Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Chicken with a Chain Saw

The rains have come, we're officially in hurricane season. The fires have stopped and I see as we drive down the Western Highway, the burned patches are turing green again. Every morning there are big fat juicy bugs clinging to the door screen, attracted to the porch light. The bird swoop down every few minutes and pick them off. I use the word bug, like I'm describing an insect of normal proportions, these, I assure you are NOT.

Last Sunday was Bigness's birthday. He didn't want a fuss, so he said. I said, well, we're not doing what we did last year and that's bruk out with wan paaateee to the tune of $1000 Belize dollars in beer and likker drunk, yu keyrazee mon? The party started and about midnight when all good girls and boys should have been home, it just got into swing. I went to bed and when I woke up at 6 a.m. the next day, the same ugly old fellers were still sitting in the verandah singing karoke like Elvis had not left the building.

So this year we took a drive to the Community Baboon Sanctuay, to see if the Bigness's cousin, Chicken was home, and to see the mooooonkeys. Chicken doesn't live exactly in the Baboon Sanctuary, he lives right before the sanctuary alongside the road in a little house between the village of Burrell Boom and the village of Scotland Half Moon. Chicken is an all around kinda guy. He can do construction, electrical, plumbing, cement work, fix your car, change a tire, and most important of all, he has a shanesaw. I admire a man with a shanesaw. So after birthday greetings and lots of fast kriole, of which I could understand about 1 word in 5, Chicken got into the car and we went to look at property. I'm not too sure about this property, its a left turn here and a right turn a there and own this path and lots of talk about bulldosers and shanesaws and machettes and black dirt and monkeys. Suffice to say, I think Bigness owns sone property there and maybe wants to put in a road? Put in a road? PUT IN A ROAD???? Why is it when he says it, it sounds so simple and do-able.
Me: "Put in a road?"
Bigness: But babes, don't you like it way out here in the jungle, not like the bush where we live, but the real jungle? You know there's too many people around and you mentioned that when the wind blows from the south how you can hear truckes sometimes from the junction. And what about the soldiers walking past the edge of the property, doesn't that bother you?
Me: are we moving house?
Bigness: don't you want to?
Me: this is because I put the kybosh on more building at Caye Caulker for a year.
Bigness: . . . but Chicken has a chain saw. . .
Me: I'll think about it. (yeah, right!)

The real problem is that there are no more building projects on Caye Caulker until after March 2007, and the man's got his tools all warmed up. He sometimes walks around with the portable drill, looking for something to screw. I see that and I run. He's making up projects now. He was so bored this past week that he put ceramic tile in the kitchen, all round the stove and sink, tiled the front porch, painted the livingroom, hall, diningroom, kitchen and spare bedroom, all in yellow, repainted the trim and door mouldings white, repainted the interior doors and exterior doors. He went a little bit crazy with the yellow though. Hey, but I'm not complaining, only commenting. There's a difference.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Just Stopped By to Say Hello

I'm in the bush now painting for a show in November, in case you've been wondering where I've been these past few weeks. I just came into civilization to buy fresh food and get my email.

Ahhh... civilizaiton, its a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Me: do you think the jaguars will come and drink out of the baby pool at night?
Bigness: no, but the neighbor's dogs will.

Me: Fat Rosa has put a hit out on me.
BIgness: she has to catch you first before she can kill you.

Me: How do you grow banana trees?
Bigness: ...
Me: Do you plant a banana?
Bigness: you plant a sucker.
Me: what is a sucker? a root?
Bigness: no a sucker is a sucker.
Me: ...

Me: why do they call your cousin Chicken?
Bigness: because he looks like a chicken.

Next week:
Me: why do they call your cousin Chicken?
Bigness: because he likes to eat chicken.

The week after:
Me: why do they call your cousin Chicken?
Bigness: because he talks like a chicken.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Doing the Rain Dance

In another great big burst of creative energy I've released 5 new paintings. Four are here in this blog entry and one is in the Prayers for Rain post.

