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.

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

What’s in a name?

Considering the name of my husband, I feel an entry on the general inventiveness of Belizean names is apt.  There is no McDonald’s restaurant in Belize (in fact there are no chains at all), and so Ray has not suffered too much as a result of his name, but there is a reason he introduces himself as Ray to all non-Belizeans.

My personal favourite name that I’ve come across in Belize is Al Gore Bo, a name belonging to a 7 year old Mayan boy I discovered while conducting vision screenings in the tiny village of Machaquilha,  a 3 hour drive + 40 minute walk away from PG, with no phone service or electricity.  If only I spoke Kekchi I would have asked the boy’s parents about that one.

Al Gore....Bo?

I think the parents of my former workmate Disraeli Socorro Bol, and her 10 brothers and sisters who all have the same initials (Diora, Davina, Delana, Diego, Descartes, Desiderius and 4 more that I can never remember) should get some kind of prize for inventiveness.  Some parents choose to combine their names to christen their dearest with, giving wonderful combinations like Rayanna (Raymond + Joanna), Darlisa (Darius + Lisa) and so on.

In addition, certain surnames are associated with certain trades, occupations or prestige.  If you have the same surname as somebody (other than through marriage), then it is highly unlikely that you are NOT related in a country where I would guess that there are no more than three degrees of separation between any two people.  I feel the need to be friendly to pretty much everyone in PG not only because I’m a friendly person, but also because I figure there is at least a 20% chance they are related to Ray in some way.

When I first came here, and people found out I was from Scotland, they would ask (perhaps thinking that the above logic could be applied equally effectively outside Belize) if I knew Kirsty that worked at Red Cross in Belize City, as she was also from Scotland.  Now you might think that I would have to point out that being a country of 5 million people, no I did not know Kirsty at the Red Cross.  Funny thing is, I did.  She was in the year below me at Balfron High School, and we both ended up in Belize completely independently of each other, and only find out about each other once we were both here.

www.warasadrumschool.com

Black man lay the pipe: Belize race relations

“Spanish man build the house, Chiney man cook the food, White man pay the bills, Black man lay de pipe!”

Immortal words from a song of Belizean punta rock super star, Supa G.

“Hey, Blondie!”

I keep walking, aware of my long dark brunette hair.

“Hey, White gyal!”

Ah.  They’re talking to me.   Welcome to Belize race relations, where your ethnicity and skin colour is not something people whisper about behind a veil of political correctness.

Belize has about 310,000 people, in a land area roughly the size of Wales.  But it is a melting pot like any large British city.  The main ethnic groups in Belize are: Creole, Mestizo, Maya (Mopan, Kekchi and Yucatec), Garifuna, East Indian (‘Coolie’ or ‘Hindu’), Mennonite, Chinese (‘Chiney/Chino/China’), Middle Eastern (‘Lebanese’), other Central American (‘Spanish’), Nigerian, and various Caucasians (‘white gal/bwai/man/’oman’).

It takes a while to get used to being identified solely by your skin colour, but you can’t legitimately get offended once you realise that it’s not much different from shouting “hey you in the red shirt and blue shorts!”: it’s mostly just one of many defining physical characteristics, and everyone does it to everyone else.

But as Supa G’s song outlines, stereotypes do abound. When people yell “white gal”, there is often a silent “rich” in there.  My shabby clothes are all just a cunning disguise.  Mennonites smell bad; Garifuna people are lazy; the Chinese are stealing all the business opportunities, the Spanish are stealing all the jobs and so on.  The usual vastly generalized assumptions that are the foundations of many cultures.

It is mostly superficial, and I have never personally witnessed any vicious verbal or physical racism, but while it may all seem hunky dory, you could easily argue that you just have to look at where the power lies in the country and at the poverty and crime statistics to see that not all is fair and equal between the various ethnic groups.  Belize, a country where approximately half of the population is black (historically closer to three quarters) elected its first black prime minister only three years ago.  Poverty rates are consistently higher in Maya and Garifuna households.  Crime rates are out of control in the Creole southside of Belize City.  Child labour is most likely in Spanish immigrant families.  And so on.

