Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Long Trip, Part II

The Long Trip: Part II

Our mother’s mood swings can be fun, when she is on the high part of them. My mother and I dance around the house singing and laughing, she looks beautiful with her long dark hair swinging freely and a rosy flush on her cheeks.

 “Come on TT, dance with us!" I say to my sister through fits of giggles. 

Sarah Jane wants no part of it; she is content in the corner drawing. "I'm busy," she says sternly without turning in our direction. I can't for the life of me figure out why Sarah Jane or TT, as I call her, would want to miss this fun time, but she knows something I am too young to comprehend, that these highs our mother has, are undoubtedly always followed by crushing lows. We are still having fun, we play with dolls, my mother doing different voices for each, we try on some makeup that she brought over from the States, she even picks me up over her head, and lets me pretend I am an airplane.  I am in heaven playing with her. We only stop because we are both exhausted, and she must go outside to start dinner. 

Our kitchen is just outside and to the right of our house. A gigantic tree, which must have fallen some time ago makes up our table, this is also where our father likes to sit and smoke in the evenings. A roof consisting of old pieces of siding and fencing is secured to some small surrounding trees and shelters the area from rain. Our stove is made up of an old oil barrel with the top and part of one side cut off. Broken cinder blocks are used to fill it up, and weigh it down from strong winds. Fire wood is placed on top of the cinder blocks, and a make-shift grill made of chicken wire is placed on top of the wood, for the pots and pans to sit upon. When the fire gets low, it needs someone to blow on it, so the fire can grow from the blast of oxygen. While this gets the fire going stronger and hotter, the blower usually ends up with a face full of ashes and soot, that come bursting from the stove as the air is blown in. 

Despite the primitive set up, and our father constantly telling her she cooks like a foolish white woman, our mother enjoys cooking. After playing with me for hours, she slips out to begin cooking the rice and beans for dinner. The cooking process takes a while, getting the fire started and such, so I occupy myself by drawing wonderful swirls with a crayon on paper. Sarah Jane has stopped drawing, she is sitting up stiffly looking intently at the back door, passing a little rubber ball between her hands. She is waiting for what is coming; the devastating low of our mothers mood swing. Then we hear it, a scream of pain from outside. We run out to see what happened, and find our mother holding her arm, she burnt herself as a piping hot coal fell from the stove. 

"Are you Okay Mommy?" I ask, still blissfully ignorant of what is coming. 

"No, I'm not okay! I can't do all this!" she shouts, sounding angry and panicky. She turns sharply to Sarah Jane and me; there is anger and hate in her usual gentle eyes. 

“This is your fault! Look what you did to me!" now she is screaming. "I have to cook for you and clean for your, I can't do it all!" She turns away and begins to sob. Our father is not here, he is in town, I wish he was here, he would know what to do. 

"Leave me alone! Get in the house!" she cries out between sobs. "I'm going to the river." She turns without looking at us toward the pineapple and banana tree-lined path. Sarah Jane grabs my arm firmly yet gently and guides me inside.

“Mommy is mad at us," I say through hiccups and sobs. I can see the hurt on Sarah Jane's face too, but she is holding it in. 

"She's not mad," she tell me, "She just burnt herself. Let's clean the house and that will make her happy again." 

We get to work quickly cleaning the house. We put all our clothes away in the duffle bags we use for travel and storage, we put our small collection of toys in the corner, and as I work on putting the crayons away, Sarah Jane goes outside to check on the now boiling pot of beans our mother abandoned on the stove. Minutes turn to hours as we wait for her to come back from the river. The beans finish cooking while Sarah Jane starts a smaller pot with rice. Before the rice is done, our mother returns, her eyes and lips puffy from crying. She comes up the three steps and through the door slowly, eyes cast down. We are standing in the middle of the house, I am clinging tightly to Sarah Jane's arm, and we pray she is not mad anymore. 

"The house looks wonderful," she says quietly. "You girls did a good job cleaning." 

Sarah Jane walks over to her, "Grandma told me this goes on burns." 

She hands our mother a tub of petroleum jelly. Our mother drops to her knees and throw open her arms. 

"My girls, what would I do without you?" she says. 

