This is Belize: Walk a mile or two in their shoes

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This is my favorite photo of Moppit so far.I may have already used it in a blog but what the hell. Who ever grows tired of looking at a beautiful face?
This is my favorite photo of Moppit so far.I may have already used it in a blog but what the hell. Who ever grows tired of looking at a beautiful face?

Moppit and I were sitting in the golf cart near Izzy’s smoothie shop at the north end of Middle Street yesterday afternoon. We were talking about life, love, this, that and the price of bread. For a dog, she’s a very quick study. As I droned on, Moppit gave me the occasional nod  and tolerant expressions before returning to her own business of observing golf cart traffic.

I have no idea where she picked up such habits so quickly.

Rose had popped into Barbara Brown’s boutique & coffee shop for some flowers, a corsage for Moppit to wear to Sandy Rigby’s memorial service at Caribbean Villas. Sandy and Moppit had been inseparable companions for nearly three years, until she passed away in late November.

Just a reminder of how life has actually changed around here. This is a Sept. 25, 2014 image of the road north of the bridge on Ambergris Caye. Beneath the water is mud -- where there is now concrete.All the vegetation on the right disappeared earlier this year when Hurricane Earl blew through. Reef Village is on the left, or whatever it is called now. Most days in the morning and evening this road is alive with people walking, bicycling, driving to and from work.
Just a reminder of how life has actually changed around here. This is a Sept. 25, 2014 image of the road north of the bridge on Ambergris Caye. Beneath the water is mud — where there is now concrete.All the vegetation on the right disappeared earlier this year when Hurricane Earl blew through. Reef Village is on the left, or whatever it is called now. Most days in the morning and evening this road is alive with people walking, bicycling, driving to and from work.

Rose and I were offered Moppit on a trial basis and I can say that I’m pretty sure she has decided to keep us. A whole week now and we haven’t bungled the dog-human dynamic too badly. Moppit has even trained Rose to make dog food from scratch (heavy on the turmeric and turkey).

As we sat — me talking, Moppit tolerating — a young student from Holy Cross Anglican School walked by and shyly said, “Hello, Mr. Bob.” It was Adrian,  one of my pupils in the volunteer literacy tutorial program I participate in on Wednesdays.

Adrian and I usually have way too much fun on Wednesdays. He is bright and quick and actually loves to read books, although with some difficulty. He loves sharks and race cars, too. He came up with his own game with flashcards and we play it every week. Like Moppit, he’s taught me quite a lot.

What is the relevance of this image? None at all. I took it in a "ladies shop" on Middle Street that was offering free glasses of champagne and wine on a recent Saturday. The quote from Marilyn Monroe on the wall is worthy!
What is the relevance of this image? None at all. I took it in a “ladies shop” on Middle Street that was offering free glasses of champagne and wine on a recent Saturday. The quote from Marilyn Monroe on the wall is worthy!

Adrian lives a ways south of San Pedro, near the end of the Marina district, and since we were headed that way I offered him a ride.

Rose practiced her Spanish with Adrian as I navigated the traffic through busy San Pedro Town. Adrian asked all about Moppit and told us a little about his own dog. We passed our exit to Caribbean Villas, where Sandy’s service was to be held  and took the little guy down to the Ambergris Sausage Factory, just past the Banyan Bay Resort.

I’d noticed Adrian walking in that neighborhood once before in his gray slacks and white shirt — the Anglican school uniform.

Sometimes he gets a taxi to school but Adrian said most school days he walks, a distance of nearly three miles each way!

When he hopped off the cart, Adrian ran to the front and gave Rose a big hug. Then he ran around to my side. I thought he wanted to do a high-five or handshake. He beckoned me out of the cart with both hands and then signaled for me to stoop down a bit. He hugged me, too.

Then with that brilliant smile he always flashes in school, Adrian turned and walk down the dirt road toward home.

After our Wednesday sessions, Adrian always stops at the literacy room’s door, turns crisply, flashes that big smile and waves. He then stops at each of the four open windows to smile and wave goodbye — and once more at the turn in the walkway before disappearing for another week.

Adrian really knows how to make an exit!

Have I shown this one to you before? Again, no relevance whatsoever to the blog post. We spotted this guy on the side of the road in front of Victoria House recently. His name is Donald, for obvious reasons.
Have I shown this one to you before? Again, no relevance whatsoever to the blog post. We spotted this guy on the side of the road in front of Victoria House recently. His name is Donald, for obvious reasons.

Sometimes people compliment me on how nice I am to volunteer in this school which serves the poorest of the poor children on this island. As if I were making some difficult sacrifice. I think of students like Adrian and what they must go through every day just for the privilege of sitting in a  classroom and I think “you don’t know the half of it.”

I am humbled every day when I see students walking long distances to school — men and women taking the long walk north toward the resorts, restaurants and construction sites to work long hours for relatively low wages. Then do it all again at the end of the day.

This morning as I drove Rose to her studio we picked up a couple of laborers in the drizzling rain and got them a little farther down the road. As I headed home I turned around and gave three more of them a lift to work.

It is crazy, I know. I can’t be turning my golf cart into a complimentary taxi service. There are stretch vans now that shuttle resort workers between the bridge and their jobs, but they seem out of reach or unavailable to the many construction workers walking north.

