Friday, 19 April 1996
As usual - 5 hours of sleep does it for me. Interesting body I have. In a couple of hours I will be able to sleep for a few more hours...
I have taken to use some advise gotten the last time I was out for an extended period of time - six years ago. I was in Livingston, Guatemala where they call me locks because I refused the name Rasta since I am not of that culture or religion. Anyway, me and this guy were hollowing out a tree stump to make a drum, when he just says to me, out of the blue: You know, locks...sometimes in the middle of the night I wake-up and do my push-ups and go back to sleep. I didnít respond, and we just continued working on this tree stump -- but every now and then, I think of Jesus ( that was/is his name) and what he said....
Because of this trip, and the strength I need, Iíve taken to that advise...In a month or so Iíll know if it helps.
Before starting with this section... first a little background of the ways and wherefores of this journey, actually, it goes back to the summer of 1973 when I had a choice of either going to Ethiopia, Africa or Vacaville, California. Astonishingly enough I choose California. At the time I was in the U. S. Air Force and stationed at McGuire AFB in New Jersey. The decision was made because I knew, very strongly at the time, that as soon as I would start traveling outside the country I would not come back....
Around thanksgiving of 1989 I went with a delegation to Panama for a week...then it started. That same New Yearís Eve saw me over the Atlantic trying to get to Nicaragua for the elections but instead spending four months in Guatemala and Belize. That summer I went to Canada and in march of 1991 I got the position of Arts Director for Pacifica radio in New York - WBAI-FM -- a particularly stressful job. Somewhere in the first year of that job I was looking at a world map (I was living in a tenement at 104th Street off of Central Park West). In looking at the map I realized Iíd spent most of my 40 years on the planet at this one little location on the map called New York City. This revelation was quickly followed by the realization that, except for Tibet, the places I was interested in on the globe were all located below the tropic of cancer. Then asking myself ĎWhere would I live to access the places I was interested in?í -- those places being Africa , South America (specifically Brazil) and Australia- I wanted to be close to a transportation hub -- South Africa being that hub. But I also knew - whenever South Africa was freed, everybody and their grandparents would rush to help in...their process. I wanted to help Namibia. The Namibians had been through just as much, but not many folks knew about their situation. Since that time...the really interesting thing(s) that have happened was, all of a sudden - like connecting dots, points between Namibia and New York started to develop. I became involved with an international community radio organization out of Canada called AMARC and through them made contacts in Mexico and South America and Africa... Then two and a half years ago I began serious study in Capoeira Angola which brought me to Brazil.
So as of February Iíve begun the journey of a lifetime....
Right now I am in (at) my favorite place on the planet -- Barranco, Belize. In fact, at this moment I am watching the sunrise on the gulf of Honduras on a Thursday morning. Barranco is the furthest southern village in Belize, Central America. Itís population is under 250 people - mostly older folk and children. The people speak a language know as Garifuna -- they also speak English as it is the national language of the country -- and some folk speak Spanish as Guatemala is so close - one can see Livingston, Guatemala across the water.
They just got electricity in the village a couple of years ago. When I was here six and a half years ago they would run a generator 4 hours a night for their power. Now they have power 24 hours - 7 days a week. I am living the next four days in a two room shack that has electricity -pero- I donít use the light - use a candle at night and go to sleep by 9 p.m. It gets dark here at this time of year at about 6:30 - 7:00. In Barranco there is really nothing to do. For me, it is a place to totally, chill, cool out...
During my travels in the last few years--wherever Iíve been: Europe, Cuba, Canada, Mexico, Senegal, Gambia, Guatemala... Folks always ask about their country. They want to know "How do you like our country?" My response is "I like your country just fine." At some point the question is always asked or sometimes I even automatically add: "But the best place Iíve ever been is Barranco." Folks then, of course, want to know "What is / where is this Barranco." Without missing a beat I let them know Barranco is like the Garden of Eden. If you throw a nutmeg pit/seed out the back window youíll have a tree the next near. The people are all unbelievably friendly and though it is hot, it is cool by the sea. Did I mention these are Black people? They look just like me. They are actually descendants of the only African captives never to be enslaved.
I have to take a break here, the lady Iím renting this shack from ($5.00 Belize / $2.50 US) has brought me some ripe golden plumbs from her tree, and the woman who is cooking my meals ($5.00 Belize per meal) has just sent her nephew -Vinton-- who is a very good launch pilot (wooden motor boat) -- he is the one who ferried us from Punta Gorda Town in an hours time to Barranco.. He has just brought my breakfast....