We both dive into her arms as she squeezes us tight. I nestle my head into her neck and take in her scent, the wonderful smell of patchouli oil. While in her arms I am sure everything is going to be alright. Though her mood is better, the cloud around her does not lift until our father returns, with a cookie for Sarah Jane and me to split and a small bottle of whiskey. This pattern became more and more frequent, until there is no money left and little food. Every night, our bellies ache so much with hunger, occasionally I crawl into Sarah Jane's lap whimpering, and she holds me, rocking me back and forth and singing a song she made up just for me. 

 We all try to be resourceful; our father goes hunting and fishing, sometimes returning with a small booty. Our mother stretches everything as far as she can and always eats last. Sarah Jane and I try to help by stalking the pineapple plants, checking them every day for signs of a ripening pineapple, ready to taste the tingly sweet juice on our tongues.

The countdown until we will leave has already started, our parents did not want to admit it, but they will not be living off the land, not this time. Now it is only a matter of time, the fights stop, they are replaced with quite whispered conversations which take place after they think we are asleep. Before long, we pack our duffel bags, put on our clothes that cover as much of our bodies from the dangerous jungle hike as possible, and begin our journey to the States. "It's just for a little while," our mother says trying to reassure herself. "We'll be back with your father in no time; he just needs some time to work out a plan." Reasons are irrelevant to me, all I can think is soon I will have Twinkies and cottage cheese again, we won't be hungry anymore, and best of all, I will be in Michigan for my fourth birthday.

This is where I feel safe and content, here on Farragut Court in Northville, Michigan. The weather is cold, there is snow covering everything, and that only makes it more wonderful. Sarah Jane and I love to play in the snow. We strap on our snowsuits, mittens, hats and scarves that have been patiently waiting for us to pull them out of the storage closet and use them. We stay out in the snow playing, building snow forts, making snow angels, and trying to get a grown up to take us to the hill a few blocks away for sledding . We stay out until the bitter arctic air has made our noses and lips numb, then still giggling and coated with clumps of snow, dash inside to run our hands under the warm water, and then return to the frozen back yard.  We must follow our grandparent’s strict rules when we stay with them, and we miss our father and the freedom we had in Belize, but the comforts and playmates that we find in Michigan make it easier to live with these rules. I think of my birthday, just a little ways away, I will get a scrumptious homemade cake, any kind I want. I think about spring, when we can put on shorts and roll down the plush grassy hill. 

For now we can gorge ourselves on Twinkies, cheese puffs and fried bologna sandwiches. It will not last; we know that it is only a matter of time. She will begin to miss him, the crying will start, the longing for her husband would become unbearable, and the panic attacks would start. Sadness and panic will overwhelm our mother, and then, we will return to our father, and the dark, mysterious jungle to which he seems anchored. For now, we will play in the snow, for now, we are secure, protected and blissful.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Long Trip, Part 1

The Long Trip, Part 1

One of my earliest clear memories is riding on my father's back, as we tracked through the Belizean jungle, the musty smell of his long dreadlocks filling my nose, and their rough texture tickling my cheek. I can see a blur of silver as the blade of his machete flies diagonally across his body while he whips it through the thick dense brush with every step. Behind me are my mother, her alabaster skin flushed pink with heat and exhaustion, and my older sister Sarah Jane, her face in a determined scowl as she makes her way through the newly cut yet still treacherous terrain. 

I have the best seat in the house, perched on my father’s back, but the long day of travel from Detroit to Belize City, then to the jungle has taken a toll on my small body. I am tired, hungry and a little hesitant of what lies ahead. After the arduous mile hike, we reach our destination, a small 15' by 15' house on stilts, sitting among the colossal trees of the rain forest. The house, which my father built by hand, is simply made of planks of wood nailed together with windows on two of the walls and doors on the other two. The planks did not fit perfectly together, so there were gaps, some of them several centimeters wide along all the walls and the floor. The roof is made of sheets of zinc overlapping and nailed together. The posts of the house are made from the trunks of a gumbo- limbo tree,  which are known for taking root and growing even after being cut down and chopped into logs.  Our posts had done just that and were sprouting small branches and leaves. 

This is now our home, not just the tiny house, but also all the land surrounding the diminutive shack. "Here we are, my sweetness’s!" my father exclaims in his Belizean­ Criol accent. 

He gently lowers me to the ground, and I quickly scramble over to my mother, who scoops me up so swiftly it gives the impression of a reflex. 

"I'll have it ready for you swiftly," he says excitedly as he disappears behind the house and reappears with a crowbar. 

