Letter 7 from Belize: Random observations
Being a non-dog owner, caring for three very lively dogs has made me more aware of the canine population of Belize. There are times when it seems there are many more dogs than people. Some of the dogs are either fenced in or tied up as guard dogs, but the vast majority are scrawny neglected waifs roaming the highways and byways. Walking our dogs anywhere is like running the gauntlet. Attack and defence are the order of the day. Getting home unscathed is sometimes a miracle.
Domestic banana plantation
I never regarded being able to wield a machete a priority during this visit, until I learned that I had to look after Fr Dominic’s infant banana plantation at the side of the house. Before he left, he taught me how to recognize suckers and dying branches, how to deal with them, and when and how to feed the plants. The other day when I was tending them, I’m sorry to say the dogs had been out on a hunt and delivered a tiny little dead kitten. When they saw me clutching a machete, they thought we were about to play a game! I had to use all kinds of deceit to deprive them of their booty.
If you’ve seen any American movies made 30-40 years ago, the typical yellow school bus of that era will be immediately familiar to you. Well, those very same buses, when they were ‘pensioned off’, were not sent to the bus graveyard in the skies, but reconditioned and sold to unsuspecting countries like Belize. Coming back from my early cycle rides, I see children climbing onto these rusting hulks, which belch out diesel fumes that induce rigor mortis while you’re still pedalling. Belizeans have fine-tuned the art of eking out the usability of vehicles that should have been recycled years ago.
This highway is one of only four in the whole country, linking the Western and Southern Highways. In terms of size, they are about the same as a good country ‘B’ road in the UK, and although there is very little traffic on them, the nascent oil industry uses huge Mack trucks to transport the crude the length of the country. The Hummingbird Highway is a delightfully scenic road that cuts right through the Maya mountains, through moist forest and citrus groves, following the route of an old narrow-gauge railway that was built by the United Fruit Company in 1913. This was the route for transporting fruit to the port in Dangriga. Unfortunately, most of the bridges are the old narrow ones left behind after the closure of the railway. As you can see, these are major obstacles for the big Mack trucks.
African palm trees
The village of Georgetown was established by people from Seine Bight, who fled their coastal
town after hurricane Hattie hit in 1961. It caused such devastation that, those who remained behind, had to rebuild their small town from the wreckage. However, when we visited Georgetown, Fr Gerry pointed out the unusual presence of some African palm trees. These are a low growing variety that produce palm nuts (not coconuts) near the base of the trunk, the oil from which can be used in a whole variety of edible, domestic and industrial products. In fact the whole tree, including the sap, leaves and branches can be turned into a variety of products, making the African palm a fundamental natural resource. A little research has revealed that the first seeds of the African palm reached Central America in the 1920s, and after the Panama banana disease in the 1940s, which wiped out banana production throughout the Central American isthmus, they were planted as an alternative crop, especially in Costa Rica.
Dangriga Town Council election
You may have thought the American presidential election was the only attention-grabbing news at the beginning of November. Well, Dangriga had something to rival it with its own local Town Council elections. Posters appeared all over town beseeching you to participate in the UDP Convention, where candidates would be selected for the elections next March (a bit like a US Primary). When Obama and McCain were hopping from state to state in the last 24 hours of their campaigns, devotees of the candidates in Dangriga were hopping from street to street, vigorously canvassing the electorate.
As I walked the dogs through the thick of it outside the voting station, I heard this voice behind me say: “Faada, (they haven’t quite got used to the idea that I’m a lay volunteer!) wud yu goh du a blesin on dehn oava deh?” When I enquired “who over where?” he said “Dehn malingerers oava deh”. I noticed he was wearing a blue shirt, and he was pointing to the yellow shirts across the street, who seemed to be mouthing something back in their direction. I then revealed the truth about my status, and he seemed extremely disappointed!
As I ambled along a walkway in Placencia, I chanced upon this notice, which I found amusing. I make no further comment!
Posted on November 12, 2008, in Letters from Belize and tagged African palms, banana plantation, Dangriga, Hummingbird Highway, school buses, United Fruit Company. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.