Dec 21, 2008

How to Cook a Tapir
A Memoir of Belize
by Joan Fry

Interview with the author, by Colette Kase

Five years or so ago, I joined an online forum about Belize. This was in the early days, when Maya and I were doing research on starting a new life and we had set our sights on Belize. It was through this forum that I met Joan Fry.

Joan is an award winning author. She has written several books about horses and it was this shared interest in animals that sparked a fascinating, fun, stimulating and wonderful modern electronic pen pal relationship. Joan and I would discuss her book projects, my writing efforts, our animals, our shared irritations and gradually developed a strong friendship.

It was a surprise though, when Maya and I were standing in Belize International Airport, waiting for our flight back to England after one of our reconnaissance trips to San Pedro, when I heard someone shout my name. I turned to see a familiar, yet strangely unrecognisable face approaching me with a big smile. It turned out to be Joan Fry. Fortunately, I am somewhat more recognisable than she is. We were both very excited to get the chance to meet, totally unexpectedly, and this only proved to strengthen our friendship over the years.

Joan is an amazing writer and I was thrilled when she really dug in and started to work on her most recent book, How to Cook a Tapir, which is a memoir of her time living in Belize in the 1960's. She had tempted me with interesting snippets about her experiences but I couldn't wait for her to put it all into print. I probably encouraged her to the point for being a nag, but I am just absolutely delighted to be able to help introduce this wonderful new book.

How on earth did you end up in Belize in the first place?

I married an anthropologist who was interested in studying the Maya. Actually he was my high school sweetheart--two years older than I was, and did he ever use that fact to his advantage! The early 1960's were "the good old days" when fathers and husbands always knew best. But--I digress. My husband had spent the previous summer living with a Kekchi family in Crique Sarco and had met the local priest, Fr. John Paul Cull. Father Cull promised me a teaching job, even though I was only a sophomore in college and not Catholic.

What did you think when you first discovered that you were going to Belize? Had you even heard of it?

The country was called British Honduras in those days, and no, I'd never heard of it. Nobody in family had either, except my grandfather. He'd been a sailor in his younger days and remembered taking mahogany out of Stann Creek. It was fun for me when I actually saw Stann Creek, although I was violently seasick at the time and couldn't properly appreciate it.

What were some of your preconceptions about Belize?

I didn't have many, although there had been a spate of jungle movies when i was a kid, and they inevitably featured tarantulas the size of toy poodles. I've always been terrified of spiders. The first time I saw a real tarantula was when I was washing my hair in a stone "shower" underneath the cistern in our boarding house in Belize city. I thought some of the stones were covered with black moss until I splashed shampoo on one and it moved.

What was the biggest culture shock?

I was one of the first white women most of the women of Santa Elena had ever seen, and they gawked at me nonstop--I was their entertainment. Being a blue-eyed blond who was taller than most of them made them even more curious about me. I was never alone. At least one person was always in the house with me, and if my husband and I walked to the Rio Blanco pool for a swim, half a dozen kids would follow us. That went on for months. Actually it went on as long as I lived there, although by the time we left, the people who visited genuinely wanted to visit, not stare.

Who was your first real friend in Belize and when did you realise that you had become 'friends'?

Her name was Lucia Bah, and she was a neighbor who spoke fairly good English. Her daughter was one of my students. I realized we'd become friends one day when she confided that she didn't like another neighbor's husband because he beat his wife and kids so violently. Yes, it was gossip, but it was also the first time a woman trusted me enough, and was interested enough in hearing my thoughts about something, to initiate a conversation. Lucia also taught me to cook. I owe her a lot. I wish she'd lived long enough to see this book.

Did your husband (at the time) prepare you sufficiently for your experiences or did he mislead you at all about what life would be like?