The doors of the house have a large wooden board nailed across them, to prevent them from opening. He goes to work on removing the wooden board at a rapid pace, and is done fast. Despite his strong muscular frame, my father is not particularly fond of physical work, in fact he detests it. This type of job, habitually, would be accompanied by a vast amount of cursing, but he is in high spirits today, because he finally has his family back.

We entered the house as one unit, my mother still carrying me and my sister attached to her leg. My father has not told us to come in yet, but the sun has set and the heavy darkness that blankets the jungle at night is taking over. There may have been a few more scorpions, snakes and tarantulas for him to kill inside, but at least we had walls around us. 

"Do you remember this house?" my mother whispers gleefully to Sarah Jane and me. 

We do remember, Sarah Jane more so than me, because of my young age, but both of us can recall the joys and terrors of this place.

The first few days are tough and thorny. Sarah Jane and I have to adjust to a different diet and different activities; the rainforest itself has to adjust to our presence. We were the intruders, not the snakes and monkeys. We have hiked away from society and into the wilds of Belize. The nights are hard to adapt to; the jungle becomes alive with sound. The monkeys howl and birds caw, the cockroaches search for food while the scorpions search for cockroaches. Sarah Jane and I sleep close as we can to our mother, hoping nothing crawls our way in the dark of night. 

I remember my bedtime routine in Michigan, before we had left for the jungle: Sitting on my cozy twin bed in my grandparents' house, having been freshly plucked out of the sudsy warmth of the bathtub and towel dried. The smell of the Johnsons baby shampoo still fragrant in my damp hair. As my mother stuffed me into a pink fleece onesie, I began asking for my most precious item: my bummy. Bummy was my name for my book of Mother Goose rhymes, no one knows why I chose that name, but since I could speak, I had been demanding my bummy, I am told it was one of my first words. Sarah Jane and my mother would begin their nightly search for my bummy - under the bed, behind the toy chest, in the closet. Each of them scurrying around fast and franticly, as my demands for the book  grew louder and louder. Once found, all three of us would pile in my twin bed and begin to read, I knew each poem by heart, and would soon drift to sleep with the gentle rhymes floating in my dreamy mind. 

Now, in Belize, bedtime is different, our entire house is not much bigger than the room Sarah and I shared at my grandparents. We cannot take a bath at night, because all our bathing is either done in Cacao creek, the heavily canopied river just about 100 yards in front of our house or with water hauled from the river in a bucket. Whichever way, bathing is done during the heat of the day and even then, the cool water would cause goose bumps to spring up on our brown little backs. For bedtime, we are dressed in sleeveless nightgowns as we listen to the howler monkeys and the crickets chatter outside. As Sarah Jane and I roll out the large piece of foam we use for a mattress, our mother gets my bummy out. One nice thing about such a small house, we never have to search for my bummy. While our father sits outside listening to the radio and smoking a joint, the three of us pile into bed, and begin to read the comforting words of Mother Goose. Sarah Jane knows the rhymes by heart too, and will sometimes say a few of them, with her sweet, soothing voice coating my ears; I drift into safe happy dreams.

He was a natural born entertainer, so our father will always find ways to make Sarah Jane and I laugh. Singing songs he simply makes up as he goes or telling us action packed fairytales of Anansi the spider. Our favorite form of entertainment is what we call the "noodle dance," Stark naked; he dances wildly and shakes about the house, laughing at himself with every ridiculous movement. We cannot contain ourselves, within just a few seconds of the dance, we are belly laughing, rolling around on the rigid wooden floor, barely able to breathe. Our mother tries to maintain composure as long as she can but before long, she is on the floor laughing just as hard as us. We solicit him for a story or song or the noodle dance almost every night, but if the mood was not right, he remains outside, smoking and grumbling about "no peace and quiet with girls" and "too much rass," pretending not to hear us. Rass is the Belizean word for BS, and one of my father’s all-time favorites.

Except for the few pineapple plants and banana trees, there are not much grows on our  land, so our father goes to Punta Gorda town to get food and supplies once every two weeks. They want to live off the land, he and my mother, but as of yet the only action towards this goal has been planting a few fruit trees and hibiscus bushes around the property. He is usually in a bad mood when it is time to go to town, firstly due to arguments about money. The money we have is what our mother was able to save during our last stay in Michigan. Secondly, because the trip to town is long and straining. After he hikes the mile out of the jungle, which takes anywhere from 30 minutes to and an hour, depending on what the jungle has in store for him, he waits on the side on the dirt road, sun beating down on him, for a truck to come by so he can "hail a ride." If he is lucky, this kind stranger will take him all the way to PG town, but sometimes the driver is headed to another town like Dangrigia, or Orangewalk, and can only take him part of the way. Once dropped off, he must again wait on the side of the dusty road, grime sticking to his now sweat-coated clothes, for another willing driver to help him finish the journey. 

