25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
Adults in their 50's and 60's love to talk about hardships that they encountered 25 years and beyond. What could these hardships be when we hear that you could buy a string of fish for only ten cent or a can or corned beef for 25 cents?
First, there were no meat products that you could purchase from the stores; therefore you had to eat what you caught from the sea. Of course fish is a delicacy, but just imagine eating it three times a day and seven days a week. Now you can see why corned beef was a delicacy on Sundays.
Let us talk about soap. There was one well-known soap I can recall and that was a large yellow bar or Sunlight soap. It was used for the laundry, for the dishes and, yes, for the daily bath as well.
Do you think children in the 1950's could eat a fruit all by themselves? Never! A mango was shared among three children with the two "cheeks" going to two elder children and the seed with some flesh going to the younger kid. Apples were shared between two and even a soda or pop was shared.
Studying by kerosene lamp or lantern was a hardship. Wearing underpants fabricated with the bleached flour bags was a hardship. I would say that going in the middle of the night to use the outdoor or backyard toilet was a hardship too. The men had to use the public toilets that were built over the lagoon and reserve the one at home for the ladies and children. Doing the laundry with a scrubbing board was a hardship, don't you agree?
Perhaps one of the biggest hardships for women was cooking outdoor on the "fogon" or fire hearth. This required obtaining fire wood from the bush or picking up old pieces of wood or lumber, fanning a fire until there was a good flame, and feeding the fire. Worse of all it required spending hours in a smoky kitchen while preparing the "frijoles" and the "tortillas" or cooking up the pot of beans, fish soup, fish stew, or frying the fish egg, or the "chaya" with eggs. With wet firewood or coconut husks, just lighting up the fire was a stressful hardship.
Want to talk about hardships for fathers and the fishermen? Just think of using a paddle or pole to push your dory all the way to your fishing grounds instead of pressing the starter button of your outboard motor. We can go on and on, but for now we can appreciate the hardships families went through 25 years ago and we'll elaborate more.
Whenever I think about hardships of the past I think about those Sanpedrano students who used to attend high school in Belize City, mostly at Saint John's College. There are several things in their lives that were quite challenging and in a way a hard experience. Today the San Pedro youths have the pleasure of attending high school right here at home and those few who travel do not have any hardships to talk about.
To begin with in the 1950's and 60's, the students used to take the cargo boat, The Elsa P. to make their trip to Belize City. This was a 5 to 6 hour sailing trip sitting on top of bags filled with coconuts or lying on top of boxes filled with bottles. The trip to Belize City was at two in the morning and it arrived in Belize City about 8 a.m.
Now this trip took place in September for the commencement of classes and you did not get to return home until middle of December for the Christmas vacation, also by the same mode of transportation, except that on the return trip with the cargo boat, it was a ten to twelve hour ride. During this three-month stay in the city, the students were out of touch with their families. I am talking about guys like Beto Marin, Artemio Cardenez, Pete Salazar, Chico Gomez, Gonzalo Heredia, Wil NuŅez, Manuel Heredia (UDP Standard Bearer), Felipe Ancona, Fidel Ancona, and myself. Some of the ladies included Celi NuŅez McCorkle, Martha NuŅez Guerrero, Gloria Staines Guerrero, Iraida Staines Gonzalez, Isela Gonzalez, and Cruzita Salazar. We were able to write to our families once in a while and sent the letters by cargo boat because there was no post office in San Pedro, no airplanes, no telephones. So practically we were out of touch with our families. Occasionally mom or dad would visit and that was a delight. We were also out of touch with our girlfriends and boyfriends in San Pedro, and that was a real hardship in itself. Of course, most of the students had their boyfriends and girlfriends in Belize City, but that was not the same.
Another hardship experienced by the Sanpedrano students in the city was discrimination. We were discriminated because we were of our Mestizo descent. We were discriminated because we were from the caye. We were discriminated because our fathers were fishermen and of humble origin. We were discriminated because of the color of our skins. I remember some of my friends teasing us and calling us "red lobster" or "yellow belly paŅa". (PaŅa meant Spanish) We were even discriminated because we could not talk Creole and because of our improper English accent. We used to say "peench" for pinch or "tak" for talk.
One of the biggest hardships I can recall is missing the sea. We Sanpedranos love the sea so much, and when we became nostalgic in the city, we would go swim at the Barracks area in the murky waters of Belize City. I recall Manuel Heredia and myself swimming in the little canal behind St. John's College and later on we learned that there were crocodiles in that place. Then we missed the coconut water, walking barefoot, and sailing in our dories every Sunday.
We had our bikes in the city to go to school, and when they got punctured, we had to walk to school for we could not afford a taxi. Our weekly allowance was about five dollars or about fifty dollars for the entire term. With that we had to purchase school supplies, and treat ourselves to an ice cream or go to the movies and an occasional party. We all had to do some penny pinching. When it was the end of the term, I could not wait for my last exam on Thursday afternoon and jumped in the boat that same afternoon and sailed home to San Pedro. Here at home we felt like kings. Isn't that right guys? For us education was a real sacrifice, and for the same reason we all valued education highly.