I spend my first day in country in pure, poundin’-the-pavement research mode, walking the streets of Belize City for eight hours, which is sufficient to cover nearly the entire town of 65,000. It is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit and maybe 85 percent humidity â€” a bit different from the dry 60s of autumn in Colorado. Walking, talking, and note-taking, I meet people from El Salvador, Bangladesh, Nicaragua, Calcutta, Lebanon, Germany, Honduras, Canada, China and, oh yeah â€” Belize. (Out of all of them, only the Canadians are tourists, on shore leave from one of the two cruise ships parked over yonder reef.)
If only I could write a book collecting the stories that brought each of these people here . . . but alas, my job lies in less glamorous details, discovering such fascinating data as hotel rates, bus schedules, water taxis, and museum hours.
The high point of my day is meeting Pen Cayetano, one of Belize’s most famous citizens. “Are you the artist?” I ask when I see him helping to hang a huge canvas in the House of Culture. “Yeah mon,” he says, shaking my hand. Pen and his wife, Ingrid, are in from Germany, their annual pilgrimage to Pen’s homeland for a big art opening tomorrow and the upcoming Garinagu (Garifuna) Settlement Day festivities. Pen is an painter, musician, songwriter, and leading revivalist of Garinagu culture. He lets me take some pictures, shows me some of his paintings and dugu drums, then we make tentative plans to do an interview on Belizean art over a beer or two in Dangriga next week, before his gig with punta rock legends, The Turtle Shell Band. Ah, Belize, the country that is a small town.
Then it’s back to the streets, back to blistering my feet, sweatin’ my tush off, and filling up pages. I end the evening at Di Faiyah Haat Restaurant, consuming Belikin Stouts and shrimp margarita. Tomorrow is an another day of unknown quantities, involving a charter flight into the interior. . .