With Bigness busy killing leafcutter ants and talking to his baby mango tree, and United Nations Baby with MCS and not asking me to make koolaide ice cubes every 5 minutes, its amazing how much I can accomplish when - people freakin leave me alone. The electricity is on and off, sometimes for hours and hours. No radio noise blasting from the livingroom and banging around in the back of my mind. No fan, which is o.k. since I have to have a very controoled environment because the silk bounces around when you paint on it. All I can hear is the wind moving through the orange trees. Every once in a while off in the distance I'll hear the rumble and whomp whomp whomp of a low flying helicopter slowly searching the bush for "something."

These paintings are on silk. I'm working almost exclusively on silk these days and my palette is changing as I'm running out of dye colors. My resupply will be here in late June.

The painting on the top left is called Ixtabai and is based on a garifuna legend of a beautiful rainforest goddess who would lure drunken men into the bush late at night. Deeper and deeper into the jungle she would call them. By the time they realized they were lost, it would be too late. The male version of Ixtabai is called Tata Duende a male spirit and mischief maker of the bush.

The theme of crocodile and fish has African origins. The Crocodile symbolizes the Oba energy of the king. The fish represents the prosperity of the people. The king holds the prosperity of the people in his mouth. The almond shapes on the borders represent pips for the Abbia game carved from poisonous seeds from a tree. The designs are inconsequential to the playing of the game, but are collected for their uniqueness. The rectangle shapes are inspired by Kuba cloth fabric patterns woven and dyed. The square painting is a design for another tile that will be available at my Cafepress site.

O.K. here's the torture part of the blog entry: (I know you've all been waiting for this and had to wade through the blah blah blah about african theme art. Bwahahaha (evil laugh) Bigness got a double whammy today, I forced him to watch 2 episodes of AbFab on BBC and Sex in the City on TBS. On our first date we were making light chitchat talking about our likes and dislikes. I asked him if he liked Sex in the City and he said it was his favorite and I actually thought he was talking about the TV series, and not Belize City. It was months and months later that I discovered my misperterbulation. Oh the bliss of young love, even in old people. The things we're willing to tolerate because our beloved wants it. Like how I still pretend that I like to watch boxing and classic car auctions (gag).

Illustration Friday - May 12 - Angels and Devils

I painted this a couple of years ago. Its pretty large and is the one of the bedrooms of Alamina Beach House. I read about the technique of oil over acrylic in a book I bought on one of my yearly trips back to civilization, I mean the U.S. Before painting the acrylic background I built up a texture using a palette knife and modeling paste and let it dry 24 hours. The oil paint was thinned down and painted almost like watercolor in transparent layers over the acrylic. I call it Hang Up Your Wings Baby. I didn't ever really have it in the art galery for sale, but would bring it in from time to time if I needed to fill wall space. I gave several copies away to friends and released it as a limited edition. This painting is about releasing myself from having to live up to other people's expectations for my life. Check out more Illustration Friday entries.

Famous Last Words

Easter weekend we went to Bigness’ brother’s 50th wedding anniversary party. It was lots of great food, open bar, and a band. Who could turn down an open bar? Almost the whole extended family was here from Belize and even the states. The party was next door at his nephew’s restaurant. We had all had a few drinks and the band was playing. Anyone who knows me knows I can’t drink. I’m a cheap drunk, I’ll admit it. After 1 drink I start to feel a little bit sassy. After 2 drinks I feel slap happy. After 3 drinks and I’m taking my top off. Fat Rosa was the bartender. Fat Rosa has a crush on Bigness and was wearing her I Dream of Jeanie outfit, complete with thong, I’m sure to impress him.

I was belly up to the bar next to Oldest Daughter and Belikin Betsi. I don’t speak creole well or even very often – but I am understanding more and more every day. I only know a few phrases and try to use them whenever I can. I point at Fat Rosa with my lips and baby finger, raise my eyebrows and discretely say “gial look she wind she dutty kratch.” Hardy har har, I laugh into my hand. And I think to myself, I am so cool. Probably if some had given me a mirror at that point my mascara hadn't quite melted and run down my hot greasy face yet.

The band was playing more than loud. The band was so loud that it was shaking Bigness' house next door. I was afraid we would shatter windows.

