Portraits: The story of San Pedro women in 62 powerful chapters

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San Pedro Photographer Karen Brodie and her mother-in-law May Lowe. Her monthlong exhibition, "Women of San Pedro" opens Thursday, March 10, 7 p.m. at the San Pedro House of Culture.
San Pedro Photographer Karen Brodie and her mother-in-law May Lowe. Her monthlong exhibition, “Celebrating the Women of San Pedro” opens Thursday, March 10, 7 p.m. at the San Pedro House of Culture. Karen’s own essay and insights on the exhibit can be read below. (All photos by Karen Brodie)

In the two-and-a-half years that photographer Karen Brodie has lived in San Pedro, Belize, she has taken a lot of pictures.

If you have attended any local events — like Garifuna Settlement Day, the Mothers Day celebration, Seniors Appreciation Day at the Lions Club, the Costa Maya Festival — then you have seen her prowling the edges with her camera, snapping away.

More often than not, she is looking for interesting faces — proud faces, happy faces, strong faces, quiet faces, old faces, young faces — faces that tell a story without speaking a word. So, yes, she has quite a collection.

So, you’d think that when Mito Paz, director of the San Pedro House of Culture, asked Karen to produce a show of her portraits of local women to celebrate National Women’s Month, she would say something like, “Sure! Piece of cake!” or “Easy peasy!”

But that wouldn’t be Karen. Read the rest of this entry »


Garifuna Settlement Day celebrates a beautiful culture and the spirit of endurance

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A ceremonial procession from Central Park to the municipal football field marks the beginning of Thursday's crowning of a new Miss Garifuna San Pedro ambassador. Three of the contestants and the outgoing Miss Garifuna lead a procession of drummers and palm-bearing followers.
A ceremonial procession from Central Park to the municipal football field marks the beginning of Thursday’s crowning of a new Miss Garifuna San Pedro ambassador. Three of the contestants and the outgoing Miss Garifuna lead a procession of drummers and palm-bearing followers.

The Garifuna people of San Pedro, Belize, have a new ambassador for 2015-16. She is Sheila Montero, sponsored by Victoria House. As Miss Garifuna, Sheila will help to tell the story of the rich history and culture of her ancestors to the schools and other groups on the island.

And it is an amazing — and heartbreaking — story to tell. Read the rest of this entry »

The future of San Pedro looms on the lagoon side

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This little guy was standing next to me taking photos of the same Garifuna ensemble as I was. Probably got better photos too, from his shorter perspective ...
This little guy was standing next to me taking photos of the same Garifuna ensemble as I was. Probably got better photos too, from his shorter perspective …

If there is one thing that I learned in my short stint with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) it was how to set up a ribbon cutting ceremony.

There were at least four of them. That worked out to one a month. To which you can also add a month-long celebration of bicycling which culminated in a bike festival followed by a single day in which thousands of people actually rode their bicycles to work and school.

SANDAG is many things but its biggest role is as the transportation agency for the 3.2 million people in San Diego County. And it handles its duties extremely well. It builds highways, bike paths, railroad tracks and bridges – and I contributed to organizing ribbon cutting ceremonies for each of those.

So it was with some professional curiosity that I decided to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony Saturday night for the San Pedro Sunset Boardwalk & Water Taxi Terminal on the lagoon side of San Pedro Town. Read the rest of this entry »

Cruise line buys Belizean caye of its own

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Norwegian Cruise Lines is nothing if not persistent.  Denied permission to build a cruise ship terminal on an island off southern Belize earlier this year, NCL announced on Wednesday the purchase of another set of islands, called Harvest Caye (pronounced “key”), that it plans to turn into a southern tourist attraction for its cruise ship passengers.

Artist's rendering of Norwegian Cruise Lines vision for its southern Belize port on Harvest Caye.
Artist’s rendering of Norwegian Cruise Lines vision for its southern Belize port on Harvest Caye.

The big difference is that the original island, Crawl Caye, was in a marine reserve that formed part of the barrier reef —  a World Heritage Site. It was a clumsy, insensitive move that was ultimately rejected by the Belizean government, despite its outspokenly favorable attitude toward the cruise ship industry.

The government, which has a memorandum of understanding with NCL encouraging eco-sensitive development of an off-shore port in southern Belize, said it would approve the right proposal.