He showed me photos but made everything sound very romantic--and there's really no way to convey the humidity, the smells, the feel of the jungle through photos alone. I had done virtually no traveling (except to Ontario, Canada, which was like traveling to upstate NY), and was in no way prepared for any of it--the open sewage canals in Belize City, the caste system (don't forget, BZ was an English colony then), and particularly the poverty of the Maya. They were subsistence farmers--very few of them even used money. They bartered for what they needed. My husband insisted that I wear skirts and blouses because that's what the Maya women wore and wouldn't allow me to smoke because the Maya women didn't. He was wrong on both counts. Most women didn't wear blouses at all, and they smoked home-rolled cigars.

What is your favourite Belizean recipe and why?

Escabeche. It has a unique taste (each cook arrives at a different balance between chile pepper and vinegar), and to me, believe it or not, it's a comfort food.

Do you still eat Belizean food? What foods do you miss from Belize?

I still make escabeche from time to time, and I still like making and eating soup of all kinds. Especially when the weather gets cold. I love chili but hold the beans. I do miss tamalitos--green corn tamales--but the food I miss most is corn tortillas. They don't taste authentic even in the Mexican restaurants that have a token Mexican woman in front making "fresh" ones. As for corn tortillas you buy in the store--have you ever taken a look at what's in them? I'm looking at a package right now, ant it lists nine ingredients! What the hell is amylase? All they should contain is corn treated with lime (the mineral, not the fruit), and water. The best are incredibly fragrant with a soft, moist texture. I'm drooling!

You clearly have had a lifelong love for Belize since coming here in the 60's, what is it about Belize that has kept you enthralled all these years?

"Enthralled" is a good word. I've asked myself that question, and I still can't give you a definitive answer. I'm sure the Maya continue to fascinate me because they had a lot to do with forming my values. I was an only child and a girl and had led a very sheltered life in the States. But in Belize, I was alone a lot--my husband was always off conducting ethnographic studies. So when I had a decision to make, I only had myself and the Maya to fall back on. I made some bad decisions but more often than not I made the right ones, probably because there was no authority around to tell me any different.

Did you really cook a Tapir?

Yes. And it was delicious!

How to Cook a Tapir - A Memoir of Belize, by Joan Fry will be released in April 2009. The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon, which happens to be offering a great pre-publication price. To order click here.

Happy Holidays from Colette, Maya, Buddica, Midas and Octavius.

Nov 14, 2008

Politicians, Pimps, Punta and Pussycats

This week we learn about the letter 'P'

Maya loves up her watermelon

The rain finally stopped and Maya was able to go out in the pouring torrent and rescue a watermelon. We grew a number of watermelons successfully and they were quite, curiously sweet and delicious. Why do we say 'curiously'? Well, we were not sure how they would grow in our garden and our limited cultivation skills meant it was a trial and error. Maya pollinated the watermelon flowers by hand until the bees discovered the patch and then it all went crazy. We probably had about 20 healthy watermelons before the rains, but sadly lost much of our crop. Not nearly as sad as the many people who lost their crops, homes and livelihoods on the mainland as the floods took hold. We send a big shout out to all the Belizean people who have suffered terribly during this national disaster.

Maya braves the rain like a superhero to save her watermelons.

Once the rain cleared it was time to be cultured, uncultured and everything in between. We'll start with the seriously uncultured and move forward from there.

Pedro's Halloween Party had a 'Pimp & Ho' theme. We couldn't resist and dressed ourselves up appropriately as Flava Flav and New York. Well, we did our own versions, which were good enough for Maya to win first prize. She has won a trip to the mainland, which means she'll be able to go and play on some of her beloved pyramids very soon. We probably haven't mentioned that Maya has been hit by a stroke of luck recently, winning the best prize at the SAGA Humane Society Halloween fundraiser. Maya won a skydive. No joke. Watch this space. We'll have pictures and hopefully they will be of her landing in one piece. The skydive is part of the Boogie in Belize event, which have faithfully avoided, due to sincere cowardice, since we have lived here. Now there are no excuses. Time for Maya to write her will.

