Paget’s Belize Journal #25

November 12: The Brits; Furniture

Therese and I just got back from a trip to the capitol, Belmopan,
to talk to the British High Commissioner (a super-ambassador)
and his staff about developing a web site. It looks like we’ll
get the job, partly because the Brits want to show up the Americans
(that is, the U.S.) who used a Mexican web development firm to
do their Belizean web site. This isn’t the worst thing I’m trying
to live down here. Long, hideous stories about the ambassador
under Carter, perhaps, a party chairman from New Hampshire who
shipped his baby grand down here and held formal dinners and
chamber music evenings where everyone had to dress up. Only a
few people in any given group could go, because statistically
there’s only about two or three sport coats or suits for every
100 middle or upper class men here. But I bet they were drawing
straws not to go.

Anyway the Commissioner was so veddy, veddy British it was
a hoot. Once he actually uttered the sentence, “What else
is key, chappies?” But the staff seems reasonable and competent.
It’s going to be an interesting line to walk. Of course, it has
to be dignified, but also follow the “formula” that
the overseas embassies are supposed to use, but since Belize
is so beautiful, we’d like to show it off, just a little. And
they’d like a photo of the Commissioner of course, but nothing
too tacky, like a virtual tour of the embassy residence (which
is actually on the Britain in the U.S. embassy site).

Then, since we were in the area, we went to the local rattan
and bamboo furniture-manufacturing place. This is beautiful stuff,
very well made. And we got to wander through the whole manufacturing
side as well. Half a dozen Mayan men and boys sitting on a beautiful
verandah sanding away (AND wearing dust masks!), others carefully
doing those incredibly precise rattan wraps, sewing up cushions
or otherwise assembling the furniture. A couch, two chairs and
a coffee table would be about US $1500 purchased here. I haven’t
seen such quality in a long time, most pieces carefully re-inforced
with hidden pieces of mahogany to strengthen them. It’s tempting
to see what it would take to bring something back. But it might
look just silly in gloomy Oregon.

That’s all for now.

p.s. Oh, Dennis Quaid is in the country doing something beneficent
for sick children. Surely I have a better chance of meeting him
here than in Oregon. You’ll be the first to know if I do.

November 12: Meeting and Greeting and Visiting

Most everyone will greet me as I walk down the street here,
but I have to say something first usually. (Except for those
post-pubescent boys of all ages who can all say an understandable
“Hello, Mama, Hello, Sweet Thang” no matter what their
native language is and no matter the age or condition of the
greetee, as long as female.)

In the morning, you say “Good Morning,” In the afternoon
you say “Good Afternoon,” About 4:00 you switch to
“Good Evening,” and after dark you say “Good Night.”
These are all greetings. There really doesn’t seem to be a parting
phrase; anyway, most conversations take place on the fly. That
is, folks appear to start talking to someone about 50 yards out
and keep talking until they’re about 50 yards past or out of
earshot. But people rarely stop to chat. Or even to turn around.
This also works as you walk or bicycle by someone sitting on
their verandah or stoop. Or even if you’re both traveling the
same direction. You can have a nice conversation even if you’re
not walking together. If you don’t know the other person, often
the response to a greeting is just a short affirmative – Yes, Okay,
Fine, Yes ma’am, Surely. I haven’t quite got the feel for this
yet, but at least it doesn’t startle me any more.

Every night one of Mr. Serano’s daughters comes by about 8:30
– on her way home from work, I think. She’s an adult, surely
a grandmother, maybe even a great – they start early here.
She’s one of those large women with a prow-like bosom and a resonant
voice who sort of floats along even though you can tell her feet
hurt. Down the block a ways she starts calling “Good night,
Daddy, good night, Dad, good night, good night.” He replies
in a lovely rumble, “Good night, daughter, good night, dear,
How you? Umm-hmmm.” Then the little Guatemalan boy whose
parents run a tiny, little store in the bottom of Mr. Serano’s
house, very enthusiastically, very squeaky, “Good night
Mimi, good night, good night.” Then Mimi again, “Good
night sweet pea, good night darlin’, good night.” It’s a
lovely sort of bedtime song that I’ve come to enjoy and will
surely miss if Mimi gets a different job or something.

Sometimes you do go to visit people. But since the houses
are always opened up to catch the breezes, you have to sort of
warn people that you’re approaching. You don’t go up to the door
and knock unless it’s a house that’s all closed up because it’s
air-conditioned. For living quarters on the second story, you
call up as you approach the house, “Hello, hello, Mr. Serano,
are you home?” You know perfectly well he’s home because
all the doors and windows are wide open and in the evening the
lights are on. But if he doesn’t come out and say something to
you, then for all non-emergencies he’s not home. So you’re not
supposed to go up the stairs. Well, also in the houses where
8 or 10 people live, the person you want might not be home and
no one else wants to be bothered. For first floor quarters, you
just start calling out further away. And don’t look in the windows.

With this technique firmly in place socially, I have to leave
my downstairs door and my balcony door open (but the security
gate can be locked) or people assume I’m not “receiving”
and won’t stop. This causes me some difficulty because I don’t
want to appear snobbish and I really don’t want to miss anything,
but I also try to keep the mosquitoes out. What’s the point of
having screened windows, if the unscreened doors are open all
the time? I’ve managed to be quiet enough to attract back several
geckos, but they aren’t that good at mosquitoes.

Also on the downside, sometimes I get weird visitors that
I’m not sure what to do with. The other night a handsome young
(20-ish) Guatemalan (I assume, maybe Mexican) man hollered me
up with a “Good night, miss, good night, miss” quite
stridently and when I went down proceeded to tell me a long involved
story in not much English about his girlfriend who was only 16
and “no pasaporte, shhhh, shhhh,” him or her, I couldn’t
tell which, and the China’s place down the street and nothing
to eat and lord knows what else. I gave him half a loaf of bread,
a can of Vienna sausages and $5 which seemed to make him very
happy. But I’d really rather not deal with that. Still I guess
it’s worth it.

Week-end coming up, we’re hoping for some relief from rain
ourselves. Been a lot of it lately, even more than with Hurricane
Mitch last year, they say, but not much wind so it’s just inconvenient
and messy.