Me: Look, (I say again, not only pointing with my lips, but with my whole face now, I nod my head towards her) Your Sister, (hardy har har), She Wind She Dutty Kratch. (I should explain the sister comment. In Belize when a younger woman is scorned by an older man, as revenge and to stir up trouble she will go to the children of the family and claim she's the man's daughter, throwing the children into a tizzy.)
Oldest daughter: "huh?"
Belikin Betsi: "What you say?"
Me: (I speak creole as well as I speak my mushmouth Spanish.) I take a deep breath and then I let loose with all the hot wind power I can muster. Belting out rude remarks over megadecible music at what is equivalent to a rock concert, with the person you’re mocking, standing 3 feet away is normally not a problem. Only people 12 inches away can hear you anyway. The problem arose when the music stopped about 1/100th of a second before I screamed “LOOK FAT ROSA SHE WIND SHE DUTTY KRATCH!”

Dead silence. All eyes turn in my direction. Oldest daughter and I turn to each other, eyebrows raise and we do the best darn job we can pretending I didn't just scream LOOK AT FAT ROSA DANCE HER DIRTY CROTCH AROUND.

Prayer for Rain

As we leave Belize City and take the Western Highway out to our house, the fires have started. We smell the sweet smoke first before we drive next to brush fires started by cigarettes thrown out windows by careless passengers. Whole fields ablaze and no one putting them out, most of the time they burn themselves out. There are more important things to do with the 5 fire trucks in Belize than to put out brush fires. So we pray for rain. Last year, while we were away, the Bagpipe Playing Englishman put out a brush fire that burned right up to our yard. Its been so dry that even the insects and little critters are invading the house looking for water. Note to self: check the shower before stepping in nekked. The leafcutter ants nearly killed the little mango tree that Bigness planted a couple of months ago. Every day he checks and waters his baby and tells me about her progress. We’ve been planting the pit and stone and seed from everything to see if it grows, and yes it grows, but will it survive the drought and the thirsty ants? Bigness is optimistic, the weatherman and the geckos have been calling for rain since Monday, with a big system moving north from Costa Rica, it stalled over Nicaragua, we had a few drops the other day, but still we pray for rain.

Me: what do you think about the new painting on silk?
Bigness: what de fok she doin?
Me: I’m connecting with my inner African Goddess
Bigness: looks like you’re asking for sex.

Seven Deadly Sins on Caye Caulker:

This could also be subtitled: Things they don't tell you in the guidebook

1. Not saying good morning. People will say “She noh hail me.” Not saying hello, good morning, good day, alright, yah yah, good evening, will get you branded as a snob. Once you’re branded a snob you’ll have to work 3x harder hailing people so much that eventually you’ll just put your sunglasses on, paste a smile on your face and go into automaton mode shouting yah yah, alright alright, maunin maunin to everyone as you ride your bike down the street. The contrast is in Belize City where it’s a mistake to say hello to anyone and making eye contact means that eventually you’ll have to turn around a hiss at the stalker following you.

2. Driving too fast in your golf cart down our sandy streets. The sign is posted GO SLOW and that mean go slow mista man. Go slow applies to walking also, if you walk too fast you'll sweat too much. The contrast is not driving fast enough on the “Highway.” Let’s just say that Bigness’s driving could be classified as Macho.

3. Going into our local bank and walking right up to the teller’s window thinking that there is no line. There is no line, just a pecking order on the chairs distributed around the lobby, which includes little little little kids sent to the bank by their grandma. If you have a question as to the pecking order just ask the 2 fully armed security officers who we speculate have working pistols in their belt.

4. Forgetting to ask the postmistress, village council secretary, policewoman, or store clerk, how her baby is. Failure to do this could cause you to have your mail delayed by 2 weeks, get your taxes raised, or get you arrested.

5. Throwing away your Caribbean Tobacco cigarette packs before they do the big sweepstakes drawing. Miss Marie won a Toyota just cleaning up her yard.

6. Calling someone’s wife a big baboon, unless that’s her name.

7. Letting your grandmother’s or mother’s property be repossessed by the bank when she gives her land papers as security for you to buy a boat.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hopkins Village, Then and Now

On our trip to Placencia we got off the highway and took a quick trip through Hopkins Village. It renewed in me a sense of urgency in photographing old Belize before the cruise ships and big buck tourists "discover" that Belize is a safe and friendly country and come in and spoil everything.

