I really still don’t know what to think. Maybe, because of the distraction campaign which we were collectively subjected to.
September has dissolved to one crazy month of bacchanal. I remember learning the etymology of that word. A word, which before, was something I would hear yelled in those Trinidadian imports blaring out radios and ‘big trucks’ with speakers and at children rallies, while we all stood or marched and melted under the oppressive heat, also to the strains of something, my eight year old mind, over-exposed to United States of America tv shows and commercials, assumed was some kind of Yankee Doodle song. At least from that era. White men, with powdered faces and wigs, with velvet coats and shiny buckles and buttons, super ornate buttons. Parading with, something I had heard my mom say sometimes, ‘pomp and circumstance’ whatever the hell that meant.
But yes, in Merida, at age 19, finally a code was broken for me. Bacchanal was a festival, a party, an ode to debauchery in honour of Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, grape, and merry making. If you look him up in google, he pops up as a wikipedia link under the title Dionysus.
I don’t clearly remember the entire details now, bacchanal was not the focus of that Art Theory class, were were actually breaking down, to symbols and so forth, a Carravaggio painting. Yes, Carravaggio, the great Italian master of chiaroscuro.
For me it was super symbolic. In many ways, for me, an education is a play on light and darkness, a balance of the two, a dance of the two, an eventual conquest of one by the other.
Of course, at 19, I had no idea who Carravaggio was, worse Bacchus. The teacher broke that painting down to the very last grape, and explained mannerism, claro oscuro (I have only recently, this year in fact, learned the English equivalent of this word), and the fact that Art is in no way separated from history. If any of us had studied anything on Roman mythology, maybe we would understand the grapes. Maybe we would understand Mardi Gras, maybe we would understand something deeper than an image.
Again, I have melted into my memories.
Return to Belize City in September 2014, where each day has melted and fused into one confusing, unrecognizable mass called September Celebrations. I was once told, that Bob Marley was quoted to have said: “forget your troubles and dance.” Maybe that is what is going on here. ‘Catch a Fire’, the 1973 Bob Marley and the Wailers album, is said to be a Jamaican patois slang which means hell.
Belize is catching a fire, young black men bleed out on the city streets, black women are the solitary backs on which families are carried, house mortgages, home economics, everything from band-aids to schools fees, first days of school to teaching little boys how to be men. The only culture we cultivate is carnival (bacchanal), and its bi-products, all Trinidadian imports, j’ouvert, mas camps and fetes. Even Machel Montano. Trini mas mi seh! Fuse all the Caribbean cultural ‘tings’ and slap a Belizean hashtag on it! No one will notice. We are busy dancing, dying, trying to get that Alakine ticket, Machel ticket and figure out how to pay rent, school fees and if I’ll be able to afford noodles after September. Maybe I’ll eat at mom’s or gran’s until Christmas. Just until I recover.
Recover from what? Between the baratijas and chucherias and cellphones and chicken strips and dalla beer at the expo, the concerts and hotdogs, pupusas and beer at Sir Barry’s Belikin Bash, and the sweaty bodies gyrating out of synch to every soca beat from the Caribbean, and getting dressed up to honour your Baymen, the mighty ‘settlers’ of the Bay, then you are dropped slam bam into the Memorial Park, cannonless. Because there was a Madam Mayor who wanted unity between two of the best ‘allies’ of British Honduras/Belizean history: the Maya and the British. On a roundabout, because she saw and liked those on a European visit, so they have since sprouted everywhere, like a rash.
The rash has only intensified since then, which is another matter entirely.
The Baymen worship, Trini worship and J-can worship culminate to an explosion of sound. A concert where Belizean music will be highlighted for a couple minutes before our flag is raised at midnight for the 33rd anniversary of our independence.
Enter the Garifuna Collective, a Belizean band second to none for innovation, creativity and performance. A band which was done more for assuring that Belize is buzzword than any BTB campaign ever has. They’ve toured and developed an appetite for Belizean music. Something that, in my opinion, is not a small task, many people around the world are completely oblivious to our tiny nation.
Still, on the night before the thirty-third anniversary of our independence, the Garifuna Collective performed a stellar show, world-class music and performance to a meagerly entertained crowd. They sat there in their chairs, gazing off into the distance, unto the horizon where later, less than enthusiastic fireworks would sparsely jump into the night sky at midnight. Like spittle, I wouldn’t dare say explosive or brilliant.
Of those standing, some danced in place, talked or pushed strollers, or sipped on snow cones, or juice or spirits. Spirits were damp. Maybe the thunderous barrage of September Celebrations events was responsible, burning holes deep into our pockets and even deeper into our Belizean-ness. All that bacchanaling maybe. No focus was placed on Belize. Our journey, our independence, our music or our people.
I was sad. I felt my heart sinking, and just as it was, I saw a paraplegic throw himself unto the ground from his wheelchair. He landed directly on his knees. And there, prostrated, pained; he began to move, to shake, he danced. He danced the Collective’s entire set. He danced and groaned. He groaned and grimaced, but he danced.
I felt myself begin to move as well. By then, I had two options dance (to not fall) or bawl, bawl for this scene, bawl for want of more from more.
I danced. There was a tiny rasta man in front of me, he held a drink in one hand, and clasped his chest with the next. His eyes were closed as he sang the lyrics to the sky. Some Garifuna ladies behind me, sang too. There was mirth and mourning in their song, and they swayed on.
The paraplegic, when the set ended, cried out. From nowhere, it seemed, a woman came and helped him back into his chair. He groaned loudly as he brushed off his knees and held them. Moaning and breathing in quick short breaths. “Aye” he said, “Ayó” I responded within.
The crowd dismantled itself, as some moved toward the flagpole. The flag would be raised, in typical ‘Belize time’ fashion four minutes late. We were counting down, but to what? Midnight had come and passed; we had missed the spinning top of time. Or, possibly, in our dazed and confused state, we were now operating in a different time zone. One that had melted the hands of our collective clock, so really, no one even knows the time.
The flag whipped and spat as the wind howled at it. The dignitaries, whom I had forgotten until I saw them exiting, all left, a few people were gathered under the flag. The scene was lit by glowing phone screens as they took pictures.
Pop Pop Pop! thankfully not the all too familiar gunshots, but the impotent fireworks trying to coax festive and celebratory sentiments out of the crowd.
All I could see was the paraplegic dancing “aye ya aye” to Ayó and Watina; Belize at 33.