We sit outside, under the overhang, at our table facing the life of the Garifuna village of Hopkins, Belize. We order our food and sip our drinks and watch as a world we only think we can imagine passes by. Bikes, toting entire families -- dad peddling, mom on the handle bars, baby on her lap, sister somewhere in between; round women walk by with floral dresses, their large breasts swinging towards the ground; laughter and the friendly call of goodnight; Garifuna children, their hair in pretty little braids, their simple white dresses dulled with road dust, play baseball with a piece of driftwood and a small coconut. A base hit! -- the child screeches with glee and runs towards second. A Rasta man strolls by, his braids swaying to the tunes from the restaurant; more bikes, bare feet pumping lazily; and dogs, always dogs, looking plaintively our way, tails wagging a slow wag -- have we received our food yet? Would we feed them? Our restaurant mates yell sharply from another table. The dog slinks away and I am saddened. I might have slipped her a little food. Two young chickens cross the road; flip flopped feet stroll by; a quick and noisy flock of parrots wing overhead; the soft Caribbean breeze kisses my neck as I swat at a sand fly; and I am disinclined to ever go home.
The Garifuna are just one of the many cultures that define Belize. This culture, descendents of Carib, Arawak and African peoples, created by man’s inhumanity to man, by greed and circumstances, have survived all that time has thrown their way. Beginning with a shipwreck on the island of Saint Vincent, would-be African slaves, never reaching American soil, blended their genes, their knowledge, their tenacity, with the already intermingled Venezuelan Caribs and island Arawaks -- and the Garifuna were born. They lived in relative peace with the French colonists for years until the British came, sparking death and war. The victorious British forcibly removed what was left of the Garifuna people to Roatan, one of the Bay Islands off Honduras, where they eventually migrated to the mainland and colonized along the Caribbean coast forming small peaceful fishing villages. And they brought with them their drumming and their cassava; their stories and their love of the sea; their warmth and their hardships. Now, two hundred years later, they are still struggling to keep their language, their history, their traditions and their place in the world.
And this small restaurant, owned by German expats, called Thongs, sits in the center of this Garifuna village; and it is charming. Often, we eat at one of the many Garifuna restaurants which are attached to the owner’s home, but tonight we chose to eat something different than fish or stew chicken or rice and beans. Thongs is a place that looks safe to a tourist -- foreign, yet not too foreign, painted a pretty orange, welcoming front porch, cute little tables -- so that we are not surprised, as we eavesdrop on their conversations, that the other patrons are all first time tourists.
The young waiter comes to one of the other tables to take their order and I chuckle to myself in an arrogant sort of way as these Americans answer him in clumsy Spanish. Do they not realize they’re speaking Spanish to a German in an English speaking country? But I know I am very wrong to think this way. No matter that I’ve been to Belize a dozen times and I own a house here -- I too am a tourist. And even when we move here fully and I can raise my status to expat -- even if I obtain my residency as so many of our friends in Belize have done -- I will never truly be part of this village, full of culture and rich history; and I will never know the conflict of walking the dusty pot holed streets of my ancestors -- now mingled with foreign investment, Chinese grocery stores, ‘fancy’ restaurants, condos and change -- and watch as the tourists and expats and foreigners eat their dinner while watching me back.