuna was always evident. Father Cal was always there dancing. Each day began with a Mass and there was often another one later in the day. The most beautiful symbol of the integration of the two traditions was when three young men were baptized in an evening Mass in the dabuyaba. Their parents had waited to let them make their own decisions, so this was their choice, to embrace both traditions and be baptized at a Catholic Mass during a dügü in a dabuyaba.

The dancing and malis continued day and night with only an occasional rest break. The hypnotic drum beat, the shushing of the sisiras, and the chanting of the singers accompanied the continuous shuffling dance flowing around the center of the dabuyaba and then reversing direction. Sometimes they danced one by one; sometimes two or more together, but always they danced.

On Thursday night a woman dressed as a man in khaki pants and shirt, a red bandanna, and a huge sombrero appeared carrying a machete. It turned out to be Sinerial, a spirit who comes often to dügüs through Sab’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Martinez. After she goes into trance, Sinerial demands these particular clothes, so she brings them along.

Sinerial was like a drill sergeant, ordering people around and chasing them with his machete. I took his picture with a flash and he turned to glare at me. He split the crowd into two halves with a big gap down the middle, and ordered the drummers to play a different rhythm, a punta. He said he wanted to dance. He grabbed Sab on one side, Fab on the other and promenaded them up and down. Then he added their children to the promenade. Later he settled down to lecture the crowd. He said there should be no more electronics in the dabuyaba for the rest of the dügü. I obeyed and left my camera at home.

There were other onwehani. Sometimes they screamed, sometimes they just slumped. I was told that if the spirit comes from the front, you see it coming and that is when people scream. Otherwise, they just faint. Soon they would begin talking in a different voice. Afterward, they remember nothing of the experience.
I saw someone onweha in front of me. I thought at first it was Ms. Petty, my friend from Caye Caulker, but it was her sister, Josephine, and she was speaking for their grandfather. That morning their brother, Augustine, was heard screaming and then found lying on the ground. They took him to the temple and he came around, but he did not know what had happened. Later, when the grandfather came, he said that he had done that to Augustine. He chastised Augustine about leading a wild life.

Friday morning Josephine’s daughter, Jocelyn, onweha and spoke for Mimi, Ms. Petty’s grandmother. Mimi was vexed. She wanted her pipe and said she would not eat the feast until after she smoked. Sinerio had warned them the night before, “your grandmother is coming and she will want her pipe, so you had better get ready.”

But they ignored it. So, Ms. Petty had to go running all around trying to find a pipe. She first got one from the woman who had been impersonating my grandmother’s great-grandmother, but Mimi rejected it, saying it was not nice. They finally found another one which she smoked. I was sitting with the older generation that day. Several of them had known Mimi when they were children. They said she was just like that. They remembered being sent for her pipe so she could smoke.

It is easy to believe in ancestral spirits. They all had ways to prove who they were, like Mimi’s pipe and Sinerio’s strict manner. Besides, we all want to think that our loved ones live on in spirit after they have died.

The last night I went home after the midnight chicken soup, leftovers from the feast for the ancestors. I fell sound asleep for the first time since the dügü started. Then I woke up feeling this smooth, cool sensation all over my skin. It felt like chills, but I was not shaking. At first I was afraid, thinking I might be going into anaphylactic shock or something. Then I wondered if I was going to onweha. I wanted to see what would happen, so I stayed perfectly still. But nothing more happened. The smooth, cool feeling just continued. When I first woke up, I thought I was sleeping in the temple, near the east door because I could hear a murmur of voices coming from the next room, which I thought was the hammock shed outside the temple. But I knew I was in our bedroom and only my friend Debra was asleep in the hammock next door. I went to the door and saw a ghostly woman sitting in a chair who looked like Ms. Petty praying, a very comforting sight for me. All around the room were puffs of smoke and murmuring voices.

The next night I kept waking up thinking I was in the hammock shed and hearing the murmuring voices. After I was awake, I knew where I was, but whenever I drifted off again, the voices would come back. Sab’s sister, Fatima was quite concerned about my spirits. She boiled a leaf and brought the hot water for my bath. She put copal smoke in my room so the spirits would leave me alone. It worked! From then I slept soundly.

