Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Catching Up

So far this year we’ve been so busy with guests that I’ve neglected to write about a lot of the other things going on around here. In spite of being very busy running our lodge, we’ve had some time to do other things and we continue to learn how to live here. Some of those learning experiences have been good, while some have been a little difficult.

Death, Belizean Style
One of the difficult experiences happened a few months ago when a friend’s 20-year old brother was killed in a motorcycle accident. We’ve had to bury loved ones in the US, and basically, once the person is dead, it’s out of your hands. You contact a funeral home, and all you have to do is show up at the funeral. Not so in Belize. I think it is possible to contact a funeral home type business to take care of everything for you, but it’s expensive, and most people can’t afford it. In this case, the body of the young man was transported from the site of the accident to the hospital in a private vehicle, not an ambulance. Then, the family had to pick up the body from the hospital morgue and get it to Belize City for the post mortem, then from there to an embalmer, then to the location of the wake, funeral service, and burial. Somewhere in there somebody has to go pick up the casket, preferably sooner rather than later so the body doesn’t need to be carted around wrapped in a sheet. There are some rules; for example, a police officer needs to ride with the body between the hospital morgue and the post mortem site, and the body isn’t released for burial until the post mortem is done.

How did we learn all the details of this process? The day after the accident, friends showed up at our house, explained what happened and what needed to be done, and asked to borrow our Isuzu pickup because they didn’t have a vehicle that they trusted to do all of this driving around. Of course we didn’t mind helping, and almost felt guilty because they were reassuring us that they were going to get the casket from Melchor before they picked up the body so the body wouldn’t just be riding in the pan of the truck. The whole town ended up knowing we helped by lending them our truck because our truck was what delivered the casket to the wake in the family’s home. The thing that made us even sadder than we already were because of the young man’s death was that after the funeral, we had many people stop by or stop us when they saw us out to tell us how generous we were to let them use our truck. These people had just lost their son, brother, friend, or whatever, and they thought we were doing something above and beyond what friends and neighbors do. We couldn’t imagine saying no to the request, and were actually somewhat honored that our friend was comfortable enough with us to come and make the request. We obviously don’t yet understand the dynamics of the relationships between expats and native Belizeans yet since we just consider ourselves part of the community, just like we considered ourselves everywhere else we’ve lived.

We’re now actually official voting members of the community. While Permanent Residents can’t vote in the country’s general elections, we can vote in the municipal elections. Municipal elections are held every three years, so the last one happened shortly after we moved here when we weren’t yet Permanent Residents. We became Permanent Residents the following year, but then had to wait two years for the next municipal elections. It was quite a different experience from voting in the US, although we found that people’s reasons for voting for their candidate in local elections are pretty much the same as what we were used to from rural Upstate New York.

The actual voting process is an event. Each party sets up a tent to serve full lunches to the voters and their families. People show up with all their kids, get some food from their party of choice, and have a big picnic lunch. There’s competition between the parties to see who serves the best food, and the women in the town spend days before the election preparing food for hundreds of people. The candidates and representatives from each party mingle with the crowd, doing last minute campaigning and making sure all the voters know how to cast their votes. Then, the voters get in line, and wait. In our case, for three hours, in the hot sun. Fortunately we had a golf umbrella in the car, so we were able to create a little shade for ourselves, and the party tents provided unlimited water, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but you definitely have to really want to vote to go through the discomfort of the line. While we waited, we were continually approached by party representatives, making promises about what they’d do for us if their party won. We think everybody knew how we were going to vote, because most of these promises came from the party that we weren’t voting for, and the party we were voting for left us alone except for a little social chit chat, basically not even election related. All of this happens despite the notices at the door of the election hall prohibiting campaigning within 100 meters of the building, and the number of police in the area supervising the line and the crowd in general. We just smiled politely and didn’t promise our votes to anybody, although the people in line with us made it very clear which way they were casting their votes, and that they thought everybody should do the same.

When we finally got to the end of the long line, we entered the actual polling place, which is four tables, a chalkboard, two elections officials, and a representative from each party. The elections officials sit at one table with the voting roster listing everybody who is eligible to vote in the town. We weren’t in the roster because this was our first time voting, so we took documentation to show that we were full time town residents, and our names were written in a little notebook to be added to the roster for the next election. As each person enters the polling place, s/he displays ID to the elections officials, who either look up the name to confirm it or add it to the notebook. The elections officials then announce the name, giving the two party representatives seated at another table a chance to dispute the person’s right to vote, which they frequently do. The party representatives and the election officials then discuss each case, and decide if the person gets to vote. While we were there, we saw a few of these disputes with two of them being us, but in all cases the person was allowed to vote. Once it’s determined that you can vote, one of the elections officials gives you two pieces of paper, one green for the town chairman candidate, and the other white so you can list your selections for the town council. You then dip your index finger into a jar of ink so you can be identified as having voted. Then you walk to a third table with two chairs and little privacy screens, which is facing a chalkboard with all of the candidates’ names and numbers listed. You write down your votes by name and or number, and then put your ballot in the appropriate box, one for the chairman and one for the council, on the fourth table. You’ve cast your vote.

