It was a short one-hour and 15-minute drive to the house. After getting the keys to the front gate and the house, we walked down to the house. It’s quite a lovely little place, set in a jungle clearing away from the infrequently-used road. At the moment, there’s no electricity and no gaz, so we’ll be roughing it for a while. We have no idea when we’ll have the truck. No matter. It’s beautiful here.
There is running water for a cool shower, for cleaning and for washing dishes and clothes, but there is no gaz, no electricity and, of course, no internet. We’ve still had no word about the truck. We have no idea when it will be possible to have gaz, electricity, internet or a vehicle.
There are incredibly colourful birds singing. Occasionally, we hear a Macaw, but mostly there are little songbirds, chirping and trilling, singing just because they are alive, and mourning doves whose cooing is so soft it fades into the background. From their different sounds, I guess I've heard at least ten different birds. I don’t always see them. There are lots of tiny Geckos and many different kinds of butterflies. I hope to see the Blue Morpho that my friend told me about.
There are snakes. One of them, I’m told, called a Tommygoff, is particularly dangerous. My friend says that it will attack without provocation, and its venom is extremely poisonous. It’s the most common cause of snake bite deaths here. I hope never to meet one.
During the day, we drank cold coffee made with instant Nescafe. We ate a supper of cold beans, cheese, tomatoes and canned sardines. As I fell asleep, I could hear the comforting low growls of the Howler Monkeys in the distance. They were interrupted by the barking of several dogs closer by. I wished the dogs would be quiet. They don't sound as though they belong in the jungle.
Señor Cruz, the caretaker of the property, came by in the morning to turn on the gaz. I helped him to carry the propane tank from inside the house (where it was stored for safety) out to the back of the house. He connected everything. Progress! Now we can make a hot meal and have hot instant coffee. I brought some organic, fair(er) trade coffee beans from Montreal, and my friend, Andres, gave me a coffee grinder in Oaxaca; but without electricity and my friend's French press (which is stored at her friend's) we’re stuck with instant coffee. We had oatmeal with cinnamon and papaya for lunch and ravioli for supper (with a jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce). We are now only semi-roughing it.
Night comes early and, not wanting to go to sleep too early (and wake up fully rested in the middle of the night), we told each other stories about our adventurous lives. It’s a good thing we’re both story-tellers.
Again I fell asleep listening to the comforting roar of the Howler Monkeys in the distance—and the not-so-comforting sound of dogs closer by. It’s the crowing of the roosters that bothers my friend. (There's one that sounds like a herd of elephants.) It’s the barking of dogs that I find annoying. Howler Monkeys sound like someone snoring loudly in the next tent. I love 'em.
Today we met with my friend's friend and his team of Chiquibul Forest Protectors, a small group of Belizean men with military training (“special forces”) who defend the area along the border with Guatemala from Guatemalan poachers who cut down the trees for lumber, kill the animals for food and harvest the xate for florists’ bouquets. We discussed getting funding for them to continue their work (since the logging concessionaire who originally hired them has stopped paying them). We tossed around ideas for offering a survival camp as a means of supporting the work, with the possibility of also raising money online. Preserving what’s left of the natural world seems more and more like a losing battle.
We’re beginning to get into a routine here. Last night I was in my hammock by eight and fell asleep soon after. I awoke before 6:00 (after a full 10 hours). It wasn't a great sleep. I had forgotten how cold and damp it gets in the jungle at night. It was the same at Palenque. I have a small, fluffy blanket, but it’s not adequate to wrap up in inside the hammock. (Note to self: Order the thermal pad that goes with the hammock when I get home, or get a lightweight sleeping bag.) I’ve devised something I hope will help for tonight. I've hung the tent fly across the grill work beside the hammock, and put my open suitcase beneath, piled with clothes almost to the bottom of the hammock, to stop the cool air from flowing around the hammock. That should improve things a little.
We still have no electricity and no truck. My friend's friend will go to Belmopan tomorrow to arrange to have the electricity turned on. It may take a couple of days before we actually have it, since the power company must send someone out here to physically turn it on. After that, I'm told, we should be able to get internet service. I don’t know what the one has to do with the other.
In any case, this is a livable situation. We just have to change our habits. Early to bed, early to rise. With no internet connection, I have no excuse not to write. Without electricity, my laptop is useless; but I like writing by hand anyway. I’ll just have to transcribe everything when I can use my laptop.
We took the bus to Belmopan to buy some groceries and to charge the batteries in our laptops and use the internet. Traveling along the highway past aborted (or maybe just postponed) mansions and boarded-up (but not necessarily vacant) houses the bus, one of the old Blue Bird school buses converted to an inter-city bus, was hot and crowded. When we got off at the terminal, we were met with a blast of hot, dry, dusty air and the sight of a city fallen to ruin.