Maya and Colette in their Pimp & Ho costumes.
Don't try this at home kids.

Since our title alliterated quite furiously upon the letter 'P', pussycats got a mention. That is because we had a little spot of pussycat trapping. Some kitties had started to breed out of control locally and along with our lovely neighbour Brad, Colette dutifully captured up those little cats and got them vaccinated and neutered at SAGA Humane Society.

Empty Cat Trap

Cat Trap Fully Loaded

Colette then decided that instead of rescuing cats, for a while at least, she'd rescue humans instead and went on a First Responders course held by Bandage International and the Belize Red Cross. Incredibly this two day course was absolutely free and it was really appreciated. Colette might also have enjoyed getting to pin people down and wrap them in bandage, but the less said about that the better.

Poor Anna at Colette's mercy.

Anna gets to return the favour.

Belize is full of surprises and there is nothing more surprising than a magical Belizean Fairy Princess turning up during a life saving course. But she did and it is lucky as some of the victims....umm we mean patients certainly needed some magic.

Some of the victims really needed some magic.

Belizean Fairy Princess.

We've done the pimps, we've done the pussycats, we've even thrown in a princess as a bonus. Now, to what you have all been waiting for - The politician!

We've had a bit of culture recently. Culture is something we miss out here in San Pedro. We love the handful of bands who play here every night of the week to earn their crust, but we really do like something a bit different now and again. Well, this week we got it. Firstly we were invited to a private viewing of a drama group who were visiting Belize from the USA. They were very good and they had performed at numerous schools around the country, warning them about AIDS and sending a strong message about safe sex. Their message was very powerful and there were a few tearful members of the audience. Unfortunately, people telling sad stories in front of a small private crowd, just doesn't make for great pictures, so we'll spare you.

But in the same week were able to see some of our favourite music played by the Garifuna Collective, made world famous by Andy Palacio (RIP). We've told you in previous blogs about our trips to Hopkins and also about Norman Cook, AKA Fat Boy Slim coming to San Pedro to record with Andy and the Garifuna Collective. Well, they really are fantastic, so it was a surprise and pleasure to see our own Senator Eiden Salazar, who also happens to be a TV presenter and owns the local radio station, turn up to show off his skills on a drum.

Senator Salazar on the right demonstrating his excellent
drumming skills.

Our lovely friend Walter was at the gig and as he comes from Punta Gorda and grew up with Garifuna music, he sang along to every song.

Colette can't Punta but she still loves to dance with Walter.

This is what the Punta really looks like.

Coconuts Hotel will be featuring The Garifuna Collective weekly. Hurrah!!

The wires pulled across this traditional Garifuna Drum give
it a unique snare like sound.

We'd like to thank Kerry, who works at the Waffle House, for answering Colette's international appeal for grits and bringing her a fine bag of authentic Waffle House Grits. Thanks Kerry. It was a truly heroic effort, made even more so by an explosion of grits in your suitcase. You're a star.

Ta ta for now from sunny San Pedro.

Oct 23, 2008

You are what you love.

(picture courtesy of the Secret Museum of Mankind

"When we feel love and kindness toward
others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also
to develop inner happiness and peace."
The Dalai Lama

Aren't we lucky we can love? We eat, sleep, get jiggy with it and poop. Those things don't give us much to feel superior about as a species. But above and beyond all that, we love. Who and what we love probably are one of the biggest factors in who we are as individuals.

Colette has just come back from the USA and there is a lot of love going around there. People in the USA right now really love their political party, they love their candidate, they love their country and they love the fact that the cost of gas is finally going down. A lot of people love Tina Fey too.

But this blog isn't about that sort of love because love is a word that can be bandied around far too easily. 'I love my car' and 'I love my HD TV' are really strange but truly human expressions of love. 'I love my Mother' and 'I love you' are the sorts of love that make us feel much more fuzzy inside. Maybe some sports fans will disagree as I suspect that some people love their football team (and 'football' here is universally used to encompass both American and proper (ie British) football) almost more than life itself.