NCL may have found the right one. The 75-acre Harvest Caye, three miles off Placencia, has already been approved for resort development.

Currently all cruise ships check into Belize City to the north, the country’s largest and most crime-ridden city. Some cruise lines have cut back on stops in Belize, the major reason given being port congestion. Belize took in 728,000 cruise passengers on 315 cruise ships last season, October 2012 to May 2013, according to Business Research & Economic Advisors.

The entire population of Belize, a country the size of Massachusetts, is about 300,000.

A second cruise destination would certainly relieve pressure on Belize City, for a short while. NCL has several new ships under construction and says it wants to quadruple its business with Belize.

While NCL would like the cruise terminal open in time for the 2014-2015 season there are many critics lined up against the plans. The sudden disgorgement of thousands of passengers runs contrary to the country’s eco-tourism strategy, they say.

NCL promises the $50 million project will be sensitive to the surroundings and “eco-friendly,” but a project this large is a game changer regardless of what is promised.

According to an NCL press release, “While the master plan for the 75 acres is still under development, the vision is to create a world-class cruise destination, consisting of two locations: an island destination with docking/tendering facilities and a mainland connection point for inland tours.

“Major components of the project are anticipated to include a floating pier, island village with open-air structures on raised platforms, marina, transportation hub for tours to the mainland, a lagoon for a variety of water sports and a relaxing beach area. The goal is to design an authentic experience grounded in the storyline of nature, ancient culture, art, adventure and music that celebrates Belizean, Mayan and Garifuna history and culture.”

That’s some pretty big stuff.

IDEA Inc., a Florida company that designs ”branded ports” has been hired to carry out the vision.

Well, that was easy …

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Deciding to move to a foreign country was a lot easier a decision to make than either Rose or I had imagined.

It began sort of like this.

Rose: “Life shouldn’t be this hard. Let’s move somewhere that we can live well and not struggle to meet all these bills.”

Me: “OK.”

Mind you, some sort of decision has been in the works for some time.

It probably started in February 2012 when Rose and I got married in the Baja coastal village Los Barriles, which has its own growing ex-pat community. We have good friends who live there in a fabulously beautiful stone, glass and open air aerie atop a small mountain.

They’re happy. They’re part of a community of people who have time for each other. They do the sort of things we talk about. They live life on their own terms and don’t seem to be missing much.

Their life is more about “Guess what I did today!” and less about “Guess what I bought today!”

We could do this, we said, before turning back to the demanding business of being newly married and combining our separate lives into one.

But, one by one, lines that tethered us to this land fell away. Both my parents died in recent years. My career as a newspaper editor/writer died, too. Rose’s mom died. My three grown sons were out on their own, all with excellent jobs and two married. Rose’s daughter had begun college in Arizona.

Then Rose’s son, Jon, and his partner, Quinn, moved to Nicaragua to start a socially conscious business called Life Out of the Box. One night they showed up on cable channel HGTV’s “House Hunters International”  which followed them around the coastal town of San Juan Del Sur as they hunted for a cheap place to live while starting their business.

Everyone who has watched the show has gone away shaking their heads in disbelief. Jon and Quinn were shown three properties, as is the show’s inflexible format, and asked to decide on one. The first was a very inexpensive but sketchy apartment downtown with no hot water and a kitchen/common area shared with … whomever happened to be in the other bedrooms. The second was a brand new, but tiny, efficiency with a swimming pool.

And the third one.  Ah, yes, the third one. A little bit out of town, it was a spacious two-bedroom cottage with all-wood cathedral ceilings, fully furnished, a huge kitchen. Landscaping that just screamed “Welcome to Paradise!” All utilities and WiFi included.

The cost? A comfortably close to budget $700 a month.

Did I mention that it was a five minute walk to the beach?

Well, it was so obvious which one Jon and Quinn would choose. (Cue the tension driven “decision music” – Dunh … da da … dunh … da da … dunh dunh.)  Apartment Number one.

What? No. Wait. Jon? Quinn? What about No. 3 with the WiFi and hot water???? And CHEAP?

Well, they had their reasons.

But it occurred to us that with my pension and Social Security alone — if I chose to retire — we could afford way more than $700 a month, even though that dreamy Nicaraguan house was way more than adequate.