Change happens, kinda like shit happens, and not all change is good. We saw a lot of seafront mansions going up, in the village. The photo above, the left side was shot 2 years ago and I released it as a hand colored photo. It was across from King Cassava Bar, its since been torn down and replaced with a giftshop. The saving grace is that in 2 years, with the sea, the sun, and salt air it will look like the old place in no time. I saw a sign on a building that I found hilarious and unfortunately I didn't get a quick snap of it. It said "Real Estate & Meat Shop"

The Hummingbird Highway is one of the prettiest stretches of road in Central America. It is the road between Belmopan and Dangriga. You pass little Mayan villages, citrus and banana plantations. The road rolls around through the Maya Mountains, which is stretching it a little bit. They are not mountains in the sense that the Rockies are mountains. With much of Belize at or below sea level, they are OUR mountains, with elevations of 1000 feet.

Before Dangriga there was a detour off the highway that took us through a citrus and banana orchard and over a riverbed. I shot these photos through a dirty windshield. I figured of that big machine can make it, then we can. Bigness was getting frustrated when I asked him to slow down so I could take a picture of the river we were crossing. For some strange reason he just wanted to get over to the other side (:->) Men!

On the return trip we had a flat tire and had to stop in Roaring Creek (yes, it roars right over the banks when it rains) to get the flat fixed. We should get the frequent user discount card. We've had to fix 5 flats since November. We're averaging about one a month.

Silk Painting 101

Mesoamerican Shell on silk Mesoamerican Conch on silk
I finally caught a break with MCS and United Nations Baby on Caye Caulker, it was just me and Bigness at the house in the bush and he was busy killing fire ants and spiders for 2 days. I was finally able to get some head space and created these 4 small paintings for the store. I had the basic ideas sketched for months and months and even used some of them for the Alamina Beach House purple bedroom art. I love Mesoamerican art which spans from the northwestern regions of Mexico to the southern Yucatan penninsula.

Mesoamerican Butterfly on silk

Mesoamerican Snail on silk
I copied this following information from the Dharma Trading Website, where I buy most of my supplies for silk painting.

The Serti (closing or fence) technique is the silk painting technique where designs are formed with gutta or water-based resists, which are applied to white silk that has been pre-washed, dried and stretched (on a stretcher). Once the gutta or water-based resist has dried, it acts as a barrier for the dye or paint—keeping the color within the outlined areas of the design and allowing you to achieve sharply defined borders. (Without this barrier, the dye or paint would flow into more of an abstract, undefined pattern.) After the dye or paint has been properly set, the clear gutta or resist is removed and a defining line the color of the original fabric remains. Colored guttas and resists are also available that are meant to remain in the fabric.
Detailed patterns without resists can be achieved by instead priming the prewashed and stretched silk with a stop-flow primer which is left to dry before painting on the dyes or paints. The color will stay where you put it, rather than migrating. Allows for freehand painting without gutta or water-soluble resists. Think of stop-flow primers as starch-like sizing to prepare the canvas with. They wash out in the end.
Watercolor-like effects can be achieved by applying dye or paint to silk that has been pre-washed and put on stretcher bars whether or not you are using resists (but not if you are using stop-flow). Dyes or paints are applied to the silk with a paint brush, mist sprayer, eye dropper, or other tools to achieve abstract effects. Spraying the silk lightly with water before adding color increases the flow of the dye or paint. Sprinkling silk salt on the piece when still wet, and leaving till completely dry before brushing off the salt, produces interesting textural effects. Applying alcohol to dye-painted silk also creates beautiful effects.

Illustration Friday - April 28 - Under the Sea

I painted this on silk in 1998, along long time ago. This painting was shown at my first professional show. The paints are actually dyes, powder and liquid made espcially for silk and the resist is a rubber cememt base product, although the crackle effect on the background water was created with wax for a faux batik look. Check out more Illustration Friday entries.


I see her standing on the pier waiting with MCS. I don’t have my glasses on, so I can’t tell that she’s crying. But I can see from her posture that something is wrong. She and MCS come over to where Bigness and I are retrieving our big plastic bins full of supplies and produce from the water taxi. We've been gone a few days to the mainland to my studio so that I can have some peace and paint. I see her face is puffy and eyes red, almost swollen shut like she’s been beaten down and was crying a hard cry. The kind where you cry yourself to sleep and in the morning your eyes are so swollen, you can hardly open them.