Small Business Struggles in Belize

NOTICE: I have amended this from the original post, as the issue has been resolved honourably with the Facebook page in question.  However I think it is good to leave it up in some form, so that people become more aware of copyright laws and intellectual property rights.

I have previously written about some of the challenges of managing a business in Belize…well let’s just say the struggles continue!

There is of course the expected challenges of others thinking that we are making Big Bucks (oh if only…we barely break even!) and therefore also starting to offer Garifuna drumming lessons and related.  I’m sure they will quickly realise it’s not a booming business, but we hold no hard feelings…everyone is simply trying to make a living in a small town with few opportunities.

But today, I became very upset after finding out that one of our designs, which is used in our logo on our business cards, website, tshirts and more, had been taken and used on Tshirts by another organisation and Facebook Page.

Now here are our original designs, that were constructed from a full colour photo of Mario McDonald’s (my father-in-law’s) mahogany primero and segunda drums, that I then converted into black and white, edited in various ways to improve the look, posterised, and added the white outline to make it “pop” more.  I.e. it is no longer just a photo.  This (for a novice like me at least) was not easy, and very time consuming!

twodrumsmonochromecopyright


blackwhitedrum_copyright

businesscardfrontjpg_copyright

Sadly, the Facebook page in question chose the black and white image of the primero and segunda to use on t-shirts they were printing and selling in celebration of November 19th 2015.

They did not ask, and our business name was taken off the image and mentioned nowhere on the t-shirts or in any of the Facebook posts: we would have gained no exposure or marketing from the t-shirts.  At first, they refused to take the images down, seemed to find our concerns amusing, and continued to share the photos of the t-shirts despite our requests to take them down.

This is a page, that up until this time, I had considered supporters of Warasa.  They had about a year or more ago, asked if they could share some of our photos on their page if they credited us, and we gave permission.  They claimed that they did not know the image belonged to us.  Now even if that were true, it is no defense.  It is common knowledge that you can’t simply use a design without first checking who it belongs to, and asking permission.

For those that are not aware: Copyright is automatic – you do not have to register it.  

In the end, the page in question did the honourable thing and did as we requested from the start, which was to:

  1. Issue a public apology for using our design without permission on their FB page
  2. Remove all photos that include our design/products that use our design
  3. Cease production and distribution/sale of all tshirts and other merchandise that include our design
  4. Advise everyone that already received a tshirt that it is not their design, but is in fact that of Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Quite a few professional photographers also messaged me to tell me their photos had also been used by the page, with their name/watermark on the bottom of it removed and replaced by the page’s own logo/watermark.  So it seems indeed they didn’t understand the concept of artistic intellectual property.  I think this was a harsh and upsetting lesson for both parties.

For the small number of people who are trying to make this somehow about me not being a born Belizean and/or not being Garifuna, then you have clearly never met me.  Garifuna drums and music belong to the Garinagu people.  But this particular image of Garifuna drums belongs to Warasa, the same way that PG town belongs to all its residents, but a photo of PG town belongs to the photographer.

Thank you as always for your support…

www.warasadrumschool.com

www.facebook.com/warasadrumschool

Hard-Work and Hammocks: Belize Work Culture

Some visitors to Belize may leave with the illusion that many of its residents are, shall we say, under-worked.  Stores that close for two-hour lunch breaks, people lounging around in hammocks in the middle of the day, people that extend even the Belizean definition of “right now” to seemingly endless stretches of time.  Belize work culture is different, but that doesn’t mean people don’t work hard. People work around the heat – they get up and start work early.  Just as you wouldn’t judge the overall productivity of Spain by observing their lunchtime siesta, or assume they never eat dinner just because none of the restaurants have opened by the time you go to bed at 10pm, take a pause for thought before you judge a country without knowing or understanding the culture and economic realities.

