January 7: Bits and Pieces About Life in Belize
As my time here begins to wind down, I’ve been thinking about
the major social characteristics and influences that I’ve written
little or nothing about. The short list is: Lottery, Drugs &
Crime, Asian Merchants, Government Indifference/Corruption and
Sexuality. Well, and Death. And maybe Coca-Cola. That covers
absolutely everything, doesn’t it? I guess I kept thinking I
would understand things better if I waited a while. But maybe
impressions are as important as facts to conveying the flavor
of a country. So I’ll tackle a little commentary on some of these
in my last few missives.
The lottery is a way of life here, as it is in many places
with groups of people who have so little. I suppose by world
standards the standard of living here is really pretty good.
It’s pretty easy to keep fed and clean. Almost everyone (in the
towns) has electricity, running water and indoor plumbing. Health
care is reasonable and reasonably priced. (Mental health care
is a different issue, but at least they acknowledge the problem
and are trying). More people have television and cable than have
telephones. The toys are often creative creations from the scrap
heap (roadside ditch). Nothing wrong with that really. But for
most people there’s practically no disposable income and some
people are very poor.
So the lottery. The national lottery drawing is every Sunday
at 10:00 am. There are lottery tables set up all up and down
the main street all week-long and some permanent little booths,
but most of the action is on the weekend. (I have learned that
Mimi of the lullabye evening chant sells lottery tickets for
Lots of people buy their tickets right after church on Sunday.
I could speculate about the spiritual implications, but I think
it’s just convenient because the church is right off the main
street. You pay BZ $1 for a choice that gets you two two-digit
numbers. Like 17 76. Almost everybody plays the reverse also.
76 17. I’ve only done this once, so I’m not sure I follow it,
but I think they draw 3 or 4 sets of numbers. If you match the
last two numbers in the same position, you get $100. You would
win for 43 76, but not for 76 43. If you match all 4 numbers
you get a lot, like $5,000. Of course, it depends on how many
people play and so forth.
There’s no central registry or computers or any of that fol-de-rol.
When you pay for your numbers, the dealer gives you a piece of
paper that says the amount, the date and the numbers and is initialed.
That’s your ticket/receipt. All the dealers have to turn in something
right before the drawing, because I see them all lined up on
the steps up to one guy’s house (the one who listens to Viennese
waltzes and Japanese opera or musical comedy or whatever –
sounds the same to me). I’m not sure what it is, maybe a list
of how many of the number 76 they sold. Then the numbers are
put upon the national scroll board announcements television station.
Everyone scrapes together money to play the lottery. It doesn’t
look like there’s an age requirement, but there might be. You’re
supposed to be 18 to buy any kind of liquor, but I see kids buying
for their mom or dad fairly often. In addition to the national
lottery, there are all kinds of church lotteries, and school
raffles and so forth. For the school ones, you pay your money
and write your name by a number in a little exercise book that
the kids are hauling around. Haven’t a clue how this is supposed
to work. If I win, I guess they’ll find me. I just consider it
to be taxes. I’d probably win a pit bull puppy or something,
this seems to be the kind of things the schools raffle off.
Gotta go, I think I get to take a flying trip to Caye Caulker
this weekend. One last fling.
Oh, a few ps notes
Sgt. Alejandro brought my T-shirt back and he is indeed posted
to the Guatemalan border and is still madly in love with me,
but I think his heart is wavering in the face of such cruel indifference
as I have displayed. No mention of what happened to the boat
New Year’s Eve was fun if uneventful. I spent it at the Pelican
Beach party talking to tourists and drinking bad, sweet Belizean
wine with some bad, sweet, pink champagne-like liquid to top
it off. The stars were glorious though and I had a nice talk
with the little fidgety birds on the end of the dock. Got kissed
by some drunk, but cheerful, Australian. Got flirted with by
a few handsome Belizeans (mostly other people’s husband’s who
had been told to be nice to me). Got a ride home with Godfrey
(the guide) and his wife. Safe and sane all around.