Quintessentially Belizean - Part I - Politics

    Nothing good was going to happen today. Somebody would get in a fight, somebody would get hurt – something, something bad was going to happen today. Miss Lacey knew that as she slipped her stockinged feet into her sensible black shoes. She had on her nice flowered dress, which would look good with one of her favorite hats, but today was not the day to be prettied up. No sir; she had to go vote.

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    Her mama and papa always voted Blue (PUP). Then she got married. Her husband Arthur, may God rest his soul (because if it was up to her prayers, he would never rest in peace), he was a Red (UDP) man all the way through. When Mama found out they were courting, she asked Lacey if she couldn’t find someone else, somebody better (by which she meant PUP). When you married, you voted family colors. To Mama, Lacey was going from Blue to Red. In their small community, that was the best gossip, more than the wedding.

    Politics was hot news for weeks, especially when it was coming closer to voting time. Neighbors who always helped each other out, sharing the same life no matter who was in power, suddenly fought, stopped talking to each other, or ganged up against the one hapless neighbor that chose the wrong party to vote for. It would only be months later, when one or the other was in need, and the other person was kind to forgive, that life would resume. And to think this happened everywhere in the world!

    Shaking her head at the memories of voting days past, Miss Lacey took her pretty dress and sensible shoes out the door, with her purse in hand, no hat or gloves – this wasn’t a going out kind of day. She walked with a purpose that early morning, hoping the line wouldn’t be too long at the community center. Her house was far from the Center, so she had to walk past all her neighbors and friends.

    Oh look; that shameless Mister Lucas had the Red flag flying in his front yard! She knew he had been begging anyone for some money – bet that little slimy campaign man gave him some extra money this week to put up that flag. She sniffed – nobody asked her to put up any old flag. Since Arthur died, she stopped flying any flag unless it was the Belize flag for Independence. “Sometimes people forget what country they in, they so busy collecting from them who give the most,” muttered Miss Lacey as she hastened up the little hill before reaching the paved part of her road.

    On the way she saw her friend Olga walking with her two grandchildren following her and making a ruckus. They joined up and walked together, letting the rowdy boys play rough and tough while they chatted.

    “So who you gwein vote fah Miss Lacey?” asked a very cheeky Olga, suspecting that since Arthur died, Miss Lacey had gone back to her family Blue. At least, that’s what Olga would have done if she had married a Red man after growing up Blue.

    “Me not gwein tell yu. Yu want know too much. Da no yur business, da mines,” Lacey said. And it was true, she didn’t have to tell anyone who she voted for, but she was probably the only one in the village that felt that way, because everyone else talked openly like it was for everyone to know. Not her, oh no. She didn’t say anything – and say what people wanted to say about Arthur. He never tried to force her vote; bless the man, he had some kind of sense in his head. He used to tell her that nobody knew who voted for whom. That those people who bought and sold votes were plain and simple, stupid. She believed him. So she voted her way – if she felt one person was better, she voted that person in.

    Not like her sister. Her sister voted for who gave her the most money. She always said election time was the time to get rich. As if a hundred dollars would be enough for a month. Lacey tried to talk sense to her, but some people’s brains too full of other things to make space for sense. She just hoped she was early in line not to have to see her or hear her.

    The two ladies reached the Center and found themselves at the end of a long line. Lacey Arnold found herself in the ‘A-J’ line, and stood behind Don Juan. He was always smiling and laughing, and today was no exception. The line was more of a gathering, but at the center of attention was Don Juan. Lacey sighed, resigning to hear the tired joke that to them never got old.

    “So the old man got vexed, you see,” Don Juan explained. “He asked the PUP for money and nothing. He said the roof was leaking on him when he was lying in his hammock, and he needed to fix that roof but no money from his leader.” All around, listeners chuckled in anticipation of the punch line. The same one they had heard every election. “He said, ‘Well wait you greedy sons of…’ Well, come election day, he told anyone who would listen that he was not voting for PUP. ‘Bastards! Thieves! All of them, no good!’”

    Here Don Juan paused for effect. Miss Lacey rolled her eyes, but found herself smiling as she knew what else was coming. “So Old Man goes to vote late. He waited until it was late and the politicians were desperate going around the Center asking for votes. He comes out laughing from the voting area. Holding up his finger, he points it to his new enemy. “You see! I told you I wouldn’t vote for you. As me saw your names, I crossed an ‘X’ because you’re wrong – you don’t get a correct from me!’”

    The crowd roared their approval, laughing and chuckling. Some of the political cronies that hung around pushing their propaganda even laughed along with the crowd. It was the same joke told a little differently. Sometimes it was the PUP, other times, the UDP – but always, a silly (often drunk) old man making the mistake of casting his vote inadvertently.

