The fifth of march, also known as “semledagen” in Sweden, has for the crew on Gunilla been a long day full of impressions. For you who are not accustomed to this special Swedish tradition the “semledag” is the day for cardamom buns, filled with a sweet paste of almonds with cream on top. Google it if you want to get the idea.
Anyway, this day which also happens to be my beloved fathers 55´th birthday, happy birthday dad, have for many of us been filled to the top with new experiences and views. For me this day has been one of the most important days in my life. I hope that I will never forget what I have thought or felt this day, because it has been one of those times when the whole world seems to have shifted and everything feels and looks different.
For me and a group of friends of mine the day begun with a stop at a local pharmacy, you don’t have to worry none of us were sick, we or maybe I simply wanted to see what a Belizean pharmacy might look like. In we went and greeting us was a young woman behind a clean glass counter in the front of the room. As many of us have grown accustomed to by now, we started talking asking her what kind of medicine they sold, if she was the owner of the shop and where she lived. It turned out the shop was newly opened and is was her second day at work, a woman who before had worked at a local hospital and pharmacy on the other side of town were few tourists would be seen. She was a lovely person and her welcome warmed our hearts.
Our next stop was only a couple of meters away at the local library where we curiously sneaked in to find a dusty room filled with old wooden tables and surrounding bookshelves filled with books of different genres, from different years. There were two men sitting alone at two of the tables, one reading a newspaper and the other one with a big green book in front of him. From the back of the library one could hear children’s songs play, since the young children from the area were having some kind of class with their teachers singing English children’s songs accompanied by fitting gestures and dances to fit the lyrics. Before leaving the library, we read a few articles in a local newspaper about the gang violence in the country and on our way out we meet a middle-aged man named Charles.
Charles gave us a great history lesson about Belize and we continued talking a lot about the tourism industry, since he himself had been a tourist guide once longing to start an own business. His dream was to guide tourists to his family home where they would to enjoy traditional baths, learn some of the local remedies made from plants from the jungle and taste some traditional foods. Unfortunately, the place where all of this was to take place was destroyed and robbed, and his dream had to wait. One of many things I learned from Charles was a recipe to cure kidney stone with only papaya, something a brought with me back to Gunilla and tried making. As a matter of fact, we happen to have a student sick from kidney stone and my newfound knowledge could come in handy. Although as one might tend to do when it comes to new things, I wanted to ask someone with more experience on the subject before treating one of my classmates with this new medicine. And that was probably for the best since I had not considered the risk of starting a new treatment right before leaving land, with a for us previously unknown medicine. I therefore called it off, but I was happy anyway since I got to learn how to make another herbal medicine.
After a long and very interesting talk with our new friend we continued our journey through small stores and pass schools and churches before ending up in one end of the town. The site had a beautiful view of the turquoise horizon and Gunilla on one side and on the other some of Belize city’s industries. At a restaurant right by the sea we spent a couple of hours to get something to drink and escape the boiling sun. I also got to try another version of the traditional dish of rice and beans, that I have been eating in different ways each time we have been eating on land on both Cuba and in Belize. You might think that I would grow tired of it, but happily enough for me, it is still both tasty and exiting every time it is served.
Some hours later we continued our walk down the main street, since this is pretty much the area where we are allowed to be due to gang violence in the city. We walked through more shops and ended up buying some fabric to a new sewing project, something that I always find inspiring and during this fabric shopping we met a woman only a couple years older than ourselves. She worked in one of the shops selling sewing material. Just like everyone else we have met here she was incredibly friendly, talkative and so genuine. We bonded over school, work and growing up learning to face a new world of responsibilities. At the moment she worked from eight to five, to only half an our later be sitting in school studying business till eight a clock at night. She lived with her mother, who also worked in the shop, owned by a family friend, and her salary went to pay for her studies, food and other expenses at home. All of this so that she one day would be able to start her own business. We live for our dreams, but the question is if we realise when we have achieved them. This is something I don’t think will apply as much to her as it has and do apply to myself.
You might think that one possibly can’t experience more than that in one day, but this story continues. We talked to two other women, in another sewing shop, these two both immigrants from other parts of central America. One of the women were originally from Honduras and had left because of the criminality and high gang violence. Instead she worked in Belize city, where compared to her life in Honduras was much better. The pay was higher and the community safer. According to these two women: Belize is one of the safest countries in central America judged by the ability to run a shop without having to pay rent to the gangster groups not to get killed and the relatively low risk of getting hurt by the gangsters as long as you are not involved in business with them or caught in a crossfire.
After getting a big change of perspectives of life we headed back to the boat where one of my friends met a young boy, who she earlier that day had given some money for food. This is a wonderful young boy of eleven years who after school changes from his school uniform to his so called “hassling clothes” to, in most cases walk around begging for money to help his family. He is the youngest son of three older siblings, which according to himself never wanted a younger brother and were giving him a hard time, both bullying him and eating up all the food. His mother travels around the country to sell clothes for a living and his father passed away seven years ago. He and his story are one of the things that touched my heart the most today, and I feel happy to have gotten his name on Facebook to hopefully be able to keep in touch with him.
One of the things that made me really angry and sad today though, was the story of a family friend of this young boy, who walked by as we were still talking. She lived in the city and worked at the tourist factory next to the gate were all cruising guests comes into Belize. The workers in this factory works for provision, meaning that the are only getting payed for the items that later are sold to the tourists. Something that have changed their situation recently is that the cruising ships have started to inform their guest of the extreme danger in the city, strongly recommending them not to walk around in the city at all, apart from where the ships’ organised bus tours might take them. This she told me results in: no pay for the workers in the factory even though there might be at least one or two full cruising ships anchoring outside the city. I do not know what possible juridical responsibility the ships have for their guest who wonder off into the wrong neighbourhoods, but to the people of Belize these kinds of recommendations have huge consequences.
During the last hour before it was time to go back to the boat for dinner, I met Pam. A man sitting outside a hotel selling palms made of coconut and when I came by were entertaining some of my classmates. My heart broke for him. At first, he could be taken for any enthusiastic man trying to sell his crafts, but I think we all sensed something was wrong. Of reflex I asked how he was doing, since this is a phrase often used as greeting amongst the students on Gunilla because of the both physical and psychological difficulties we are facing onboard. He told me his mother had died only days before and I later understood that he had tried to drain his sorrows in rom. I sat there trying to talk to him, but what could I do? I had to go back because my friends were getting impatient having to wait repeatedly all day, every time I had stopped to talk to someone, and I found it difficult finding anything helpful to say to a person that drunk and devastated.
At last we were waiting for the boat that would take us home to Gunilla and I met a wonderful, probably stray dog, which I sat down next to and patted feeling totally exhausted and heavy from all impressions and thoughts.
Back home on Gunilla we were served soup for dinner and for dessert we got semlor.
Even though this day has been difficult to handle, I still love this life! I love all my classmates; you guys are wonderful and will cry the day we graduate and won’t continue our travels and experiences together. I could not imagine a better way to learn about people and societies and I hope that the people that I have met today will remember me. Not as a burden, but as somebody that cares, because isn’t that the least we can do: to care for people?
Best wishes to you all
Ida Bloom Wrenne