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#315524 - 12/21/08 11:07 PM How to Cook a Tapir
Marty Offline
A Memoir of Belize by Joan Fry
Interview with the author, by Colette Kase
http://exploringbelizecontinues.blogspot.com/2008/12/how-to-cook-tapir-memoir-of-belize-by.html

Five years or so ago, I joined an online forum about Belize. This was in the early days, when Maya and I were doing research on starting a new life and we had set our sights on Belize. It was through this forum that I met Joan Fry.

Joan is an award winning author. She has written several books about horses and it was this shared interest in animals that sparked a fascinating, fun, stimulating and wonderful modern electronic pen pal relationship. Joan and I would discuss her book projects, my writing efforts, our animals, our shared irritations and gradually developed a strong friendship.

It was a surprise though, when Maya and I were standing in Belize International Airport, waiting for our flight back to England after one of our reconnaissance trips to San Pedro, when I heard someone shout my name. I turned to see a familiar, yet strangely unrecognisable face approaching me with a big smile. It turned out to be Joan Fry. Fortunately, I am somewhat more recognisable than she is. We were both very excited to get the chance to meet, totally unexpectedly, and this only proved to strengthen our friendship over the years.

Joan is an amazing writer and I was thrilled when she really dug in and started to work on her most recent book, How to Cook a Tapir, which is a memoir of her time living in Belize in the 1960's. She had tempted me with interesting snippets about her experiences but I couldn't wait for her to put it all into print. I probably encouraged her to the point for being a nag, but I am just absolutely delighted to be able to help introduce this wonderful new book.

How on earth did you end up in Belize in the first place?

I married an anthropologist who was interested in studying the Maya. Actually he was my high school sweetheart--two years older than I was, and did he ever use that fact to his advantage! The early 1960's were "the good old days" when fathers and husbands always knew best. But--I digress. My husband had spent the previous summer living with a Kekchi family in Crique Sarco and had met the local priest, Fr. John Paul Cull. Father Cull promised me a teaching job, even though I was only a sophomore in college and not Catholic.

What did you think when you first discovered that you were going to Belize? Had you even heard of it?

The country was called British Honduras in those days, and no, I'd never heard of it. Nobody in family had either, except my grandfather. He'd been a sailor in his younger days and remembered taking mahogany out of Stann Creek. It was fun for me when I actually saw Stann Creek, although I was violently seasick at the time and couldn't properly appreciate it.

What were some of your preconceptions about Belize?

I didn't have many, although there had been a spate of jungle movies when i was a kid, and they inevitably featured tarantulas the size of toy poodles. I've always been terrified of spiders. The first time I saw a real tarantula was when I was washing my hair in a stone "shower" underneath the cistern in our boarding house in Belize city. I thought some of the stones were covered with black moss until I splashed shampoo on one and it moved.

What was the biggest culture shock?

I was one of the first white women most of the women of Santa Elena had ever seen, and they gawked at me nonstop--I was their entertainment. Being a blue-eyed blond who was taller than most of them made them even more curious about me. I was never alone. At least one person was always in the house with me, and if my husband and I walked to the Rio Blanco pool for a swim, half a dozen kids would follow us. That went on for months. Actually it went on as long as I lived there, although by the time we left, the people who visited genuinely wanted to visit, not stare.

Who was your first real friend in Belize and when did you realise that you had become 'friends'?

Her name was Lucia Bah, and she was a neighbor who spoke fairly good English. Her daughter was one of my students. I realized we'd become friends one day when she confided that she didn't like another neighbor's husband because he beat his wife and kids so violently. Yes, it was gossip, but it was also the first time a woman trusted me enough, and was interested enough in hearing my thoughts about something, to initiate a conversation. Lucia also taught me to cook. I owe her a lot. I wish she'd lived long enough to see this book.

Did your husband (at the time) prepare you sufficiently for your experiences or did he mislead you at all about what life would be like?

He showed me photos but made everything sound very romantic--and there's really no way to convey the humidity, the smells, the feel of the jungle through photos alone. I had done virtually no traveling (except to Ontario, Canada, which was like traveling to upstate NY), and was in no way prepared for any of it--the open sewage canals in Belize City, the caste system (don't forget, BZ was an English colony then), and particularly the poverty of the Maya. They were subsistence farmers--very few of them even used money. They bartered for what they needed. My husband insisted that I wear skirts and blouses because that's what the Maya women wore and wouldn't allow me to smoke because the Maya women didn't. He was wrong on both counts. Most women didn't wear blouses at all, and they smoked home-rolled cigars.

What is your favourite Belizean recipe and why?