“What’s wrong Jane?” I ask, thinking maybe she had a fight with her boyfriend. Being 18, half Belizean half AMerican, and a little bit crazy is a hard life, but someone’s got to live it.
“Miss Lee I was attacked” said Jane
“Attacked how?” I’m looking at her more closely now and I can see she has sand ground into her ears, the edge of her scalp like someone pushed her into the dirt and held her down. I can see claw marks on her face and neck and she shows me a large bruise on her hip. Her pupil in one eye is blown out, dilated, the blood vessels in both eyes are popped.
“I can’t remember everything, except that I was at the I & I Bar with MCS and we hadn’t had much to drink except 2 or 3 beers. I started to feel strange like I was going to pass out, and wanted to leave, so we left and went outside, then I can’t remember anything until I was walking home and got to Mr. Chaninos yard and this guy came up and grabbed my face from behind and started to choke me. I tried to scream but he had his hands over my mouth and nose."

I look at MCS and raise my eyebrows (I never get the straight story), she immediately says to me “Mom, we didn’t have that much to drink. I think we were drugged. I think someone put Ecstasy in our beer trying to set us up. It made me feel queasy and I threw up right after leaving the bar, but it went into Jane’s system and totally screwed her up.”

Just then the female officer in charge of the case comes up and its time for them to get on the boat to San Pedro to see the magistrate and the physician that has to examine her.

When she arrives back on Caye Caulker she comes to see me again and I take close up pictures of her face all puffy and bruised, the choke marks on her neck, blown out pupil in one eye, scraped bruised hips, knees, elbows and feet.

The story comes in bits and pieces over the next few days.
“I want you to do a couple of things” I tell Jane. “I want you to go see Miss Reene and tell her what happened, she knows people at the consulate.” I don’t know how to deal with this, how much I should get involved in the rape and attempted murder. “I want you to see our female Cuban (free) doctor on Caye Caulker and have an examination by she or our Guyanese nurse Dona.” Jane reminds me of my youngest daughter Malibu Mallory. Except Jane is much more silly and a little bit crazy. We have had these long conversations about what her prospects are like on Caye Caulker and what her future holds and the conclusion is always that she needs to go back to the real world and get into college and get a real job and make some money before she comes back, more prepared with an idea about what she wants from life.
“She only speaks Spanish, and you know I can’t speak Spanish.”
“It doesn’t matter, the nurse speaks English. I also want you to call your mother in the U.S. and tell her what happened.”
“I can’t do that, it will only make things worse”
“Worse how?”
“She doesn’t want me there and I’ll just worry her.”
“She’s your mother and she should know what’s going on. No matter what. Does Miss Ellie know?" I ask Jane about her Belizean step grandmother.
“Probably, but I’m not telling my Dad. You know all about him” (he’s hard on crack and will probably land back in prison soon for thieving someone’s bicycle to pay for a rock) “He will just make things worse, scold me and blame me for it.”

Jane wasn’t even supposed to be here. She had a return ticket for the end of March and had decided to go back home and go to school. She left for the airport on they day she was supposed to leave, and because her flight hadn’t been confirmed, they sold her seat. THEY SOLD HER SEAT. How many of you have ever confirmed your flight? Me? N E V E R. The next available flight was 2 weeks away. The day she was supposed to leave again, her mom didn’t want to pay the flight change fee (so the story goes).

More of the story tumbles out over the next few days as I'm baking cookies for the store, or working on the computer, or laying in the hammock trying to read (new shipment of books has just srrived). Bigness stays out of it, as usual. He sees her coming and runs to hide.

