Belize has been preparing for carnival for the last few weeks. It is much as for Christmas at home in Edinburgh – bunting is across Albert Street, and the Belizean flag adorns cars and windows. Small, sorry palm trees have been tied to the (new!) electricity poles much as the lights adorn Princes Street and the Christmas trees take up our parking places on George Street! Throughout most of Thursday night, huge road rollers tried to improve the still unfinished surface prior to the week of parades. It meant that the whole building shook from top to bottom – and the rickety old Women’s Department opposite was still standing this morning! As fold say, these clapboard houses are very strong.

The rubbish – trash – which has been accumulating for what seems like weeks was cleared on Friday, leaving everything temporarily spic and span. Rubbish is something I have mused over a lot here. It is a complex issue. Like Mexico and most Central American countries, Belizeans eat a lot of food, cooked and uncooked, from little roadside stalls they call canteens. These are small independent businesses, so that a few women may get together to make cakes, people from the country deep fry plantain sliced into chips, pack up bags of peanuts which are salted in their shells, or slice up a few wedges of ‘pine’, papaya, or water melon into plastic bags. Whole fruits and vegs are on some stalls, and one man comes on the street about 3.30pm each day, selling the nicest bread we have tasted here. The hot food tends to be tamales – chicken in a corn-based pastry, wrapped in a palm leaf, covered in tin foil and baked – or the ever-popular chicken, rice and beans. This is still called ‘dallah rice’ but costs about BZ$3.50. All of these things invariably come in a quantity of plastic, but the dallah rice is in a polystyrene tray. Everyone eats from them and they can be seen everywhere – storm drains, road sides, sea fronts, gardens, threaded through wire fencing, half chewed by the huge number of dogs, strewn across parks and open spaces. No one seems to use shopping bags either, and the supermarkets are hugely liberal with the black plastic bags. On top of that, we all go around with plastic bottles of water, Coke, Sprite etc. Those of us with access to the gallon water bottles refill and refrigerate them, or use the water coolers in our workplaces.  And there are no litter bins.

Soon after arriving I was reminded of a Radio 4 programme I heard while still in the UK, in which a man described how somewhere near the North Pole, where all the seas circulating in the North Atlantic come into a swirl together, is the hugest collection of plastic detritus you can imagine, complete with all the wildlife that has been caught up in it and dragged along.  There was another programme in which a man talked about walking the entire coastline of Britain, and what struck him even more than the glory of the views was the never ending trail of plastic. With all of this in mind, I was constantly astonished at how un-orientated to recycling the country seems to be. Even in our cottage in Crooked Tree, there were hardly any plates and bowls, and a huge quantity of disposable ones. And then I got to thinking: everyone has to pay extra for water and electricity here, which would be needed for washing up. The rubbish is already paid for out of taxes. The very poor or very resourceful scour rubbish to collect and return Coke and Sprite bottles for a few cents each. It is an economic decision based on financial resources. It is definitely short – sighted from a global perspective, yet many of these people cannot afford to see beyond the cost of the next meal.

Anyway, back to the preparations! Every Tuesday evening we have both heard and watched as about 20 young people, the boys/men drumming different types of drums, the girls/ women twiddling their batons and doing complex steps, practising their marching. When waiting on Friday evenings for the bus to Crooked Tree, we have seen tinies – 5 -10 year old girls, shaking a hip here, an arm there, turning around and starting again, all to some jolly tunes. Up near the drummers, we applauded as 10 young men took turns to run and turn 1 – 2 – 2 ½ or even 3 summersaults through the air! And the atmosphere is different – a feeling of expectancy, a frisson of anticipation, even excitement. The official parade is tomorrow afternoon, but there is an unofficial parade (reminiscent of Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival!) which starts at 4a.m tomorrow morning, in eight hours’ time. Living on Albert Street, I suspect we are going to hear this whether we want to be involved or not! At least we should have a good view, and it will be cool for the revellers!

So, the next instalment will be all about tomorrow’s festivities. Wish us a good night’s sleep!

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