Escabeche. It has a unique taste (each cook arrives at a different balance between chile pepper and vinegar), and to me, believe it or not, it's a comfort food.

Do you still eat Belizean food? What foods do you miss from Belize?

I still make escabeche from time to time, and I still like making and eating soup of all kinds. Especially when the weather gets cold. I love chili but hold the beans. I do miss tamalitos--green corn tamales--but the food I miss most is corn tortillas. They don't taste authentic even in the Mexican restaurants that have a token Mexican woman in front making "fresh" ones. As for corn tortillas you buy in the store--have you ever taken a look at what's in them? I'm looking at a package right now, ant it lists nine ingredients! What the hell is amylase? All they should contain is corn treated with lime (the mineral, not the fruit), and water. The best are incredibly fragrant with a soft, moist texture. I'm drooling!

You clearly have had a lifelong love for Belize since coming here in the 60's, what is it about Belize that has kept you enthralled all these years?

"Enthralled" is a good word. I've asked myself that question, and I still can't give you a definitive answer. I'm sure the Maya continue to fascinate me because they had a lot to do with forming my values. I was an only child and a girl and had led a very sheltered life in the States. But in Belize, I was alone a lot--my husband was always off conducting ethnographic studies. So when I had a decision to make, I only had myself and the Maya to fall back on. I made some bad decisions but more often than not I made the right ones, probably because there was no authority around to tell me any different.

Did you really cook a Tapir?

Yes. And it was delicious!

How to Cook a Tapir - A Memoir of Belize, by Joan Fry will be released in April 2009. The book can be pre-ordered from Amazon, which happens to be offering a great pre-publication price. To order click here.

Happy Holidays from Colette, Maya, Buddica, Midas and Octavius.


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#315599 - 12/22/08 01:50 PM Re: How to Cook a Tapir [Re: Marty]
collyk Offline
Marty thanks for finding this an putting it up. You are fast man! I was going to post something myself. Joan Fry is a fascinating woman and I will be proud to be announcing her book launch in Belize in April. Watch this space. Well, not literally this space, but generally keep your eyes peeled. Well, don't literally peel your eyes...damn its difficult this morning..you know what I mean.
_________________________
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#315630 - 12/22/08 04:49 PM Re: How to Cook a Tapir [Re: collyk]
tacogirl Offline
Your post on the book is great sounds like it will be a good read.
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tacogirl Facebook, Belize Life Linked In - Belize info & images https://www.facebook.com/tacogirl


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#334476 - 04/24/09 02:04 PM Re: How to Cook a Tapir [Re: tacogirl]
Marty Offline

She came to Belize on a year long honeymoon in 1962 and now Joan Fry has written about her journey that began in Crico Sarco and ended in Santa Elena. Fry today released a memoir of her year long adventure. She calls it “How To Cook A Tapir.” It was launched this morning at the Museum of Belize and she told us the name is misleading.

Joan Fry, Author
“The book is about the time I spent in the Mayan village teaching the kids English because was the official language and I taught what they call the three Rs in the States, reading, writing, arithmetic.”

Keith Swift,
This was way back in 1962 to 1963. Why write the book now?

Joan Fry,
“Because it took me that long to get down on paper and understand what really happened to me. I turned 21 in the rainforest and in my culture that is a big deal. It is a coming of age.”

Keith Swift,
Why do you want to tell your story?

Joan Fry,
“I think to impart because we witnessed some of the Mayan rituals and I see them disappearing now and I think that is a shame and even if they choose not to follow them, I think they should know what they are. So I discussed a house blessing, a traditional house blessing and I also discussed the ceremony where the kid is carried straddled onto his mother’s hip for the first time. So I did those two, I explained those two practices.”

Keith Swift,
Why the title, ‘How to cook a Tapir?’

Joan Fry,
“The name was not my idea. My idea was ‘A feast among the fallen Gods because it was about my experiences with the Maya and also I learned to cook there. I was 20 years old, I didn’t know how to cook. So I thought that title was reflect the contents of the book better than How to Cook a Tapir but my publisher and my agent overruled me. So now I have a title that makes people in Belize angry and please understand I’m not encouraging people to go out and cook tapirs.”

The book is in hardback and is retails for $55.


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#334519 - 04/24/09 04:31 PM Re: How to Cook a Tapir [Re: Marty]
papashine Offline
It was launched this morning at the Museum of Belize
and she told us the name is misleading. [/quote]

How can the name be misleading, does it not say How to Cook a Tapir.
_________________________
Reality..What a concept!

