Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Little Harvest Caye, Part II

"TT threw KiKi down the pee hole!"  I scream.
It's true, my sister Sarah has tossed KiKi, her beloved stuffed panda bear down the one of the two "pee holes" in the floor of our house on Little Harvest Caye.  Although we never use these holes for said activity, down on the moist sandy earth beneath our stilted little house is a horrible place for sweet KiKi.  It's all my fault that KiKi is down there, lying on her back, her black and white panda face still smiling up at us.  Sarah is trying to finish her schoolwork, she is doing math, her least favorite subject.  I just want her to be done, so we can go play outside and explore our island.  Because we are surrounded by the vast ocean, our mother likes Sarah and me to stay together.  So until Sarah gets though her math homework, I am landlocked inside.  I usually spend school work time drawing or coloring or singing songs with my mother, but today she is spending all her time helping Sarah with her math problems.  As impatience sets in, I begin telling  Sarah to hurry up, and asking her questions I already know the answer to, doing my well-rehearsed routine as an annoying little sister.  Soon I start gathering up all of our stuffed animals and dolls and pilling them near Sarah.  When I add KiKi to the ever growing pile, Sarah snaps.
Leave me alone!"  She shouts, and hurls KiKi through the hole with impressive aim.
Sarah is frustrated, I am distressed, and our mother looks like she is trying hold back laughter.  The drama doesn't seem as serious to her, she seems to think within 15 minutes of this disaster, my TT and I will be giggling and singing as we scamper off to see what adventures Little Harvest Caye has for us today.  After I rescue KiKi from under the house, and bring her back inside, Sarah and I laugh at how funny "TT threw KiKi down the pee hole" sounds, and before we know it, our mother is right.
We did have our share of near disasters on Little Harvest Caye.  Our boat, the " Sarah Jane", drifted  from where it was docked twice.  If my father hadn't swam strong and fast to retrieve it, we would have been stranded.  Once during a bad storm, the ocean swallowed up nearly our entire island, and huge waves washed away our newly planted vegetable garden.  The one true disaster came when my father’s new, expensive fish trap was stolen.  That fish trap was how my father was supposed to make money.  He would catch fish and sell on the mainland.  All of our family savings had been spent in preparing to move to Little Harvest Caye, so making money is essential.  Without this trap, my father is still able to catch plenty of fish for the family to eat, but nowhere near enough to sell.

With tensions between my parents growing, our time on this magical little island is coming to an end.  Sarah and I still play blissfully in the sand and in the mangrove trees, wearing our island uniform; underpants.  A shrub by our house looks like an underwear tree, because my mother uses it to dry our freshly washed underpants from the days before.  Sheets, clothes and especially underpants dry quickly on our windy and sunny island.  One of our favorite adventures is finding starfish by the ocean shore.  With their bright colors and textured exterior, they are the perfect accessory for little girls to toss around.  But too soon our days on Little Harvest Caye come to an end.  We pack up all our belongings, and Anelliot, our cat into our little boat.  My father starts the motor and hoists the sails, which were sewn by hand by my mother, and we are on the way.  On the way to where I don't know.  Will we have a house?  Will there be lots of snakes? Will we have enough to eat?  Will my father stay with us? Will I ever see Little Harvest Caye again?  All this uncertainty makes me worry, but as I watch Little Harvest Caye grow smaller and smaller in the distance Sarah puts her arm around me and I know every thing is going to be alright, no matter where our next adventure takes us.
-Rosanna Forman

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Little Harvest Caye, Part I

I am perched in a mangrove tree, a few feet off the ground.  I am four years old, wearing only underpants, and not fully sure how I am getting down after this climb, but I feel safe, at home and happy.  In front of me is the sapphire blue ocean, partially blocked by the thick winding branches and green leaves of the mangrove.  I feel the warm sun and salty sea breeze on my body.  Below me is the wet sand and long roots of the mangrove.  Above me is my older sister, Sarah, whom I call TT.  She is also in her underpants, and much higher than I am in the mangrove tree.  Sarah tells me step by step where to put my feet and hands as I climb higher and higher, until we both reach our goal; a clearing in the mangrove where we can see beyond it. 