But as a whole, I would say many so called “developed” countries have a lot to learn from Belize in terms of race relations.  My own brother was beaten up in Scotland when he was a child for having an English accent.  I really wish I hadn’t heard people at home using phrases like “Paki scum” and the like, but I have, sometimes from people I had considered friends.  I honestly can’t imagine anything like that happening in Belize, or at least certainly not in Punta Gorda, and I truly hope that Ray is never on the receiving end of anything like that in the UK or elsewhere.

www.warasadrumschool.com

From Brixton ‘Bananas’ to PG Plantain

Fyffes Belize through the ages

The first time I ate a plantain was when I lived in Brixton, London, five minutes’ walk away from Electric Avenue market. I had bought a large banana, but it didn’t want to peel properly, and it was a weird shade of yellow inside, and it tasted unripe and made my tongue feel funny even though it was a deep yellow on the outside. I had wondered for a while why so many market vendors in Brixton sold giant mouldy black bananas, but never really investigated.  Of course, I now know that I had actually bought a plantain, the banana’s starchier cousin.  Unfortunately I realised this after I had already subjected my friend Harriet to the same ‘banana’ eating experience.

Yellow and green plantain for sale on Electric Avenue, Brixton

These days, I am a plantain and banana expert – I even work in the so-called “banana belt” villages of Belize (helping the local teachers get trained). Thanks to Ray’s dad Mario, I know how to cook green bananas (you grate them and make them into burger shaped savoury “banana fritters” to eat with fish), yellow bananas (ok so they’re still best eaten straight out of their skin, but taste oh so much better when they’ve ripened on the tree!); over-ripe black-skinned plantain (chopped into slices lengthways and fried into unhealthy deliciousness); ripe plantain mixed with green plantain (boiled then pounded into submission ready to eat with hudut, a delicious Garifuna fish and coconut stew) and everything in between.  When I say I know how to cook all these things, I mean I watch Mario do it regularly – I leave all the actual cooking up to him!

I know that to grow a banana or plantain tree you just get a piece of banana tree stalk, stick it in the ground, and you’ll have bananas less then a year later. I know that good banana cultivation requires the merciless hacking down of all runt banana trees that sprout out of the bottom of the mother banana tree, leaving only the strongest daughter to rule once the mother has borne her bananas and is also mercilessly slaughtered.

Bananas freshly picked from Belize's banana belt for export

Yes I now have utmost respect for the humble banana family – and next time you see a Fyffes Belize banana at your local supermarket in the UK or Ireland, just think, I might have driven past that banana while it was still on its tree while visiting a school in a Mayan village just a few weeks previously.

https://www.warasadrumschool.com

 

 

 

 

Mundian to Bach Ke (Ronald McDonald vs. Punjabi MC)

The face off

I have a terrible singing voice. I love to sing, but only in private when (I think) nobody is listening. Ray has a good overall singing voice and a great Garifuna singing voice: Garifuna songs don’t require you to be in perfect tune or for you to sing like a bird, but they do require character and confidence, both of which Ray has when he sings. He sings all the time, and regularly puts a smile on my face by randomly running up to me and singing in my ear.

Sometimes, he tries to get me to sing along to a well-known Garifuna song. For whatever reason, even though we’ve been married almost one year and together almost 4, I get stupidly shy at such requests and refuse: I hate being put on the spot. My usual excuse is I can’t because it’s in Garifuna and I don’t know the words. Ray always tells me that doesn’t matter I just need to listen.

Once, when I was with him at his mum’s house, he was saying this to me again when his 12-year old niece Kathlyn was there. Kathlyn only started living with Ray’s family recently, as previously she was living with her Creole mother in Belize City, so she has only been learning about her Garifuna side the past 2 years. Kathlyn is a lovely girl, and agreed with me that it was hard to sing a song when you didn’t understand the language. (All credit to her though, she was at least willing to try!)