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#334727 - 04/26/09 12:23 AM Re: How to Cook a Tapir [Re: papashine]
Lan Sluder/Belize First Offline
Reminds me of the situation involving one of my books where a summer intern at the publishing company created the back cover blurb copy out of whole cloth. I didn't approve it, and it was almost totally fabricated. But readers blamed me for it for years. It's the way of the publishing world, about which most readers know nothing.

--Lan Sluder

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#337111 - 05/14/09 04:35 PM Re: How to Cook a Tapir [Re: Lan Sluder/Belize First]
Marty Offline
From Joan Fry....


I would like this opportunity to thank the people of beautiful Belize who made me feel so welcome.  You are the ones who made my book signings for How to Cook a Tapir such a success. 

First and foremost I want to thank Lee Bernard, owner of the frame shop and art gallery I’ve been Framed, for being the perfect travel companion. (My husband had to stay home and work.)  Lee was always agreeable, seldom lost her cool (except for that one little incident with the tarantulas), and was game to the core.  I’m particularly grateful to Lita Hunter Krohn, director of the Museum of Belize, who first proposed the idea of a book launch.  And a very special thanks to my dear friend Colette Kase of Conch Creative in San Pedro, who took the idea and ran with it.  Next thing I knew I had two more signings--one in Belmopan plus a “sign and dine” event in San Pedro! 

             I’ll start from the beginning, so I don’t forget anyone.  Thank you to retired Amerindian Development Officer Don Owen-Lewis, my friend for nearly 50 years and his daughter, Francisca Bardalez who cooked for us and drove us around.   I also want to thank Maxiana Choc, her brother Evaristo Choc and his family, her brother Gregorio Choc and his family, and her niece, the former Natalia Bah, for their generosity.  I am full of gratitude to Ian and Kate Morton of Hickatee Cottages in Punta Gorda.  Additional thanks to Brian Gardiner, the new manager of Machaca Hills Lodge.  

            I’m deeply grateful Nikki and Jerry Larder of Belize Bird Rescue for their pull-out-all-the-stops generosity.  Thank you also to Karen Turner of Belize Jungle Dome.  Talk about being pampered!  

            Thanks to Banana Beach and their accommodating and hospitable staff for providing reduced cost accommodation enabling us to have a lovely time in San Pedro. Much appreciation must be extended to Senator Eiden Salazar from San Pedro’s “Morning Show” to whom I’m very grateful for inviting me to discuss my book on the air.   

I wouldn’t have enjoyed San Pedro quite as much if it hadn’t been for the kind generosity of Pam Killen, who invited us to snorkel the reef the following day.  Even though the air was chilly and the water was rough and I was in over my head (no, not literally), I spent one of the most enchanting mornings of my life viewing the fish, coral, and other life-forms in Belize’s magnificent barrier reef. 

I’d also like to acknowledge the generosity of Seduced.  Thanks to them Lee and I enjoyed a fabulous trip to Lamanai.  And we’re still wearing our “Seduced” t-shirts, guys! 

            Our visit culminated with a book signing at Pages, owned by Tammy Peterson, who also owns the Hummingbird  Café.  A hug and a big “thank you” to Tammy.  You did a fantastic job of organizing both the book signing and the dinner, and updated some of the Kekchi and Mopan Maya recipes in How to Cook a Tapir to make them more appealing.  I am extremely grateful to Mayor Elsa Paz who made me feel particularly welcome.  I very much hope she enjoys my book.  I must also thank her lovely assistant Felix Ayuso who so kindly coordinated the Mayor’s attendance.  

I particularly want to thank everyone who bought my book and ate a Maya dinner at the Café.  These people enabled me to donate a percentage of the proceeds to a nonprofit near and dear to my heart, the Maya Education Foundation.  They offer scholarships to Kekchi and Mopan Maya children--like Miriam Choc--who want to continue their education but are unable to pay for it. We raised $350 US and hope to add to that amount before presenting it to the foundation’s president, Marilyn Moors.

            I want to reiterate my appreciation to Lita Hunter Krohn, from the Museum of Belize for organizing a book reading, signing, and question and answer event.  Lita, you’re the best!  Our last evening in Belize was spent at the lovely B&B D’Nest, run by Gaby and Oty Ake, and we had a lot of fun talking about “the good old days” at breakfast the following morning.

            Once again Belize lived up to its reputation for hospitality and warm, friendly people.  I want to thank all of them for an unforgettable two weeks.

                                                                                    My very best wishes,

                                                                                    Joan Fry, Acton, California, USA  

P.S. For those who have not read the book, it all happened way back in 1962 before the tapir was endangered or Belize’s national animal.  I did not kill a tapir and only cooked it when it was brought to me by my Kekchi Maya neighbors.  I wholeheartedly support all conservation efforts to protect this truly amazing creature.

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