We can see the vast ocean in all her greatness, and in the distance, we can see a silhouette of trees and brush; it is another little island.  It looks so small, just a little blob in the ocean, yet in reality, that island in the distance is about three times the size of the one we are on.  My mother, my father, Sarah and I live on a tiny, minuscule island called Little Harvest Caye which is about two nautical miles away from Placencia, a peninsula along the Southern coast of Belize.  We are the only four humans on Little Harvest Caye, which is approximately the size of an average suburban lot.  For me at four years old, this place is utopia.  I have my father to protect us, my mother to love and care for us, and Sarah, my one and only TT, to play with, explore with, and to protect me from our parents when we get into trouble. 

My father takes trips on his small boat, named the "Sarah Jane", to Placencia for supplies; rice, beans, and, most importantly, fresh water.  Fresh water is so precious our mother has Sarah and me spend most days in our underwear so she has less clothes to wash.  My father is a gifted fisherman, so we always have more than enough fish to eat.  Fruits and vegetables are a little harder to come by.  Nothing edible grows on our island, and since the nearest port is a sandy peninsula, fruits and vegetables from the mainland are expensive.  However at four, I am just fine with only having some cabbage or a banana once and a while. 

We have a cat named Anelliot, a spunky little tomcat who chases lizards and is always willing to go for a swim.  We have a tiny house, only about 20 feet by 20 feet, which my father built himself.  While building the house he ran out of wood, and money for wood, so our house has two holes in the floor, each about 2 square feet, and about 1 foot apart from each other.  The house is on stilts, so we all have to be careful to walk around the two holes.  When we first moved to the house I asked if there were holes in the floor so we could go pee through them.  My mother and Sarah thought that was so funny that from then on we call them" the pee holes".  Our house is small, but we hardly spend any time inside.  The only things that keep us inside are nighttime, rain, or Sarah's schoolwork. 

Once we get out, Sarah and I spend our days exploring, usually with Anelliot nearby hunting lizards.  Although we can walk around the entire island in a few minutes, Little Harvest Caye is full of ever changing surprises and secrets.  My father has heard stories that pirates had buried treasure on Little Harvest Caye many years ago, and this is the prize he covets.  While Sarah and I enjoy the tales of lost treasure, we are most enamored by the surprises that nature brings us.  The size of the island is always changing, depending on the tide, and with the tide comes a never ending supply of exotic sea life, just waiting to be poked with sticks by two very curious little girls. 

The best part is the mangrove trees, a small forest of salt water loving trees at the intersection of land and sea.  With their tall roots, the mangrove trees grow out over the shallow water beyond Little Harvest Caye.  The mangrove trees are where Sarah and I love to be the most.  As Sarah and I stand in the trees we gaze at the tiny island in the distance, and wonder if there is a family like ours living on that island.  From what our parents tell us, no one lives there, but we like to imagine, maybe there is a castle on that island, which is appropriately named Big Harvest Caye.  Maybe a princess who has a horse, and has a closet full of dresses.  We always imagine grand scenarios, pretending beyond the thicket of mangroves on Big Harvest Caye is a vast kingdom, just out of our reach.  I love talking about what could be there behind those trees, but the only place I want to be is here, climbing trees in my underpants with Sarah, watching the sunset.



- Rosanna Forman




Thursday, March 6, 2014

THE PRISONER



I want to tell something of the sea.  Something of madness and infinite blue.  A story of distance and longing that no longer needs words because that pain has seeped into our souls.  The souls of black folk.  The souls of survivors.  The souls of colonized people.