Most Belizeans I know get out of bed at 5am (or earlier!) every day and by 7am they have already been to the market, sold their morning supply of crafts/baked goods/snacks, cooked and/or eaten breakfast, and started making lunch, preparing their next round of wares to sell, or gone to their “proper” job.

My mother-in-law has built her whole house and put 7 children through school almost entirely on the proceeds from cooking and selling conch fritters.  But if you catch her around the hottest part of the day, you may indeed find her snoozing in a hammock or sitting at her sister’s house having a chat.  When you consider that she’s already been up and working for eight hours, you might think it sounds like a rather good idea.

Belize Work Culture

My mother-in-law, Ms Dami, almost finished cooking the morning batch of conch fritters by the time I drag myself out of bed at 6am

Many families live entirely on informal trade, not documented in the employment figures or any other official reports.  When I visit the Maya villages, mothers tell me they want to send a daughter to high school, so they start baking bread on the fire-hearth to sell.  That same daughter will have to catch a bus at 4am every school day to get to school for a 7am start, and won’t get home until 5pm.  Almost everyone I know, even those with a regular salaried job, has a back-up, as political, seasonal, or other unpredictable firings from such jobs are common.  The x-ray technician also makes glass windows.  The government driver also cuts grass and fixes lawnmowers and weed-eaters.  The road worker also welds burglar bars.  The nutrition coordinator also promotes a drum school and writes a riveting blog and the security guard also teaches and plays Garifuna drums to locals and tourists.

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Our house with windows made by the local X-Ray technician, and burglar bars made by a local road construction worker.

Office jobs, or indeed any job where you get to work inside all or most of the day, are considered a pretty sweet deal.  Compared to working in a sugar cane, banana, orange or shrimp farm, or doing construction work or security work for $15USD a day, it certainly is.  Living costs in Belize are high.  My utility bills here are triple what they were living in London, food is also more expensive, and unlike back in Scotland, there is none of the security of free quality health care, free primary and secondary education or unemployment benefit.  Instead, people have their families.

The young woman who found a day job saved up money to finish her high school education at evening classes.  Now she has graduated high school, she is using whatever money she can spare to put her younger sister through university.  Older brothers quit high school before graduating so that they can work and save money to make sure their younger sisters graduate high school.  Mothers put food on the table by getting up at 5am every day to make snacks to sell by walking or cycling around in the hot sun all day.  Fathers get up at 5am to go work on the construction site in the blazing sun till 5pm.  Children are sent out after school to sell bread and buns to help make ends meet.  Mayan farmers work the land around their village to grow enough corn and beans to feed their families.

Life in Belize is tenuous.  You never know when you or a family member will get sick or have an accident, and if they do, how you will pay for treatment.  Almost every week there is a radio appeal for donations to help the family get treatment for the mother who has been diagnosed with cancer or the family whose uninsured house burnt down, or for the family who want corrective surgery or a wheelchair for a disabled child.

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This week’s appeal for help

Like any country, there are those who don’t pull their weight.  And since the weather is good, there is a good chance you will see them as they hang about outside, instead of in cooler countries where they might be hidden inside their house, bar or gambling shop.  But next time you see the mother relaxing in her chair at 2pm, or the shop owner reopening 15 minutes later than advertised, or the office worker seemingly doing nothing, count how many hours it is since 5am, ask yourself how many children or younger siblings or nieces or nephews they may be supporting, consider how low their income is, wonder how many other jobs they may have, and re-evaluate.

So bear with your drum school instructor and promoter as we juggle our day jobs and our budding business – if we don’t get back to your message right away, be patient, or give us a call.

Warasa Garifuna Drum School

Now excuse me as I go lay in my hammock before preparing for another early village journey tomorrow.

A Chronology of Muddy Walks

Things have moved on…I have graduated from daily chicken bus runs to the Belizean “Banana Belt” to monthly muddy walks to Machakilha Mayan village, and our drum school has been promoted from a small, cluttered spare bedroom in a rented house to a beautiful thatch palapa behind our very own house that we designed and built ourselves on the edge of Punta Gorda town.

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Yes, there is a lot to catch up on.

