Features — 11 April 2018
Branch beats twig (or, Your words were unfair, Godwin Hulse)

When I was a young fellow, I was a member of a gang that went out one evening to beat a boy. I don’t recall what the beef was. For some reason our gang wanted to beat the boy, it caught on, I was a member of the gang, so we went out one evening to chaans him.

When we neared the battle ground, it was decided that I would step forward, yes, and issue a challenge. After we engaged, the others would jump in and quadruple benk him.

Now, as a youngster my great battles were fought on the ball field. I did get into my share of fistfights. But I only fought when I was angry. Nothing is any good when you don’t have passion in it. In this instance, it was mostly for the satisfaction of the gang. So I stepped forward.

I’ve thought about it since. It could be that someone in the gang wanted me to fight the boy. It could be that the whole gang had a plot, and that plot was for me to fight the boy.

Whatever, here we are, one against one, but I have a gang behind me. The boy looks at the odds and decides he needs a weapon. Conveniently for him, not far away, just at the edge of the arena is a stout branch, about three inches in diameter at its thickest, that had been cut from a tree, and he rushes over, grabs ahold of it, and returns to the face off. The odds are still very much in the gang’s favor so I hold my ground.

We start circling each other, he holding his weapon in a striking position. I know if he hits me, and hurts me, the odds of vanquishing our gang goes up immensely. And, of course, I don’t want to be hit. So, I am studying his movements, looking for the opportunity to pounce. When I see the opening I will jump and grab him, lock him in a bear hug, and then the gang will pile on and finish him.

We are in the middle of this posture when we are interrupted by a member of my gang, who rushes up and pushes a piece of stick in my right hand. I wrote, stick. This brilliant member of our gang, apparently thinking to even the odds between the boy and myself, had rushed off and returned with the twig end of the branch, a piece of stick no thicker than one inch in diameter at its stoutest, and this he pushed into my hand.

I am absolutely bewildered. I look in my right hand and I see this little piece of stick, no thicker than my middle finger, and I look at my opponent’s right hand and he has this solid piece of wood. He saw the difference in weapons too.

Perdón, I’ve been about this shameful little episode long enough. I really have to get on to my beef with Minister Hulse. So I end, so I can begin. I have never, not once in my life, fought with a weapon. I did faynt my brother, Charles, with a stone once; I was never going to throw it.

Okay, I was in a state of bewilderment and the young man with the branch in his hand seized the moment, and swung. I drew back, but I still got a b-lik on my wrist. I had to go to the hospital next day, but it wasn’t broken. A short time after the episode, waves of shame came over me, for being chaansi, going out to fight with a gang behind me.

Now, to the important story, which is not a proud moment for somebody else. There was a time when roots Belizeans were leaders in machining tools, repairing and operating heavy machinery. Not many Belizeans were farming on 50-acre and 100-acre tracts, but Belizeans were transitioning. In the 1970’s/early 80’s there were projects in Toledo to prove that mechanized rice production was viable. In Cayo there were similar projects. There were initiatives all over the country to bring roots farmers from Corozal to Toledo into the world of modern agriculture.

At about this time the Mennonites were stepping up too. At that time they didn’t have the massive combines and tractors they have now. At that time we were very much stride for stride. However, as time went on the Mennonites grew, and roots Belizeans fell away.

There are factors which give our Mennonite brothers and sisters, advantages over roots Belizeans. One factor is the “we” thing. It is important to understand that the Mennonites are a country within a country. They work together. They don’t have any UDP or PUP or third party. They have a system and that system is about serving the good of all the people in their community.

More on the Mennonites being a country within a country. This goes far beyond the way the Mennonites socialize. The Mennonites have, as a group, pulled up roots from where they resided and left for other countries. The Mennonites would respond thusly if they considered a Belize government repressive, or if the country had to defend against a foreign physical force. There are roots Belizeans from Corozal to Toledo who would respond this way too, but they would only constitute a percentage of the group.

An important factor in the Mennonites favor has to do with financing. In the 1970’s the Belizean government gave the Belizean farmers the DFC. The DFC was never designed to develop small farmers. Just go and ask the hundreds of small farmers who got pressured for small sums of money after one or two crop failures.

The Mennonites must have been a strong culture when they came here in 1958. Their leaders will tell you that they were a cohesive group who moved from Prussia to Russia, to this side of the world, to Canada and Mexico and Bolivia, and then to Belize. They are bonded by race, religion, culture, political economy. They didn’t come here with modern agriculture, but they were accomplished farmers. They knew how to compete. The Mennonites traded services and they pooled their finances so they could lend money cheaply.

Who were the people they were competing against? They were competing with a people who were scattered by the Europeans for 500 years. They were competing with a people who had a little piece of stick in their hand. The Mennonites had a branch.

Minister Hulse did not consider these facts when he cut us to the bone. If he had, he never would have said at the Mennonites’ celebration of their sixtieth year in Belize: “The partnership is special; they never need any handouts or so.” Ouch! We knew you were a capitalist, Godwin. We didn’t know it was “to the bone” until Harvest Cay.

Roots Belizean farmers could have had a better chance. The leaders of the country came from their stock. It was those same leaders who abandoned them.

Our system flat out can’t compete. You know agriculture. There will be poor crops. Did the Mennonite leaders foreclose on Mennonite farmers when they had bad crops? Of course not! You bet those farmers got one for all and all for one help with tractor services, and seeds, for an I-O-U. When the DFC came after Belizean farmers, Belizean farmers had to close shop and go find jobs on the construction sites.

There’s history here and we need the Ministry of Agriculture to grasp it. The Belizean small farmer isn’t done. Despite the lack of government support, many Belizean farmers managed to hold on to their parcels of land. What we need now is brilliance out of the managers of the Ministry of Agriculture. They can start by making sure that the best of everything that comes out of MoA goes to the small farmers.

I absolutely have no problem with the Mennonites. Indeed, when I am with them I feel kinship. I applaud them for their achievements. They have done well, very well.

We can do it too. For starters, we need Belizean leaders to stop bragging, as if they have a real share in Mennonites excellence. Instead, roll up unu sleeves, Minister, CEO, technocrats, and pick up where unu lef off, when unu abandon ship in the 1970’s and 80’s.

Please to bring a Belize solution. If you want to talk Singapore, that story begins with the tambran whip and the hangman’s noose. Soh noh bother begin. Understand your country and help the people who need your help, who you were hired to help.

P.S. This arrow is aimed at Godwin Hulse, the Minister of Agriculture, not Godwin Hulse the private citizen. I am aware of/respect his many efforts as a private citizen – his numerous advocacies, his BelRiv, his political reform initiatives. As a columnist it is my duty to give props when I see it, and to say so when big leaders di slip up. I think Minister Godwin made a daam hurtful statement. I am hopeful that the words out of his mouth were just a slip. The evidence on the ground says it wasn’t. But he deserves a chance to make good.

Faith

Faith is riding pillion on a motorbike, behind frontward, face backward, so you can videotape a cycle race. I’ll tell you what. You’d better learn to handle a video camera because I’ll be facing front, doing the driving.

 

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Deshawn Swasey

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