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Saturday, 2 June 2012

Kriol Words and Phrases

Bakabush (In the jungle/ bush)- i.e We gwen backabush (we are going to the jungle)
Bak (Carry) i,e Mek ih bak yuh (Make him carry you)
Balli (Friend) i.e Dis da mi Balli (This is my friend)
Bash (Party) i.e. Wah big bash di happen (A big party is going on)
Bathe (Wash/ shower) i.e Hurri go bathe (Go and take a wash/shower)
Bitaz (A drink usually made from Jackass Bitters, used as a tonic) i.e Yuh need fi drink a lee bitaz mek yuh feel betta (You need to drink some bitters, it will make you feel better)
Black up (Very drunk) Cho! dat bwoi black up! (Wow he is really drunk!)
Boil up (A kriol recipe, often ground food boiled and served with tomato sauce, also can include meat, dumplings and egg)
Bra-lee (Brother in Law) i.e Dis dah mi Bra-lee (This is my brother in law)
Bredda (Brother) Di dah mi Bredda pon mi pa side (This is my brother, on my fathers side)
Breggin (Boastful) Yuh breggin (You're showing off)
Bruk down (A type of Kriol dance) See di gial dem Bruk Down (See those girls dancing Bruk Down)
Bruk out (Going out to party) End a da month dun reach time fi bruk out! (It's pay day, time to go party!)
Bubble up (Cooking a dish that bubbles on the stove) Mi gial gwan bubble up a lee dinner (My girlfriend is cooking some soup/stew/beans etc. for dinner)
Bush (Jungle/ forest) Less go hunting da bush (Lets go hunting in the jungle)
Buss out (Get out of jail) The buay ready fi buss out dis week yah (The boy is coming out of jail this week)
Bwoi, Buay (Boy)
Chillax (Relax/ Chillout) Yuh need fi chillax mi bredda (You need to relax brother!)
Cho! (Statement of suprise/ unhappiness) i.e Cho dat taxi ride nuh cost ten dalla! Dat da tourist price! (What! That taxi ride isn't ten dollars, that's what you'd charge a tourist!)
Courtin (Dating/ flirting) Mine, dat man courtin yuh ya kno! (Watch out that man is flirting with you!)
Dash weh (Throw away) Di gial dash weh di baby (The gial got an abortion)
Doado (Sleeping or Dozing) Ih di doado (He is sleeping)
Dyaa (Deer) We gwen fi catch wah dyaa fi eat (We are going to catch a deer to eat)
Ending a di  mont Usually associated with payday
Geh ketch (Get caught) Mind yuh get ketch! (Watch out you might get caught! - often referring to being caught by a male or female!)
Gibnut (Type of game animal often known as Royal Rat)
Facey (Cheeky/ rude) Cho! Yuh facey nuh tru! (You are really rude aren't you!)
Faam (Farm) Dey deh da farm (They're at the farm)
Fala (Follow) Fala da leader (Follow the leader)
Fire Hearth (Where food is cooked outside) Granni mi di cook pon di firehearth (Granny was cooking on the firehearth)
Gial, Gyal (Girl)
Haad Hed (Closed minded) Yuh only haad heded (You are stubborn!)
Haad Ears (Don't like to listen/ stubborn) Dat pickni haad ears (That child doesn't like to listen!)
How ih name (What is their name?)
How ole yuh? (How old are you?)
Jack (Rob/ steal) Mine deh jack dat i-phone, yuh too breggin (Watch that they don't steal your i-phone, you are showing off to much)
Jacked (Robbed) Yuh hear Miss Tillett geh jacked (Did you here, Mrs Tillet got robbed)
Juss Buss (Just got out of jail) Mi balli juss buss (My friend just got out of jail)
Kyaahn (Caayn) (Cannot) She cyann dance none at all (She can't dance at all!)
Lee (Little)
Link up (Hang out/ get in touch) Ok mi lee buay wi haff fi link up (Ok boy, we need to get in touch)
Lone (only/really) You da lone rass (You are only/really silly)
Maaga (Skinny) Dat wah maaga dog fi tru (That really is a skinny dog!)
Mash up (Broken/ hurt) (party) Mi foot geh mash up mein (my foot got hurt) or Dis da wah sick mash up! (This is a good party!)
Mein (informal address used for male or female but literally meaning man) Wat up mein? (Whats up?)
Mind yuh fool Stop being silly
Murk (Murder) Unnu lookin fi get murk (You are looking to get killed /murdered)
Pickni (Child) Dat wah pretti lee pickni unno gat (Thats a pretty child you have)
Rass (Bad behaviour/ silliness/ nonsense) Yuh di talk lone rass (You are talking nonsense)
Sistren (Sister) Usually used when referring to female friend
Spoil (Food that is rotten) Dat food nuh gud it spoiled (The food isn't any good its rotten)
Straight (OK) Yuh straight? (You ok?)
Stap (Stop) Stap yuh rass (Stop being silly)
Thirsty Thursday (Common day for drinking/ start of the weekend) Today da thirsty thursday less bruk out! (Today its thursday, lets go for a drink!)
Waif (Wife) Yuh waif very pretty (Your wife is very pretty)
Weh gaan ahn (What is going on, common greeting)
Weh par yuh deh? (Where are you?)
Wah lee bit (A little bit)
Yu gaan aff  (Phrase stating suprise)  Gial, yu gaan aff!

