I was on the bus the other day – you get to see and hear, learn many things on a public transport – yes, I was on the bus the other day – sometimes there are more than fifty people on a bus, and their thoughts are as different as their faces and voices – yes, I was on a bus the other day and, it not being a hectic hour, there were vacant seats. I got one beside a gentleman who was sitting on the driver’s side, beside a window.
I was barely seated when I realized that I had sat down beside one of the great, famous personages in this nation. I didn’t have to look at him to know who he was. He was in full conversation with the person in the seat behind us, and his voice is unmistakable, known across the length and breadth of Belize.
The conversation was mostly one way. Some people aren’t listeners. Some people have a lot to say, and if they are accomplished at the gab, they have a ready audience. It gets even better if they know a lot of things and have done a lot of things. Then, they can spin a web that can mesmerize, snare everyone on a bus traveling with them.
Interestingly, the gentleman I am writing about had, fleetingly, crossed my mind just a few days before. I don’t know him, have never met him, but it is so that people who are stars become a part of your life. Now, I really could segweh into some caustic diatribe about local politicians, how they make us cuss so much every day. But this is not going to fall away into the muck. They get far too much ink.
I was saying, this gentleman had crossed my mind recently. I don’t know what sparked the memory of him, but I remember wondering, briefly, where he was and what he was doing. Well, I didn’t have to wonder anymore. I said, you hear and see a lot of things when you are traveling in the bus. It’s not eavesdropping. You open your big mouth in a public place and everyone has license to hear.
I got the full story, from Stephen Okeke disappearing from the scene with his palatial home on sale, and too many people owing him for his magnificent sculptures, refusing to pay. There are people who know a lot more about Stephen Okeke than I do. What I know of him, in total, is what he has shared in public fora. I gather that he is originally from the African continent, from Nigeria. One would guess, from the confidence and content of his speech, that he is university-trained. He has said that he knows business, even wrote at least one book about it. Everyone knows that he is a fabulous sculptor. I believe that this is where his troubles started in Belize.
Stephen Okeke has said that Belize doesn’t respect, revere her heroes. He set about righting that. In Belize, our sculptors work with exquisite woods and cow horns and black coral. Stephen Okeke sculpts masterpieces out of iron. Mr. Okeke thinks that an excellent way for a nation to reverence her heroes is to make busts of them and display these pieces in prominent areas. So, Mr. Okeke set about turning blocks of metal into magnificent likenesses of Belizean heroes. The details get blurred here. I’ll just say that it is my belief that Belizeans weren’t ready, couldn’t afford the pieces that Mr. Okeke produced. I believe this is where the relationship between Belize and Mr. Okeke turned sour.
I say it turned sour because Mr. Okeke did not have one good word to say about us. He didn’t speak with hate, or anger. He spoke with disappointment, and pity. He told his audience, the one directly behind us, and all the rest of us on the bus who were in ear shot and did not have in earplugs, or the clogged ear because of the wax build-up, that we, black people in Belize, are not going to make it. He said that we wanted to see him fail. He said that he showed us how to make a business, and we refused to learn. He said that he had to sell one of his businesses to a new Belizean from China, because we didn’t want it. He said that we, his brothers and sisters, would fall away to nothing in Belize, because we had myriad faults. Mr. Okeke said he cared for us, and because he cared he shared his gifts with us. But his investments in us were all waste, and now he had lost everything—house, businesses, everything.
Mr. Okeke said a lot of unflattering things. I thought that he couldn’t possibly think of any more disappointing things to say about us. That was when he said—this. “I’ve been all over, to many countries,” he said, “and I can tell you that in all those countries I’ve gone, beggars know they have no choices. But not in Belize. In Belize, beggars not only act like they have choices, they set terms and conditions.” (That’s how I heard it.)
I do not question Mr. Okeke for saying all these bad things. Maybe he is one hundred percent right about our not being ready for the world. They are his opinions and he is completely entitled to those. That said, I have a couple things I would share with him. There is/was a clash of cultures, yes. It appears that Mr. Okeke, first and foremost, is an artist. Belize is a country that has not been kind to her artists. Mista Peetaz and Mr. Paul Nabor didn’t make any money in Belize. It could be that we just don’t have the money to pay for art. We are a very small market. Yes, maybe we couldn’t afford Stephen.
But that is not where I get off. This is where I get off. Dignity is not to be sneezed at. When the cane farmers and the ASF/BSI were at an impasse, Mr. Ortega explained exactly how Belizeans roll when he said: “We are ready to go back to tortilla and beans”. When James Brown sang, “we rather die on our feet, than keep living on our knees”, it resonated hugely with us. We da proud people. I don’t doubt that Brother Okeke is sincere, genuine, but I think he has the wrong target. I think he should be aiming his arrows at our leaders. See, they betrayed us. We have been betrayed by our economic system.
Our leaders’ fascination with the free market has cut deeply into our pride. Their “capitalism” is forcing a lot of our people into financial and psychological poverty. If Mr. Okeke stays in Belize a while longer, he will see that gradually we are beginning to realize that we don’t have choices. We just aren’t so used to being beggars. Maybe it’s because we’re not so used to it, being beggars, why we set terms and conditions.
Dear Police, better stories, please
I’m not too interested in the innards of these stories about unauthorized planes landing here. But I really would want for our police to make better stories. Their latest story loses a lot after the drug runners reach the ferry.
Glaringly missing from this story is the Corozal police. One would have expected that it would be A-B-C police work to have our forces lock off any escape through that route. They had almost two hours to get all escape routes locked off.
Ah, I hear the Chet police and media had some not too nice things to say about us. The best response for the insult is for these drug planes to have greater range, so they don’t have to land in Belize. We don’t need more evidence there. The same people who have accused us of complicity, said that the one that landed with the expensive cargo last week, was running out of fuel.
It has been said that it would help if the Americans weren’t so krayb’n for cocaine. But that’s just hopeful. Every “man” has his vice. Our friends in the US love the cocaine, it’s apparent. And the planes have to stop to refuel, and discharge. In the heart of the Caribbean is supposed to be the most prized place to live. But because of the drug cocaine, and these low-range planes, we are living in a bad spot.