Even on an island (albeit 24-miles long) lack of mobility is the curse of the working class. There is no public transportation, although taxis seem a reasonable means of transportation for some. Golf carts are proliferating like rabbits and clog the roads, although not as badly as the influx of trucks, vans and SUVs.

You would think that a long and narrow island, with essentially one road extending north to south, would be the ideal spot for a public shuttle service — a mini chicken bus. Maybe the economics of such a thing aren’t there just yet.

So, those who know me from my waning newspaper days as the transportation “expert” know what’s coming, my All-Purpose Solution for Everything: Bicycles!

Lots and lots of bicycles.

For students, for construction workers, for resort staff for crusty old expats like myself who are experiencing serious and inexplicable shrinkage in the waistband of pants and cargo shorts. (A conspiracy, I tell you! Somebody has been tightening the waist on all my pants, just to get me to exercise or something. What a nasty trick!)

But, yes. Bicycles!

It makes me wish I knew a wealthy philanthropist or two who could help set up a non-profit to refurbish old bicycles and donate them to the island’s walking workers and students. I’d hire about three local bicycle mechanics, or subcontract with a local bike shop, and then scavenge the country for broken-down bicycles.

There you go: employment and recycling in one bundle.

The first bike would go to my little pal Adrian. I’ll bet a bicycle would give back to him at least two hours a day that he could use for reading or football.

The next would go to the teacher I met who walk an hour to school every day because her bicycle was stolen. The next 50 would go to workers who walk the north concrete road to the many resorts under construction and the resort and restaurant staffs who can’t afford to take the shuttle.

Oh, I know, half of them would be stolen within a week. Bikes have a way of disappearing. But I see that as a sign of the crying need for transportation for workers.

Imagine if every worker on this island had access to a commuter bicycle. They would show up fresh for work, more often and and on time; they would have more time to spend with family. Maybe we would need fewer taxis.

Win-win.

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13 thoughts on “This is Belize: Walk a mile or two in their shoes

    Donald Quigley said:
    December 13, 2016 at 1:00 pm

    Hey Bob, another great read. I always look forward to your posts. We will be down in a few weeks and we are staying at the Cloisters. Hopefully, we will get to see you

    Don

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      December 13, 2016 at 1:02 pm

      Thanks Don. I’m positive we’ll see each other, as that is where we live. Looking forward to seeing ya!

      Like

      Wim Van de Water said:
      December 15, 2016 at 9:47 am

      make sure to bring a bike or two 😉

      Like

    Larry Bowers said:
    December 13, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    I didn’t quite get to the end of the blog and I started thinking “bikes”, and then: We contribute to an organization called 88 Bikes (88bikes.org). For $88, or any portion thereof, your donation goes to buy a bike in developing countries. With only one exception, and my memory may be faulty on that, these bikes are given to girls, mostly victims of human trafficking, and recently all have been in SE Asia. You might want to contact them. Might at least get an idea or two. I’ll give the first $88 to get it started.

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      December 13, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Thank you,Larry! I’ll check out the 88. I seem to recall a couple of Southern California guys who began collecting and refurbishing bikes to send to an African country. They even brought a few people to the states to learn how to become bicycle mechanics.
      Let’s see what can come of this! Many thanks!

      Like

    Lynn Monaco said:
    December 13, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    What a great idea! Boston has a bike loaner program called The Hubway: Metro-Boston’s Bike share Program | https://www.thehubway.com. It is sponsored by larger orgs in the greater Boston area. Maybe there’s something that can be done on Ambergris like this. Perhaps the larger resorts can sponsor bikes for their employees. Just an option. It would take a lot of organization and coordination. Too bad I don’t live there already!!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      December 14, 2016 at 12:27 pm

      I could use your organizational skills, Lynn! Sounds like a cool program. I’ll take a look see. Thanks!

      Like

    Lynn Monaco said:
    December 13, 2016 at 6:26 pm

    And, I still think Moppit is a lucky dog who will learn to love you and Rose in no time!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      December 14, 2016 at 12:28 pm

      Thank you. We feel a bit humbled to have her, and blessed.

      Like

    Miranda said:
    December 13, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    I live part of the year in Ambergris Lake Villas. I often spend time sipping on some excellent Sangria at Caribbean Villas. I have spent many afternoons petting onMoppit. You and Rose are very lucky. I’d have taken Moppiy on a hot dime. If your I ever need any help with her, or any dog sitting when Inam in town, you’ve got your girl! Sorry to hear about Sandy, though. What happened to her?

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      December 14, 2016 at 12:24 pm

      Hi Miranda, she had a series of complications – a spinal collapse for one, dementia also. She was so very active less than two years ago but as her son Phil said the other day, her four years in Belize we among the happiest. If you see us with Moppit just come on up. At the memorial service yesterday it was humbling to see how many people both Sandy and Moppit had touched over her time here. What a team!

      Like

    Mel & Suan said:
    December 13, 2016 at 7:02 pm

    The idea to refurbish old bicycles is grand! Indeed if any wealthy philantropist is willing to contribute that would be perfect!

    Like

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      December 14, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      And if any wealthy philanthropist is reading …. contact me! Operators are standing by! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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