Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Three times Three

I made an interesting discovery last night. Ask a general random person to put up three fingers and you will most likely see the three middle fingers. But ask a German and you will see the thumb, index and middle finger. And when you ask a Belizean lady you 'll get the pinky, the ring and middle finger. Can anyone explain this? And why is the middle finger the lucky one?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cultural Confusion

It was Soleine’s birthday this weekend. She had three birthday celebrations, not bad for a 5-year old, hey? The first one was at school; Soleine going around in class with home-made cupcakes with green icing on them, resulting in 17 kids collectively going home with green noses. Then there was a flower party at our home, with eight of her best friends dressed in pretty flowers (strictly girls…), looking for hidden flowers in the field, in honor of Queen Dahlia Sunflower. And finally, we had a mini-party at the hash, with 12 hash kids banging on a piñata. Pardon?

Let me explain. Although Belize is an English-speaking country and a former British colony, the Latin influences are obvious, considering that it is surrounded by Latin American countries. One Latin American tradition is the birthday piñata. A piñata is a paper maché kind of figurine, prettily decorated, that you hang from the ceiling. It can be a cute pink doll, or a truck, or a rabbit or Dora the Explorer (very popular here). I had bought a yellow chicklet with blue flowers in her hair which Soleine immediately baptized ‘Chika’. That’s cute, you may think, but that’s only one part of the piñata. The second part is a stick, in our case the stick of a broom which had conveniently ‘died’ the same week. So what are the kids going to do with the stick and Chika?

Well, they are actually going to beat the crap out of her. Try to chop of her beak, hit a hole in her head, poke the stick between her eyes, slash of the cute little chicken legs. Who thought that a birthday surprise could turn so vicious? But the kids -boys and girls alike - actually love it. Each child gets a go with the stick, and they beat, and beat and beat, until… all the sweets fall out. Because that’s the trick, it’s basically a candy machine but with more fun than just putting a coin in it. Twelve kids beating the hell out of Chika, until…until…until…nothing. Some 85 hits later, one of the mothers carefully asks me if I had not forgotten to put any sweets in it. What??? I had to put the candy in it myself?? Oh my God, I did not know, I thought I had bought the thing ready-made…filled with sweets. As it turns out there is a little hole in the piñata’s head where you have to put the candies yourself. You should have seen the kids faces when they finally realized that Chika was empty! Oops, silly Europeans. Well, I better hide for a little while. That’s why I am now on my way to Paris.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Meeting Indy

When I was young my family used to play a board game called Wildlife Adventure. Players would go on global expeditions on the board to locate rare and endangered species of animals. To rescue them you could buy them, like monopoly but with animals. Each continent had its own amazing creatures. In North-America you could locate the Californian condor, in Africa the ring-tailed lemur, in Australia the hairy-nosed wombat, Asia had the Arabian oryx and in Latin America there was the mountain tapir.

I reckon that while playing this game sometime in the eighties I first heard the word 'Belize'. Because that's where the mountain tapir was located and it was one of the most valuable beasts on the board! As a child I was fascinated by its picture on the game card... I could not imagine that a creature like that really exists.

But it does! His name is Indy and he lives at the Belize Zoo. He is a handsome little tapir. In Belize they also call them ‘mountain cows’, but to me he looks more like a cross between a pig and an elephant (sorry Indy!). My daughter Soleine got to feed him his cool is that.

The zoo in Belize is a gem. It was set up and is run by Sharon, an American lady who came to Belize some years ago to shoot a wildlife documentary. Something happened and the project had to be canceled, leaving her with a troop of rescued, semi-tame animals. What to do? Set up a zoo. Sharon is now the proud 'mother' of about twenty different species, all endemic to Belize.

We met Indy the Tapir, Brutus the Crocodile, Junior Buddy the Jaguar, the only jaguar in the world who can do somersaults, Panama the Harpy Eagle who likes to fly up close o you just to say hi (and scare the shit out of you), Polly the speaking Parrot who says in his squeaky voice: 'I am a parrot, my girlfriend works in a bar’ (seriously!!!) and many more.

They have all been rescued from the illegal pet trade or captivity as this zoo has never taken any animal from the wild. It is an impressive conservation achievement and a great educational opportunity to meet Indy and his friends. It’s like killing two birds with one stone…but that would not be an appropriate expression in this animal-friendly story, would it now?