Once in town, things drastically improve. Everyone in town knows "Congo Charlie" and is thrilled to have him back among them. He uses his natural charisma to enchant the  locals with harrowing, sometimes tall tales of jungle life. Everywhere he turns he hears "Charlie! Charlie, I have smoke for you" or "Charlie! Have a drink with me!" Although the journey to town and back can be done in one day, he almost always stays longer. The free pot to smoke, beer and rum to drink, and an open invitation to stay at the local brothel tend to draw him in for a few days, but he will always come back to us. 

Finally, he returns, getting dropped off by his ride, whomever he was able to find this time, on the dirt road, then making the mile hike back to his family. We can hear him calling to us from far away, and all of us come running, standing at the edge of the thick brush, waiting for him to appear in his straw hat. Our mother is as excited as she can be. 

"It’s him, I can hear him! Your father is back!" she exclaims, like a teenage girl about to meet her idol. 

As soon as he sees us, he drops all his bags and runs over. 

"Sweetness’s! Daddy's heartstrings!" he declares, and he lifts both Sarah Jane and me up and twirls us around. 

He smells of marijuana and stale booze, a musk he wears so often, it brings me comfort, it is the smell of my daddy. From his journey he always comes back with gossip about what was going on in town, large bags of rice and beans, a chicken which is just starting to thaw after the long journey, plus a new supply of marijuana and a bottle of rum, which will keep him content until his next trip.

The money does not last long. This means supply trips to town get less frequent, which means more time together and less food, which means more fighting. More fighting means more crying and more mood swings for our mother. During the really ghastly fights, Sarah Jane and I stay outside. In front of the house we distract ourselves by playing with our rag dolls and the happy apple, a plastic apple with a smiley face that rocked back and forth and played out-of-tune music. Our father storms out of the house, and heads towards the path out of the jungle, without so much as a glance at us girls. Grumbling words like "that honkey white bitch" and "fuckin' rass" under his breath, he plunges into the jungle, machete twirling in front of him. As soon as he leaves, our mother's mental stability begins to deteriorate. 

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Summer Meetings

May 1984-zooming along I 696 in my mother’s dirt brown Buick. Bob Marley and the Whalers were wailin’ on the cassette player. The windows were all open, letting in the much anticipated spring air. I was enjoying how the wind was playing in my hair, causing it to whip wildly in the air above my head and brushing the ceiling of the car. The frantic energy of the wind matched the mix of excited emotions inside me.

I was going to see my best sisters. 

Sarah and Rosie....

I came up in the bourgeois public school system of Birmingham Michigan, and coming there from a once rural, and extremely counter culture farm life... needless to say kids thought I was quirky at best. To say that I had crowds of friends would just be a lie....but that was ok, because I always knew that I had Sarah and Rosie. I looked forward to their letters filled with stories about their dogs, and chickens....fantastic tales of imaginary characters (based mostly on the misadventures of their chicken population). I loved hearing about the exotic fruits and plants that they had where they lived. 

There is a fruit there called Craboo. I always wanted to know what it tasted like, because my sisters insisted that the taste defied description. It all seemed very exciting to me to live in the jungle. I had lived in the northern woods in a cabin and tents during my earliest years, and missed the life of nature and endless play that I had become accustomed to. The banal suburban existence that was placed in my path was mild at best in my mind compared to the extraordinary life in which my dearest friends still lived.

My partners in crime lived in Belize Central America for the majority of the time. While they enjoyed themselves because, of course, they were children, and children find any way to entertain themselves in any situation, it was a very difficult life for them sometimes. There were many times that Charles, their father would disappear for days with the understanding that he was going to get much needed provisions. Sometimes he came back with food, but it was hardly ever enough to feed their growing family. 

I was never sheltered from the knowledge of how difficult their life was. Nor was I ever allowed to take for granted all of the privileges that I had been given. While most children were being told "Eat that broccoli, there are starving children in Africa who would LOVE to have that!" I was being told "Eat that broccoli, your best friends are starving in Belize and would LOVE to have that." Even as a small child, I knew that it was true.