Immediately outside the bus station, people began to ask us for money for food. My friend said she remembered only one beggar a few years ago, a woman with a crack-addicted husband. Now there are many people asking for money for food. We spoke with one young man who explained that because of the economic downturn people don’t have money to buy anything. This means that the farmers have to lower their prices or no one will buy their produce. Even then, it’s hard going. Because of the particular set of circumstances Belizeans are in―starting with a corrupt government and a largely uneducated population―the people (at least around here) seem unable to imagine things being different. Hand in hand with that impoverished imagination is crime. People who have almost nothing are frequently victims of robbery―sometimes highway robbery. There are few police, and these are ineffectual. My friend says they don’t patrol the roads because the police department can’t afford gas for patrol cars. Everywhere you feel a sense of resignation coloured by the faint hope that things might get better when Jesus returns. The churches are everywhere, doing their work of inducing political passivity. If any place ever needed a revolutionary movement, it’s Belize. The young man we spoke with told us that everything that is happening shows that “Armageddon” is approaching. Maybe it is.
I had to return to Belmopan today to use the internet because I forgot to pay a bill yesterday. While I was waiting for the bus, I saw a truck that looked as though it might be the one to hook up the electricity turn from the highway onto Young Gal Road (which I’ve renamed Old Gal Road). It will be so much easier to write once we have electricity. Transcribing is time-consuming. While we’ve been without electricity, I’ve done most of my writing by hand, in the daytime in the sunshine or at night by candlelight. Occasionally, I transcribe what I’ve written into a Word document on my laptop, being careful not to use too much of my battery. Being without the internet has been surprisingly painless and it has encouraged me to do less research and a lot more writing.
When I returned from Belmopan, the electricity had, indeed, been turned on. We celebrated by staying up late reading and writing, charging our laptops in the process. (I keep reminding myself that one day this possibility will not exist.) The articles I’m reading are about the devastation of the natural environment and the elites’ juggernaut toward complete control over captive populations, starting with so-called “developing countries” as the template. It’s not just more depressing news. It’s about people being driven from their homes because dams are being built upstream to provide hydroelectric power for multinational industries. It’s about people being tortured and killed for the simple act of defending the land from mining companies that destroy the delicate ecosystems (of which the people are part) and pollute the water supply with cyanide, mercury and other chemicals. It’s about corporate-owned cities being created, with the helpless, impoverished people of third world countries serving as the experimental material, so that we (the privileged people of the “first world”) can enjoy the material comforts that are used to silence us.
It’s so quiet this morning. Of course―it’s Sunday, and all the birds must be in church. Churches are ubiquitous here. The one that is most apparent is the Mennonites, who stand out because of they are white people and wear clothing from 18th century Germany. Most of the rest of the people are Roman Catholics, Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, etc., and a plethora of home churches. The churches run most of the schools.
Taking a break from the hot sun on a long walk on the highway a couple of days ago, I sat at a bus shelter with two mothers who were waiting for their children to get out of school (Our Lady of Fatima RC School). They looked so care-worn. One was obviously sick and said she had a high fever, which was apparent on her face. Two of their children, about seven years old, were already out of school and were running around, burning off energy. The boy was dressed in neatly pressed slacks and a short-sleeved shirt, the girl in the school‘s uniform consisting of a pink short-sleeved shirt and a burgundy jumper. Both were spotlessly clean (whereas I felt as dusty as the road). The little girl’s hair was combed into sections of tight curls, each one held by a brightly-coloured bobble. I would have loved to photograph them, but it would have seemed rude. I want to do a photographic essay on "The Children of Central America," but I'm not ready yet to start that project,
Today was the funeral of an 11 year-old girl who lived down the road. On Saturday, February 23, she was bitten by a Tommygoff. I’ve heard several versions of the story: She was walking through the gate to Señor Cruz’s on her way to a service at his home church (which he built as an extension to his house, high on a hill next door to the girl’s home); that she stepped into the tall grass beside the road to avoid someone on a bicycle; that she stepped into the tall grass to avoid a drunken man who was weaving his way toward her; that a doctor injected her with something to make her sleep, and she never woke up; that she was dead on arrival at the hospital, was revived, but then later died; that it wasn’t a Tommygoff but a Coral snake; that she was 13 years old and that she was 12 years old. (I only know that she was 11 because her sister told me.) The wake started Friday evening. When I passed by yesterday (Saturday) it was still going strong. There were a couple of awnings set up in the yard in front of the house, and people were sitting around talking and listening to Country and Western music.
I was hoping to be able to leave Monday but I still do not have my Permanent Resident card. Meanwhile, I'm also meeting some very interesting people who have knowledge of local medicinal plants―including one (cockspur) that might have saved the life of the little girl down the road.
There is so much more to say about living in the (literal and figurative) jungle; but more about that later. This small account of some aspects of life here is my way of letting anyone who might be interested know that I'm alive and well and, among other things, busily engaged in writing “content” for this website. I hope soon to have a lot more to say, but “soon” is a relative concept here.