I hear clomp clomp clomp up the wooden stairs from the beach, “Hi Miss Lee, is MCS home? No?” Big sigh as Jane plops down on a chair and starts to unravel. “I thought I was going to die right there. I should have died, you are looking at a dead person right now. I am a dead person. I am dead.” Jane blurts out with a gush.
“No you’re not, you’re a person with a very strong will to live.” I tell her these simple truths about herself. “You are alive because you are supposed to be. If you were supposed to be dead it would have happened.” I tell her the plane crash story about oldest daughter coming home for Christmas early, urgently wanting to get home, me begrudgingly change her ticket (costs money) and the original plane she was supposed to be on crashes, kills everyone on board. “Let’s try and figure out why this happened and how you can avoid this happening again.” I’m really not trying to use cheap pop psychology, but I’m not a trained counselor, I have no idea what to say.

We decide to take a little trip to get away. Business is slow and I need to get to Placencia and service my wholesale accounts down there. What it going to cost for an extra person to ride along? MCS has only been as far south as Dangriga, so this is a new experience for her too. Cashews are coming into season, and the trees on the mainland are loaded with them. If you look closely, there are 2 parts to the fruit. The top part is sweet and juicy and you squeeze the juice out, but you don't eat the meat (don't ask me why I have no idea) the bottom of the fruit holds the cashew nut which is poisonous until roasted (so the legend says)
United Nations baby sucks the sweet juice from the cashew fruit. Although I thought the aftertaste had a slightly gasolina ambiance to it, the fruit probably wasn't as ripe as it could be.

It’s a manhunt:
I’m in my studio on the mainland and the radio is on in the living room. I hear snatches of words, almost in my subconscious. A woman on Love FM at the news hour, a call in, disowning her son for what he’s done to dem pipples on key kakka. Bigness speculates that the police have visited the parents of the rapist and “questioned” them. I ask him if he thinks they will catch him and he says “Of course, it’s a small country and unless he goes through the back door (escapes to Mexico or Guatemala) they will get him in time. I post a slightly obscure inquiry on a message board for San Pedro asking if anyone has information.

While we were out:
The suspect shows back up on Caye Caulker and THE POLICE ACTUALLY DO THEIR JOB AND ARREST THE GUY. A Y E - M A Y - Z I N G. The morning that Jane and MCS came back to the island the rapist had just been led in handcuffs by an officer, to the water taxi and taken to see the judge on the mainland. They probably passed his boat going in the opposite direction.

In the News: No Bail for Caye Caulker Rape Suspect
He had two attorneys representing him in Magistrate's Court, but that didn't prevent one man from going to jail today. 37-year-old Ladyville fisherman Herman Crawford appeared in connection with a report made by an 18 year old female from Caye Caulker. She reported that on Tuesday morning she had been hanging out and shortly after 1:00 am, he dragged her into an open lot, choked her and forcefully had sex with her.
Crawford was charged with grievous harm and rape. The harm charge arises because a doctor who examined her classified the injuries to her neck as grievous. Despite arguments from Crawford's attorneys B.Q. Pitts and Lutchman Sooknandan, Lord said he denied bail because he does not want to exercise his discretion on way or the other and defers to Earl Jones, the presiding magistrate for San Pedro.

The comments from people have been a mixed bag. Some people here will walk right up to your face and say what they think, others tell their friend and they tell their friend and they tell their friend. Some say she deserved it, what is any girl doing out after midnight? All good girls are in bed by 10. Some say, poor baby, if you need to talk to someone, I'm there for you, but you know its all a bunch of crap. People are so insincere.

I don’t think anybody deserves this. But sometimes you have to burn your hand on the stove before you acknowledge that it’s hot. How many times did we screw up when we were teenagers, drinking and driving, doing stuff we weren't supposed to, being where we weren't supposed to be? I remember the summer between high school and college, another foot and I would have put my parents car over a small cliff and into a lake. Mom, if you're reading this, don't tell Dad, O.K.?

You know you're living in a small country when... an inmate from the country's only prison calls you (because you're listed in the phone book) to tell you the rapist was immediately remanded to Hattieville Prison - no bail - to await trial.

There is a whole shadowy underworld out there, some of it we're aware of, some of its is just lurking and waiting for an opportunity. Yes, were living in paradise, but its not heaven.

Its been 2 weeks and the bruises are almost gone, her pupil is back to normal, but the bruised and bloodshot eyes of a near strangled girl remain wide open and afriad. Clomp clomp clomp up the wooden stairs, "Is MCS here? I don't want to walk home alone."