Another side of Paradise

Relaxing at River House Lodge on the Sittee River



This is for the haters. And the lovers, too. For those who imagined our death and devastation on Mexican roads. And for those who envisioned us sunning beachside. This is also for me because don’t we all have a bit of hater and lover in us? Parts of us that lounge in illusion and dwell in fear?

Our lives here are real ones, not solo-steeped in fantasy or fright. There is sun and fierce hurricane winds. There is kindness – the kind of kindness that inspires suspicion and inquiry: Am I ever this nice? – and rude xenophobia. There are amazing sunsets and chirping mornings, moonlit loneliness and nights buzzing with blood-hungry insects. There is paradise and there is not.

This morning finds us on the Sittee River. It’s a still, seemingly motionless ribbon of olive green. Surely life teems below its calm surface. We slept at the River House Lodge, the only guests. It is us, a Canadian manger named Cheryl, a Belizean tour guide named Lucky and two dogs about the place. Palm and orange trees artfully dot the yard. They have an indoor pool! And a full riverside view. It is serene…and it’s a bit like camping. A strange woodsy smell in the room. (Praise God for mosquito coils – our new gotta-have staple) that disappears when we light the earthy incense of repellent. There are beds with thick floral duvets. A simple sink. Portable fridge. Staple cutlery.

And the cool air of a Belizean cold front.

We came to witness the celebration of Nov. 19 – Garifuna Settlement Day, a national holiday. It commemorates the day brave, determined Garifuna sailed to Belize after being kicked out of St. Vincent (where they traveled in the 1400s as seafaring, trading West Africans) by the British and Spanish Honduras by the Spanish. They came to Belize as Africans who were never enslaved; about 2,000 arrived as “free blacks.” The white slave owners in Belize did their best to ostracize them from the enslaved Africans. They called them wild “devil-worshippers.” They made Garifuna slink indoors after 6 p.m. They convinced the African Kriol that their brethren were war-like and a different kind of black. Today, the Garifuna celebrate their culture with radiating pride. Zuberi drove the Tewog crew two hours from home to feel some of that pro-African love.

The rain sent folk huddling under tents in Dangriga. It didn’t keep others in Hopkins from drumming on the beach. Of course the Atlantic beckoned the girls. They dipped their feet, wet their bottoms and enjoyed the water even on a gray day. We tried hudut, a traditional meal of pounded sweet plantain and fish stewed in coconut milk. We also chomped on fists of fried fish, drank strange-flavored sugar drinks and tortilla chips.

Indecision gripped us: Where is the party? Where do we find it? What’s going on? Zuberi made a great point: our American-ness makes us hunger for schedules, event lists and formal organization. Popping up wherever the drum sounds and buying meals from the roadside pots push us from our comfort zones into a “get-in-where-you-fit-in” mode. I am uncomfortable with it, Zuberi is waaay more adventurous.

Then we arrived here. In the quiet. Expected. Somewhat on schedule (“Oh, just pay when you get here,” advised Cheryl, the Canadian) The roads between this lodge and Ladyville were mostly good but when they were bad, they were horrid. A somewhat solution for those nearly nine months pregnant: Place one leg under your butt and pray your leg absorbs most of the jostling. Also: Praise the Guut Lawd every four minutes for the majesty of the amniotic sac that can protect life even while bouncing up and down, up and down along a road pitted with potholes.

The girls & Baba swam in the chilly indoor pool. We drank a pineapple grapefruit drink. We got the Belizean rate because we live here, in Belize! Cheryl made us French fries and popcorn. We all watched “Holes” and survived 30 minutes of the sexualized- potty humor of “The Nutty Professor.” We all zonked out by 8:30 p.m. Unfortunately, so did the mosquito coils. Zenani fell off the bed. My belly shook with discomfort. We all rose by 6 a.m.

A traditional Belizean breakfast awaits us at 8 a.m.: Scrambled eggs, mashed black beans, fry jack (Belizean beignets) and freshly-squeezed fruit juice.

Before then, we’ll slide on galoshes and walk around this jungly, rainforesty place. We’ll let the dogs bark and run around us. We will slap morning mosquitoes and sand flies, sleuthing for breakfast. We will stare at the Sittee as though it’s the only river we’ve ever seen. Zenani will insist she sees crocodiles. Yemu and SaSa may marvel at the greenish oranges on the trees. Zuberi may be landlocked with sneakers on.

We will do what ‘Bolas do: make the best of it all in this place that is paradise – and not.

And then we’ll head back to Dangriga and follow the sound of the drums.