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.

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

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

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

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

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