Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The World on Fire

Me: That's alotta smoke.
Bigness: hmm? (as he looks up from his paper)
Me: The trees across the way are on fire
Bigness: Gial no worry, the fence will stop the fire
Me: I don't think its going to stop it, the breeze is blowing it right towards us
Bigness: (nonplussed) the breeze is not hard, its just a little fire, and the yard is peeled (cut short) nothing to burn close to the house. (he buries himself in the paper)

a few minutes later...
Bigness: Gial, shut those back windows.

But I don't hear him so well, because I'm outside with the painfully short hose, wetting down the orange trees, the grass, the house, the bushes, the car, the motorcycle, looking for and filling up any plastic container because if the fire hits the electric lines, we will lose our well pump and there goes the water. Its my vivid imagination at work again, thinking out multiple scenerios. Too bad I hate the game of chess.

Bigness: GIAL, let's bring in the motorcycle.
So we do, and find a little board to use as a ramp up the side steps, I pull and lift and he pushes from behind. This machine didn't look so big when it was parked outside, but now it fills our little kitchen next to the lawn mower and washing machine. Its raining ash like snow now.
Bigness: we're almost out of fresh water, I'm going to the store for more.
Me: Do you think this is a good time to do that?
Bigness: Gial, you worry too much
Me: LOOK (and I point here, here and here) the fire is on three sides of us now.
(And I think to myself, you must be worried too if you brought the motorcycle into the kitchen.)

I can see the neighbors down the way on their front porch watching the fire like a reality TV show. I can hear the bagpipe-playing old Englishman neighbor practicing christmas carols over and over. Jingle Bells, Deck the Halls and We Three Kings like Nero playing the violin while Rome burns. Isn't anyone else worried?

I continue spraying where I left off. I drench the baby mango tree, the two baby Jamaican lime trees, the baby almond trees, the red hibiscus bush, all of which we planted this year knowing that if the fire reaches us these might be saved if I can wet them up enough. I spray all along the fence line as far as I can go with this short hose, half of the roof, two sides of the house and curse myself that I didn't buy a longer hose the last time I was in town.

Bigness comes out of the house and moves the car to the leeward side of the house.

Bigness: I hope the fire stops before we go to bed.
Me: Me too.
Bigness: Its burning up the road by the store, the whole roadside is on fire.

Our little house in the bush, where my studio is now, is 30 miles away from Belize City and 18 from Belmopan. Each of these cities fighting their own battles against rampant brush fires, I know that it is just us and the little hose that stands between the fire and losing the house. There won't be any ladder trucks coming, no helicopters dumping fire retardant, no men in fireproof suits. I chose to live here and so I choose to deal with the reality of living so isolated.

I watch as the fire jumps the road and starts burning towards an empty house. I stop the water and go inside to watch from the back bedroom windows as the smoke is thick and burning my eyes now. And then it stops. The flames die down, the breeze slackens and the air begins to clear. I crack the window a bit and lie down on the bed because tomorrow morning comes soon and we're going to Cancun to pick up my oldest daughter and her family from the airport.
I wake up around 4 a.m., the breeze is cool, scented with pine smoke like incense and the air feels wet. We leave the house and start traveling north to the border with Mexico, at daybreak I can see rain clouds on the horizon.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Living Like We Do

I've been using the bus lately to come and go up the road to our house in the bush. We've been experiencing car troubles and the machine has been into the mechanic for a couple of weeks. The prognosis was not good. We need a new engine. I could go on for several paragraphs about trying to find a good engine for a 1996 Izuzu Rodeo, the calls to aMerica, the calls to Canada, and at the end of the day one was found right in Belmopan in a mashed up car. So, Bigness's next best friend has become the mechanic and the car engine change has become his new career.Enough said.

I'm fine with the bus. Bigness has to have wheels (that he controls) under his butt, so in the interim we bought a medium size scooter. I rode on the back once when he picked me up from the bus stop, but since I don't have a death wish, that's probably the last time that will happen. I've ridden it myself a couple of times, but there's something unsettling at the pit of my stomach about going at that speed bare armed, bare legged, sandal footed. I'm wearing the bottoms of my sandals out forgetting where the brakes are. I put it in to the same category as bungee jumping, parachuting, water sliding and breaking my leg.