It was the end of the colony.  Not because we put up a fight, but because the sun had officially set on the British Empire.  I was six years old.  Yet even after independence the vestiges of conquest lingered like the brown smoke from a brush fire on a hot, still day.  For example: stilted bungalows with wide, jutting verandahs and jaunty whitewashed shutters succumbing slowly to tropical decay or the penchant, among Belizean criols, for tea and biscuits in the afternoon.  Nothing says “I am colonized” quite like a black person in Central American eating tea and biscuits.  There were also the soldiers, buzzing about in harrier jets, loudly playing war games with dynamite in the Black Hills, and occasionally impregnating the local beauties while keeping our menacing neighbor Guatemala at bay.  We spoke the Queen’s English.  We measured distance in miles.  We sang God save the keeping-an-eye-on-it-all -herself Queen Elizabeth, who stared out with a Mona Lisa smile from every pink, green or purple bill that we were lucky enough to get our hands on.
But for me, the most important colonial trapping was the British Forces Broadcasting Service.  BFBS, my link to the world.  Broadcasting beautiful, British voices clear across the Atlantic Ocean.  Accomplishing in seconds what it took the Conquistadors decades to achieve: transatlantic mind control.  I was hooked on the soothing nasal tones of Simon Guettier as he played all the biggest Brit pop hits.  Yaz and the Plastic Population, Rick Astley, Duran Duran.

And then there was the news.  Music was an escape, but the news brought it all, good and bad, into the small, humble shack that we called home.  In the evening, as we sipped piping hot lemon grass flavored with raw cane sugar and powdered milk (when we had it) we listened to the BBC world news.  As darkness and the fierce cacophony of insects and animals rose from the jungle outside, I was transported into the larger world of politics, economics and law.  Because my father took the news seriously we all took it seriously, listening intently to the events of the day in London, Buenos Aires, New York, New Delhi and South Africa.
Of all the news stories, the one that carried me furthest was the one about the prisoner.  His name was Nelson Mandela and he had already been in prison for nearly twice as long as I had been living.  Why would anyone put a man in prison for so long?  What terrible thing had he done?  My sense of justice was only just forming.  My father helped shape it as he railed up against the “European” oppressors in South Africa who were afraid of the voice of the people who were native to the lands.  If it is their land, why should other people tell them what to do?

As I grew older, I began to understand the situation more.  I realized that Nelson Mandela stood for freedom - not just for the people of South Africa but for anyone who knew oppression.  And I felt oppressed.  By then, Belize was an independent nation, but it was hard to tell.  The soldiers, the radio, the Queen staring up from the five dollar bill:  by the mid-1980s we were still a colonized people.   Meanwhile, news of Mandela kept coming, even when the small battery powered radio required tin foil to be wrapped around the broken antennas to transmit a semi-clear signal.  Mandela was sent to a small, remote island.  Protests broke out.  The government cracked down.  Soon, even Simon Guettier was involved.  He played Stevie Wonder’s “I just called to say I love” on his show.  I love you, Nelson Mandela, because you are fighting for us all. 

In the year I am preparing to leave Belize, things are changing.   It is spring in the Toledo valley, rainforest trees blossom and the thirsty clay soil cracks like a jigsaw puzzle in the heat.  From the hill where we live, I can see the great blue of the ocean twenty miles way.  I cannot see England.  I cannot see South Africa.  I cannot see the United States of America.  And though I try, I cannot see freedom, either.  But I know that it is out there, somewhere, in the world.  I know it is out there because Nelson Mandela, from his prison cell, has told me so.


On February 11, 1990 Nelson Mandela is released from prison.  The event is big news, but no particular cause for celebration in the home of my mother’s parents, where I live in the United States after leaving Belize.  Alone in the quiet of my room that night, I listen to the crickets chirping in the damp Florida night and cry.  I long for lemon grass tea, the BBC news crackling over the radio accompanied by my father’s grumbling commentary, and my little siblings.  Especially Rosie, who didn’t really care for the news anyway.  Nelson Mandela is free and so am I – yet why do I feel so alone?