So, we started thinking … and looking.

Next: Yeah, but why Belize?

Pop Quiz on Belize

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I woke up at 5 a.m. and started putting together a quiz on our future homeland, Belize. I have no idea why. It just sort of came to me and I went with it, sort of like the idea of moving to Belize.

So let’s go with it. No prizes. (Heck, I can’t even guarantee that the answers are correct. ) But in the end i think you’ll agree that for such a tiny place, Belize is an amazing country.

1.Belize is a country
A. In Coastal West Africa.
B. Near the Philippines.
C. In Central America, bordered by Mexico, Guatemala and the Caribbean Sea.
D. Conceived in the imagination of Florida-centric author Carl Hiaasen.

2. The Blue Hole is
A. Form of depression that usually hits career professionals in their Thirties.
B. A Willie Nelson song.
C. One of the eight natural wonders of the world.
D. A popular regional beer.

3. Jamaica is to Belize as Red Stripe is to Belikin.  True or False?

 4. Which of these animals are found in Belize?
A. Manatee
B. Jaguar
C. Howler Monkey
D. Taipir
E. Crocodile
F. Toucan
G. All of the above.

5. A Garifuna is
A. A taller and busier species of Hobbit.
B. A geological depression in a valley.
C. A descendant of Caribbean natives and West African slaves.
D. A recently discovered planet in a nearby solar system.

6. Which of these cultures can be found in Belize?
A. Creoles
B. German-speaking Mennonites
C. Mayans.
D. Descendants of Confederate Civil War veterans
E. East Indians
F. Hispanics
G. All of the above, and many more.

 7. A “caye” is
A. Spice used in preparing barbecue sauce.
B. Tool used in boat building.
C. Creole for “All is cool, mon.”
D. An island. And it is pronounced “key.”

8. In Belize a “highway” can contain
A. Bumper to bumper traffic jams during rush hour.
B. European sports cars on Autobahn-like roadways.
C. Dirt surfaces with many ruts, bumps and washed out areas.
D. Adequate signage.

9. Before 1973, the one-time British colony of Belize was known as
A. West Indian Honduras
B. British Honduras
C. South Beach, Miami
D. Captain Morgan’s Retreat

10. To finance the national football team’s first-ever entry into the prestigious CONCAF Gold Cup tournament, Belizians
A. Held a barbecue fundraiser.
B. Took out a rather large loan from a British bank.
C. Collected quarters from school children all over the country.
D. Conspired with gamblers to fix their first game in return for a one-time payment.

11. To surface a road recently, a government contractor
A. Dredged gravel from the bottom of the Blue Hole.
B. Recycled roadside trash into a synthetic form of asphalt.
C. Ground up a big chunk of an ancient Mayan temple.
D. Collected and ground us seashells from coastal beaches.

12. Concerned Belizians say the greatest threat to the natural beauty of this country is
A. Oil drilling in the world’s second largest barrier reef.
B. Illegal clear-cutting of jungle trees for agriculture and lumber
C. Construction of a cruise ship island/terminal in largely pristine southern Belize.
D. All of the above.

13. In 2006, Belize musicians were nominated for a World music Grammy principally for their
A. Drumming
B. Singing
C. Broadway-style musicals
D. Conch shell renditions of classical music.

 And the answers are

1.C (Just south of the Yucatan Peninsula. Can’t miss it, though it is only the size of Massachusetts.)

2. C.

3. True: Belikin is the national beer of Belize.

4. G. There is an incredible diversity of animals in Belize, including more than 500 species of birds.

5. C.

6. G.

7. D.

8. C. Yes, the term highway is used rather loosely.

9. B. The English still retain a small contingent of soldiers in the country to train the Belize Defence Force which protects the country from a long anticipated invasion from Guatemala.

10. A. Incredible as it sounds, the team wasn’t sure it was playing until the day they left Belize. Several  players reported being approached by a game fixer with a monetary offer which they refused. On the other hand, Belize last all three games in its bracket and went home without scoring a single goal.

11. C. Archeologists seeking a silver lining noted that they now had a “cutaway” look at the inside of a Mayan structure.

12. D. Amazing that a country with so much natural beauty can be under siege from so many directions at once.

13. A. Garifuna drumming is a source of national pride.