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Belizean Proverbs; Grauma use to seh

This list of Belizean proverbs was shared with me by a lady from Bullet Tree, Cayo, Belize. I have heard many of them before especially, "emty crocus bag kant stan up", which I was constantly told by my work colleague after missing breakfast.

1. Emty crocus bag kant stan up
Meaning: when you are extremely hungry u cannot work

2. Blood tika dan wata but wata tase betta.
Meaning: Sometimes interacting with friends or strangers is less stressful than interacting with problematic or difficult relatives.

3. Plantain no eat like rice
Meaning: During hard times,one eats what is available even if it's not what one wants or is accustomed to.

Plantain no eat like rice

4. Dat one cut like panya machete.
Meaning: a person may seem duplicitious,a one gathering may take a certain stand , make certain statements or share a particular opinion, then contradicts or disclaims them when in another gathering.

5. No stap ah donki weh yo no own
Meaning: Mind your own business!

6. A lia is fugetful
Meaning: A dishonest person can't remember to be consistent.

7. Yo borro moni, ih mek enemi.
Meaning: Lend money to a friend, and he'll become an enemy.

8. If yo no chek di wata, no teck off yo shoe
Meaning: Look before you leap.

9. Yuh gat yuh han eena tiga mouth
Meaning: You are involving yourself in something dangerous

10. Every daag have eh day
Meaning: That whatever goes around comes right  back, so your actions are
very valuable be careful what you say because sometimes it comes right back
at you.

11. U di deh di gren lik chesnat kat
Meaning: You looking guilty of something.

12. Yu coulda lie suga outta bun.
Meaning: You can tell alot of lies.

13. If dah no so, dah naily so.
Meaning: If it's not all the way true it's almost close to the truth.

14. Sorry fi marger dawg, marger dawg tun round bite yu.
Meaning: If you sympathize with someone, or you give them a help, they do not appreciate the kindness, instead, they become your enemy.

15. Wha happen, stick bruk eena yu ears?
Meaning: Are you hard of hearing or did you hear what I said?

16. Yu blade a wonda if you bade.
Meaning: You're dressed up but did you take a bath?

17. Cut da rope shaut.
Meaning: Don't take so long on the tiolet.

18. Put two a deh enna wha bag a we wa si who wa come out fus.
Meaning: Put two people with the same personality together to see who is more determined to get ahead.

19. Cut da lang bench shaut.
Meaning: Put an end to the long conversation.

20. If yo no listen, yo a've fu feel.
Meaning: If you don't heed good advice you will get hurt.

21. Yo giv weh yo ass ahn shit chu yo ribs
Meaning: People who give away too much and is left with little.

22. Yo act like yo have chinch ina yo ass..
Meaning: This was used to describe very active children that could not stay in one position for a very long time. It accused them of having bed bugs biting them so they could not keep still.

23. Yo bawn wit gold spoon ina yo mouth.
Meaning: You were born to a family that is more financially fortunate that others.

24. Todey fe mi, tomorrow fe you.
Meaning: Your day is today but sooner or later my day is coming.

25. U deh deh di baffu ah cahn gamma!!!
Meaning: Trying to accomplish something but can't get it done.

26. Croffie di ahn, de run da fya but run fra rain!!
Meaning: Some people are giddy.

27. Adam Bantan wipe e ass befo e sh*t.
Meaning: Don't get too ahead of yourself. (Like counting chickens before they hatch)

28. Weh me ers no hare me ass no count
Meaning: I have to hear it to believe it.

29. Man whe sh*t da pass no rememba, da who daab eena it.
Meaning: Someone who does something bad don't always remember what they did; it's the person who it affects

