Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Special Request

Tales from the Evil Photographer

We met the evening before the wedding, it was quick meeting, just to find out the ceremony particulars they had decided on with Sally the Caye Caulker wedding coordinator. In the months before the wedding I had been in email communication with Amber regarding her tastes, what the dress looked like, etc. And I love a beautiful dress.

The trend this year has been for the bride to not be seen by the groom prior to the ceremony, which makes it a little tricky regarding light. Most weddings happen in the late afternoon here on Caye Caulker, and since we are so close to the equator, our days and nights are nearly equal all year long, varying only about 1/2 hour in each direction. So a 4 p.m. wedding only gives me about an hour after the ceremony to do portraits. So we decided that I would come to their hotel and photograph "The Putting on of the Dress" which was a three person job.

The men were summarily dismissed as I arrived and it became Ladies Time with the bride finishing her hair and makeup. The dress was the most beautiful wedding dress I had ever photographed, layers of organza pleats and crystals in a champagne color. It had a vintage feel.

Well, Amber is no vintage girl, she is all spunk, and as we were joking around and chatting, all the while I'm snap snap snapping. She said, "Whatever you do I want you to harass my father."

"Oh, O.K. I can do that." I reply

"I really mean it. Harass him. He has given me nothing but grief this week because I am making him wear a suit and tie. So give it to him. Don't let him take off his jacket."

"O.K." and my mind starts to whirl. He looks like he can take a joke, so I start working on the special request.

As a photographer I am requested to do all sorts of things, but mostly it is in crowd control, like getting a drunk uncle off the pier, or pushing the parents up to the front and moving guests back who in their excitement have pressed forward. And I do it.

But I have never been requested to harass the father of the bride. I rose to the occasion in a kind but stern voice, dead serious.

Daddy, stop sweating

Daddy, take off your sunglasses

Daddy get your hands out of your pockets

Daddy, don't even think about about taking your jacket off

Daddy, I better see you smile or I am going to stop the ceremony and make you show me your teeth.

And he complied.

I could have told him...
Daddy it is time for you to jump in the pool and I believe he would have done it.

I feel so powerful.
This is one of the funny outtakes.

I found this nifty slide show maker on La Gringa's Blogicito. Thank you La Gringa.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Lost People

He told me about his big big big project. He was going to do this, and he was going to do that, and So-and-so was his friend. He couldn't have chosen a worse friend (sigh). I think to myself... you are going to get screwed or get smart, hopefully, before the money runs out. I have stopped giving advice about living in Belize, except to a few who will listen. I hope that by telling my own tale of foibles, people will read and learn. Read & learn. We always think we are going to be the exception to the rule. The rule is that: the people you first meet in a new place are rarely the people that have your best interest at heart. You will meet the hustlers and opportunists first. They smell you coming. Watch out for "Opportunity Knocking." You might not want to answer the door.

The money always runs out. The solution to the problem is not to pour money on it. The project was built over subterrainean caves, so the building pilings went plink plink plunk to the bottom of the caves.

"I could have told him there were caves back there" was the response that Bigness gave when I heard about the plink plink plunk going on to the back of the island. His next response was... "You can't tell white people nuttin, dey don't want to listen." We talk about the white people... like I am not one of them.

When you fall in love (with Belize or with a person), no one can tell you anything. You start in this forward motion, and nothing, nothing, nothing will stop you.

I see them come with their big plans, and leave sad, mad and broke. Those who leave right after the money finishes are the smart ones. They came, they tried, they knew it all, and then they left. There are those who stay after the money finishes become lost people. If their paperwork isn't in order, then they can't get their visa extended every month, so they become illegal. Then the passport expires, or it is lost, and time passes so that even if they had the money, they can't leave. They just have to blend in. And they do. I know several people who are without passports. They can't leave, they can't even go across the border into Mexico or Guatemala. They just stay and do their thing, and have been here long enough, that people don't ask too many questions. An interesting characteristic about people in Belize is that, they might gossip about you and call you slek behind your back, but they won't turn you into the police unless you are harassing them.

