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.

Belize bus

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

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Better step back cos I might pee on you!

So concludes the sign in front of one of the tapirs at Belize Zoo…

 

Scotty the Tapir

I recommend everyone that comes to Belize visits the Zoo, because it’s great fun, the animals are all in their natural habitat, there is no cement or perspex (so your paws are your own responsibility!), and it’s the only guaranteed way to see a jaguar, toucan, and all the other animals of Belize.

My first physical encounter with animals in Belize was even less pleasant than being peed on by a tapir.  Six days after arrival, two pit bull dogs took objection to me walking down the street, broke off their chains and feasted on my ankles.  I could hardly walk for two weeks, and the scars will never disappear, but while I am now far more wary of unknown dogs, my friendship with the animal kingdom was soon repaired.

Not too long after the dog incident, a fellow volunteer, Jess, came across some children about to throw a kitten down a slide, while a hungry dog waited at the bottom.  Jess yelled at them to stop, scooped up the kitten and brought it home.  Orchid, as we named her, was less than a month old, had a stripe of blue spray paint down her back, and looked generally dishevelled.

Orchid shortly after being saved

But after a few weeks she was a healthy, affectionate fur-ball who liked to sleep on top of my mosquito net.  Most Belizeans do not like cats, and don’t know what a pet cat is like.  One day, a Belizean friend came to the house, and Orchid promptly jumped on his lap and made herself comfortable.  She was tolerated at first, that is, until she started to purr.  Never having heard a cat purr before, the poor guy freaked out, said the cat was going to explode, and threw Orchid off his knee in a mad panic to everyone else’s laughter.

In Punta Gorda, howler monkeys and toucans live just minutes away from our rented house in town.  Once at 4pm, I was leaving work, and I heard howler monkeys nearby.  I took a 30 second walk across the cemetery, and found three howler monkeys at the top of a tree looking down suspiciously at the white girl being eaten by mosquitoes.

The land where we are building our new house has a fig tree in the garden where a group of over 20 parrots like to gossip over an all-you-can-eat fig buffet.  A toucan perches on a nearby tree every day; iguanas chill out on various tree limbs and lizards dance around the grass.  All only a 15 minute walk from the middle of town.  As my father-in-law says, “you got your own zoo back deh for free”.  I just need to work on some Kriol rhymes for it now.

www.warasadrumschool.com

 

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Royal Rat – A Vexing Meal? Kriol, the language of Belize

While English maybe the official language, Kriol, the language of Belize, is the real language. Based on English, but with its own grammar system, and lots of other words thrown in, on first coming here, you will probably understand 50-70% of what people say on the streets.

Some proper English words that I think I almost never used at home are used all the time here. Examples include variations of the verb “to vex”, which is used all the time instead of annoyed, angry, pissed off etc, e.g.: “Wha’ yu di geh vex wid me for?” ‘What are you getting angry with me for?”.

My father-in-law, who’s first languages are actually Garifuna and Spanish, broke the news to me that “di crab done condemn some of di okra” that he planted (although happily not all, and as the surviving okra plants are now 12 foot high, they are out of reach of even the largest of blue crabs). Even now, sometimes Ray will say things that have me simply replying “huh?” in confusion. Some call Kriol simplified English, but to me, there is nothing simple about it, and like with all languages, there are some things that only make sense when they are said in Kriol.

I will leave you with January’s recipe from this year’s Kriol Kalinda for stewed gibnut, a huge rabbit-like rodent, which can indeed be made with rabbit if anyone feels like being chef.

It’s alternative name, Royal Rat, comes from the fact that it was fed to Queen Elizabeth during her last visit. I’m not sure whether she found eating an over-sized rodent vexing or not, but I’m sure she’s been fed many strange things in her time.

 

 

 

Schoo Raiyal Rat

Kriol, the language of Belize

The Royal Rat -Picture and Recipe courtesy of the Kriol Council of Belize (http://www.nationalkriolcouncil.org/) and their fantastic annual Kriol Calendar.

  • ¼ or ½ a wan gibnat (bowt 3 pong)
  • 1/8 kop vineega er di joos a 2 laim
  • 1 teespoon seezn saal
  • 3 plog gyaalik, chap op; er 2 teespoon jrai gyaalik
  • ½ teespoon blak pepa
  • ½ teespoon taim
  • 1 tayblspoon saiz rikaado
  • 1 tayblspoon Lea ‘n’ Perrins saas
  • 1 meedyon oanyan, slais op
  • 2 kop vejitablz
  • kuknat ail

How fu mek itWash meet wid vineega er laim.  Kot op di meet eena di saiz porshan weh yu waahn.  Jrayn di meet gud gud.  Miks op aal di seeznin dehn lang wid di saas sotay yu ga wahn wet amonk.  Rob dat op gud-wan pahn di meet.  Den set di meet wan said fu soak dong wahn lee owa self; oavanait eena frij gud tu (di langa di beta).  Heet ail eena yu pan.  Ad di meet.  Ton dong heet tu meedyom.  Brayz fu 30-40 minits; ad 1/3 kop waata evri now ahn den wen di meet jrai owt, sotay ih tenda.  Kova di pat meentaim if yu waahn ih moa tenda.  Yu ku ad di vejitablz fahn di taim yu staat to brayz if yu waahn dehn saafi  saafi, er wayt sotay now fu ad di vejitablz if you waahn dehn moa ferm.  Ad lee moa waata ahn kuk dong tu ail.  Serv wid blak-aiy peez ahn rais, bayk plaantin ahn pitayta salad.

Rikaado, or “recado” is a Belizean seasoning made from the annatto plant (the same plant used to colour orange cheese).  You can use paprika instead. 

www.warasadrumschool.com

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