30. Yu si mi crass!
Meaning: You see the tribulations you're putting me through (Like Jesus on the cross)

31. Fun bring bun.
Meaning: when you play around alot your going to get hurt

32. Aze haud pickney always feel.
situation where they get hurt or in trouble.

33. No count yu chicken befoe deh hatch.
Meaning: Don't count as certain what has not yet occured.

34. No cry ova spill milk.
Meaning: Don't worry about things that already happened.

35. Yo hang witt di daug yo ketch di fleas.
Meaning: You hang around bad company, you'll get into trouble.

36. If e nuh bun, e nuh dunn.
Meaning: If the food isn't well cook, it's not finished.

37. Di dauka di berry, di sweeta di juice.
Meaning: Comes from the notion that blacks are better in bed.

38.E tauk big, but e sh*t small.
Meaning: His mouth is big, but he can't back it up.

39. Leev sleepin daugs alone.
Meaning: Leave things not messing with you alone.

Leev sleepin daugs alone

40. Tenk Gaad fu me mout no eena dis.
Meaning: Thank God I'm not involved in this argument. (Neil)

41. Si mi an live wit mi da tue difrant ting.
Meaning: Not yet ready for a commitment.

42. Di sae ting weh sweet yu wahn sowa yu.
Meaning: What makes you happy can make you sad.

43. Man aada monki, monki aada e tail.
Meaning: A person given orders pass it on to someone else.

44. Fishaman nevva seh e fish stink.
Meaning: A person will never talk bad about his family or self.

Fisherman nevva seh e fish stink

45. One day bellyfull fatten maga daug.
Meaning: Eat everything in one day and don't think about the next day.

46. Yu Deh ride wahn high haas!
Meaning: Your attitude is demeaning.

47. Yu gat to much a weh di kat lick e battam wit!.
Meaning: You have too much tongue (smart mouth).

48. Hass laze fu bac y grass wahn stauv.
Meaning: If you don't work you won't eat.

49. Neva drap di bone fi ketch di shadow.
Meaning: Stay satisfied with what you have.

50. Yu wahn get am wen fowl gat teet.
Meaning: You'll never get it.

51. Mout seh anyting !!
Meaning: You talk too much! (Big mouth)

52. Greedy choke puppi.
Meaning: Being greedy can get you into trouble.

53. No put mout pan it.
Meaning: Don't talk about bad luck or it might actually happen.

54. When pickni waan cry you only look pan dem an e cry.
Meaning: Refers to people who complain about everything.

55. Deh close like batty an chemba pat.
Meaning: Very close friends.

56. Scarnful daug eat dutty puddin.
When a finnicky person unknowningly eats something dirty.

57. Nuh heng yu hat higher dan yu can reach.
Meaning: Don't spend more than you could afford.

58. Mek yu slef floclath an pipple wahn wipe dehn foot pahn yu.
Meaning: People will exploit your weakness.

59. Me han no jine chuch.
Meaning: A good person will defend himself no matter what.

60. Yu noh know di use ah di wata til di well run dry..
Meaning: You don't know a what you have until its gone.

61. Dah fool de talk but dah no fool de lissen.
Meaning: The smart person is the one who listens well.

62. Wen chikin merry, hawk ketch an befo daylite.
When a chicken is merry, a hawk will soon devour him before day light.
Meaning: Your joy may be short-lived if you are too careless.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Ina da Belizean Kitchen... how fi mek stewed beans (how to make stewed beans)

The prefered method of cooking beans in Belize is by stewing them, boiling them, without rehydrating them first by soaking them The finished stew beans can be used to make 'rice and beans' and 'refried beans'.

Beans bubbling on the stove

I was taught to make stewed beans by my neighbours mother, a middle aged lady of Spanish descent who spoke very little English (or Kriol) whom I called Tia (auntie). She was from a town called Benque Viejo del Carmen (commonly shortened to Benque), a border town between Belize and Guatemala, located 8 miles from San Igancio and 1 mile from the Guatemalan town of Melcher de Menco (commonly shortened to Melchor) .

Despite our obvious language barriers she managed to teach me to cook many Belizean dishes, through a process of pointing , spanglish and lots of laughter! Aside from the 'frijoles rojo' (red beans) another important ingredient in stewed beans is the garlic which has anti-flatuence properties (imagine trying to communicate that with a language barrier!) With a large metal cooking pot, a gas ring and the assembled ingredients the cooking began....