I remember in the not too distant past a bar manager who was picked up and extradited back to the U.S. He had been working illegal in Belize, for years and years. Everybody knew it, nobody cared, but he harassed and fired the wrong girl! She contacted the Belize Labor Board, who checked with Immigration, who ran a check on the guy who found out there was a warrant out for his arrest. The extradition order came and they (the U.S.) just yanked him out of here like that (snap). He harrassed the wrong girl.

In another case, the Canadian girl had left her country under suspicious circumstances, came here a few months, ran out of money, and then lost her passport (or it was stolen) She wasn't hurting anybody, and even though she was the town whore, nobody cared, everybody knew about her status. But lef dem ting lone mein! It is the white people who are nosey and tattle tales. Belziean's don't care as long as you aren't hurting anybody. Finally someone rescued her 7 years later. How you rescue someone, or rescue yourself, is you have to get a new passport. You/they have to give a statement to the police, in another town that doesn't know you, that you just came into the country and that it was stolen along with your other papers. You take the police report to your embassy and tell them it was stolen or lost, and they will issue you one immediately, provided that the passport wasn't expired. Your embassy doesn't care if you are telling the truth or lying. They just don't want trouble with repatriation, so if you can bring a return plane ticket to show them, more is the better. This only works in Banana Republics or backwaters that are not too swift with their computer systems.

In another instance, this old white lady has been around so long, speaks Kriol perfect, you think she was born here. But one day, after she had drank about a bottle of rum, she told me her story. Many years ago she came to Belize with money. She had been in the pharmaceutical business, and came to retire and buy land. She got swindled out of her money and lost it all, had burned her bridges in the U.S., so felt she had nowhere to go. She wanted to kill herself so she came to the San Pedro to drown herself at the reef, and found that she could swim pretty well... so she started over, living in the park, sleeping on benches under the palapa, going through the trash to find food to eat. She found religion, and the church ladies helped her to establish a little part time business enough to feed her and pay the rent, and here she is all these years later. "Wouldn't you like to go back?" I asked her.
"What for?" she answered
She had made her peace with the situation, reconciled it and was living in the moment.

This was posted on a forum by Rigrat who has Belize Bird Rescue.
An Ode to Belize
All the time we see them come
Some are smart, some are dumb
Some are black, some are white
Chinese, Indian, Israelite
Canadians, South Africans, often Brits
Belize is great, home’s the pits
We tell them come and stay awhile,
Rent a house, Belizean style

Never rush, never jump,
Or you could buy a rubbish dump
“Oh no! Not me” they often cry
“I’ve been around, let them try
I am too clever, worldly-wise
To buy a swamp or collapsed high rise
I know the law, bring them on”
How often do we hear this song?

“I got money, want to spend
Cash to burn, cash to lend”
“Slow down SLOW DOWN we tell them all”
But rarely do they heed our call
To hide your money, don’t be flash
Don’t let them see your petty cash
Take it easy, make no strife
Come and try the easy life

“I know, I know! I have a brain!
Advice you give is all in vain
I’m not stupid, been around,
I’ve seen it all, there’s no new ground
Was in Belize, stayed three days,
Here’s my plans, be amazed
Bought some land, has a creek
Gone home to sell, be back next week”

“Going to build, got so much space
Belize will have to change its pace
I’m getting old, don’t have time
My place will be a real gold mine
I’ll make a fortune wait and see
My plans will work out faultlessly
I’ll start a business make some money
A king in the land of milk and honey”

And so they come despite the warning
Truck piled high and spend all morning
At the border checkpoint getting mad
Thinking that they’re being had
“How can they charge? This stuff’s not new!”
As they watch the customs turn the screw
“My truck is dirty used and old

Credit card reaches max
On environment and sales tax
And their pockets full of hard earned booty
Have emptied fast on import duty
So to the ATM they have to dash
When the Customs guy wipes out their cash
It’s just a setback, not too bad
They’re in Belize so just be glad

So jubilant they wend their way
To the jungle deep where big cats play
Where mozzies bite and scorpions sting
And the bush’s thorns large scratches bring
To the forest damp where mildew grows
To rot your ‘lectrics, shoes and clothes
But they’re not daunted, they are strong
How often have we heard this song?

