Such stuff as dreams are made on

The one thing Ray never gets tired of is talking about his music and culture.   In private, he is often a very quiet person, but if I want to get him talking, all I have to do is ask him what the words to the song he is listening to means, or something else about his music or drumming.  He doesn’t like to read, but he wants a Garifuna history book, because he says he wouldn’t get bored reading about that.  Since I first met Ray, he told me about his dream to have his own Garifuna drumming school, where he could teach locals and visitors about Garifuna drumming and culture, and also have Garifuna clothes, cooking utensils and other artefacts in a small museum.  For some reason, nobody in PG had already done this, despite PG being the second biggest Garifuna settlement in Belize.  PG, being the main town in Toledo district is more known for the Maya population, even though most town dwellers are Garifuna and the town was founded by Garifuna people.

At the time, I was volunteering at Belize Council for the Visually Impaired, so we were in no financial position to start anything much, but I figured you have to start somewhere, so I printed some basic business cards to give out, and painted some simple signs to put in our yard and around town.

The first hand-painted signs

And so Ray got his first local student – Niki, the daughter of a local doctor.  Then, a few weeks after our wedding, Ray got a call from Ian Morton of Hickatee Cottages, a nearby jungle Bed  & Breakfast, asking him to do a lesson out there.  The lesson was a hit, and since then, Ray has done weekly taster lessons for guests at Hickatee, with some guests going on to book additional private lessons.  I painted some more signs, bumped into Lonely Planet writers, made more cards, persuaded backpackers on buses to have a lesson or two, wrote a business plan (in the vain hope someone would fund the venture!) and so on.  No funding came our way, but again, I figured you can’t rely on other people, so we started saving up for Ray to get some of his own drums made for if people wanted group lessons.  Ray now has 4 segunda and 2 primero drums, with 3 more on the way, all being made by his uncle, dad and himself.  He’s in the latest Lonely Planet & Moon Belize guidebooks, is on TripAdvisor, and has a website.

We will certainly never become rich from Warasa, and will always have to have other “regular” jobs in order to live, but at least Ray is starting to live his dream, and the Garifuna culture lives on.   Ideally, Ray wants to teach more local children how to drum, but for most families, they have other more important priorities like paying  for food and school fees.  If anyone would be interested in sponsoring a local child to learn drumming, please let us know – we would post regular pictures and videos of their progress.

Living life to the beat of my own drum: beginnings

When I left Scotland on my first long-term overseas adventure, my good friend Linda wrote me a goodbye and good luck card which I have carried with me ever since. In amongst many lovely things she wrote, she said I “live life to the beat of my own drum”. I wonder if she’s an unwitting psychic, as now I am indeed living life to the daily beat of drums on the other side of the world in Belize.

I met my husband Ray (full name Ronald Raymond McDonald)at a bar in Punta Gorda town, Belize, during Toledo district’s annual Cacao Festival. I was there with my visiting friend Becky, and he was playing drums. Actually, he wasn’t supposed to be. Another group were playing drums, but he was “helping them out” by singing and occasionally taking over playing the small Primero drum. Four years later, I know that Ray is incapable of sitting down to watch and listen to other people play Garifuna drums, because either “they no play good” or “they cyahn sing the song properly”. A drumming and Garifuna singing perfectionist. Maybe that’s why his dream is to teach people drumming, because he just can’t handle hearing people do it wrong!

The first things I remember about when I first met Ray were his huge white smile, his drummer’s arms, and his persistent attempts to drag me up to dance. Not much has changed, except now I can do a little punta dancing without feeling like I’m going to reinforce all the locals’ beliefs that “white gyals cyahn dance gud”.

I’d been living in PG, as Punta Gorda is known, for about four months, and had often heard the drumming coming from a mile away every Friday night, but this was the first time I’d actually seen it live. I loved it, except when the group would break into a very bad rendition of Jonny Cash’s Ring of Fire or some Backstreet Boys’ number – I may not have known what any of the real Garifuna songs were about, but I was sure they were far superior to any Backstreet Boy’s number, and I just don’t think Jonny Cash songs should be messed with.