This list of ingredients makes a medium pot of beans, just multiply the quantities to make the volume you require

1lb of Red Beans ( kidney beans)
1 onion
1 sweet pepper (green)
4 cloves of garlic
Seasoning (salt, black pepper, pepper, rosemary and season all)

1) The first step is to was the beans to get rid of any dirt, grit or stones that may be hiding amongst them. This is important if you don't want to 'bruk yuh teefs'
2) Place washed beans in the cooking pot and cover with cold water (most people use pipe waata). Place on a high heat until beans start to bubble up (rapid boil) at this point add in 1tsp of salt and the peeled crushed garlic cloves. I have been told that it is important to add the garlic early in the cooking process if it is to prevent wind, adding the salt apparently reduces the cooking time. Everyone has their own interpretation of stewed beans, some people argue that putting the salt in early makes the skins of the beans leathery, some add the garlic at the end, it's a personal choice. Another tip I received to reduce the cooking time is to place a metal spoon in the pot whilst the beans are cooking.
3) After turning the heat down to low, leave the beans to simmer until they start to become soft. This generally takes 2-3 hours, sometimes longer. Once the cooking starts the beans must be boiled until soft, the beans must not be half cooked and then cooked again later, otherwise the beans will remain tough. It is important not to let the beans boil dry, therefore continue to top up with water when necessary. The house will now begin to smell of the cooking beans. Patience is key at this stage as crunchy beans are not very palatable, as I discovered on many occasions when hunger overcame my patience!
4)When the beans are starting to go soft, it is time to season them. There are many ways to do this but I have been taught two. The main difference is in the treatment of the onion. 'Tia' taught me to finely dice both the sweet pepper and onion and gently fry them in 1tsbp of oil. My husband meanwhile does not fry the onion and sweet pepper adding it to the beans (diced) raw. After adding the sweet pepper and onion leave to boil for another fifteen minutes, making sure that the mixture does not boil dry.
5) Mash the beans ever so slightly (wah lee bit) with the back of a spoon, or in case this doesn't work the base of a regular large water glass. This was a good tip given to me by a friend, that helps the beans to absorb the flavour of the seasoning.
5) At this point add salt, pepper, rosemary (my personal addition), season all and chicken consomme. Let the beans rest before serving.

The amount of water in the beans determines the consistency, some people like beans with a very liquid sauce 'long waata beans' whilst some prefer the beans to have a slightly thicker sauce, again as you season the beans add water or boil until the desired consistency is reached. Make sure to start cooking early if you plan on serving beans with the 12 midday meal, as they taste better after they have rested a while and the flavours intensified. Most women start cooking for a midday meal between 6-8am although working women may begin even earlier, I had a friend who used to rise at 5am every morning in order to cook the beans before leaving for work. Her life was transformed by the purchase of a crock pot (slow cooker) which meant she was able to leave the beans to cook overnight.

Once a pot of beans has been made, the pot is usually left on the stove for the rest of the day and overnight. Custom dictates that as long as the beans are reheated before midday the following day they will not spoil, beans are kept like this on the stove for a couple of days, this may seem a unhealthy practise to non Belizeans, as the heat in Belize can increase bacteria growth in food. However, it did seem to work when I tried it on the couple of occasions that I forgot to put the beans up in the fridge. When beans spoil, you can tell by the taste and the smell, it is foul!

Menstruation in Belize: Religion, Myths and Taboos

Belizean customs very often focus on blood. You will hear people talking about 'strong blood', 'bad blood' and 'weak blood'. This life giving liquid, gives life to many customs. It is only logical therefore that a topic such as menstruation, involving the monthly passing of blood, will be surrounding with customs and taboos. Coming from a Western culture I grew up thinking that menstruation was a normal bodily process, it didn't really limit what I could do or whom I could do it with. It was a strange experience for me to discover that some Belizean men and women I met have a very different view on it.  It is not really the kind of topic you bring up with strangers so I carried on my usual practises without realising I should be acting any different. The first time I encountered a new opinion on the cleanliness of my 'normal' bodily functions was one day when a friend came to visit me for dinner. I explained to him that I had been sleeping in the afternoon as I had been suffering from stomach cramps, 'the joys of being a woman'. He asked if I had cooked already, I said no and he looked very relieved and said he would cook as he would not eat food cooked by a woman on their period. I must have looked slightly offended as he started explaining that it was unclean for a woman to cook on their period.  This occurred again another time when I was making sere; the person I was cooking for said that he would have to add the coconut milk as it would 'split the dish' (curdles) if I was cooking whilst on my period. The two reasons offered for the reactions were very different though one viewed the blood as "dirty" whilst the other viewed the blood as "too strong". After speaking to various women about the topic there seemed to be three distinct cultural views about women around the time of their menstruation; the first views the menstrual blood as unclean and therefore a pollutant, the second idea sees the menstrual blood as having magical properties and finally the blood is seen as being too "strong".

