If you have ever headed down south, the chances are that you may have met Bertha Lisbey. Lisbey is the owner of a small business on the Hummingbird Highway, who for an unbelievable six decades, has been selling those delicious hot tamales to the thousands that have stopped by her snack shop. So what has been the driving force behind her entrepreneurship through the good and hard economic times? News’ Five Marion Ali spoke to this unique woman and files this report.
Marion Ali, Reporting
Seventy-two year old Bertha Lisbey has been making tamales for over sixty years for a living. A widow and mother of twelve, Lisbey says her humble business has enabled her to raise and school her children and now it is her grandchildren that are benefiting from it. Originally from San Ignacio, Cayo, she’s famous to most travelers who frequent the Hummingbird Highway who stop in at her snack shop at the roadside at mile twenty-seven in Saint Margaret’s Village. For those travelers, the landmark location has either fed them or their parents. In short, Ms. Bertha has literally fed generations of hungry travelers using that portion of the highway. And despite the present economic crunch, Ms. Bertha says she has her loyal patrons who seek out her tasty tamales even at her house.
Bertha Lisbey, Owner of Bertha’s Tamales
“It’s good because now everybody weh pass dehn hungry, dehn stop fi dehn tamales. If I am not here, di place close, dehn goh home and they eat home, everybody. Sometimes dehn bus bruk down, di crowd come here or dehn go home you know and buy tamales. They go to my house, sometimes yah close.”
But after six decades at it, Ms Bertha is thinking about throwing in the towel.
“I’m getting tired, I’m getting old.”
“Have you found a successor to continue the business?”
“Well yes, maybe one ah my daughter wah tek it over, you know because as I seh I done tired.”
“What got you into this business of making tamales?”
“My granma teach me to make tamales. She die already, yes. And ih left mi di mek tamales still. When my husband was living dah he dah di one weh tell mi. Soh him mek a shed right by Poor Man Refridge, dah right deh I was selling. Den only James Bus mi used to stop deh. Well when Z-Line see dat James Bus stop dehn stop too, and right soh. Now everybody stop, tourists – I can’t complain. I got wah day like Friday when tourists pass they stop here. They like the tamales and they like the pepper and dehn get red like macaroni.”
Manuel Itza and Abner Milian are not exactly tourists, but they’ve been avid supporters of Ms Bertha’s fire hearth tamales.
Manuel Itza, Motorist, Hummingbird Highway
“Every time I come I –cause I like the tamales, ih very nice.”
“How long have you been eating from her?”
“It’s been – I know her from a long time ago so I have already eaten her tamales since I started coming this way. I saw her and I decided I need to eat.”
Abner Milian, customer, Bertha’s tamales
“The tamales taste good right and dehn noh got no other place yah weh sell food. Soh dis dah di only place weh I know too.”
But while she has made a name for herself over the years, she also had a considerate philanthropist in her corner several years ago.
“I mi used to be di agent from Coca Cola soh since I mi got mi lee business up dah di Poor Man Refridge, I went to Belize and I went to talk to Mr. Barry Bowen and I tell ah weh happen and ih seh “Sure Lisbey ih seh I will help you”. One day he come here and ih seh Lisbey I want a tamale. I tell ah ok Mr. Barry Bowen. I give him that tamales. But dehn time ah never got dat yoh know. I mi only got dis. And he tell me “Lisbey you noh want wah Coca Cola house?” I tell ah sure, why not? If you gimme I agree to it. Ih seh “okay den, eena three months time I will send it for you.” But I noh believe it and I tell ah “Mine Mr. Barry Bowen outta sight outta mind” I tell he. “No, no Lisbey” ih seh, “I will send it for you”. We were sitting down right here and my husband right here and we see the truck di come di bring di lee house. When I see the house is for me. I she what, I glad. And dehn put it right here and my husband fix there and they fix it. I noh pay one copper.”
And now while she’s thinking of giving it all up, there’s one thing Ms Bertha is not willing to part with anytime soon, the secret recipe.
“My secret – noh.”
“Okay, you won’t give me your secret.”
“It’s not good to say your secret.”
“Except your daughter who wah tek ova di business.”
“Nor she wah seh it.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Marion Ali.