365 Days and Counting…

Tasneem & the girls - including lovely Titilayo - at Caye Caulker.

We have been in Belize for a full year. Words easy to type; tough to talk.
Friends: For real, though? A full year?
Us: Mmmhmm, we left Central New York a bit more than a year ago. We came seeking sun and sensation and we have gotten all of that…and more.
Friends: It feels like you’ve been gone a coupla years.
Us: You telling us! We been here a Black English MINUTE!
Friends: What’s a year in Belize feel like?
Us:Check out the list and you’ll see how much a family can learn in 365 sunsets.

We’ve Been Here Long Enough to…

1. Understand Kriol: Win we da di cah heah, we heah di Kriol taak and we di sey, “Wha? Wha she di say? Wha he di say?” And now. We unastan. It no eazee, cuz we eas no use to da soun. But now we eas shif and we tong, it di loose up. And we eyes no di look crazee win we lissen. It take time, time, no true? But we get betta, a lee bit betta, and unastanin soon com. Unu unastan? (Need translation? Talk to Yemu or SaSa; they are quick-fast Kriol queens.)

2. Realize that iguanas ain’t really that cute. They are still a work of divine magnificence just as any lizard of camouflage. (Ever realize how their thin, striped tails perfectly mimic fronds of the palm and coconut tree?) But…they ate up our garden and for that they are now off the “cute yard creature” list. I won’t say we aim to kill them. But when we attempt the next planting, we will handle our bidness. You feel me?

3. Admit that all sunshine ain’t sweet. Being from CNY kinda messes with a human’s natural love of the sun. Us Syracuse folk are so deprived we flock to every ray, we rock flip-flops even if it’s sunny in February. But the sun has levels and we never really appreciated them until now. There is “bask in the sunshine” sun and there is “Whiten your whites” sun and there is”Fool! Get the he$# out the sun!” sun. We never used an umbrellas as sunshields, until now.

4. Accept the sweat. Vanity departed long ago. No attempts at cuteness can compete with heat. I don’t care how flawless your make-up or how smooth your linen. At some point (for us, it begins minutes after waking and ends during sleep) sweat will streak your face, your back, your chest. You won’t “glow,” you’ll drip. Your clothes will stick. Trickles of sweat will tickle your calves. You’ll learn that elbows and knees, dang even your earlobes!, have sweat glands. At first, you wonder if you have an endocrine problem. And then you look around and see wet faces. And you learn to do as they do: Tote a sweat cloth, sop up the drips and keep on movin’.

5. Be honest. When we first got here, we were too enamored with the exotic to out-right moan about some stuff we felt wasn’t right. We swallowed – many times – our grievances and tagged them as “cultural differences.” Today, we say some stuff is foul, in any country, in any language, with any people. Period.
For example: Tossing trash on the ground is called “littering.” It ain’t cultural. It makes the neighborhood look trashy and clogs our environmental pores. Period.
Demanding American motorists pay at a traffic stop for an infraction is “bribing.” It ain’t cultural; it’s wack and illegal and – even though it kept us out of jail – creates a sad stereotype of Central America.
Also, routinely cutting folks in line at grocery stores is rude. It ain’t cultural; it’s disrespectful. You see 15 people in line? Well, go’on get in the back and wait quietly like the rest of us.

6. Enjoy a gray day. Overcast skies in Syracuse used to bring us down, down, down. But in a place where the sun shines 95% of the time, a little rain and clouds makes us feel mellow and relaxed. Of course, rain also tends to bring a bit of cool breeze. Maybe, though, just maybe, it also drizzles us with memories of home.

7. Make friends. We got people! The kind of folks who travel a few hours to Guatemala, see that girls t-shirts and socks are on sale and call us at home, in Belize, to see if we’d like a few. Sweet. We got come-to-my-parent’s-house-my-Mama-is-makin-that-chicken-you-like kind of friends. We got I-got-you-a-ticket-to-the-comedy-show-I’ma-scoop-you-in-10 kind of friends. And, gyal-weh-u-pon-dey? (Where you at?) kind of friends. We got people! It feels good…and reminds us of home.

8. Find out the truth about travel. Jon Kabat-Zinn, meditation maestro, is right! “Wherever you go,” doggone it!, “there you are.” More sun doesn’t totally reduce stress. Caribbean culture doesn’t totally wipe out worry. No amount of fresh fruit and ocean breeze can totally bring peace if your mind isn’t ripe for it. We been here a minute and come to realize that good living comes from good thinking. How we perceive life reflects how we receive it. We didn’t need to drive alllll the way down here to figure this out but isolation, experience and the Divine bring lessons when you’re ready to listen. We ready! Lawd, we ready!

9. Feel high and low. I have praised the Belize sunrise and also wished to be “back home” by sunset. I have stood in our backyard quietly inhaling all the beauty and also driven, in angst, so fast I have seen nothing to note. I have thanked God for this experience and also summoned sleep with memories of sitting on my mother’s bed talking happily about everything and nothing at all. I have fully been here and also been miles away in my mind: Praising and praying; exalting and complaining; accepting and deflecting. I used to wonder if I could catch a mood and keep it forever. Could I ever be eternally grateful? Or consumed with joy? We been here long enough to grasp the truth: And this, too, shall pass.

10. Give us free. I could write all about the bad stuff about Zuberi and the girls that I wish I could change. And they could write about me. (The girls: “Sometimes you yell too much.” Zuberi: “You want everything just how YOU want it.”) But after a year away from the distractions of home and family and year spent learning how to amuse ourselves in the midst of loneliness and quiet, we seem to be maturing as a family. We seem to be surrendering to the crazylovechaosconfusioncreativity that makes us the Tewogbolas. We bicker and bawl and tickle and taunt and perform and procrastinate and daydream and dawdle and rush and relax and scream and shush and cuddle and coddle and forget and forgive and laugh and love and…live. We trying to “give us free!” (C’mon Amistad!) Freedom to be ourselves and proclaim each other lovable, anyway.

We still here. Still living on Flamboyant Drive in Ladyville, Belize. Still, on occasion, missing the coolness, and coolness, u dig?, of snow. Still, shocked by daily sunshine. Still, loving swimming in cool, clear rivers and floating in the sea.

We still here. Realizing that this ain’t quite home but that we create home wherever we are, as long as we’re together.


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