Saturday, April 5, 2008

We’re Still Learning

This has been a week of suddenly figuring out things we’d heard about over the past 15 months, but hadn’t really understood. The first thing, which made us wonder how much money we’ve thrown away, or, more accurately, dumped in the dogs’ stomachs, is that we found that the local feed mill makes its own dog food as well as its own horse feed and feed for other livestock. We knew to ask about the horse feed since most mills in the US make horse feed, but it never occurred to us that a mill would make its own local dog food. I dimly remember somebody mentioning it to us when we first got here, but I was on a mission to find dog food that was as similar as possible to what we fed in the US. We did, to the tune of $53BZ for a 40-pound bag, which wasn’t too much more than we were paying in the US. Last week we ate lunch with Frank from the real estate office, who also has four big dogs. We were lamenting how much big dogs can eat since we now have two more big dogs than we did when we came here, and Frank told us he would have gone broke by now if he hadn’t discovered the local dog food. I was a little more ready to listen since we go through the 40-pound bags at an alarming rate, so when we went to Spanish Lookout last week, I asked how much the local dog food cost, and how it compared nutritionally with the bagged stuff.

Nutritionally, it’s very close, and perhaps even a little better. It’s about the same protein and fat levels, and lower fiber. And, the thing that really convinced us that we should at least try it is that it’s $10.45BZ for a 25-pound bag, so for $21BZ we get 10 pounds more than we’ve been paying $53BZ for in the imported bag. However, it’s not kibble, it looks just like horse feed, which I guess is what kibble looks like before its kibbelized. I weighed it so I could figure out how much to give the dogs, and it weighs the same as the kibble cup for cup. We’re not sure how well they’ll like it, but I guess we’ll start mixing it in with their kibble and hope for the best. We’ll probably start giving them biscuits again so they have something to crunch, although I’m not sure that really matters since we always mix the kibble with water and it gets mushy anyway. We’ll let you know how well this latest Belize experiment works in a restaurant review by Louie in a couple of weeks.

The other thing we learned was a just-in-time lesson about the Belize timber industry and logging regulations. We knew loggers needed permits to harvest most of the hardwoods. What we didn’t know was that it’s illegal to even have in your possession hardwood that has not been harvested legally – sort of like having an untagged deer in your freezer in NY. We’d learned a little about this a couple of months ago when our Minnesota neighbor Mark from down the road had a mahogany tree and a cedar tree cut down on his property when the crew was clearing to put in the electric poles. We sort of got in the middle of a tussle between Mark’s caretaker and Mark’s neighbor about who was going to take the lumber, and neither of them was even considering Mark. When we realized what was going on we talked to Mark and to the two of them, and resolved that both the neighbor and the caretaker could have some wood, but that Mark also wanted some lumber so he could have some furniture made from wood harvested from his land. The neighbor ended up overseeing the collection, milling, and distribution of the wood, and showed up here one night with a list of the wood milled for Mark, along with a bill for the milling and, presumably, Mark’s share of the permit fee. Tom went to Mark’s and picked up Mark’s share of the wood, and we have it stored in our shop so it won’t disappear from Mark’s property before he gets to use it.

Yesterday Tom and Selwyn and a couple of other guys were working at Mark’s to finish clearing his front property line. They’d done most of it a month or so ago, but had to give the cut wood time to dry so they could burn it, and they had a few more burn piles to make. They spent most of the day there, and Tom brought them all back here to pay them for the day’s work. As they were getting ready to leave so Tom could take the guys to San Antonio, a Ministry of Natural Resources truck pulled into our driveway. I was out for a ride, but Tom said the officer made small talk with him for a few minutes, then asked to walk away from the truck, and then started asking Tom what he knows about the timber laws in Belize. Tom gave him a quick outline of what he knew, which was pretty quick because it wasn’t much. At this point Tom started to figure out that he wasn’t here just for a visit and wanted to talk to him about something specific, so he explained that he had to take the guys to town and asked if they could talk some other time since the officer didn’t want to talk in front of the work crew. The officer said he would wait while Tom did the trip. Just about this time I rode into the yard, so Tom had a whispered conference with me, told me the officer was going to wait, and that I should talk to him in the meantime.

I untacked Tony and turned him out, and sat on the porch with the officer, whose name is Lizandro. We discussed life in Belize, life in rural areas in general, what it takes to acclimate to Belize’s climate after forty-some years in the cold, and things like that. When Tom returned, the real reason for the visit came out as Lizandro gave us a pretty detailed rundown of Belize’s timber laws – in a nutshell, if any downed hardwood is used for anything, the Forestry Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources must issue a permit and stamp each piece of rough-cut lumber, and you are in violation of the law if you have any unstamped rough-cut in your possession. Tom and I realized where this was going, and mentioned that we had a pile of rough-cut in our shop from the property down the road, and asked Lizandro if he could show us the stamp since we had been told that a permit was issued for this lumber, but neither of us could recall seeing a stamp.

Well, that was because the lumber wasn’t stamped, which we suspect Lizandro already knew. Despite everybody and their grandmothers hearing about these two infamous trees, and despite the fact that the Forestry Department had in fact stamped at least some of the lumber from those trees, the boards in our shop were not legal and the Forestry Department had never issued a permit for their use. Tom mentioned that he had been going to take them to one of the mills to have them planed, and asked what would have happened. Lizandro explained that if a Forestry Department officer finds somebody transporting illegal lumber, the officer may seize the lumber, impound the vehicle, and arrest the driver, no search warrants required. Tom asked about the mills he uses, and asked if they would be looking for a stamp. Although Lizandro said that the mills Tom uses are fairly reputable, they probably wouldn’t bother to check on wood that was quickly in and out of their shop, so the biggest risk to us would have been in transporting the lumber.

We’re not quite sure how word got to the Forestry Department that we were harboring illegal lumber that we didn’t even know was illegal, but we’re really glad that we’re honest and not only didn’t try to hide the lumber, but asked if Lizandro wanted to see it before he even had time to inquire. We're also really glad he showed up here before Tom tried to take it to the mill, because I'd hate to be writing a blog entry about my experience learning how to get Tom out of a Belizean jail. We then asked if it was a problem that we had it now, and he said now that we’d told the story of how we got it, and showed it to him, and discussed it, it would be okay, and he’ll stop by sometime soon and stamp each board so Tom can truck them to the mill. The kicker is it isn’t even our lumber, but that doesn’t matter if it’s in our possession. What you don’t know can hurt you here, and we’re really glad we were investigated before we got ourselves in trouble.

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