It is now the next morning. The Breakfast of yesterday morning which consisted of fish w/peppers, banana fritters and bread sustained me the entire day...well, that and the golden plums my landlady gave me. She gave me four of them. Two I ate at about 12noon and the other two I took with me on my journey to the Moho river. I started at about 12:30 p.m. putting this book and pen along with the two plums, a hat, my Swiss army knife and some matches in a bag fashioned out of my hospital operating room pants I always carry on trips. I pull the draw strings making them close the waist opening by wrapping them around a few times then, tying the bottom of the leg openings together, the entire bundle becomes a satchel for my shoulder.
On the way out the woman who cooks for me was at her motherís house which was on the same road as the general store where I intended on buying a bottle of water. She let me know she also sold water, so I bought the bottle form her, put it in the satchel and was on my way to the Moho. I thought it was going to take an hour and a half or so. It actually took 3 hours of non-stop, blazing sun, rocky road trekking. In the river I washed my hair and ate the two plums.
There is an Indian village they call Mid-Way, but it is actually about 2 hours from Barranco and an hour from the river. Other than the village people I ran into absolutely no one on the road. I stopped at the village on the way back. Actually, I was looking for a gourd for my berimbau to replace the one a shattered on my trip from Mexico into Guatemala. They had one but didnít have change for $10 Belize so I didnít get it. I lost valuable time trying to make the purchase and the sun was going down rather quickly. I had to run this very rocky road in spots just to make up time as I didnít want to be out there when it was too dark. This area has serious jungle - weíre talking about snakes and jaguars and bats and just flying things that assault you in the night. I saw a giant bullfrog leaping along the road and also an eagle or something with an extremely large wing span. At any rate, I made it back after sundown, tired but safe.
It is evening the day after my exhausting trip to the Moho river. I donít know exactly what time it is because the battery in my Casio alarm watch died on the way to Guatemala.. Today I was making up my mind to walk with my backpack the three hours to the Moho river, cross the river and walk the three more hours to Punta Gorda Town because it didnít seem anyone was using a boat to go to PG on Monday. I went down to the pier to eat a couple of golden plums and luckily Mr. Pete was coming in and said he was going to Punta Gorda on Monday at 6:30 a.m. So with that off my mind and all my bills paid until Monday morning, I can get real comfortable for the next two days. Tomorrow is independence day for Belize, so there will be celebrations here and probably a few extra people will stop to this little village.
It is now very early in the morning on a Saturday morning -- it is sometime before the early morning light. Some cocks are crowing. Last night, at about 8p.m., right after my evening meal (garifunia bread, cold slaw, chicken and juice) they had a torch light parade through the village. The young people (pre-teens) paraded in song with kerosene soaked cloths burning high and bright they marched along with only one adult female. The songs are sung in Garifunia which is a language mixed with influences from west African dialect, French, English, Spanish, and indigenous peoples of the Caribbean . Only about 200,000 people in the world today speak this unwritten language. (Note: there is a dictionary called The peopleís dictionary compiled by ex-education minister for Belize, C. Roy Cayatano). The songs are accompanied by music from two large drums. The primary drum has a circumference of over 12 inches and is about 18 inches high. The secondary drum has a surface area of about 10 inches and is about 14 inches high. Both drums have three fishing wires strung across their heads.
The parade came to the community center where in a short while the women and toddlers gathered. After a while the main torch was staved into the ground in the area outside between the concrete building of the community center and the outside benches which are also made of concrete set in a semicircle -- the flame of the torch was put out and the area was filled with the smoke of the dosed flame. A woman (older) came to me and started to speak Garifunia. I told her I didnít speak Garifunia . She then switched to English and asked where I was from. New York - the Bronx was my answer and like everyone else on this part of the trip said I looked Garifunia. I told here it was a possibility in that I did not know who my father was.... At other times I tell people who ask this question what I have heard which is that itís said he was a traveling percussionist with a band who was with my mother for the one night it took for my conception...and that he may have been from anywhere - Colon, Panama or even Belize. She then said it didnít matter as Bob Marley said: "We are all children of Africa." At this point she said it was time for everyone to go inside, so we did.