But in some ways, my life has not changed THAT much from when I was 7 years old, and my dad would take my brother and I for weekly walks in the Scottish hills.  In between grumbling, I would unfailingly manage to fall into a bog (a muddy trench that is usually cunningly camouflaged by heather or other foliage).

A young Ruth

(Me, looking surprisingly cheerful after falling over during a walk up a Scottish mountain)

Now, my muddy walks are only once a month, and (due to pride) I don’t grumble, but still regularly manage to almost lose a boot/shoe by misjudging the nature of a particular patch of mud and sinking in knee deep (whereupon all feelings of pride have to be thrown away as my colleagues have to pull me out).

muddy walks

The Rural Health Nurse Elbia and the Caretaker Juan Ishim walking through a flooded creek on our journey to Machakilha

Machakilha is a Kekchi Maya village which you can only reach by driving for 90 minutes down a very bumpy dirt road to Dolores village, and then walking for two hours through the mud and jungle.  Once you get there, you are greeted by friendly families and children, and if you are lucky you are invited into a local home for some fresh chicken caldo (spicy soup) with freshly baked corn tortilla.

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Arriving in Machakilha (population approx 90)

Then, it’s time for work.  The Rural Health Nurse and Caretaker weigh and measure children under 5 years, provide immunizations, de-worming medication and vitamins, and I coordinate a child nutrition project.  Which on this particular visit meant cooking fortified corn flour over a fire hearth while the local women and children giggled at me as I struggled with the smoke going in my eyes while trying to explain the importance of good nutrition.

For some reason, despite clearly not being a born-Belizean, I get on well in the villages.  Maybe because I’m naturally quiet and unassuming, and am quite happy just sitting in a corner watching and listening, who knows.   But instead of being asked the usual rather yawn-worthy questions revolving around where I’m from, the local women often spontaneously divulge things to me.  One young mother sat outside the community centre with me while I let my smoky eyes recover and told me, out of nowhere, that she has one baby.  “I only want one” she confides in me with a little smile.  Considering many Maya women have four or more, quite a daring statement.

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Young teenage girls in Machakilha

A new Community Health Worker in another village tells me “that was the first time I slept outside my village” after attending her first training session in Punta Gorda town.  In two weeks her horizons will be broadened further as she will spend two nights in Belmopan, the capital city, to meet the new Peace Corp volunteer she will be working with.

I try to prove myself to the male Community Health Workers and Rural Health Nurse with my ability to walk for ten miles in mud.  “I’m from Scotland.  I know about mud” I joke.  And indeed, the mud is no challenge.  Muddy walks in Scotland, however, do NOT prepare you for 30 degree heat, with the occasional smouldering bush fire to walk through to add to the temperature scale.

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Bush fires on the way back from Machakilha at the end of dry season

So I left my former student-teachers in the Banana Belt, but am happy to say most of them are now fully trained primary school teachers, and one young teacher, Ashley Torres, just played for the Belize national football team in the CONCACAF Cup in the USA.

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With 4 of my star students at their graduation dinner in Independence, the Banana Belt

I’ve switched them for Rural Health Nurses, Community Health Workers, Health Educators, and Maya families working against the odds to secure a healthy future for their children.

And I come home to a new home, surrounded by hummingbirds, butterflies, parakeets, a naughty dog, and beautiful thatch with the sounds of drums coming from underneath….but more about that next time.

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Flowers in front of our new drum school

The next of my muddy walks will be to Graham Creek – another remote village.  I’ve done that walk before, but only in dry (i.e. non-muddy) season.  I promise to report back on any loss of footwear and/or erosion of pride.Image

Warasa Garifuna Drum School

http://www.facebook.com/warasadrumschool

Observations from A Belizean Bus

I spend four hours a day, five days a week sitting on a Belizean bus on the commute between my home town of Punta Gorda and the “banana belt” villages where I work.  If it wasn’t for my finely honed ability to sleep anywhere, anytime, I’m not sure I could handle it.

Those who have never ventured south of Texas on the American continent may wonder what happens to retired US school buses.  Those who have ventured south know all too well: they are pimped up and forced down every kind of road imaginable, packed full of every variety of person and produce under the sun.