The idea that blood is unclean has origins in many religions. In the biblical book Leviticus  a woman's body is seen as unclean for seven days from the start of the bleeding. 

"If a woman has a discharge, and the discharge from her body is blood, she shall be set apart seven days; and whoever touches her shall be unclean until evening. Everything that she lies on during her impurity shall be unclean; also everything that she sits on shall be unclean. Whoever touches her bed shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. And whoever touches anything that she sat on shall wash his clothes and bathe in water, and be unclean until evening. If anything is on her bed or on anything on which she sits, when he touches it, he shall be unclean until evening. And if any man lies with her at all, so that her impurity is on him, he shall be unclean seven days; and every bed on which he lies" (Leviticus 15 v19-24)

 If the text is followed literally then it would follow that such blood is dirty. Many Belizeans I have spoken to about this subject regard the menstrual blood as particularly unclean, one source stating that  " the blood comes down to clean out any dirt in the woman, like old semen, that is why the blood is so dark to start". This is a very common perception throughout many cultures worldwide. This dirty blood is seen to pollute the woman and all she may touch while she is on her period. I was told "you cannot go to church during your period, it is disrespectful". Proper bathing and hygiene are of utmost importance during the menstrual cycle.  Some men will even refuse to sleep in the same bed as a women on her period.  This might also reflect many of the taboos around oral sex in Belize, many men believe  that it is wrong to practice such activities, at any time,  as that is the 'area' where the polluted menstrual blood leaves the body, the mouth may become contaminated resulting in sickness.  The idea that the blood is a dirty pollutant also has an affect on modern practices for women. Many women find the idea of using tampons also contradictory with the polluting nature of the menstrual blood, "the blood should be free to flow out of the body… it is dirty it should not stay there for any amount of time".   Menstruation is seen as a natural cleansing process and the process should be allowed as nature intended. This can also influence women's views on contraception. The contraceptive pill for example is often viewed as a poison that interferes with the cycle of nature. 

 A popular religion in Belize,  Rastafarianism, often promotes that "women are expected to follow a modest dress code, and to avoid certain responsibilities , such as preparing food when menstruating. (Reprecht, A. The reordering of Culture; Latin America, The Caribbean  and Canada in the Hood). These guidelines tend to by followed by Orthodox Nyahbihgni Practioners within the Rastafarian movement, Nyahbihngi embodies a life that is built around Old Testament  Practices. Many traditional religions; including Judaism, Christianity and Catholicism follow the view that the menstrual blood is a negative consequence of sin, bought about by Eve's disobedience in the Garden of Eden. In Belize menstruation is often called the curse. There are other religions however that honour women and her role in fertility.

Ixchel: source
It could be said that women are elevated to a powerful position during their menstruation.  They can have power over men and magical spiritual qualities that are tied in with the mystery of childbirth and  fertility. For thousands of years Goddesses of Fertility such as Ixchel Have been worshipped in the Mayan region of Central America.  Ixchel, as Moon Goddess is linked inadvertently to the Lunar cycle and the menstrual cycle, the moon having a powerful affect on menstruation and both cycles lasting similar amounts of time, the lunar cycle 28 days and the menstrual cycle lasting 29.5 days (although this can vary). It is even considered that the Mayan calender, based strongly on the moon was influenced by menstrual cycles.

Oshun: source
 Customs in Belize also have many African influences, due to the African slaves that were bought to Belize during the slave trade. Many of the cultural African practices were carried out behind the backs of the slave owners and to this day have been passed from generation to generation. The West African religion of Yoruba, that is commonly practiced throughout the Caribbean (also known as Santeria, although strictly speaking Santeria is often a syncretic religion merging Yoruba and Caribbean aspects and influenced by Catholicism) is a system with many female deities. Yemonja, known in the Central and South America and the Caribbean as La Virgin de Regla is believed to regulate menstrual cycles. Oya, another Yoruba goddess, is known for wearing a skirt dyed red and said to be the blood pumping through the body. Finally a proverb commonly used to refer to the goddess Oshun is "Success is in your blood". When a girl has her first period, it is often celebrated with a Full Moon ceremony, a rite of passage through which a child becomes a woman. Religious beliefs obviously have a strong impact on whether menstruation is viewed positively or negatively. This in turn influences cultural behaviors and taboos.

