25 YEARS AGO ON AMBERGRIS CAYE BY ANGEL NUÑEZ
If you walk around San Pedro today, you would be amazed on how much things have changed in the last 15 years and much more on the last 40. Some people would probably get lost in San Pedro.
But let us continue our walk around the village as we did last week, which was mostly at sea. We left when it was 7:30 and there was fried manatee with Johnny cakes and fried beans at the breakfast table. The children are getting ready to go to school, but before that there are some chores that must be done.
Genaro has to fill up two large drums with water that will make the “legia” (soft water) for his mother. He has to put two buckets of ashes in the drum and has added about 10 buckets of water. The ashes are all stirred up and the water is murky, but it will settle down soon for tomorrow’s washing of the clothes.
Genaro’s younger brother, Pedrito, is busy with the grinding mill grinding two quarts of corn which his mother, Tomasita, will use for the midday “tortillas” (corn cakes).
|Students line up in front of the old school building by Central Park
Genaro and Pedrito’s sister, Anita, is busy ironing some clothes for the children who are almost ready for school. She places five solid irons on the hot plate over the fire. When they are all hot, she uses one of them for about 4 minutes, and then takes another one and places the cold one to be reheated. These solid irons made of iron are pitch black, but would you believe it that they were used on white clothing and not a mark or stain was ever made? When all the clothing has been pressed, Anita also combs her hair and gets ready for school.
It is now eight in the morning and the school principal, a Garifuna named Mr. Agustine, has gone to the central park to ring the village bell announcing the first call to classes. Another bell will be rung at 8:15 and then at 8:30 when all children must be on line ready for roll call.
If two or three children would be absent, the principal would notify the village police officer to go make a quick check on the whereabouts of these kids. If found playing on the streets, they would get a good whipping and if sick, the teacher would be notified.
Francisco is coming a little late to school because he had done some night fishing, and early in the morning he had to get up and clean the fish for his mom’s midday menu. He actually went to his “vivero” or fish pen where he kept the snappers alive because that is how fresh the village people used to love eating fish - from the vivero to the frying pan.
So after cleaning the fish Francisco had to take a shower or he would have smelled of fish all day long. Mind you, there were other kids who went to school smelling of fish, but nobody cared. Well, maybe some did mind and did not want to sit beside them, but those were only a few upper class kids. Upper class! Were there upper class people in the village? Well, there weren’t any, but some did feel like that and made you feel it too.
There were about 90 kids assembled in the school yard by the beach in front of the police station and they were busy enjoying themselves before the third and last bell. They were playing hop scotch, alza y pica la zorra, mash pan, hide and seek, azules y amarillos, jump rope, campanita de oro, marbles, tops, yoyos, kites, el lobo, tun tun de la calavera, aranca cebolla, hurricane or our favorite, “Si te alcanso te beso” meaning “ if I catch you, I’ll kiss you. Interesting kids’ games, eh?
I tell you, there were more games played at school than soap operas or “novelas” on television today. There was never a dull moment, never a moment to idle, and never a moment to get into trouble when we were raised as kids 25 years ago. Oh yes, we did have our sharp knives, but they were at home ready to be used to clean conch or fish, which was a daily task in most families in the 1950’s or as we love to say now, 25 years ago.