Even so...I fantasized about climbing trees, swimming in the clear blue pools of the river, visiting Mayan ruins, and talking to fairies in the jungle with them...This is where they lived. It was another world from me....seemingly a fantasy land, filled with magical creatures and fascinating mysteries.

But...when reality reared its ugly head, and somebody needed a dentist or, Na, their mother and my mother’s best friend, would need to see a Doctor. They would come to the States and stay in Northville with their grandparents, Grandma and Grandpa Burr. I was closer with them than I ever had been to my own biological grandparents. They were wonderful yet strict and structured people. When I went there, I would have to make sure to "be a good guest". 

No problem!
This is where we were driving now! I was 8 years old, Sarah almost 10, and Rosie 7. The three of us together spun stories that defy understanding to anyone but ourselves. We had our own language (still do, we call it gypsy). When they were here, my life was my world with them.

A magical place where everything was possible. We would lose ourselves in the intricate characters that we would invent. Sometimes we were wandering orphans, fending for ourselves in abandoned buildings....many times in actual abandoned buildings that we would claim as a temporary club house. Then we could be mermaids escaping from a hungry giant, who wanted nothing better than to tuck in to some good ole mermaid stew. Other times we were wolves, searching for the perfect spot to build our den for our new litters of pups. Then there were....the Barbie games! They were by far better than any soap opera that anybody had ever seen.

This is who my mother was taking me to see today! 
It had been easily a year since we had seen each other last...maybe longer. 
It hadn't occurred to me that my mother may be just as excited as I was to see her best friend as well. 

I was wearing an orange and white striped pinafore with my favorite white patent leather shoes and white tights. My hair was down and long. The wind had formed it into a "devil may care" sort of style, and I was ready! I was ready to see my friends! 
As the car pulled into the large immaculate driveway, suddenly an emotion came over me that I wasn't prepared for. 

The emotion was fear. 

What if they didn't like me anymore? What if they were better friends with each other and I wouldn't fit into their games anymore? How would we greet each other? Would we hug? Would we squeal and jump around each other and grab and clutch and hug and kiss and be excited (like we do now)? Or would we stay calm and feel each other out?

It had been easily a year since we had seen each other. So much can change.

I realized that I had actually been biting the back of the head rest of the driver side seat in front of me, leaving dozens of little dimples in the upholstery behind my mother’s head. My dad would not be happy....oh well.

We walked up the flower lined walkway towards the wooden door of the condo where Grandma and Grandpa lived. My heart started beating faster and faster. 

This was it. I was going to play with my friends!

The door opened and Grandma Burr smiled down at me warmly. She grabbed me and hug me tight, as though she had seen and granddaughter that she hadn't seen for years. I felt so welcomed by her.  I still didn't see my friends though. Suddenly, I heard thundering footsteps! My sister Sarah came bounding down the stairs followed very quickly by little Rosie, but stopped before they reached the bottom of the stairs.

I looked at Sarah and recognized the outfit she had on. Pink shorts that were once mine before my well-fed body grew out of them, and a white T shirt that we had painted together with glitter and puff WAS the 80's after all. I loved those shorts but, as usual my clothes looked better on her than they did on me. I noticed that they DID look like they had been going hungry. Skinny legs and arms. Clothing fell loose on Rosie’s tiny frame.

Sarah stood looking at me with what I'm sure were the same fears that I had about our reunion. They both seemed nervous, but ecstatic at the same time. Who knows how long they were going to be here this time, or how long they would be gone once they inevitably were taken away again.

They were here! Now! I was looking at them! My life had begun again! I got to be a mermaid again! Sarah would of course control the games, being the oldest, but I never minded. She always came up with the greatest games. My sisters were home!

I would spend every weekend with them until school let out, and then once summer vacation began, we would be together for at least the next 2 months straight. Standing in the middle of the stairs with giant beaming smiles on their faces, Rosie and Sarah peered at me between the rungs of the bannister.  Sarah looked at me. With an excited, smiling ring to her voice, that still makes my heart smile to this day, she said with ultimate joy, "HI RACHEL!"

Every summer that my sisters were with me was the greatest summer of my life.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Creation Myth, Part 2

My father was a native Belizean. Born and raised in the colony of British Honduras, he left just before it was granted self-government in 1964. He used to say Belize will always call you back.