Ray however again claimed he had no such difficulties or inhibitions. So, I searched through my phone for a song I could test him with, and found the song Mundian to Bach Ke by Punjabi MC. I played it full volume through Ray’s amp and speakers, and challenged Ray to sing along. It has to be said that the performance of Mundian to Bach Ke – possibly the first time a Garifuna musician has sung in Punjabi – was hilariously funny but also quite impressive, and I thus completely failed to prove my point.

 

https://www.warasadrumschool.com

Yurumein: The story of the Garifuna

Every year on 19th November, Ray, his family, and pretty much every Garifuna person in Belize (plus lots of other interested Belizeans and visitors) will attend their local “Yurumein” on the national holiday known as Garifuna Settlement Day, the anniversary of when the largest group of Garifuna people arrived on the shores of Belize.

 

Yurumein is the Garifuna name for St. Vincent, the island where several Spanish slave ships were wrecked in the 17th century, allowing their occupants to escape slavery and mix with the local indigenous Arawak and Carib Indians living on the island, creating the Garifuna culture, language and ethnicity.  But the word “Yurumein” now also refers to the annual re-enactment of when the Garifuna arrived in their new homelands in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua after being expelled from St Vincent by the new British colonialists in the 19th century.

In PG, this re-enactment involves two or three boatloads of Garifuna people paddling towards the main dock, carrying essential crops such as banana, plantain, cassava and coconut to plant wherever they land.  The also carry their flag, and also come playing drums to announce their arrival.  Unlike the original arrival, in the Yurumein re-enactment, hundreds of local Garifuna people line the shore and the dock waiting to greet their brethren, wearing traditional clothes and also carrying flags, drums, and crops, and singing and dancing in greeting.  Local British/Zimbabwean/Belizean Jack Nightingale, who is a portly middle-aged white man with blonde/white hair and an English accent, takes on the role of the British Governor General, and thus when the first boat requests permission to settle in Belize (British Honduras way back then), he refuses the request.

 

 

He refuses two or three more times, and the lead boat paddles back to discuss the next move with the other boats, but persistence pays off, and eventually the Garifuna boats are granted permission to land and settle the uninhabited coast in the south of Belize.  The new arrivals land their boats, and join in with the singing, dancing and drumming, and parade town to much celebration, before going to church for a brief ceremony.

Last year, 2010, 19th November was a rainy day, but although rain stops many Belizeans going out under normal circumstances, the Yurumein still went ahead, and had even more poignancy, as made you ponder what it must have been like to travel across the sea for weeks looking for a new homeland, only to be refused entry.  I would have persisted also!

And so the coastal Garifuna towns and villages Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Hopkins, Barranco and Seine Bight were formed.  The other Garifuna village in Belize, Georgetown, is inland, but was only founded after some families from Seine Bight relocated following a bad hurricane.  While Garifuna people make up less than 10% of the population of Belize, their influence is widespread, especially in the areas music and education, with the majority of Belizean musicians and a large percentage of Belizean teachers being of Garifuna heritage.

https://www.warasadrumschool.com

Ronald McDonald learns to ceilidh

According to Ray, I dance to everything the same way.  I admit I’m not the world’s greatest dancer, but I know for a fact that I definitely do not dance to Teenage Kicks the same way I dance to Ray’s drumming.  Living in Belize for several years has a strange affect on your dancing style though.  Instead of tapping your foot or bopping your head along to music, you end up shaking your arse.  Even while sitting down.  Even to The Proclaimers.  Ray is a good dancer, and thanks to me, has even mastered the Gay Gordons and Military Two Step.  We had a mini-ceilidh at our wedding, which was definitely the highlight of the reception, as Belizeans love to dance, and so we had a room of people in hysterics as they all attempted to keep up with the old heel-toe-heel-toe in the tropical heat of Belize.   Sadly all my official and unofficial photographers also joined in, so I have no photographs of this epic moment, but we may repeat the event annually since everyone enjoyed it so much!  Ray will get his ceilidh skills tested to the max this New Year’s however, as we joining in on the Edinburgh Hogmanay Street Keilidh – he’ll have to dance or he’ll freeze!  Now if only I could persuade him to don a kilt…

https://www.warasadrumschool.com

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.

https://www.warasadrumschool.com