Back to Basics
Article by Wendy Auxillou
December 13, 2005
Most of my childhood years were spent on beautiful and carefree Caye
Caulker where my parents and extended family lived. As a child, I attended
the village school barefoot, as did most of my schoolmates. School uniforms
were not mandatory. As rural village children, we all wore to school the
recycled and/or homemade clothes given to us by our parents. Trips to
Belize City were few and far between, due to the extraordinary amount of
time it took on the family in-board diesel boat to make it to the city one
way. (Just so you know, it took about four hours each way.) By sailboat,
other popular mode of transportation, it might have taken a little longer
depending on how hard the breeze was blowing. We fished for food for the
table or raised chickens and pigs in the yard. What we didn't raise or
catch, we or the neighbors grew in the yard.
Many of my most memorable childhood moments were when a group of
cousins of all ages would gather together and we would use our imaginations
to invent games. As cousins, we number a few dozen. Sometimes we had
plays. Other times we played outdoor games such as Hide and Seek, Cantaro,
Ride Over, Mother, May I?, Skip, Hop Scotch, Treasure Hunt or even Scavenger
we would play "Sad Sack" which was a game we invented to mimic a popular
comic book army character of the time. I can remember usually always being
sent to the corner
to peel the sacks of potatoes, a part I became accustomed to playing well.
If it was a sunny day, the "white hole" (clear sandy spot) just offshore
and a HUGE log that had come floating
ashore one stormy day could provide countless afternoons of watery
enjoyment. Sometimes, if it was a rainy day, we would all huddle together
in one big bed and tell ghost stories to scare the little ones. Other
times, we simply found humor in every day events that would have us holding
our bellies with laughter when retold by the most animated storyteller
cousins. We lived in a world inexposed to even the miniscule wisps of
commercialism that existed in urban Belize City at that time. We laughed a
lot, loved a lot and enjoyed life a lot.
I treasure those childhood memories still, and strive daily to give to
my own children the same sense of confidence and well-being that comes with
the security of having strong family ties, excellent friendships and
Despite the subsistence living, we were very happy children.
By today's standards, however, we would have been considered beyond
"poor". Maybe closer to "dirt poor". As a family, we had practically no
disposable income because we did not have much of an income period. Yet, we
managed to always have delicious home-grown foods such as chaya (Mayan
spinach), maxhapan (breadfruit) and fresh seafood or home-raised meats to
eat. We had countless fruit trees in our collective yards such as
sapodilla, hammans (almonds), papaya, plum, guava, tambran and custard apple
that provided excellent mid-meal snacks. We did not feel poor, because we
were all on the same level economically - all of us - friends, family and
neighbors. In fact,
we did not even know that we were poor until some bright spark showed up one
day and told us that because we did not have many material things,
especially shoes, that we were "poor". This, even though we were rich in
things such as love, family and the blessed childhood freedom that comes
from rural living that count in life the most to a child.
And that day when we were classified as "poor" was the day our carefree
Caye Caulker innocence was lost.
I can even remember cruising down the Belizean highways in my teenaged
years thanks to my father's love of travel, and watching our beloved and
beautiful Mayan women washing clothes topless along the riverbanks, along
entire villages made up of palmetto and thatch living quarters. The Mayan
were unashamed to show their bodies, because they did not know they should
feel ashamed. No one told them they were naked. They did not feel
inferior for dressing culturally appropriate and in a manner that
I am more than convinced today is more suitable for our hot tropical climate
than the inappropriate imported clothing styles we are urged to wear these
days. Clothing we are now forced by law to wear, and especially expensive
clothing we are urged to wear, simply became some bright spark came to
brainwash us into believing we should be ashamed of our more appropriate
cultural clothing (or lack of it), and further, that we should buy their
expensive clothing to cover up our "naked" bodies that we should also be
ashamed of showing.
And the day our beloved Belize began to embrace the idea that
commercialism and materialism should replace the "poverty" known as
subsistence living is the day our collective innocence as a nation was lost.
Just imagine that! We as a nation have been brainwashed into believing
that knowing and practicing the
ABC's of how to feed yourself is something to be ashamed of.
The real poverty, as far as I can see, is the steady draining of our
collective national self-sufficiency
as a result of the foreign imported brainwashing creeping in steadily like
the new bird flu to our psyche on a daily basis.
Today, the stigmas of growing up and living in a palmetto or even wooden
abode can be deep. This, even though the thatch and palmetto structures
with the outside kitchens are more suitable for our hot tropical climate
than the insufferably hot concrete-box-human-oven homes the insurance
industry works hard at trying to convince us is a more appropriate structure
for our climate. Concrete boxes that can spike the thermometer levels
inside them so high you have to pony up an extra amount of hard-earned
disposable cash in the form of fans or air-conditioners, not to mention the
cost of the power to fuel the cooling elements, just to get the inside
thermometer back down to normal levels.
In all my childhood years I cannot recall even one incident when a
palmetto / thatch structure on Caye Caulker ever caught on fire despite the
outside fire-hearths that sparked when used most families cooked on. Or
even one of
those very lovely and very appropriately-ventilated tropical wooden homes
which sadly are a slow dying breed today. Thankfully, some of those
exquisitely cultural and climate-appropriate wooden homes still exist on the
today despite the insurance industry's quest to rid the country of them.
(Incidentally, we did not start having fires in any real way on Caye Caulker
until it became known that a burning house could illicit the payment of
Imagine all of that as a prologue just to make a point ;-).
But this is the good part - my point is finally here:
I feel for the people of Southside Belize City who continue to be
stigmatized in the media week in and week out as a village of "poor" and
"uneducated" people. The media marketing and resulting "glorification" of
Southside in this way has been so unbelievably profound that it has resulted
in the net effect that if you live in Southside Belize City, and you are not
"poor" or "uneducated", you are unfashionable. Maybe - just maybe - the
people are so because we have said so too many times, enough times to
brainwash our beloved Southside people to feel so, whether dah so or dah no
so. I do not believe that this needs to be so.
Southside Belize, you have the incredible potential to rise up from the
unkind stigmas we as a country have stuck on you. This is a challenge I am
making to you: I challenge Southside Belize
City to unite and get Back to Basics. Start by identifying every vacant lot
and backyard space in the neighborhood and work at converting these open
spaces, no matter how small, into cooperative backyard and hydroponic
gardens. In Havana, Cuba, not a single square of foot of arable land is
wasted. It is all farmed out in the name of food self-sufficiency. With
the will, I just know we can do the same in Southside Belize City.
The expertise for hydroponic backyard gardening is available very easily
from our very good
friends at the Taiwanese agricultural project in Central Farm, Cayo. Plus,
I am willing to bet that Ambassador Martinez at the Cuban Embassy in Belize
City, the nice guy that he is, would be more
than willing to provide information on Cuban-style backyard gardening.
Food self-sufficiency is a blessed thing. Tilling the soil is nothing
to be ashamed of as we have been brainwashed to believe. Once the issue of
food self-sufficiency has been tackled, we can then work at tackling the
second pressing issue, which would be educating this new breed of
full-bellied Southside children.
Maybe, must maybe, if we work together we can start reversing the unkind
negative stigmas that seem to have stuck like glue. Let us get "Back to
Basics", beautiful Belize, and especially Southside. I, in my little corner
of this huge world am rooting for you!!
As usual, thanks for reading! Questions or comments, please write to me