25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
A Lovely Small Population
I would like you to imagine a little San Pedro village with a population of about 5 hundred. One hundred of these were boys and girls age 5 to 14 and attending the one and only primary school, the San Pedro R.C. School. The other one hundred were housewives. The other one hundred were fishermen. About one hundred were children age 1 to 5 and the remaining one hundred comprised about 50 young men and 50 ladies. That was San Pedro- 500 strong, one Garifuna principal teacher from outside, one Creole policeman, one Creole nurse and nothing else. The only time you would see a lot of people was Easter when some two hundred visitors from Belize City came to spend the Easter weekend and stayed with families and friends, no hotels.
On another occasion we were visited during the summer by the nuns, some thirty of them, and they stayed at a building attached to the church. There was also a yearly visit by the scouts, some fifty of them, and they stayed at the same church building. A big occasion for San Pedro was the visit of the “Interns”. They were not interns like Monica Lewisnski. They were Honduras and Salvador young men who came to Belize to study English. They were interns because they lived at Saint John’s College, and they too came yearly for a summer vacation. After they left, the village became dead once again with its population of 500.
A small population meant a very closely knit community. Everyone knew each other by name and even history. Passing along with a “hello” was a sign that you were in a bad mood or that some problem was developing probably a gossip as always. There were births on the island at a rate of four or five a year, and when a baby was born the word went around the village like fire. Everyone wanted to know which “partera” (midwife) did the job and how many hours it took and what was the weight of the baby. Everyone celebrated a birth. It was the same with deaths. A death occurred like once every three years and they were like public and bank holidays, even though there were no banks. Everything stopped and everyone grieved. If there was a planned activity like a birthday party celebration, it was postponed with due respect to the bereaved family. This is how much we cared for each other. The school children loved deaths because the principal sent us home to prepare for the funeral.
Back then we could leave our homes unattended. We could go to the store and delay for a few hours and nobody would interfere with your belongs. We could sleep with our wide open wooden windows without the fear that someone would attempt to break in to steal or carry out any kind of crime. Women could leave their laundry on the lines overnight without the worry that someone would try to steal their good clothing or their or their flour bag bleached underwear. Panties could be left on the line without a maniac interfering with them. Children could play on the streets late at night (about 7 p.m.) without anyone approaching them to offer drugs or anything evil. Fishermen left all their gear and motor with gas tanks in their skiffs without any worry. There was no police force, only one policeman and he could hear the conversation of all the villagers right from his verandah. The rest of the time he was either fishing or playing pool at Daddy’s Club.
The Garifuna teacher, who was one of the few outsiders, was soon liked or disliked depending on his character and ability to handle children. If he was a caring teacher, he would get free fish and all the goodies. If he beat the children and marked their legs, soon he would be receiving threats of a beating from a few angry fathers. When a black man walked the streets of San Pedro, the entire community of Mestizos wanted to find out who he was, if he was a regular thief from Belize City, or a good natured visitor. There was a stereotype about blacks in San Pedro - that they were either thieves or beggars.
Indeed this was our lovely San Pedro 25 years ago. We really cared for each other. Today we do not smile to everyone and you could be morning a death at your house and there is a quinceaños celebration next door. Yes, we still have a lovely community to cherish, but our San Pedro of 25 years ago was truly sensational, unique, exceptional.