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Tuesday, June 22, 2021
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Me, Belize and books

At the end of this piece I’ll begin the last two chapters of the latest draft of my unpublished book, Lord, if You wake me up tomorrow — those two chapters discussing my farming experiences between 1981 and 1983. The book is non-fiction, and it picks up from where I left off in “Growing up in Old Belize”, when I turned thirteen, and it goes up to about my twenty-sixth birthday. Ah, before we get there…

Years ago an old school chum expressed worry when they heard that I was doing some writing. ‘Whoa’, I told them, ‘rest easy. I’m not your regular literati, but I have my opinions on the territory’. My feeling is that writers have license to comment about others incidentally, but if ever a writer is about invading another person’s space, permission should be sought, or the person should be told long before the story is published. I think that way for a number of reasons, one of them being that truth doesn’t only have one side.

My observation of Belize’s literary world is that all the stardom goes to writers, and no credits go to the editors. I might not be hitting the nail on the head dead-center, but I believe I’m around the prize when I say that there are no great writers without great editors. It’s a lot like sports. There are no great players without great coaches.

Fully invested editors aren’t cheap; the breed is to die for, and so I would suggest to NICH that the organization hires a battery of them, to help develop our art. We should submit our pieces, and if we are lucky enough to qualify, we get the fine toothed-comb.

Talking more editing, the last time I was with my late aunt, C.L. Straughan, she told me she had some reservations about publishing her From British Honduras to Belize: One Family’s Drama, because she felt she had been a little harsh when discussing some authorities and events, and that didn’t sit well with her Bahá’í faith. Well, my aunt’s book absolutely has to be published, in book form, and I expect one day it will be on the reading lists all across the Caribbean and Central America.

There are a few things in her book I “tasked” my aunt about, especially her views that rude children should not be whipped. She helped me some with my “Borly and the Slick Jaymz Gang”, and “The Invasion of the Mangrove Goons”, and ha, that last one she said, if it was up to her, it wouldn’t see the light of day!

I think she would not be alone in our family for holding the same view about my play, Defending His Honor, which will soon see the light of day, even if it’s on shop paper, bikaaz da soh I roll. One of our great literati offered to look at my play, and the comments I got would have knocked me flat if I had a writing ego. They didn’t like it ataal.

I started writing when the PUP said they were going to push Belizean movies, and I was faysi enough to think that Belize could use a little of my flavor. So, I rushed a few pieces which were published under the pen name, Cypher. I’ll never be a grammarian, but I’m better now than I was then, so I’ve smoothed them out as best I could, to make them read easier, and I’m about to get them republished. If no one else loves my little characters, I do, so I’m giving them a better chance and setting them back in the water.

Bah, I’ve got only a little space left…perdón; to save words, I apologize for sometimes being different…okay, for this snippet from this draft of my story:

TWENTY-FOUR (1981)…I’ve never been to jail, not even been arrested, but you’d have a hard time convincing me that a prisoner recently released from their cell felt any different from the way I did the first Monday after I walked off the job at HHL (Hummingbird Hershey Ltd.), or got myself fired, if you will. We don’t all have the same nature. My dad survived and thrived as a government employee, but he loved school. I didn’t.

I remember the spring in my steps that breezy morning as I walked toward the bus stop, the exhilaration I felt as freedom washed over me as I looked out of the bus window at the bustle in the marketplace, the vendors and the government’s workers hurrying to their jobs.

Ah, freedom —I was free, as free as the birds of the air and the beasts in the forest, and while, like them, as it is with all God’s creatures, I still had to find my meals if I didn’t want to starve, it was entirely my decision about what hour I set out to secure my essential sustenance.

I can’t remember exactly where I was going, if it was east, to Belize City, or West, to San Ignacio; all I remember is that I wasn’t going to HHL, the farm where I had worked the past two years, the farm which had paid my keep every 15th and ending since I was twenty-one.

I wasn’t feeling happy because I was free of anyone or any persons at HHL. I loved all the people who worked there — the field workers, the office workers, my boss, and my colleagues — and I certainly appreciated the security of a regular salary. I have fond memories of the time I spent at HHL, I have lifetime friendships from that period in my life, and whenever I meet any of the guys who worked at HHL when I was there, it’s all abrazos. But I was happy to be, uncaged.

From time to time things did crop up at HHL that got on my nerves, and one of the ways I soothed my mind was to get on a motorbike and take a run on the Hummingbird Highway. There wasn’t much traffic on the highway in those days, and the bikes were small, 125 and 175cc trail bikes, so I couldn’t go exceedingly fast, which I wouldn’t have done if the engine underneath me had more capacity, because I wouldn’t risk serious injury or the life God gave me that way. Human beings are ground animals, and we all admire birds when we see them in flight. Just about the closest we can come to the state of flight is on a motorbike. The rush of wind on your face and hair transports you to a place where all your troubles are behind you.

I was never completely at ease at HHL, and that had everything to do with me. When you’re working for yourself you can plot to be free on a Wednesday, or a Friday, or even a Monday, and you don’t have to ask for anyone’s approval. You can get pasted (I drank every weekend), and you don’t have to worry about turning up on someone’s job below full capacity.

My next problem was that I always felt guilty when I collected my pay. I believe I worked hard, and getting an unsolicited raise from HHL meant that my boss and the company were happy with my production, but no matter how you measure it, performance in that environment is always a subjective matter. I guess that’s why I loved and was so comfortable with sports.

In baseball the purists can tell you that you have a poor stance in the box, or you’re holding the bat wrong, but they can’t say a thing when you hit the ball over the fence. In sports, everything is in the win-loss column. (to be continued)

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