    Chatter continued after the great retelling of the joke, and slowly, slowly, the line moved until it was time to vote. Miss Lacey put her X’s in the right places, and with her patriotic duty done, she headed back home, thinking of the rice she was going to cook, and the black beans and pigtail that would go on top. Some tomato slices and chopped cabbage with cilantro, lime and some salt would be perfect. If it was pear (avocado) season, it would be perfect too. Smacking her lips in anticipation, she trekked all the way back home ready to fill up.

    After lunch, and a little cleaning, Miss Lacey took a quick nap on the hammock on her verandah. The breeze blew cool as the sun made its way down. She kept her radio going, listening to songs, and every once in a while, she heard about the voting as it happened all around. Her ears perked up when she heard that her village would be the first to start counting the ballot boxes.

    Voting always finished early in the small places, so they got to celebrate early and go home. The losers could go to sleep and wake up early to go to their farms and hide. Those whose party won, well – it was a different story for them. A win meant a holiday – nobody paid them but they took it any way. It was the good thing about being your own boss sometimes.

    She decided to heat up the beans, boiling two eggs in a small pan on the side. The dark crept up suddenly, so she struck her match to the hurricane lamp. Some rain water went in her kettle to boil for coffee too. After closing the windows against the night chill, she put some flour in a pan and began kneading some tortillas. Her routine after nearly sixty years hadn’t changed much. It was the same thing almost every day – flour or corn tortillas, with a little beans or maybe roast tomatoes and boiled or fried eggs. Her hands worked the flour, baking powder, shortening and water into a nice dough, and soon, little balls were smooth and resting on her table.

    The radio chatter said something about counting going on around the villages in Cayo, and she listened for her little village’s name. There - almost finished with the second box! There had been two boxes – so the results would come soon. She turned up the volume a little, the voices and sounds keeping her company in her small, lonely home. It was too dark to see if Mister Lucas had brought his flag down yet, waiting to see who won before flying the winner’s flag. That happened all the time. She wished she could see in the dark so she could peep out her window.

    She put her comal to heat up, stirring the beans, feeling for a leftover piece of pigtail and finding a little piece. She put the eggs in water to cool down for peeling, and after wiping down the table, spread a little shortening to begin flattening her little dough balls into tortillas. One by one, they went on the comal, baking and browning nicely, filling the air with that good smell. She made just enough for the night and to warm up for the morning tea.

    With a full plate of beans, two peeled eggs, and a stack of hot tortillas and some Wood Dunn Dairy Creamery butter from the blue tin, she was ready to eat. Hot water in her mug, a scoop of Dolca instant coffee, and two scoops of Klim milk, and her coffee was ready too. None of that sugar stuff for her. She ate slowly, enjoying her little meal, and listening hard to the radio.

    Santa Familia voted Red…Cristo Rey voted Blue – they always voted Blue…ohhh…there was San Antonio – Blue! Mister Lucas better take down that flag, because people would…


    Frightened, Miss Lacey spilled her coffee down the front of her old dress. What was that sound? She didn’t dare open her door, but it sounded like something was happening on the street in front of her house, or close by. There was a little gap in the wall by the stove, so she looked out there, her food abandoned now. Her old eyes took a while to get adjusted – it didn’t matter to her who was in power, she just needed some light for her neighborhood. When her eyes finally adjusted, she wished she hadn’t peeped. Out on the street, a group of PUP supporters stood with machetes and firewood. Already? They just announced the winners. Miss Lacey wondered how long that plan had been in place.

    They marched to Mister Lucas’ yard, and CRASH! There it was again, that sound – one of them was already swinging his machete against the pole. The silly old man had not brought down that flag! His poor dogs were barking like crazy, but they were tied up, so the bad eggs kept doing their mischief. The flag pole was small, so it fell over quickly. With a loud creak, it landed in the front yard. One of them took his firewood and set the flag on fire. Not even the evening dew could keep the fire from jumping up hungrily.

    BOOM! Poor Miss Lacey’s heart nearly jumped out of her mouth. She knew that sound well; a rifle. Mister Lucas must have been inside all along, but now that rifle was being aimed in the air, and from the first shot, the crazy men scattered. From the scream that came almost immediately after, one of the dogs must have gotten a good bite in. Tomorrow at least one would be taken to jail for the day.

    Miss Lacey pulled away from her little peephole. She was not even hungry anymore, but she sat at the table, shaking from nerves. She had a little bit of her cooling coffee, and nibbling at her tortilla, she just wondered about the crazy things that politics did. What did she say early that day? Something was going to happen, and something bad did happen. Why people just no mind them own business…

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