In 1973, Charles Douglas Forman was 26 and just off the plane. He was the prodigal son, returning to his homeland after years in North America. His afro was neat and low and he could speak English with a nearly perfect American accent. Well dressed and handsome, with a magnetic smile and perfectly cleft chin, he had come to dazzle his former squad of street urchins with James Brown inspired dance moves.

My dad’s parents, Leone Mason and Charles Forman were not married.  In fact, my dad was what Belizeans call a shalleye baby. A shalleye baby is, essentially, a child born out of wedlock.  When the mother presents the baby to the purported father he asks “shall I claim him, or shall I deny him?” Thus the name shalleye.

My grandmother says that on the day she delivered my father there was another woman in the hospital who was also pregnant with the child of Charles Forman, my grandfather.  Grandpa had a way with the ladies.  At the time (and still somewhat today) it was not uncommon in Belize for a married man to have multiple shalleye babies with other women.  There is even a Belizean folk song about it.

Shalleye baby/ dat a shalleye pikni/ I no pikni daddy\dat a shalleye baby

But it is not easy growing up as a shalleye baby. GrandpaForman was a relatively wealthy Creole man but he did very little to help my father. Grandma Leone was left to raise him and her other children, by several different men, on her own. She lived on Raccoon street in a wooden colonial-style house they was slowly succumbing to the heat and humidity of the tropics. To make ends meet, Leone put her children to work roasting and then shelling raw cashew nuts which she and uncle Bluebeard sold at market. The acid from the cashew shells burned my fathers little hands after long hours shelling the nuts.

By sixth grade, Charles had dropped out of school and was hustling full time for a living.  My grandmother tired to discipline him by sending him to work for uncle Bluebeard, who had a cart from which he vended nuts, shaved ice, and fruit. Bluebeard was an ill-tempered alcoholic who went heavy on the belt. He violently beat my father on a regular basis. Although beating children was part of the culture, Bluebeard didn’t know when to stop. He would leave my father with bleeding, broken skin that formed gnarled scars on his backside. Eventually the scars on his skin faded, but the ones that had cut deeper never did.

When he was old enough, Charles escaped Bluebeards clutches and went back to live with his Mother. He landed a coveted job as a waiter at the tony Fort George Hotel. The Fort George was a bastion of colonial values. Business men and colonial types kicked back in the white wicker chairs on its ocean-side porch and speak of their affairs in the Queens English while sipping lemon and cane juice from an impeccably sparkling class, hand-shined tableside by a grinning black boy.

At the Fort George, my father learned how to cater to the needs of the rich, white men who were quickly impressed with his wit, charm and attention to detail. There was one man in particular, a Canadian business man, who took a liking to the young Charles Forman. The Canadian had considerable wealth, but no children of his own, so he enjoyed lavishing attention onto Charlie, as he called my dad. These were halcyon days in the life of the colony, and they were about to come to an end.

On October 31, 1961 Hurricane Hattie made landfall just south of Belize City. Powerful Hattie was a category five storm. She devastated the city. Gale force winds tore apart buildings. Even the hurricane shelters where people had been evacuated to were destroyed. A storm tide surged up to the third floor of any buildings that did remain standing. Hundreds of people died and the city was in ruins. When the waters receded, the stench of death rose from the rubble. Thousands of survivors swarmed the streets for days digging in the crumbled ruins in search of any kind of food. My grandmother and her children survived, but my father had lost faith in the colonial authorities who, in spite of ample warnings, seemed unprepared for the wrath of Hattie and aloof in their relief efforts after the storm.

The Canadian returned shortly after Hattie struck to survey the damage and check on Charlie’s wellbeing. Perhaps he saw the desperation in the young man’s eyes, or was overcome by the crushing blow Hattie had dealt to the city he so loved and its residents. Whatever the reason, he offered my father what he had been praying for: a future without bluebeard, hurricanes, poverty, and colonial oppression. Charlie was to come live with him in faraway Canada. My father jumped at the chance. So, like me, my father was 14 years old when he got his one-way ticket out of Belize.

He didn’t look back until 1973.

My mother was wearing a white caftan that was nearly see-through as she stood in at the fruit stall in Market Square.  She had never bought a mango before and the woman at the stall was giving her a hard time. The locals did not quite know what to make of this strange nearly naked white woman with a backpack. 

But my father knew.