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.

Monday, November 09, 2009

La Esperanza (the hope)

The hurricane had sucked out all the breeze, which meant it was perfect for me to photograph my little purses on Tia Ilna’s seaside bench. Bigness, being the baby of the family, Ilna is an older sister, along with Ophelia, Ester and Isabel. It is my favorite place to photograph, but you have to time it just right, the sun canting to the west, a slice of sunlight between the palm branches and the beautiful afternoon golden light streams through. I can feel the light when it is right, and it only lasts about a ½ hour. I have to move fast to get all the shots in today because I am leaving Caye Caulker to go back to Chetumal Mexico. My wedding photography jobs are done and I am headed back to what feels like home now.

I dump the purses out onto the bench, here sits three weeks of work Three whole weeks. I wonder to myself, how much they will sell for at Pretty Ethnic and Belizean Arts in San Pedro. I can only make about 2 a day, and there is no way I can charge for my time. I am competing with mass produced, imported bags from Bali, China and Guatemala. I hope that people can see that they are one-of-a-kind hand beaded on hand painted silk. Truly original, wearable art. I hope, they read the tag which tells them that they can hand wash them, that they are fair trade products. I hope a fancy designer from New York buys some and decides to use them as inspiration for their next collection, and credits me. I also hope that my mother remembers that I am her only daughter.

The funny thing about growing old, is that nothing really changes, we just become more of who we are, softer or stiffer. I hope that Age will soften me.

In February, when my mother visited I found out a couple of new things about her. I found out that when she was a teenager she wanted to play the base violin, not with the bow, but to pluck it and play in a jazz band. He mother made her play the piano, she hated it and wasted the lessons. As a girl, I studied classical piano, or rather tolerated it. I loved the piano, but quit the lessons at age 16 because I just wanted to play like Elton John circa 1976. I can still read a little music, and play every so often, not often enough to keep unrusty though.

I found out that my mother had had a pregnancy before my oldest brother who was born 2 years after my parents married at the ages of 16 and 18.

I found out that the older I get the more like my father I become. Introverted, cerebral, needing a lot of time, brain space, can’t be rushed, quiet. I read the i

nstruction booklet before I start. My mother, who should be my biggest fan, isn’t. And it has always puzzled me. I am not a drug addict, or bank robber, or prostitute. I am just a girl following her dream, wherever it takes

her. My mother doesn’t approve of me. I don’t fit tightly into the box my she wants me in. I’ve tried it, it doesn’t fit me.

It was the quietness of this year, the year I quit my life in Belize, that I had enough head space to create new things. And many new things were created. So, now that I am talking about it again, I will share these new things with you, a little bit at a time.

Favorite Photo - Go Slow (the dog)

Heather & John, November 7, 2009

Here is a sampler from that dayLivingroom of Caye Reef

Getting ready, one of the bedrooms at Caye Reef.

The ceremony was on the beach, in a most unlikely place, to the right of Sobre las Olas and across, the street from Herbal Tribe, behind the street vendors.

This makes me dizzy to even look at. But it was shot on the rooftop of the new Caye Reef, under the Lanai. The sunny sky was to the west, while the storm was to the east.... (below). You can sorta see one of the feeder bands behind the hammock.

No, folks, this is not a painted background, this is the real deal.
Chilin on the lounge chairs at Caye Reef
Awe shucks folks, I AM a sentimentalist
Costa Maya Beach Cabanas and Tsunami Adventures dock.

Shot on the beach right in front of Costa Maya Beach Cabanas & Tsunami Adventures

Heather's lucky blue beads. I love the texture on his shirt.

I also love weathered wood.

Greetings from the Peanut Gallery.

More GuRlz!

All Eyes on Ida

While all eyes were on Ida churning up the coast of Belize, seemingly just beyond the reef, I was watching...

Gurlz with ATTITUDE and Bride on Bike! I love the purses and high heel sandles, and it was a hoot to watch them teetering on the sand. Practicing in advance (about 10 years in advance) for the Miss Lobsterfest Pageant.

I came back to Caye Caulker on the 4th, to shoot a wedding on the 5th, during the system that preceeded Ida, finished that one and faced down Ida on the 7th. Sally, Caye Caulker's wedding coordinator always has her contingency plan, she's on top of the weather situation. Sometimes I think she has a crystal ball. Now, me, I'm a sweaty hyperventillating mess, just prior to shooting, even on a good day. It is not that I don't like shooting weddings. I love it. It is probably one of the most fulfilling jobs I have ever had. It is the nervous tension I self generate, and I can't seem to stop it. maybe I should stop trying to.

"Babes, I don't even know where the plywood is." Bigness tells me that morning. This always catches us like this, late in the season, we think trouble has passed, and then boom, we are right there in it.

"The water is cool cool cool, too cool for a hurricaine." I keep telling myself. And it was cool, both on the 5th and the 7th, the air temperature dipped down into the 70s.

My couple was from the coast of North Carolina, where they understand "WEATHER." And in talking with them the day before the ceremony, the groom was actually grooving on the weather and said "Wouldn't if be great if we could get some lightening in the background of some of the photos.?"

I said, "Well that would be cool, but you wil be standing out there by yourself, because when I see lightening, I run for cover." I remember well the lightening storm that raked across the beach a few years ago and electrocuted a man. All in all, when the time came, the day was perfect, with the storm to the east and sunny sky to the west, cool temperatures. What more could I ask for? It seemed like we all got what we wanted that day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bigger is not Always Better

Sometimes bigger is just bigger.

In Mexico, while it has everything a person could want to buy, eat or do. The people are not friendly in our area. In 9 months I have met 3 people. Yes, you read it right… 3 people. My BELIZEAN Spanish teacher, a BELIZEAN massage therapist and one neighbor who is originally from the city of Merida, a very friendly place. That’s it.