A Panamanian Chicken Bus

A Panamanian Chicken Bus

Belizean buses don’t get decorated as creatively as some of their Central American counterparts, but they are everywhere, and carry every kind of character.  I am sitting on the bus as I write, surrounded by:

Two Garifuna & 3 Mayan women breastfeeding; 3 other babies of various ages and hair arrangements; a smiling old “Spanish” man in a hat, who I took to the eye clinic 2 years ago for cataract surgery, two traditional very blonde Mennonite families in blue and green dresses and overalls; a young Mestizo man selling “golden plum look nice taste nice with salt an peppa”; tens of young Mayan men returning from a week’s work at the banana or shrimp farms; Paul Mahung, a reporter for national TV and radio and the man who conducted our wedding ceremony; some local NGO workers; a nurse; some Belize Defense Force soldiers; various other children, young men and women; plus one backpacker who looks like he is losing the will to live as he adjusts his too-long legs that are jammed in to the seat meant for school children.

Inside a Belizean Chicken Bus

The view outside is a panorama of tropical jungle dotted with Mayan villages with the Mayan mountains and setting sun behind them, and the Caribbean sea visible in the distance in the other direction.  I am given a few seconds extra to enjoy and replay the view as the bus reverses for 30 metres in order to pick up a passenger the conductor just noticed running out of a small thatch house as we thundered past.

The view to the Mayan villages from the southern highway to PG

Indeed, they may not be comfortable, or timely, but for customer service, Belizean buses, or at least good old James bus line of southern Belize, excel.  They drop you outside your front door, carry your bags inside, wait for you if you forgot something in your house, and ensure all needy people get a seat: “come now man I know yu tired afta yu di pick banana all week, but yu cyahn expect her to stand with a lee baby deh”.  And they are cheap, especially for a country where petrol is $6USD a gallon, they are for most people, the only affordable way to travel.

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My James Bus home to PG

And so, my four hours of daily chicken bus commuting will continue, until someone invents and donates a 60mpg supercar.   All donations welcome.

I will leave you with a link to a rather lovely poem all about James busline of Belize (below the timetable!), and of course the Warasa Garifuna Drum School

www.hickatee.com/belize_bus_times.html

www.warasadrumschool.com

Belize time – I’ll do it right now….

Since moving to Belize, if I need something done urgently, and someone tells me they’ll do it “right now”, I get an uncanny sinking feeling in my stomach.  In Belize time, “right now” can be roughly translated as meaning “at some indefinite, potentially distant time in the future”.  It certainly doesn’t mean “now”.

The time in Belize is -6 hours GMT.  But “Belize time” is a far more subjective and fuzzy concept.  Work begins on time (unless it is raining, in which case if you don’t have a car, then it is perfectly acceptable at many workplaces to not show up until the rain stops).  Meetings begin 15-30 minutes late.  Parades, weddings and other big events start one or two hours after the “official” start time.

My own wedding had an “official” written start time of 3pm.  So, at 2.55pm, my dad arrived at our house to drive me to the wedding venue.  I was wrapped in a towel, with wet hair, in the middle of sticking on my false nails.  I’d forgotten to tell my dad about Belize time.

While the official start time ticked on by, Ray’s extended family whisked around frantically finalising the wedding arrangements.  Dresses were being sewed, hair braided and beaded, lamb stewed, chicken barbequed, tortillas baked and drum skins tightened.

Belize time

Platting of palm leaf arch…1 hour before “official” start time.

But by 4.30pm, spot on for Belize time, everything was ready, and down the aisle we walked to the beat of drums, shake of shakas, and the sound of Ray’s dad singing.

Walking down the aisle

Organising things here is as different as imaginable from the micro-managed, minute-by-minute “story-boarded” events that I used to be involved in when I worked in London.  But the amazing thing is, it always works out in the end, albeit to Belize time.

I have been a very busy bee recently, and for that reason, my next blog entry will be along right now….

www.warasadrumschool.com