Miss Lena's Belize Bit #1: Shrimp Christmas, 2003
"Yes, I'd like the Road Pizza, please, with extra shrimp..."
Friday morning about 8 AM, 5 December 2003 -- Santa Rosa Village
A fully-loaded 20-ton semi-rig is speeding through the village, loses the curve, and overturns.
Friday morning about 9 AM, 5 December 2003 -- Maya Centre Village
Here in the South of Belize we have an increasing number of shrimp farms. While the ecological effects of these operations are (or ought to be) of grave concern, the economic benefits are undeniable as they bring more jobs and higher wages to rural southern Belize.
To include the transport sector, as more trucks are needed to ply the newly paved Southern Highway with huge loads of fresh, iced shrimp.
This morning, just an hour or so ago as I write, one such truck -- a fully loaded 20 ton long-bed semi-rig -- chose to overturn right in the middle of Santa Rosa Village; a Maya settlement about ten miles south of where I live, in Maya Centre Village (a.k.a. Cockscomb).
The bad part is that the driver was dead at the scene -- no seatbelt, of course (Belize does have a seatbelt law, but I've only ever seen Belizeans wear seatbelts when I force them to in my own vehicle) -- and recklessly speeding. In fact, the first news of the incident up here was when local boys saw the body heading north in the back of a Police pickup.
But then, within minutes, the *real* news reached our village: tons upon tons of fresh shrimp sitting right on the highway in the middle of Santa Rosa Village. And you can bet the news was spreading southward at the same pace.
We called the Santa Rosa Community phone to verify the tale. Everybody dropped whatever they were doing and, grabbing buckets, headed south in great haste with whatever vehicles were available.
Even my little red car was commandeered ;-), and I am, even now, minding the house and awaiting the return of this strange harvest...
. . .
About 10 AM
The first of the foragers has just now returned, and I am seriously regretting having stayed behind, as it is evidently quite a scene in the village of Santa Rosa this morning.
People are calling it "Shrimp Christmas."
Sadly, I have a hard time feeling sympathy for the driver who lost his life, as he lost control of his rig in the curve right in the middle of Santa Rosa Village, in a school zone, while children were on the road walking to school. It's an easy curve: he must have been driving very fast for his load. It is with great relief that I report that no children were hurt.
OK, now to the fun part...
Picture the scene: approximately 20 tons (!) of iced shrimp, tipped over the highway, right in the middle of a Maya Village.
[Now, the road ditches down here are quite literally large enough to drive a pickup in, with the roof below pavement level -- they don't call it rainforest for nothing!]
The ditch is completely filled, over the top and overflowing the roadbed with iced shrimp. Word has by now reached for 30 miles in each direction, and already at least six villages are represented by gangs of bucket-, shovel- and bag-wielding natives, with more arriving by the minute. Pickups which happen upon the scene pull over -- and shrimp are shoveled, scooped, tossed by hand, by hat, whatever -- into the open beds. Even the regular schedule transport busses stop in the middle of their runs, and the drivers and passengers bail out and begin loading up the busses, right on the floor, under the seats, wherever.
The poor, foolish driver is long forgotten. A sizeable crew from the shrimp company involved arrives to recover what they can of the equipment and packing crates. Then the crew pitches in with shovels and helps everyone else load up before the bounty spoils.
That's right, the shrimp company is paying its workers to help all comers to load up with free shrimp. When asked why, the super is quoted as saying "Well, we can't sell it, and why let it go to waste?"
Our gang, headed up by my driver Daniel and Yoli, the mistress of the house, took a relatively modest quota and left early: one 5 gallon bucket and half-a-dozen plastic grocery bags full -- about 50 pounds; market value: about $600 BzD -- well in excess of a month's wages for the typical village family.
In Santa Rosa, perhaps the 5th of December will from now on be celebrated as "Shrimp Christmas..."
. . .
Epilogue: about 11 AM
Yoli's fingertips are already bleeding. She is cleaning the shrimp, and their carapaces deliver little micro-cuts to the intruding finger. Yoli is not yet even 1/4 the way through her modest haul. A neighbor is on her way to help out, in exchange for a share of the spoils. The phone rings; it's Yoli's mother, who just happens to live in Santa Rosa Village, right next to the excitement. She has too many shrimp, her freezer is jammed, she threatens her daughter with another 50 pounds. Yoli says she might take them, but only if they're already cleaned!
And so supply has outstripped demand in the shrimp market in southern Belize, as the value rapidly plummets from $12 to nil per pound. Pity the poor fishmongers of Dangriga, Placencia and Punta Gorda who have already paid (the former) market rate for their wares...
[Request: This morning's incident reminds me of a Country song I once heard having to do with a similar (ostensibly true) event involving a banana truck. Can someone provide the reference? Thx, 'Lena]
MissLena is Galena Alyson Canada
Her Belize Forum email is forums@GalenaAlysonCanada.com