The drumming and singing done by the young people never stopped during this time and when we went inside it just got a little more settled because up until then the young people were marching around the inside space -- like they were making the space ready. The drummers settled themselves on the edge of the stage at down stage left with the singers sitting to their right going toward the center. The primary drum (which was to the right of the secondary drum) was taken over by the boat pilot - Vinton. More women showed up and the songs and dancing became more focused. An Ice chest was opened and one woman began pouring rum into plastic cups and handing them out to the other women -- They offered me a cup but I turned it down ( I donít much like hard liquor - thought I will drink at gatherings sometimes). After all the women (it seemed to be done according to descending age) had about a quarter cup the teenagers were served - it should be noted that pregnant women were not served -- all this time the drumming and songs were constant with various women taking turns dancing what is called in these parts the "Punta", it must come from the fact that one makes emphases with ones hips and/or pelvis throughout the dance. Niomi Colon, the woman who cooks my meals, was the one sending the drinks around. She sent me a stout (dark beer) -- I had been drinking one stout a day with my evening meal. This I did accept. At another point she got up and danced to everyoneís delight. This is a big woman. She is about 5í2" and close to 250 pounds...but she is proportioned and moves very well. A little while later a man entered, said something to her and left. Shortly after finishing my stout, I went over to Niomi and thanked her for the stout while letting her know I was leaving. I asked just how much longer (it was now about 10;00) the event was going to last. She said maybe midnight or 11 p.m. Vinton had stopped drumming and some younger person had taken his place. He took his cup of rum -- it looked like half a cup full -- and was sitting in the upstage right window. Up until this point I was wondering where all the men were. When I walked out the door they were sitting on the concrete benches. I gave them a hail and went around the side to congratulate Vinton on his playing. I then went back around to the men and had a few words with a couple of the guys I spoke to in the last few days -- gave them a report on the status of the Moho river, went to my hammock and off to sleep.
Iím writing by candle light right now - I like it. The first light is coming up and I can hear the howler monkeys doing their thing in the distance, cocks are still crowing, some dogs are barking and the waves are sounding against the red cliffs of Barranco.
Coco nut milk rice and peas, cole slaw with lots of black pepper... chicken. Excellent food.
independence day, 1996
Itís the 15th anniversary of independence for the former colony known as British Honduras from Britain ...here in Barranco everything is rather low key and simple: speeches, reminders, food, and drink ...up in Belize City tonight there is a Burning Spear concert. They probably even have traffic jams ...in Barranco right now, there isnít even one motorized vehicle of any kind.
...it is sometime before the dawn, in the pre-morning hours of Sunday, the 22nd of September... It is very, very loud outside with all this thunder and rain (very loud pounding on the tin roof), and lightning.
It has occurred to me... I didnít describe the boat (launch, motor boat) ride from Punta Gorda Town to this isolated village in the southern most part of Belize founded on red fertile earth - the best!
On my back pack is a flap I can pull out and zipper over the shoulder harnesses to completely close the pack. sewn onto my flap is the flag of the Garinigu Nation -- the Garifunia people - the flag has three broad bands of black on top, white in the middle and yellow as the bottom band - each band width is about an inch and a half. In the middle of the white band is a drawing showing within a snake circle
- the snakeís head touches its tail - three figures. I have been carrying this flag since my last time in Belize.
After all the provisions and bags were loaded we sat in this essentially long wooden canoe
-- a young girl (14 yrs. old?)...an old man (75 yrs.old?) sat on the first wooden slat.
On the second slat was a middle aged man.
A third slat sat me and Amanda (the doll maker).
Then came Niomi on the slat in back of us.
The two helpers with Vinton, our pilot, were at the back.
We took the coast down, of course, and Amanda explained this area was all jungle, which you can plainly see -- Itís all trees and density. She said there were tigers (I think she meant Jaguars), the rare mountain cow, howler monkeys, all kinds of snakes, birds, of course all kinds of insects, armadillo and deer. She said there are not many hunters in this area as the Indians are mostly farmers. she told me that the Indians come to Barranco to buy dogs as early warning systems for when the "tigers" stalk the farm animals. She pointed out where Puerto Barrios and Livingston were, and the Session river...showed me where the Moho emptied into the sea. And within an hour we entered the lagoon ( I say swamp) that brought us into a side entrance to Barranco.... A PLACE OF PEACE.