“Yu know life no easy …”
– Mister Program
“Chant down Babylon …
– Robert Nesta
“If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone, and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break, it kills.”
– pg. 226, A FAREWELL TO ARMS, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1929
In my growing up in Belize, there were several public occasions on which I received awards and accolades for academic achievement. After my high school graduation speech, I was even praised on the government monopoly radio station. This was December of 1963.
On my return from school abroad, I announced at an indoor public meeting that I had become “African conscious.” Within the next two years, I became unemployed, ran in the streets, and was arrested and tried in the Supreme Court on two different occasions.
The human being, nevertheless, is nothing less than an emotionally resilient creature. As I write, there must be hundreds of millions of human beings who are suffering from some form of lost or unrequited love. In Belize, this is sometimes referred to as “macobi.” In America, they call it “the blues.” However described, it features a most unpleasant and undesirable combination of emotions. But, the vast, vast majority of people survive macobi blues and go on to live pretty normal lives. In fact, some people make a lot of money writing and singing about macobi blues, it being the most common subject of popular music.
So then, we human beings make adjustments to suit the changes in our lives, no matter how drastic those changes might be. Sometimes we actually comfort ourselves with the thought that other people have had worse things happen to them, are enduring worse things, than what we ourselves may be lamenting.
Now, it is for sure that all human beings like to be recognized. But suppose it had become the case over a long period of time that you have had to become used to not receiving any kind of recognition? If some recognition should suddenly appear out of nowhere, would you not likely respond by looking askance at such a strange apparition?
In my case, last week I received a correspondence from a body which indicated its desire to give me some kind of recognition. In matters where I am not sure of my personal response to stimuli, I usually consult with my older children. In this case, however, it happened that four of my six siblings were next door, and so I decided to read them this missive.
One of my siblings took the letter quite seriously, and began praising individuals at the institution. A severe disagreement quickly flared up between himself and myself, because, I suppose, he had no idea of the emotional adjustments I had made over more than four and a half decades. I would say that I always, always “look gift horses in the mouth.” This has been a function of self-defence and survival. There are many games which are played in Belize. There are wheels within wheels, and so on and so forth.
The thing about Belize is that the power of the ruling politicians is almost unlimited, and it is so oppressive. With the arrival of free radio in 1989 and the proliferation of the electronic media in the 1990s and beyond, we now have talk shows and discussion shows broadcast all over Belize on a daily basis. But the atmosphere inside the formal education system remains as repressive as it was during colonial times.
I have said to you on more than one occasion that I consider Gerald Rhaburn a treasure trove of historical information which should be preserved. It has apparently never occurred to anyone at any of the tertiary institutions of learning in Belize to invite him to speak to their students, and to be questioned by them.
Such guest speakers, who receive adequate stipends, are an impressive feature of university education in the United States. One of the incidents I remember most vividly about my three years at Dartmouth was attending a lecture one afternoon on the Cuban Revolution by a man named John Gerassi, who had been a New York Times correspondent. Guy Mhone, my Malawi friend, and I were two of only eight or ten students, if I remember correctly, at the lecture. The size of the audience was not important. The fact that such a lecture was available for us students to attend, was what mattered. I suppose the tertiary administrators in Belize would say that they don’t have money to pay guest speakers. Surely, any such initiative would be better than no initiative at all.
Returning to Gerassi, let me tell you something I will never forget about his lecture. He said that when Fidel and Raul Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, and almost eighty others landed on the western coast of Cuba after a shaky voyage from Mexico in an old boat called the Granma, they were almost immediately ambushed by Fulgencio Batista’s army, who were using helicopters. Only about thirteen of the revolutionaries survived. Che Guevara himself was shot, and according to Gerassi, Che said that he leaned up against a tree, wanting to “die with dignity.” The only black member of the revolutionary leadership, Juan Almeida, grabbed Che, screaming something like, “Let’s go; what’s the matter with you?” Two years later, the survivors took Cuba.
I don’t know how much Dartmouth paid Gerassi to travel to New Hampshire for that lecture. For me and Mhone, Gerassi’s lecture was unforgettable and it was invaluable. Education should be more than just academic subjects. Belizean university students should learn, for instance, about the rangers who guard our Chiquibul forest. Shouldn’t Rafael Manzanero lecture to our students? Jesus Ken may be too old now, but university students should have been benefiting from his knowledge of the early sugar cane revolution in the North.
Education in Belize is stifled by the ruling politicians. The ruling politicians feel threatened by any kind of free information flow. The thing is that our indigenous ancestors seriously cherished their elders, considered their wisdom ineffably precious. Don Hector may have become too partisan during last year’s election campaigns, but Don Hector is a unique Belizean resource: he was a superstar in both football and politics. And finally, the Governor General may have been Belize’s greatest intellectual gift in my lifetime, because his sterling contributions were both musical and literary. Confined by more than two decades of ceremony, Sir Colville has not been available for exchange and interaction with our tertiary students. A pity.
Power to the people. Remember Danny.