After going through the actual voting process, we realized why we waited in line for three hours. We felt bad for the elections officials, because the voting was officially from 10AM to 3PM, but while they closed the line at 3PM, everybody who was in line was able to vote so the voting went on until almost 6PM. As soon as the last person voted, they started counting ballots, and knew who had won the election within about an hour since only about 250 votes were cast. The results of this election were interesting, because the party that won is not the party that is in control of the national government. Tom and I were a little surprised at some of the campaign promises being made, because the nationally governing party representatives were telling everybody that they needed to vote for them because if the opposition party (the incumbent, incidentally) got in again, the national government would do nothing to help the town. Those threats obviously didn’t work, probably because the incumbent was voted in for a fourth term, so people seem to be happy with his record despite the fact that he’s part of the opposition party; as with most small elections, it seems that people voted for the person, not for the party.

The Dry Season, Again
It’s the hot and dry season here again. Temps most days are in the high 90s or low 100s, but the humidity is very low, and we almost always have a breeze. As long as you don’t try to move too fast, it’s actually pretty pleasant, at least for me, although Tom might disagree. But I say that’s because he just doesn’t slow down enough!

A few things make me love this time of year – one is mangoes, which are just coming into season and while they’re still expensive by Belize standards ($.75US/mango), they’re available in the market. Our trees get ripe late, so we won’t be picking mangoes from the property for another month and a half or so, but we can get them. I’ve also seen a few avocados at the market, but they’re not very good yet, although they’ll be fine and readily available in another couple of weeks. The other totally random thing I love about this time of year is that when I do laundry, I can hang it on the line outside, and between the heat, dryness, and breeze, it’s usually dry within an hour – less time than it would take if I put it in the dryer! This is also the time of year when the clay colored robins sing, and while I wish they’d wait at least until sunrise (5:30AM or so), their song is so beautiful that it’s worth waking up to hear it. They also sing into the dusk, and I get great pleasure sitting on our porch in the evening and listening to them, the laughing falcons, and the cicadas. Pure heaven!

One of the things I don’t like about this time of year is that our water supply becomes intermittent, at best. We’ve again pulled the 200 gallon tanks off the hill so we can put them in Tinkerbell and go somewhere else to get water. With our lack of water, our gardens are dying since we’re not going to water flowers when we and the animals need the water to live. Because we’ve had more guests this year, we bought two additional 1000 gallon tanks, so every time we get water we’re able to store 4400 gallons, which keeps us going for at least a couple of weeks, depending on how many guests we have. And, we explain our water situation to our guests, and they’ve all been understanding and very conservative, which we really appreciate. I also don’t like it that everything turns brown; it’s almost like November in NY, but without the spectacular display of colors before the trees lose their leaves.

However, most trees still have a few leaves so there’s some green, and many of the flowering trees, including the spectacular Cortes trees, flower at this time of year, which is almost as good as the fall foliage. And, after the first rain in a few weeks, the jungle will get magically green again almost overnight, and it will feel like spring! It’s a good thing that first rain gives us the green back, because it will also bring the plague of the winged termites, which come out of the ground and crawl through all the cracks in the house, depositing their wings everywhere. I even find the good in them though, because I’m using them as an excuse not to do any excessive cleaning in the next couple of weeks since I know I’ll have to pull everything apart to get rid of the wings, so I can put off that task and remain guilt free!

Belize Bird Rescue
A couple of months ago we donated some more cage material to Belize Bird Rescue and the monkey rescue program. Some of the monkeys are ready for release, and they need a pre-release enclosure where they are somewhat protected but can start to fend for themselves. Our cage material will be used for this pre-release enclosure.

We were happy to donate since Belize Bird Rescue does so much for the wild birds of Belize, as well as for animals in general and the conservation efforts here – and having Nikki and her helpers come to pick up the cage material gave us a good excuse to visit!


sandy a. said...

THoroughly enjoyed your description of the election goings on! SOunds so Belizean.
We know Nikki and Jerry and they sure do have a good thing going on there at their place.

Terdal Farm said...

Thanks for the update.
I'm sorry about the death of the young man. Friends were upset when we were there, but appreciated your help.
Thanks also for the help to Belize Bird Rescue. I assume the monkey caging is to help Robin Brockett, right? --Erik