At first I attributed it to the fact that in the beginning I didn’t get out much, I was very focused on setting up my studio and painting. I have to remind myself, I always get what I want. On Caye Caulker I suffered from Noseyneighboritis, people always up into my business. People love to talk here, and there is a fine line between gossip and information, and I have to admit, I participated in the listening and the saying. But what it comes down to is I really need a very quiet controlled environment to do my best work. I can’t be talking, answering the phone or having interruptions. I am the most like my father in that attribute. I need mental space.

When we moved to Mexico it was to a middle class neighborhood of modest homes with two working parents and live-in Guatemalan maids. I felt the open mouth stares from behind closed drapes as we would exit the 10 foot high security/privacy fence to drive somewhere in the car.

“There goes the neighborhood” I imagined them saying to themselves. A white lady and a giant BELIZEAN! What is the world coming to?

My best friend became the pug dog living next door who would only growl at me if I spoke English, but he would try and talk to me if I spoke Spanish. He told me that he was lonely and could he please have a piece of chicken?

I found myself shopping at Chedraui, looking for white ladies to crash my cart into, just for conversation. That's really weird, and I know it, you don't have to tell me.

So, I really got what I wanted. I wanted peace and quiet, and no interfering neighbors, no one calling me bothering me, taking up my time, trying to get me involved in their constant small town drama. I wanted to lower my cost of living, and live in a safe neighborhood (remember my best friend the machette). But life is not perfect. And you don’t know what you got ‘til its gone.

I’m back on Caye Caulker for a few days taking a break from Mexico and to do inventory at the stores selling my artwork and prints. I’m here to TALK. AND TALK AND TALK, as I sit on the street side verandah and people call out to me walking past, in their bikes and golf carts cruising…

"Eeeey! Miss Lee Ann, when you come back?"

"Miss Lee Ann, where you been?"

"Miss Lee Miss Lee Miss Lee, how come I neva de see you again?"

"Miss Lee Ann how you like Mexico?"

"Miss Lee Miss Lee, bring me some ah dat cheap food from Mexico!"

"Miss Lee, I gonna come see you in Mexico!"

"Miss Lee Ann how yu like Mak Donals?"

“I like Burger King better” I reply

“OFF OFF OFF” the little kids chanted on the street as the electricity flickered on for a moment and then browned out again.

Caye Caulker in the dark with no boom boxes or lights, people sounds only, no machines. Its nice. I’m fine, I can operate on batteries for quite a while. There is a breeze blowing, no need for a fan.

“Shutup gial!” I hear a tired mother trying to run a restaurant without current hushes her daughter who is happy and excited about another power outage. "This current jussa harass mi!" To kids its fun, but to businesses its a killer.

“Gial, current gaaan agayn” Bigness booms from the bedroom where he was watching Belize TV news discussing the Maya alliance and their conflict with central government over land rights, titles and leases. This problem is not unique only to Belize, it is this way all over the world, indigenous people treated like immigrants and immigrants treated like royalty.

Current back on for a few minutes, I’m ready to plug again and down down down the lights go. I stay unplugged during these episodes until I’m sure its safe. I don’t like the effect that the power surge has on my things and we all know that the electricity company never wants to take responsibility for damage from power outages, brownouts and spikes.

“Gial, the TV cure itself” Bigness announces from the bedroom. As the power goes back on.

One good thing that came from this power outage is, the sound on the TV in the master bedroom magically started working again. For 3 days Bigness has been lip reading the news and watching 12 Corezones, and doing, of all things… reading. I told him the "sound out" was practice for when he goes deaf, and then instantly felt guilty for saying it. It got a chuckle out of him, he LOVES my insults. I know, that's weird too, you don't have to tell me. If my 74-year-old mother heard me say that to my husband, she would wash my mouth out with Fels Naptha soap.

Now that the current is back on the only thing standing between Bigness and Caso Cerrado is that the cable TV company isn’t back online yet.

I feel like telling Bigness to hit it with a hammer to see if he can make it work. That’s my father’s personality in me and something I heard him say over and over facetiously as I was growing up with a self-taught mechanical genius. But I stifle it.

We go like this in fits and streaks. Current will be good good good for months, and then blip blap blam, its off. We are not experiencing the blackouts that San Pedro and villages on the mainland are, due to the fact that our juice comes from 3 giant diesel engines on the back side of the island. We are not hooked up to the national grid, and I don’t know if we really want to be either. Given that the majority of Belize’s electricity comes from a national grid that is supplied by Mexico, and Mexican hydroelectric power is at a low due to less rain this year. The Mexican newspaper announced that there will be power outages as they are not able to keep up with demand. I’m o.k. with the 3 diesel engines on the back side of the island and marvel sometimes at how very reliable our current is.

If I have to be anywhere in the world when the electricity goes off, it would be Caye Caulker with its people noise and the sound of palm trees in the breeze.

So, during my self imposed exile I created many many many little things. With this economic climate people don’t want to spend much money, so if any sales are made, they are the smaller pieces. I have new jewelry and small paintings. I’m now creating a silk self matt for these 10” x 10” silk paintings. They are available online (soon to be offered on my website) and at River’s Edge Gallery in Wyandotte, Michigan, in Belize at Pretty Ethnic in San Pedro, Caesar’s Place in San Ignacio, Fine Arts in Belize City, Los Cocos Cantina on Caye Caulker, and Art-n-Soul in Placencia. The price for a framed painting at River’s Edge Gallery in Wyandotte, Michigan is $97.00. I am offering them unframed in Belize for $47.50 U.S. and for an internet sale add $30 U.S. for shipping.