When a man reaches the age I have, a man, all things being equal, has to be extra careful. Yes, a septuagenarian’s life experiences are very helpful, and they boost a man’s confidence. But, the world has speeded up and advanced so exponentially when it comes to various kinds of technology — computer, communications, and other kinds of technology, that an older man has to be double checking himself all the time. You have to run your reads by younger folk, because they are the ones who understand what the hell is going on.
Now, those of you who think you know me, will be surprised to know that I benefit from a wellspring of humility. As I grew up, I could see that my father and my younger maternal uncle had done some things, each in his own way, that I could never hope to equal. No matter how you see me speak or behave, I am a humble man.
I am more humble these last years than I have ever been, because hypertension prevents me from indulging in alcohol. Alcohol, you know, will turn pussycats into tigers and lambs into lions. Alcohol transforms men, and more often than not that transformation is for the worse.
In British Honduras when I was growing up, we Belizeans regarded the drinking of alcohol with an almost religious reverence. Part of becoming a man in our culture involved learning how to “handle your grog,” learning how to drink alcohol socially and enjoy yourself without having alcohol turn you into an idiot.
Alcohol creates a different type of experience from the one marijuana does. I think that for the average youth man in my time, we felt that alcohol allowed us to operate more freely and confidently in social settings, specifically parties, with members of the opposite sex. The psychologists will tell you that alcohol works toward removing inhibitions.
I lived with my parents and siblings until I left for college in America at the age of 18. I was drinking alcohol for a couple years before I left Belize, but I can’t remember ever coming home drunk. I never smoked marijuana until I was in college in America.
The same way that alcohol was regarded with special reverence when I was growing up, the average youth man was afraid of weed. Between the time of Hurricane Hattie in 1961, and when I left Belize in 1965, the street attitude to weed was beginning to change. By the time I came home from school in 1968, my younger brother, Michael, who was a football player but also an S.J.C. Sixth Form student, was smoking reefer with three or four of his friends who hung out at Teedles up Regent Street West, less than a block from our West Canal Street home. In the seven years between 1961 and 1968, then, things had changed drastically.
My younger maternal uncle told me an experience he had when he arrived back in Belize in December of 1946 after five years in Panama. He went to a dance at the old Militia Hall for the holiday season, and offered a lady friend a lemonade. It was a culture shock for him to find out that she was drinking whiskey. I guess the war had changed things some in British Honduras.
In the case of weed, my personal opinion is that Hattie turned things around in Belize. Before Hattie, the whole weed scene almost, was across the bridge in Yarborough, also known as Queen Charlotte Town. The sense we had growing up was that the East Indian population in Belize smoked ganja, and most of them lived across the bridge in Yarborough. It was only the roughneck element of the Creole population who would cross the Yarborough Bridge into what was a kind of forbidden territory. Or maybe it only seemed that way. It was said in those days that whenever there was a major burglary or robbery, the cops would go into Yarborough and wait for the culprits to come down there and start spending their ill-gotten gains. The first mainstream phenomenon to emerge from Yarborough, to the best of my knowledge, was the Independence football team, led by The Mugger. Right after that came The Messengers, an iconic music combo led by Pete Matthews and Bill Belisle.
I have close relatives who are of East Indian descent because one of my granduncles on my mother’s side, Louis “Sleepy” Belisle, a fisherman, married an East Indian lady from Yarborough. I never met my granduncle’s oldest son, but both his two older sons, Karl and George, were alcohol people. At least, that’s as far as I could see.
One of my cricket heroes growing up was the bowler, Orlando Rhamdas, popularly called “Rhamadin.” Mr. Rhamdas was an East Indian public officer from the Yarborough area. But as far as I knew him, and he and my dad became very good friends, Rhamadin was an alcohol man. I remember as a child riding hard with the Unity cricket team at the old Edwards Park, and watching Rhamdas and Clive Brackett bowl from opposite ends for a Unity opponent whose name I cannot remember. They were devastating. Hopefully, Mr. Clive will read this and help me with the team name. Anyway, Mr. Rhamdas ended up later with Unity, and one of the special memories in my life is playing for Unity on the old Barracks one Saturday afternoon before I went away, and receiving specific instructions from the one Rhamadin. For sure he knew what he was doing with a cricket ball.
Personally, I believe that I know how weed came across the Yarborough Bridge after Hurricane Hattie and lost the stigma, amongst my generation, of being a substance which made you crazy. One of our prominent high school contemporaries was sent to Jamaica for school after Hattie, and I think he influenced our generation. I’m just saying.
My opinion is that weed gives you a beautiful high, a spiritual high, but I have had a couple experiences that were not smooth. In those days when I smoked regularly with my friends, between the late 1960s and early 1980s, we felt the pressure of being subject to arrest. In fact, I had a policeman point a gun in my face because of weed one night on the verandah of All Saints School, and at that point I decided I had to move on, Jack. This was 1982.
On the matter of the new ten gram legislation, everything will even out as we go along. The hysteria being raised by the evangelical preachers doesn’t make any sense to me. Weed is no saint, but alcohol is worse. Straight up.
Smokey Joe told me that weed used to grow wild up at the old Barracks area. When I got to talking with people like himself and Charles X “Justice” Eagan (the late Ibrahim Abdullah), I began to feel that more weed smoking was going on this side of Yarborough Bridge than I would have been aware of. I never had a sense of Smokey as a former smoker, mind you, whereas Justice had become a Muslim years before I met him in 1969. He no longer smoked reefer.
Brothers and sisters, I want to wish you the best for the Christmas season. If you’re going to drink alcohol, treat it with reverence and respect. And if you prefer cool runnings, as we wouId say, I know you will join me in saying thanks for the new law which takes much pressure off our youth. No one has ever done research on the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of our young people who each owe hundreds of dollars for weed fines and can therefore be picked up at any time and incarcerated. The branding of cannabis as illegal was a totally arbitrary act by international white supremacy. In our country’s case, the British Honduras Police Department enforced that law from I was a child and before my time, in the name of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. God bless the East Indians.
Merry Christmas, baby.