If you have felt that there is some arrogance in my writings and behavior through the decades, especially in our earlier years, there is a certain amount of blame which must be placed on the nature/intent of the educational system in British Honduras/Belize. What I mean is, the educational system here, which was almost completely liberal arts focused in my childhood and youth, made me feel that I was smarter than I really was. Straight up.
One of the most important things I learned from Malcolm X through reading his autobiography in the winter of 1967, was just how much native brilliance exists amongst the people we see being oppressed in the neighborhoods where our people of color live. Get a copy of Malcolm’s book and go over the section about West Indian Archie, a street man with a computer-like mind. I met a man like that during my years playing competitive dominoes in Belize City. His name was Alden Locke, and they called him “Waata mouth.” For a living, he dug sand along the coast for Collet Maheia’s sailing lighters to bring to Belize City for the construction industry. His mind was razor sharp with numbers. (I don’t have to tell you younger readers about Press Cadogan.)
When I attended Holy Redeemer Boys School from 1952 to 1959, the HRBS campus had a backyard where we children played games (especially “cowboys and Indians”) during recess. On the western side of the backyard was a low, long building where there were different machines and equipment where I suppose maintenance work was carried out for all the Holy Redeemer diocese buildings inside the block basically surrounded by North Front Street, Queen Street, New Road, and Hyde’s Lane.
On the northern side of that aforementioned low, long building was a smaller building which was run by a lady called Miss Julia (Do you old HRBS-ers remember her?), and her second appeared to be a mestizo Belizean who had one of those broken arms that had not been properly set for repair. (You saw a lot of those butchered arms in British Honduras in those days.) There were different handicraft skills being taught by Miss Julia and her second, if I remember correctly. I was totally lost in that building. I’ve never had manual skills. I couldn’t do much with my hands, except throw a baseball. (We’re talking about more than sixty years ago, so I can’t swear for my accuracy. It may be that the gentleman with the broken arm was named “Julio,” and the lady may have been named something else besides “Julia.”)
Several decades went by after I left HRBS, then I met a man called Joe Purcell, the late Roman Catholic Bishop Dorick Wright’s maternal uncle. Joe is going for nine decades of life now. Joe is married to my sister-in-law, Prudence Paredes Purcell, who was one of the many outstanding Belizean nurses for whom the American economy/medical system created very attractive incentives five, six decades ago.
This man Joe Purcell is a fabulously gifted carpenter and cabinet expert, let’s say woodwork and related construction skills. So in the maintenance and handicraft buildings I mentioned in the Holy Redeemer Boys backyard, Joe Purcell was a star. Where I was lost, he was at home. He was gobbled up by the American economy in Los Angeles, where he went to school for his profession, and made a fine living for himself and his family in the City of Angels.
Let me tell you how brilliant and skillful Joe Purcell is. In the Seashore Drive house where my family began living in 1987, on one of his visits to Belize Joe Purcell built an archway for us. He brought in the materials from the States, materials which included painted glass and fluorescent lighting. It was beautiful.
Now, readers, I am married to a lady who comes from a family which produces nurses, like her older sister Prudence, and males, like her brother Jeff Scott and her cousin George James, who love working with their hands and are keen students of construction arts, if I may use such a phrase.
My wife also hates termites and wood lice, because she is focused on having things in her environment be in tip top shape. My wife and I “beef” from time to time, because at the drop of a hat she will spray these termites and wood lice with chemicals I consider dangerous to my health.
So now, there was one problem with Joe Purcell’s archway. It was made of American woods, not Belizean hardwoods. And, as the years went by, the vicious, voracious Belizean termites and wood lice gained entry and began the process of destruction. Years went by, the archway was devastated, the evidence was on the floor every day, but my wife refused to take down Joe Purcell’s archway. It was too magnificent.
I am telling you this story for several reasons. I want to pay public respect to Joe, give you a sense of how gifted many Belizeans are who work abroad, and I want to introduce the topic of education in Belize and the stupid biases which have severely retarded our national progress and driven half of our youth into crime and depression year after year for decades and decades and decades.
Fundamentally, our education system was designed by missionaries whose priority was training a native clergy. Later, the second priority became educating “civil servants.” It was a liberal arts education system – language, literature, history, and so on. Our education system was not practical: its focus was not on building, or repair, or construction arts and creativity.
And that is why the Belize Technical College was so revolutionary when the British introduced it in 1952, thereabouts. If God is willing, my future columns will look at Technical from various perspectives. I challenge all Technical alumni to contribute, criticize, or whatever.
Dr. Sir Hilary Beckles of the University of the West Indies has pointed out that one thing about the British is that they keep records. I am saying that there must be records in Great Britain of how this brilliant Belize Technical College idea came to be. And the thing is, it was in the middle of the most militant phase of the anti-colonial movement in British Honduras. Research needs to be done. The history deserves to be told.
Power to the people.