Quintessentially Belizean - Part II - Saturday

    Waking up early to the sound of the rooster’s incessant call was an everyday occurrence. By the time most children started attending school, the roosters’ calls were merely a reminder that they were on schedule. For most, waking up at five was the rule, not the exception. By the time their bottoms slid onto the long benches where groups of eight or ten gathered during the week to learn, they had accomplished a lot.

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    For some, it was to chase around chickens, searching for the early eggs, so fresh the slime had to be rinsed off, and sometimes, darker streaks wiped off with a wet rag. Boys usually took corn, mash or scraps to the pigs. More ambitious, older boys would slide onto their horses bareback, riding off to the closer home farm, picking fruit or whatever vegetable that their mother needed to prepare their noon and night meal. Their fathers would then saddle up the horses again, taking them at a slower but still clipped pace to the mountains where they grew acres and acres of produce to sell. There they would remain all day, and into the late evening when the last rays of the sun led them back home.

    There was no written rule that stated men did different things from the women. Boys grew up doing the hard manual labor, and women tended to the kitchen. It was the way it was, the way it had been, and for the foreseeable future, the way it would always be. There was no discord; rather, there was harmony in everyone doing their chores. The youngest were tasked with making the coffee in big jugs, while mother and older sisters tended to the fire where everyone’s meal was prepared. Often, the middle girls in a large family were in charge of dressing their younger siblings, preparing them for school. By the time it came to head to school, there had been much accomplished, and the sense of order and family stronger than ever.

    But when the weekend struck, the sound of the rooster’s crow was different. It meant waking up, still early, but the pace was slower for everyone. Even Mama and Papa would stay in their hammocks a little longer. Children would open their eyes, but instead of hitting the ground running, they would remain in their huddle. For a lot of families, all the way from the entrance of the village through the high hills, most children shared a room, with mattresses on the floor, perhaps one bed for the girls – and in the morning, nearly all of them had gravitated to each other and they slept in a pile. Like puppies.

    Everyone would eventually start getting up, and one person would head into the kitchen, usually the eldest. The kettle would be put to boil, and coffee would be prepared. Breakfast would be a hurried mish-mash of leftovers. If there had been some venison stew the night before, the leftover gravy would be mixed in with some beans. Often, the beans would be refried with a little onion, sweet pepper and coconut oil. If there were any leftover tortillas, either flour or corn, those would be warmed up over the licking flames from the hearth. Sometimes, Friday meant fresh baked bread rolls, meant to last all weekend. Saturday mornings would often mean a roll or two dunked in hot milky coffee - perhaps smeared with local cherry or tomato jam.

    By the time the house chores began in earnest, most if not all the rolls were gone. If there was a stereo system at home, the music would be turned up. Soca, punta, Belizean music, a little reggae, anything to get the body moving and shaking; it would be on full volume helping the chores move along a little faster. On Saturdays, children were in charge of washing their school shoes/slippers and bags. Mama had dealt with most of the laundry all week, washing every day if necessary to stave off the large pile. Mondays would be her biggest day, as she spent the weekend cooking special meals for her brood. Sometimes, Papa would be joined early in the morning by the uncles, perhaps a grandfather or both, and with rifles strapped up to their backs, barrels all pointing skyward, they would climb atop their saddled horses and head back up the mountains in search of deer or other smaller game meats.

    While Mama washed mountains of rice, cleaned up a chicken or two for a hearty stew, the youngest children hurried to soak and scrub shoes. Even the baby would be commandeered to go searching for all the dirty shoes, most of the ones he or she had hidden. Once the pile of footwear had been soaked with soap in the giant tub, the scrubbing began. The first ones washed were always the cleanest. By the time the last few pairs got washed, little fingers were wrinkled, tired, and not as strong. The brush would only half-heartedly scrub down the sides of the canvas if there were tennis shoes. Often times, the inside soles of rubber flip flops showed the lines where the brush barely made a dent in the embedded dirt and grime that often stuck stubbornly with the years of usage and passage through the dusty roads. The rows of cleaned shoes laid out against the unpainted brick or wooden homes shone like little jewels in the sun.

    Thick, sludgy water would be poured out around the plants ringing the rest of the house, and when the tub had been rinsed off and put away to drain, the children would wipe down furniture, sweep, while Mama chopped vegetables, stirred a pot here and there, and washed down the rest of the morning dishes. If Papa hadn’t gone hunting, he would chopping the front yard, or raking and trimming the flower and vegetable beds. During orange season, a bunch would be squeezed for a good fresh juice to accompany lunch.

    The table was often laden with tons of cut up vegetables, dressed simply with lime or sour orange juice, salt and black pepper. Tomatoes from the garden, sliced cucumbers and sweet peppers, finely shredded cabbage, maybe some chopped carrot – they would be fresh and crunchy, a great pairing for the main meal. A rich, heavy on the gravy, chicken stew would be ladled over steaming rice cooked with cilantro and coconut milk. Once all the dishes had been served up, a large pot of salted water would be put on the fire. In it, husked fresh young corn – at least two for each member of the family, would go in and set to boil and get tenderized. Then, it was on to feast, with everyone digging in with the gusto that is often brought on by chores and sun.

    That same sun stupor would often lead to the hammocks after such a heavy meal. While the corn was taken down from the fire and set to cool, hammocks in varying colors were strung up. Again, piling in like puppies, the younger children would share one hammock, while Mama swung on the other. Dishes were left for later, so the older girls would take their embroidery or a little crochet out on the grass where a cooling breeze eventually had them spreading out and closing their eyes. Around them, chickens pecked and clucked, and off in the distance, a cow or two mooed, the low mournful sound echoing around the hills. Eyes grew heavy, as full tummies made for an especially pleasant restful ambiance. A restful Saturday afternoon gave the entire a family a chance to connect and prepare for the Sunday ahead.

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