So, let us start with 'I love my Mum'. Colette and Maya both call Colette's Mum, 'Mum'. Well, 'Mum' right now is heroic with many people in her family and community depending on her; one in particular is Mum's CASA kid. 'What is a CASA kid?', you may ask. Well, CASA stands for 'Court Appointed Special Advocates'. This is a national non profit organisation in the USA, which does a remarkable thing. It gets volunteers from all over the country to become the champion of the most vulnerable children. Kids who find themselves thrust into the court system in the USA find themselves often the middle of battles between adults who all have their own agendas. Children have no legal right to proper representation in these circumstances and some of these children have been terribly neglected, abused and violated by those who are supposed to 'love' them. The CASA looks after the interests of the child and makes sure that they have someone fighting their corner. Mum is one of these. We love her and we just wanted to let her know.

So here are a couple of pictures we've scanned in tribute to our Mum.

Colette & Mum in France in 1972

Mum in Louisville in 1973 - Eat your heart out Victoria Beckham

So while Colette was in Georgia sharing in all the love, Maya was in Belize sharing in all the rain. Oh boy has it been raining. Parts of Belize have been declared national disaster areas. Here is a picture from our front porch of our neighbour's garden.

Is the laundry dry yet?

But of course, we had puddles of our own. This is Midas enjoying a waterfront home at last.

Now where did I bury that bone?

The rain didn't stop Maya from spreading her love to our wonderful garden though and in the short breaks, she tended to the plants that she has nurtured so tenderly. Of course the dogs all helped.
Oh for a sweet, sweet watermelon

That isn't my bone. Why do humans think that rubber toys are anything like bones?

Meanwhile in the nursery, Buddica hides the bone in a hibiscus

This is Avril the Avocado grown from seed

This is our baby jungle

This is a Flamboyant Tree grown from seed

Maya also managed to get a couple of great pictures of birds expressing themselves when the rain stopped.

This is weather for ducks, not a Kiskadee like me

If I had lips, I'd be pouting

While we all think of love as a great thing we need to remember that love, or the pursuit of love, can lead to serious consequences, particularly for the young. That is why Maya and Colette are involved with the San Pedro Aids Commission. Maybe some of you didn't even know that there is an AIDS commission for San Pedro. Well, it is part of the Belize National Aids Commission. The San Pedro Aids Commission has many accomplishments under its belt already including:

  • Teacher training
  • Educational materials for young people
  • Production of AIDS informercial
  • Production of AIDS awareness posters and billboards
  • Financial assistance for people living with AIDS and their families

They even managed to win 1st place at the San Pedro Lighted Boat Parade last year with their fantastic floating red ribbon.

To put it all in context here are some of the most up to date figures on HIV/AIDS in Belize

HIV/AIDS in Belize
3,400: Estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2007
2.1%: Estimated percentage of adults (ages 15-49) living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2007
59%: Estimated percentage of HIV cases that occured among women (ages 15-49) by the end of 2007
over 200: Estimated number of children (ages 0-15) living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2007
over 200: Estimated number of deaths due to AIDS during 2007
UNAIDS 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic. July 2008.

The San Pedro Aids Commission is sustained wholly by volunteers and community contribution and does a wonderful job. They are about to introuduce condom machines to San Pedro to be placed in 'useful' locations.

So a reminder - World AIDS Day is on the 1st of December. The weekend before World AIDS Day, the 29th of November, the San Pedro AIDS Commission will be excited, thrilled and quite beyond themselves to announce a Rock Fest for AIDS. Watch this space for more information.

We think the French AIDs poster below reminds us all to be careful where we seek love.

With much love and a sting in the tail from us both to you all - Signing off from San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, Belize.

