The 10 Commandments

Having insisted that they would have the road surface completed by the September celebrations, the new government did a hasty repair job last weekend. They put a layer of liquid tar down on Albert St, and hand covered it with quarry dust. The result on Monday and Tuesday was dreadful – literally a dust cloud over the length of the street, and our apartment looked as if it was covered in a layer of volcanic dust. On Monday morning I was working at the computer when I realised I felt quite headache-y and ill. I paid more attention to myself, and noticed that the air con unit right above my head was drawing in the tar fumes from the street outside. We turned off the unit, turned on fans and opened the doors. Later in the day, Conor’s rhinitis set in, which has been very much better over here than in the UK. Don’t know how anyone with asthma would have been faring.

(Fortunately it rained heavily for an hour or so in the night, so Wednesday’s Independence Day parade was visible after all! But I am jumping ahead of myself.)

About 5.30pm on Tuesday Conor and I made our usual stroll over to the sea wall, sitting and chatting, enjoying the evening breeze coming in off the sea, the colours of the sky and the lowering of the temperature. As the light was going, we saw a familiar figure approaching us complete with sketching surface in hand – an empty pizza box this time. We haven’t seen Ernesto for some weeks, apart from a glimpse in the bus terminal a few weeks ago, and then passing him on the canal by the market one day. He always greets us with a wave on those occasions on the street, and it was nice to see him approach with his familiar, slow pace and twinkly eyes. The sea wall has a very quiet street in front of it and some large old colonial properties on the other side. Various occupants have come to recognise us, and the dog walker greets us cheerily, and we have struck up a conversation with a man of Scottish origin who attended a prep school just outside of Edinburgh but was evacuated back to Belize, his home, when war broke out in 1939. Anyway, it is a quiet street, and apart from the odd car making its way homewards and a few passers-by, we had the area to ourselves.

Ernesto is always interesting to chat to, as he is such an intriguing combination of education, insight and street-wise wit. He has never tried to draw us again since our first portraits; he just knows us and knows we like him. He makes us laugh, but when we question his philosophy on occasions, he is not too happy. Definitely a king in his own kingdom!

We got round to talking about the shootings and grenade at the carnival on Saturday, and he told us how he saw the violence before the violence. (We refrained from saying we did too!) He told us that he thought that there were about 18 gangs in Belize, which was far fewer than Mexico, but then Belize was much smaller than Mexico. When we asked him if he had ever been caught up in any violence, and he said he often witnesses it, sleeping in the little park but he keeps out of the way. He asked us if we knew the 10 commandments for living on the streets. Each was delivered with a little homily, explaining why it is so important, and that great gift for a raconteur, timing!

1. If you cannot trust yourself, place no trust in anyone else.
2. Never bite the hand that feeds you.
3. See no evil
4. Hear no evil
5. Speak no evil
6. We can’t remember!
7. We can’t remember!
8. If someone has a gun, don’t stick your head out to see what’s going on, get down as fast as you can and stay down. (He did a lovely parody of someone peering out to locate the gun!)
9. After a great pause, he said “And number 9 is never tell them what number 10 is because then you always remain the teacher”!

All of this is accompanied by his twinkly gaze and broad smile, making sure that you have appreciated his point. He was just chatting, and never gave any indication that he was after anything, but we gave him a few dollars, and nipped back to the flat to fill up a plastic bag with bread and cheese, some salad stuff and fruit while he waited on the sea wall. Funny old world.