And oh! What Joy! They find their neighbour
Can build their house, and do hard labour
Can chop their bush, can plant their trees
The smartest man in all Belize
There is nothing that he can’t do
Given cash and tools and wood and glue
A house by Christmas, won’t take long
How often have we heard this song?

But cash aplenty are his needs
To start construction, plant your seeds
A new machete to chop your grass
To build a road so you may pass
He needs material, steel, and screws
Cement and block, no time to lose
Gimme dollah gimme quick
Buy me hammer, saw and brick

He has a cousin, wife and brother’s son
His auntie’s uncle’s sister’s one
His whole family will lend a hand
To build your house and till your land
To cook your meals and wash your clothes
To guard your house whilst you doze
It just takes money, little bit
On little bit and bit and bit

But soon those bills are getting large
The money pit’s not free of charge
The credit card is getting worn
Our new arrivals look forlorn
All the while demands for cash
Are diminishing the money stash
The materials that came were wrong
The nails too short, the steel too long
And wondrous neighbour soon forgot
He told you he could do the lot

Excuses and evasions come
The started work was never done
Sun too hot, it rain too hard
Me granny dead, they burn ma yard
Foot painin me, Ma house collapse
Car done bruk, Licence lapse,
Pickni sick, he very ill
Gimme money to buy a pill
Police ketch me, I done no wrong
How often do we hear this song?

And soon they meet officialdom
To Belmopan they must come
To show their passport, licence, form
To stay in a land of sun and warm
You residency they want to thwart
Your retirement plans may come to naught
Immigration take too long
They’ve lost your file, your paper’s gone
Pay more cash to extend your stay
Wait one month or two they say

The mall’s not built, the shops are bare
Of modern goods ‘cept Chinese fare
No bowling alley, cinema
Was it wise to come this far?
The roads are bumpy have big holes
My pickup truck is looking old
There’s no Big Macs or KFC
Italian restaurant ceased to be
The power’s hardly ever on
How often have we heard this song?

The rains did come, the land did flood
The building site has turned to mud
The lush mangrove that I cut down
Has caused my coconuts to drown
And even though I had a plan
My huge Condo they want to ban
It’s not my fault, Third World you see
I am foreign, they pick on me

My neighbour’s gone, my cash he took
His auntie’s wife could never cook
My tools, my blocks, my roofing tin
Have vanished into air so thin
Cement got wet, the sand was dirt
My funds are gone I lost my shirt
The gas was bad my truck has seized
I won’t accept I’ve been Belized
My health has failed not feeling well
My worldly goods I have to sell
Going back home, where things are normal
Where rules are rules and life is formal

And all because he didn’t listen
To those well versed in his position
He burned his bridges, came too fast
And we all knew he’d never last
We told him loud we told him blunt
NEVER pay your cash up front
NEVER think you know it all
NEVER think our tale’s too tall
And all advice that he forsook
To never jump before you look
Has sent him packing, pockets empty
Back again to lands of plenty

Be even though we are so smug
We know Belize is like a drug
That if you come and stay awhile
You’ll be swept in Belizean style
A pirate’s land, with pirate’s luck
We need their cash, their loot, their buck
Where many fail, just some succeed
To fill that urge, that inner need
To live a life, exotic, free
Of jungle trail and sun and sea

So who can blame them, those who come
To try their luck with what we’ve done
But sure as dawn on misty mornings
The ones that fail, ignored the warnings
That things are done here differently
To the things back home you wish to flee
So bide your time, be at ease
Time means little in Belize
Its not that we don’t know its wrong
But we do get tired of this old song.


On my last trip to visit family, with the economy in the crapper in Belize as it is in the U.S. I posed this question to my oldest daughter Adria... "What if Mommy has to get a real job?"
She thought for a moment, and answered with aplomb "Well, I wouldn't worry about it, you'll just lie yourself into one just like always."

And I instantly felt more confident.