Aug 10, 2008

Birds, Bees and Bromeliads

What a busy month. We have loads to tell you. Let's see - It started with Colette deciding to rescue a parrot. Someone locally had just gotten a young Red Lored Green Parrot. These are native to Belize and we have learned recently that it is not legal to own any native birds. Many people do keep parrots as pets here and all of them (except for those imported legally under CITES - and there isn't many of them) have been poached from the jungle. This usually involves cutting down the tree and raiding the nest. These poachers then sell the young birds, often with their wings cut terribly, to people who want to keep them as pets.

Parrots are intelligent, engaging and entertaining animals and it is not surprising that they so many people want to keep them as pets. Unfortunately, the wild population is being decimated in Belize by poaching and by citrus farms, who consider parrots a pest and slaughter them (legally) by their hundreds.

Colette was lucky to have been in touch with the wonderful people from Belize Bird Rescue Belmopan on mainland Belize. They did everything within their power to assist Colette so that she could bring the parrot to their sanctuary for rehabilitation. So we'll start this blog by following one young Red Lored Green Parrot on his journey back to freedom.

This young Red Lored Green Parrot had found its way from somewhere near the Macal River on the mainland. It ended up with a family who was finding it difficult to care for it. They had only had it a few months.

Belize Bird Rescue sent Colette an appropriate carrying cage with a little perch in it. This picture was taken at the local airport as she was preparing to fly the parrot over to the mainland. Belize Bird Rescue were waiting for her at the other end and whisked her and the parrot off to their amazing facility near Belmopan.

Both of us love mainland Belize and Colette was thrilled to have this opportunity to spend a little time there. Little did she know that she was going to be visiting a magical place and spending time with some amazing people.

As she got near to Rock Farm, where Belize Bird Rescue is located, she recognised a landmark from previous visits to the mainland. This is a huge Christian radio station that sticks out eerily high up on a hill, rising up out of the jungle. The drive was spectacular as always but she wasn't prepared for the beautiful place that Rock Farm is.

It is an idyllic place, clearly built with love. Almost like something out of a children's story book or fairy tale, where animals are everywhere, happy, healthy, friendly and living their lives to the max. Horses, ducks, geese, guinea fowl, chickens, turkeys, parrots, dogs and even owls are all over the property.

Colette says that it was like being a kid again, collecting freshly laid eggs, horseback riding or walking down a path to find this engineering feat of a watermill. This watermill is completely driven by water and is just made of pipes and wood. It provides fresh water for the whole farm.

So while the little parrot settled into his temporary new home (above) and got to know some of the other parrots, Colette wandered around Rock Farm.

This is the next stage for parrot rehabilitation. Once their cut wings grow back - and sadly that doesn't always happen - they can relearn to fly in this luxury aviary with six full sized trees.

But there are plenty of other trees at Rock Farm. Here are some bananas and a Breadfruit tree in the forefront.

Here is a close up of a Breadfruit growing on a tree. They are thinly sliced and fried like crisps.

Colette went horseback riding and while there are no embarrassing pictures of her on horseback, you can see what a wonderful place Rock Farm is for horses.

These are locally known as 'stingless bees' although I understand that they can sting. They were just hanging around and doing their bee thing.

There isn't a place at Rock Farm where there aren't any animals. This cute grotto is a happy place for ducks and chickens.

And there are chickens everywhere. They even came upstairs and would hang out on the balcony with the people and dogs.

Of course none of our blogs are complete without a dog picture. Here are two of the pack of six that prowl Rock Farm. Bad guys beware. Good guys watch out - you might get licked to death.

Colette had the opportunity to get some lessons from the Bird Rescue Belize people in how to groom a Cockatoo. This extremely endangered but magnificent Moluccan Cockatoo certainly enjoyed the attention. These birds are not native to Belize and this bird had been brought into the country by someone who had no idea how to care for it. As a result, he has been so lucky to end up with Nikki and Jerry who run Belize Bird Rescue, but they make it plainly clear that they are not pet bird keepers and that it breaks their heart that this bird can never be returned to the wild, nor will he ever meet others of his kind.