The busses in Belize run amazingly regular without having a set schedule. When the main bus company went into bankruptcy and then subsequently went into receivership and then shut down, lots of little operators picked up old school busses in aMerica, drove them down through Mexico and dozens of bus companies started up to fill the need. The service isn't bad. If the bus is full, just wait for another one coming along shortly. When I need to leave from Belize City, I go to the bus station and jump on any bus heading west, as we only have one highway heading west, the task is easy. When I want to head back to the city I walk out the access road from our area to the highway, stand on the side of the road and the first bus around the corner catches me. There is a legend that a first class air conditioned express bus leaves from Belize City and goes to San Ignacio every day at 10 a.m., but so far as I've seen, its still a legend.

I don't mind no air conditioning, as the windows are all down, the breeze keeps you cool, or at least keeps the sweat dried offThis trip I was the last one on the bus, or so I thought, catching it just as it was pulling from the station. I hopped up the stairs, thanking the driver for waiting. I waded down the aisle into the only empty aisle seat. There were other seats empty, but they were on the window side and Belizean women usually won't scoot over, which is a phenomenon I find strange. The same holds true for the water taxi. A Belizean woman will get into the boat and sit herself down where she wants, no matter how inconvenient it is for the 50 people trying to board behind her. I don't understand it, but hey, if that's my only complaint, then I should just shut up.

Back to the bus. People are content, children don't misbehave. The bus rolls forward a few feet and I plop down into my seat half way down the aisle next to a little Spanish girl and it lurches to another stop as a blind man gets on the bus, led by his daughter. He needs to sit down and if the bus driver would give him 15 seconds to do this, he would stop lurching and flopping. I'm afraid he will fall. If the lady with the baby right next to him would scoot over, he could slide in, but he's blind and can't see this. The little old Jehovah's witness lady saves the day. She's on the window seat in front of them and moves out into the aisle, makes the Spanish man that was next to her scoot over, slides the blind man onto the seat, then sidles over the lady with the baby (who could have just scooted over) and sits down. All the while the driver hasn't missed a bump or pothole. I am amazed. He stops 2 blocks later and has the attendant put $50 in gas into the tank. A few miles down the road the steward side steps down the aisle asking where you are stopping and telling you the appropriate fare. Its 2.50 bzd from Belize City to my stop which is 31 miles up the road, a great value considering that when we drive our own car its 35 bzd to come and go. We talk all the time about economizing and using the bus system more but at the end of the day what is true is that we are lazy to do it. Shame on us.

I see it before I smell it, the great white plumes of smoke. Nervously I check for the mile marker on the side of the highway and we're more than 10 miles from home. I shouldn't be nervous anyway, Bigness has told me that if its a house on fire the smoke is black, if the hills are on fire the smoke is white. 3 miles later we can smell the sweet burn, the hills are on fire, and its burning right up to the road. Closer and closer we get, until you can't hardly see the road. I watch the driver's eyes in the rearview mirror and he doesn't look nervous at all although he glances up to see where his people are from time to time. He never hesitates as we enter the gauntlet. The road is on fire on both sides, bus windows slap into the up position, I can hear the crackling flames and fire, the heat is intense. The driver presses on, we have no idea how long this will be and in a few seconds we are through it, everyone breathes a sigh, the windows slap down, the breeze starts clean again and I realize that he's playing an old Kenny Roger's CD, The Gambler.

A tap on my might shoulder and the little Spanish girl sitting next to me asks, "Please Miss Lady could you pass this to my sister?" she points across the aisle and I pass the plate of rice-n-beans and stewed chicken to her. A tap on my left shoulder and a baby is handed to me, "Please Miss Lady could you pass this to my sister?" and I pass the little chubby boy on down the line. I noticed that Tropical Storm Andrea is in the Atlantic, which is the start of rainy season. It couldn't come too soon. We've been experiencing dry tides with our well on Caye Caulker which means that during certain times of the day, the well actually runs dry, the fresh water vats are nearly empty. We've experienced a much more dry year this year than last. The rains should come soon, June is nearly here.