There are many taboos associated with menstrual blood, particularly it's magical properties. A rather curious idea that gives menstrual blood such a bad reputation is the idea of it's ability to 'tie' two people together.  This idea gives the blood a sinister and mysterious quality and a rare opportunity for a woman to exert her power over a man. A very common superstition or belief is that a woman is able to use her menstrual blood to "tie" her to a man. This link obligates a man to the woman just as blood ties obligate kin to each other.  By putting her menstrual blood into food or using water with which she has washed her genitals to cook with a women , it is thought that once consumed the man will fall under the spell of the woman whose blood is used. In Belize rice and beans cooked this way is known as 'sweat rice'. It is thought that if a woman is angry or wants to gain more control over her husband or partner, this is a good way to trick him. I was once told that another way to contaminate the food is by soaking a used sanitary pad and using the water in the cooking. This may seem a very off putting practice, hence why men find the time of a women's period so uncomfortable and daunting. The idea that a women may do such a thing is very repulsive to most men; hence another reason women are discouraged from cooking whilst on their periods.

Adding menstrual blood to food is said to tie two people together, known in Belize as "sweat rice" (this is normal rice and beans!)
Whilst talking to various men and women about menstruation another theme arose, that of "strong blood". Often strong blood is rich healthy blood, strong blood also have a strong effect on the surrounding environment and people. Women on their period are said to alter cooking processes, a light cake will not come out light, bread will not rise, and sauces will split, if a menstruating woman comes too close. If a boat has been painted and a menstruating women passes it, the paint will start running and dripping and the paint job will be ruined. Strong blood also has an effect on new born babies, it is important that menstruating women do not come near a newborn baby as the strong blood is said to prevent the child's navel from healing, the child could also catch sickness and diarrhoea and even die. Often parents place red bracelets around the wrists and ankles of young babies to protect them from such influences, also to protect them from the evil eye.

Red bracelets to protect against "strong blood" and the "evil eye"
It is clear that religion, taboos and myths surrounding menstruation all have a serious influence on behaviour and customs within Belize. Issues as these are important when conversing with people, sharing food and conducting health promotion regarding contraception and hygiene. However one views menstruation in Belize, it is clear that blood has powerful connotations, whether positive and negative and remains an important factor in Belizean culture. 

Some books relating to this topic are:

Monday, 19 March 2012

Ina di Belizean House- Laandry... u white, u nuh kno fi scrub dem sock like ah black gial

Wash Day- Spanish Lookout

Washing, laundry; whatever name you choose, Belizeans know how to get their clothes clean. Driving through small villages washing is strung out on lines, on fences and on bushes.  Lines of clothes organised by colour, bright white sheets, vests and socks at one end, colored blouses, shirts and skirts next and dark denim jeans and boxer shorts at the opposite end, flutter in the breeze. The hot sun bleaching the colours and the wind blowing them dry, or as dry as it is possible to get in such a humid country, even after a spell in the sun for hours garments still feel slightly damp. Washing machines are not the norm; many women still wash their clothes in the river. Driving through Benque Viejo, a small village on the outskirts of San Ignacio, there is normally a group of Mayan looking women, dressed in white embroidered tops and knee length skirts, hair twisted back with pins, by the side of the river. Bags of washing balance in the shade of the riverside trees, the gnarled roots acting as shelves for the soap power. The scolding sun is offset by the cool river the women dip the clothes into, fiercely scrubbing them on rough rocks to get out any stains; a stream of milky water mingles into the green river water as the soap suds float downstream. 

FOCA soap of choice:
 photo sourced from google
Washing in Belize is an art, a routine perfected over the years to get the best results. Soap powder and ‘downy’ fabric conditioner comprise the essentials for washing, followed by sweet soap, scrubbing brush, clorax, salt, lime, and in my case a coat hanger! Whites must be washed first, with a good dose of clorax (bleach) to make them glow. A scrubbing brush is necessary to get rid of the deepest stains (mine yuh hav fi put yuh bak into it!) scrubbing them on a nice large flat rock, and for those stains that remain the solution is simple: rub the stained area with lime, cover with salt and leave in the sun until the area is dry, then wash again and your stain will be gaan. Coloured clothes are next on the agenda, followed by darks, the dreaded demins that are so heavy when saturated and leave dark stains on everything. The wringing and dipping and rinsing and lifting of water saturated clothes is back breaking work

A bath tub acted as my washing machine in Santa Elena. It was the only bathtub I remember seeing in Belize, the house I was staying in belonged to an English company! With no washing machine to my name, the tub seemed the logical place to do the washing. Washing took hours, rinsing, soaping, rinsing, scrubbing, rinsing, drying. Until you live without a washing machine you can not imagine how much work it takes to do the daily wash, especially in a bathtub. Many times I was told by my house mate "u white, u nuh kno fi scrub dem sock like ah black gial". Wringing clothes bought on blisters on each hand, and no matter how much I wringed those jeans pants they still dripped water from where they were hung up, from a string tied from rafter to rafter in the sitting room. There was a good reason I had to dry my clothes in the house at that location. The first time I did a wash, I hung the clothes and sheets out on the balcony in the lovely hot sun, I popped out to by a chicken and when I returned there was nothing left. Clothes and a quilt had been stolen, probably by a crackhead (one of many whom frequented the area), at least they would have a cosy nights sleep. Lesson learnt, I started to hang my clothes inside (standard practice during the rainy season anyway) which led to a rather damp interior.