There were just so many things that reminded Colette why she loves the jungle in Belize so much. Flowers like these were all over the Rock Farm property, just growing wild.

You couldn't turn a corner without finding another beautiful tropical flower. When you see them in flower arrangements in the USA and Europe it is hard to imagine that they just grow wild some places. Belize is one of those places and there is a great flower story coming up later in this blog.

Here is the orange orchard at Rock Farm. It was such a beautiful place, Colette didn't really want to leave.

But this owl, which had recently been rehabilitated by Belize Bird Rescue, did indeed want to leave. He is now free flying on the property and will soon be heading back off into the wild.

Owls move so quickly and quietly it is a real challenge to get a picture of them flying, but Colette just managed to capture this one as he flew away to freedom.

Colette did have to return home and she misses San Pedro like crazy when she is away. But before she did, she went to visit our lovely friend Chap, who runs Junglewalk books in Belmopan. It really is the cutest little bookshop, run by the cutest guy. Love ya Chap.

Meanwhile, Maya was at home getting our garden started. It may look a bit bleak in this picture but those are baby palm trees that you can see growing. Some of them will provide us with coconuts when they get bigger.

Knowing that the garden is Maya's baby, Colette went and bought her the plant that you can see above. It is a pink Bromeliad. The picture above is of it where we placed it up a tree, where they grow. They are, in fact, air plants of sorts. It will grow onto the side of the tree but take no nutrients from it. Colette bought this at a great roadside restaurant on mainland Belize called Cheers They sell all sorts of beautiful orchids and bromeliads. They promised Colette that this one is salt tolerant and will do well on the island.

Here is a close up of its magnificent flower. You can just see the little smaller purple flowers that are starting to sprout. When Colette brought it home we heard a strange croaking coming from it. We discovered a little stow away tree frog that still sits in it now and chirps loudly every night. A bit sad really because no one ever chirps back.

Maya works really hard in the garden every day, which is pretty evident if you look at her arms. She deserves some rest and relaxation with Buddica. But Colette decided to try to get some action in a completely new style (for her anyway).

Those of you who know her will be shocked, but believe it or not, Colette tried windsurfing. Here she is is trying to get up on the board. Yes that is her in the brown bikini. She no longer has that blonde hair.

Now she is getting the hang of standing up. That is difficult for Colette when she is sober and standing on land. This is a challenge.

And thar she goes. She is actually standing and moving. She didn't do too badly and really had a great time. She got this lesson compliment of Sailsports Belize

Thanks for that. Maya is going to give it a go next time.

While all this was going on, ACES, American Crocodile Endangered Sanctuary, from mainland Belize had been busy preparing 'Debbie', a crocodile recently rescued from San Pedro, for release into their sanctuary habitat. When Debbie was captured in a pond, about 200 meters from our house, she was found to have suffered a number of injuries at the hand of humans including a bullet hole, spear wounds and broken ridges. She was also harbouring a nasty bacterial infection. Marisa Tellez, the zoologist working with ACES, makes it clear that the American Crocodile has the most powerful immune system on the planet. If Debbie is suffering from an infection from the water, then the human community needs to start worrying about what is in that water.

Debbie settled into her new home without any serious fights with the others, much to everyone's relief. Debbie was lucky. Two other crocs from San Pedro have died in recent weeks. One was clearly killed by poachers and had its head cut off. The other ACES had attempted to rescue after locals had captured it but a hook that someone might have tried to catch him with had caused internal injuries to the croc and he died.

But it isn't all bad news for the animals. Colette helped out at this SAGA fund raiser in Central Park, San Pedro. The charity raised a wonderful $2500BZD. Congratulations to everyone.

So, lots of thank yous from us to Jerry and Nikki at Bird Rescue Belize for being lovely people and for welcoming Colette into their home and family. Thank yous to ACES for doing work that isn't hugely popular because Crocs aren't very pretty, but very important. Thank yous to everyone that helped raise money for SAGA,