Saturday, May 05, 2007


Boys Behaving Badly
Middle age American woman to young British soldier
: Why would I want to go home and sleep with you when I can go home to my husband and NOT sleep with him.
: MOMMY MOMMY MOMMY they have high heel shoes at the Chinese store AND THEY FIT ME! Can I buy them can I buy them can I buy them????????
Supergirl: You can buy high heel shoes when you're old enough to buy your own shoes!
UNBaby: .... (huh?) They have sparkles on them!
Supergirl: As long as I'm buying your shoes they aren't going to be high heels.
UNBaby: When can I buy them?
Supergirl: When you're 14.
Granmaw Law
Me: Don't make me chase you down the beach! Stay where I can see you!

We had a little scare a while ago. UnBaby came rushing up the stairs from the beach into the kitchen all breathless.
UNBaby: Mommy Mommy Mommy a lady says she has presents for me at her hotel room can I go can I go can I go?????"
Supergirl & I simultaneously: WHAT!!!
Supergirl: Show me this lady

Supergirl went with UNBaby down the stairs to the beach and pointed out the lady who was sitting at a table at a nearby restaurant. It was probably innocent (we hope) but Supergirl reminded the lady that ITS NOT O.K. TO TRY AND LURE LITTLE CHILDREN INTO YOUR HOTEL ROOM! She gently explained to her that while we appreciate gifts you should give them to the children in public, preferrably in the presence of their parents.

People bring gifts down for the kids of Caye Caulker all the time. Its great, pencils, books, school supplies, toothbrushes, toys. But this incident shocked us out of our self induced daze that we're living in a safe society where nothing bad can happen to our kids. We have a false sense of security, because we all know each other (cousins all up and down the beach) and watch out for each other that nothing can touch us, and in a split second we had the sense knocked back into us.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Progresso, Mexico a Day at the Beach

A 15 minute walk and $1.25 U.S. each later we were in a collectivo van seating 15 people on our way from Merida, to the seaside port village of Progresso on our last full day in Mexico.

The van was clean, new, air conditioned and whisked us away, a straight shot down the highway we hurtled. After about 15 minutes I turned my head for a split second and saw a giant sign in the distance that said SEARS. “So there it is.” I pointed out to Bigness, who just grunted hmmfff in acknowledgement. A little bit of fear creeping into the corner of his eyes, he glanced at me sideways, as if I would ask him to ask the driver to let me off RIGHT HERE, so I could shop. But I had already bought my Frida costumes, and happened to be wearing one at the time. “Its O.K.” I said, and he relaxed. So now we know about the second mall, the real mall. Next time.

Things have changed in the 30 years since Bigness had been to Progresso. Back in the day it was a sleepy seaside village of a thousand people with unpaved streets, cheap beer, sandy beaches and turquoise water. The sand, water and cheap beer remains, but what has grown up is a full scale Mexican resort town. The difference between Progresso and Playa Del Carmen is that the white world has not found it. The tourists are all Mexican, and most of them from Merida which sits 35 miles away inland. The whole time I was there I saw one other foreigner besides myself.

We live on a beach, so we are never looking for “beach” but it was interesting anyway… and HOT. We arrived at around 10 a.m. and all of the shady spots were staked out by families with coolers and blankets. We walked and walked and walked down the seaside sidewalk to find shade, and resigned ourselves to sitting at a restaurant on the beach, and ordering ice cold 50 cent Sol beers and eating fresh seafood ceviche. Such torture!

I am a watcher. I just love seeing different people. When I was a kid for cheap entertainment my parents would take us to the airport to watch people. Sounds weird, but it was fun. Maybe that’s what spawned my love for travel (it didn’t have the same effect on my brothers) but I love to people watch, to imagine where they are going, what they are doing.

Mayan and Yucateca ladies are very modest, swimming in shorts and T-Shirts. The only ladies I saw in bathing suits were obviously from other parts of Mexico as they looked different from the dark brown short square locals. You will notice that here in Belize that most of the local Spanish and Kriole women that actually live in Belize (this excludes those who have left and come back only on vacation) are very modest when bathing. No bikinis, T-Shirts and shorts mostly or bathing suits covered up with t-shirts. The local women here on Caye Caulker are dismayed and embarrassed by the foreign flesh pots, often pointing and giggling. Topless sunbathing is not only frowned upon, but heartily discouraged.

So we finished out last day in Mexico at the beach and headed back to Meirda and then to Belize the next day. 5 days away from home seemed like a month. I came back really refreshed with lots of new ideas for jewelry design. All in all it was a great break. Merida was lovely.