After moving house, I eventually had the luxury of a twin tub, bought for $50 off a friend who owed me a favour, it only had three legs which made the spin cycle rather lethal, but a large stone wedged into the underside of the machine steadied it well enough. On one side of the machine a deep tub provided a deep space to put my clothes. Water was obtained by a hose connected to a tap on the side of my house which dispensed cold water into a bucket which I then carried to the machine. Six full buckets of water were needed for each rinse. A large shallow red tub stood next to the machine, filled with water and a good slug of downy fabric conditioner, into which the clothes would be dunked after the soapy wash, before the final rinse. But my salvation was the spin drier, no more wringing jeans pants out. The spin drier did come with a few quirks, firstly it liked to spin the clothes so fast that they developed small holes, rendering many of my clothes unwearable, secondly on the odd occasion I would loose underwear. After a year of disappearing underwear, and after my spin dryer gave up spinning, I had a little poke around the machine with an unbent coat hanger and “killed two birds with one stone”, so to speak, for there twisted around the base of the spinner were the offending articles which once removed allowed my spinner to work once again. 

After washing, clothes were hung everywhere and anywhere to dry, as mentioned bushes are a popular choice in Belize, as are fences and gates. I had a washing line stretched across my balcony and would hang my clothes there. I was told it was important to bring the dry clothes in off the line before the dew came, and made them damp, so clothes were always pikked in (brought in) by sunset. 

Ironically washing was one of my favourite activities in Belize, the smell of clean white sheets, the coolness of the water in the tub, the satisfactory of a good days work,  an impromptu water fight with the hose, you just don't get the same feeling with a modern washer dryer. 

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Belize City pt.2

Graffiti Belize City

Ross Kemp’s documentary on Belize City portrayed it as a City swamped by violent gangsters and plagued by crime. It is true that Belize has a gang problem and Belize City does experience a high level of crime, but what city in the world doesn’t? The key to travelling in Belize City is to keep your wits about you. As a tourist it is not a good idea to walk around certain parts of the city, especially the South Side. In this part of the City you will be on gang territory. There is an increased presence of Gang Grafitti sprayed haphazardly on walls and on houses. Belize generally has two types of gang, Crips and Bloods, neighbourhoods will generally be affiliated with one or the other, identifiable by the colour of the spray paint used for the ‘tags’; red for bloods and blue for bloods. This is starting to change now and gangs are less concerned with ‘colours’ and more concerned with territory.  It is easy to forget that many of these ‘gangsters’ are the product of extreme poverty and the ever increasing drug trade, as drugs flow through the city on their way to  Mexico. Low employment rates, a corrupt government and judicial system and lack of hope all combine to provide a deadly cocktail of anger and rage that has resulted in a deadly gang culture.

My resounding memory of Belize City is of a day when I was walking alone, along one of the dusty streets on my way to the bus station.  It was an extremely hot day and I was anxious to get out of the sun, when my shoe broke. This was quite a common occurance during my time in Belize, the ‘slippers’ from the local Hindu store were poorly made and lasted anywhere from one week to three months, no longer.  However, well prepared for this eventuality I pulled out my mini tube of ‘krazy glue’ to fix them together. At this point, whilst I was balancing on one leg, a dishellevd looking man approached me.  At this point I must admit my heart rate did start to race, or rather ‘sprint’. He walked up to me and said quite clearly ‘Yuh wahn some help gial?’. Option one was to run away in case he was just about to ‘jack’ me, but running with one shoe on and the other in my hand, throughout the dirty streets of Belize didn’t take my fancy, so I chanced it and said ‘yes thanks’. The man took my shoe and the glue and spent about five minutes fixing it, making sure it was properly fixed together, he even asked if my foot was alright. After the glue had dried and I was fixed up and ready to go I did the customary thing and offered him a couple of dollars. He refused them and said he was glad to help, and he hoped that I enjoyed my stay in his beautiful country, then he walked off.  As with any city there are bad people, but there are plenty of good people to readdress the balance.It is easy to be swayed by the negative aspects of Belize City, however  there are aspects of the City to love. Loud reggae and reggaeton play through speakers precariously balancing on each other in shop fronts.  Neon, glittering, printed blouses hang from rails above shop entrances and racks of shoes with back to front ‘Nike ticks’ fill the space inside the doorways. Cars fill the one way streets, and beach cruiser bikes swerve between the traffic ridden by men with white undervests, baggy jeans and rags in their pockets. Children clasp onto their mothers hands fearful of the lashing that will occur should they wander.  Chinese shopkeepers peer cautiously through the burglar bars guarding the shop windows, as they sell fried chicken and cigarettes.  Belize City is a feast for the senses. Nerves are heightened and nowhere else makes me feel so alive.  

