Letter from Belize no. 66
20th July 2017
First of all an enormous and sincere Thank You to those of you who responded to our appeal in the last letter and have given us a bit of a life line which means that, again like the 1st World War, we will definitely still be around after Christmas.
This has been a remarkable month both at the Retreat and in Corozal.
The Corozal House of Culture has excelled itself.
It initiated the formation of a team of young men to play poktapok, a Maya ball game using a solid rubber ball which is passed back and forth using one’s hip. This is a gentler version. In its day the game was sometimes played between avenging opponents and could lead to death.
Click on any of these photos for a larger view
It organised a ‘Summer Art Wave’ which included a “Let’s go play Maya” programme for 7 to 12 year olds run by our very own Roy, Adam, Adela and Christina, all of whom attend our meditations. The children learned Maya songs, Maya language, Maya stories and apparently it was fantastic.
Then there was Ancient World Week which has become an annual event where visiting archeologists and local historians tell us more about the Maya; the remarkable story of the Santa Rita murals; the excavations ongoing at Aventura (the enormous ancient city south of Corozal); and the link between Aventura and the sites of Santa Rita in Corozal and Cerro Maya across the bay from Corozal. There were some fabulous presentations including a fascinating one about ancient human bones and how today’s technology can tell from the bones what people ate. This in turn indicates who was trading what to whom if, for example, inland people were eating fish and island people were eating corn. I find that I, who was never keen on history back in school days, get more and more drawn into this remarkable culture.
The pictures show Cynthia Robin who is the archeologist from North Western University leading the excavations at Aventura and local retired teacher Graham Samson who told the story of the murals. In 1896 Corozal’s medical officer Dr Thomas Gunn, whose hobby was archeology and whose record keeping was non-existent and who is much maligned for his use of dynamite to excavate sites (ouch!) and taking artifacts back to England, discovered the murals behind 3 layers of stucco walling. As soon as they were exposed to the light they began to fade and so he meticulously traced them and these prints are made from those tracings. And very good that he did so because the murals were later destroyed.
The House of Culture’s next activity was a Youth Mural Painting workshop mentored by a visiting artist from Belmopan. They are using the wall of Her Majesty’s Prison right opposite the House of Culture which was featured in my newsletter no 64 as it is on the historical walk. Their subject is the jade mosaic mask found at Santa Rita pictured below.
This is how it looked by Wednesday but if you have a look at the Corozal House of Culture face book page you will see the finished thing and how some of the young artists have been so fired up they are painting 3 more of the panels along the wall.
Isn’t that just fabulous!
Wednesday 26th July was International Mangrove Day and FOCUS (Friends of Corozal United for Sustainability) with our friends Christina and Brad as the education officers put on a wonderful day of fun and education for Corozal children.
FOCUS manages a little mangrove park at the north end of Corozal which has all 3 types of Mangrove - black, white and red, as well as the related button tree. Mangrove roots, especially the prop roots of the red mangrove, are very important habitats for fish providing shelter for a variety of fish species and a safe haven for young fish protecting them from larger predators (including man as many of the fish are for commercial use). This protection also makes the intricate root system ideal for fish breeding grounds and nurseries. A surprising feature of the Mangroves is that they do their bit for climate change. They are especially good carbon absorbers for some reason, more so than other trees. They capture the carbon emissions from burning fuels (cars, factories etc) that put CO2 into the atmosphere which of course traps heat in the atmosphere and raises temperatures leading to drastic weather changes.
I learned a whole new vocabulary. The children planted ‘propoguls’ which are new shoots put out by the trees that float around until they can take root. Mangroves cannot draw air from the earth they are rooted in so they need breathing holes called ‘lenticels’ and ‘pneumataphores’. The children played a great game of tag which showed how the land has no protection from wild sea and wind if the mangrove is cut out. Although Mangroves are protected in Belize and it is illegal to cut them out this does not stop the developers who chop them down indiscriminately to make way for ‘sea front’ properties which can fetch hugely inflated prices. So it was all good stuff and I noticed the young are even being made aware of the need to clean up their TRASH! Good thing otherwise Belize is going to sink in time if they carry on littering as they do.
And while all this ‘Culcha’ has been going on in town life at the Retreat has continued well albeit in a haze of mosquitoes. The nesting birds have kept us in a state of highs and lows – we have seen babies take off from their nests successfully, we have seen other babies looking so good one day and mysteriously vanished the next, we have heard the songs of the breeding season, so full and melodious and quite different from the rest of the year and we now see the adults coming back for a second round of nesting, either building new nests or renovating the old. Their compulsion to reproduce is so strong that they overcome all sorts of battles and challenges to do so.
Here on the left are Hooded Oriole fledglings who just vanished a few days after this photo was taken. The parents kept a low profile for a while but today I spotted them building this nest under a banana leaf very close to the back of the house. Let’s hope for better luck this time.
We have been making strides with our tree identification project. With the invaluable input of Christina who volunteered to help and Ernesto who used to work for illegal loggers in his youth we managed to select, label and where possible identify 30 different species forming a trail that starts in the fern garden at the back of the house, weaves around the house and the cropping area to the south and ends up in front of the house. Last week we contacted Shipstern Conservation (now under Corozal Sustainable Future Initiative – good website) to ask if their tree experts would be able to help us to complete our identification and they replied saying that they had a visiting botanist over from Switzerland who was mentoring 2 of their team and could they come on Thursday. My goodness, what incredible timing! So I imagined a Swiss looking botanist to turn up (kind of pale and studious in my mind) but instead Che Guevara arrived. Henry (yes another one) actually comes from Costa Rica and has lived in Switzerland for 20 odd years. He and his guys were fantastic. We laboured out on the trail for several hours and they did exactly what I had hoped for and more. They were able to confirm some names, put us right on many we were not sure of and will find out about some that even they did not know. They taught us the correct way of naming trees and showed us the features to look out for.
They loved our place. Henry (Martinez) is also interested in butterflies and I think they put on a special show for him. There were so many different species around and he would stop every now and again to point out some special behaviour or some plant that was not only a protected species but also vital to a particular butterfly. The satisfying thing was how he observed that all the birds and butterflies indicated a very healthy and well balanced environment so what more affirming observation could we ask for. Interestingly this coincides with Henry (Elwell) and I discussing only the other day that after 7 years of building up the soil here in the gardens it is finally looking wonderful – rich and full of organic matter and clearly nurturing the kind of plants that attract both birds and butterflies.
Christina, Ermilio, Eduard and Henry
There were some great T shirts at the Mangrove Day so I will end with some of them.
All the best