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Belize City pt.1

Belize City

There are generally three types of people that visit Belize City (who aren’t from Belize that is); people in the British Forces, Cruise ship tourists and sweaty backpackers passing to an alternative destination.  If you ask the forces what they can remember about Belize City it will be the slightly scary bars and the ever so cheap One Barrel Rum and Belikin Beer, some of the men may even admit to having visited the notorious Rose Garden (now burnt to the ground) , which provided ‘company’ whilst you drank, for those with exotic tastes.  After spending six weeks on Jungle training, being savaged by mosquitos and sweating litres of water a day, most are ready for a nice long drink and Belize City provides a hazy respite, although most cannot remember much the next day on their journey from the City to the Forces camp in Ladyville, just outside Belize City, to begin their next assignment.
Cruise Ship tourists will tell you about the way the sea turns from a beautiful turquoise to a sludgy brown on entering the port. In true colonial style the tourists are confined to the ‘tourist zone’ where a selection of suitable tacky bars decked with Mayan decor serve ‘traditional’ Belizean cuisine and a range of imported beers. The privileged ‘native’ Belizeans that are allowed to venture into the sacred ground where the tourists walk, make a meagre living selling their handcrafted shell earrings, traditional wood carvings and rasta coloured jewellery.  In the tourist zone prices are in US dollars, the hassle of converting to the local currency too taxing for most (an easy 2 BZD to 1US), but this works out very well for the vendors in an economy where US dollars are considered superior and the exchange allows them to charge US prices therefore doubling their usual price.  Hot, sticky people flock to buy a coconut with a straw in and of course the obligatory shot of cheap local rum. The top of the coconut is sliced off in front off them by a Kriol man with a short machete. The kriol man has a twinkle in his eye as each tourist pays 5US dollars for the ‘cocktail’. He knows, as they don’t, that the coconuts came free from his tree the day before and are sold to locals for $1BZD (50 cents USD) at the nearby market, where the idea of paying $10 BZD for a coconut is completely laughable. Yet the tourists suck up the sweet coconut water thirstily not realising his joy at such a high profit margin, after all the man thinks, they can afford it. At this point the tourists are either whisked off on an inland tour or go snorkelling at one of the local Cayes, before they want to start looking around the City hoping to get a picture of the ‘real’ Belize City. If they did see the ‘real’ Belize City, they would swim back to their luxury cruise ship quicker than a shark to blood.
Cruise ship tourism in Belize is a double edged sword. Each Cruise ship that enters Belize City has to pay a landing tax. This money however goes straight to the Government, and the benefits of it are rarely seen by the residents of the City itself. The passengers do however sustain jobs for local people that provide vital capital for families across the city and therefore they are a valued commodity. It is the unseen effects of the Cruise ships that show the negative side to tourism. Belize has the second largest Barrier Reef in the world, which is a big draw to tourists, however the water around the City is becoming so polluted that the coral is changing from a myriad of living colours to a bleached white mass. At the end of their 12 hours onland, the tourists can return to the comfort of their cabin and escape to their next destination.
Belize City is somewhere people escape from, transitting to other destinations. Tourists are driven from the airport away to other destinations and backpackers tend to be seen waiting in the green bus station for a ticket ‘outta here’. The bus station is a hub of activity. It faces onto the dark and dirty canal smelling of rotten fish and human excrement. Despite it’s rather nauseating smell a new paint job has brightened it up and its visible green, gold and red Rasta inspired d├ęcor is bright and cheerful.  Children tout soft drinks and jonny cakes in wooden boxes strapped to their chest,  incense sticks are offered ‘tree a dollar’  and plantain chips (ghetto pringles)are sold on in a roaring trade.  My father in law can be heard calling ‘mawnin darlin, you looking gud sweetie, wahn a coffee’ from his little deli in the bus station entrance.