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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See ya latah, Halligatah!

As I sit at my computer, we have just eaten our supper on a Monday evening, having heard the midnight (your time) Radio 4 news, and listening to the ‘Listen Again’ version of Just a Minute! Julian Clarey and Paul Merton on top form, and a nice touch of Old Blighty…as the fan blasts against the sticky evening, and a little gecko sneaks up the window frame.

Last Friday evening, we got off our bus (the conductor selling top-up phone cards this time; cashew nuts a few weeks ago…) unlocked the door, turned on the light and brought the bags in from the verandah. As I turned round, a movement caught my eye, and I saw two black eyes and a wide Kermit-style grin of the tree-frog. We had found him behind the back door when we locked up the previous Monday morning, and when we tried to put him out he leapt 4 feet across the room and used his suckered webbed toes to cling to the wall. Since we had to get the 6.15am bus, we left him to it – he could go out the way he came in. He is very sweet, and we watched as he hid himself behind the wooden sofa that Conor was sitting on.

After we had eaten, we were both sitting quietly reading our books, when I saw a brown movement by the front screen door. At first I thought it was another cockroach, but as I looked more closely, I saw that it was low against the ground, longer, slimmer, with elegant arching claws and raised tail – a scorpion!!! Large! My feet immediately shot up into the air, at the same time as Kermit decided that this was interesting, putting his concern about us to one side and leaping towards the raised tail. To our amazement, as he approached, the scorpion moved fast towards the screen and (alarmingly) squeezed out between the wooden frame and side of the door….Good old Mr Kermit Frog – he definitely has a permanent place in Beisle Cottage! I checked with Leonardo the next day, and he was as surprised as we were. If the frog had actually approached the scorpion directly, there is no doubt which would have come off worst. Fortunately, although the scorpion’s sting would have been pretty sore, and have swollen, they aren’t fatal in Belize.

We had invited 4 of the young volunteers and interns to join us over the w/e – two staying in Birds Eye View Lodge, one in our spare room, and the fourth in the hammock – slung above the cockroaches and scorpion! They were going up to Lamanai, a large Mayan site reached by a boat trip from Orange Walk, north of us on the Northern Highway, and catching the bus down late on Saturday afternoon. With no buses over the weekend from the highway into Crooked Tree other than the 11a.m. from Belize, everyone coming and going either has independent transport, walks or sticks out a thumb. About 4.30pm, a ring on Conor’s mobile was followed by that tired and weary sound of 4 hot and sweaty folk at the end of a good day! They were in the full glare of the sun – the 3 kilometres are without protection from sun or rain – and hoping for a lift. Half an hour later we rang them, and they were still walking, still flagging, all the vehicles too full as they past – and one stopped for them while Conor was on the phone! Dropped off at the crossroads, in single file 4 people slowly walked the last sweltering five minutes up to the shade and gentle breeze of Beisle Cottage verandah, where a large jug of cold juice awaited them. It was the first time I have cooked for any more than 3 since we arrived, and doing it on two burners and small pans was a challenge! Despite the fisherman not having enough spare fish (again) we found avocados, peppers, tomatoes, cashews and mangoes galore on the island, and managed to have a good evening together, washed down with bottles of Belikin beer and the local berry wine.

At 6.45 the following morning we all congregated outside the Lodge and got into 3 canoes. The previous w/e Conor and I had crossed the lagoon, and paddled down Black Creek, but hadn’t started till 9.30am. By 11.30 am I was feeling faint in the middle of the lagoon, despite sunhat and a covered body. So we started soon after sun rise, and it was an exquisite flat calm, shimmering softly, birds calling, little fishes nibbling, still cool. I had been a little concerned that 4 young people (22 -36) might be bored by the charm of canoeing through a creek with not much else in it, but I needn’t have worried. And we had some fun moments – in the narrows, it takes a bit of practice to use the back paddle as a rudder and slowly nudge your way round the overhanging prickly bits, or the mimosa shoots sticking up out of the water. If you try to paddle out of the predicament you end up head first in the thorns and spiders webs, and poor old Kate had war wounds to prove it. At one point a plaintive “It’s not fair” could be heard from within a bush! We saw the black-collared hawk again down by the big tree, and a large ringed kingfisher kindly sat on a branch for us. The snail kite – the lagoon is full of snails – was swooping past too, with its distinctive very hooked beak, perfect for pulling the snail from its shell.

Two hours later and yet another very hot day, we were glad to stretch our limbs on terra firma, and make our way round for a late breakfast. The water level was still receding fast, and unfortunately the lovely variety of waders and ducks that we normally see in the swampy bits were no where to be seen, no doubt moved on to where they can rely on the water and a source of food. After breakfast we decided to walk the Limpkin Trail, now accessible because of the low water, and fantastically shaded with a beautiful variety of palms and vines. As we had decided to give up the cottage (our month’s rental is finished and September is the month of carnival in Belize City, so we will be spending weekends there) it was our last chance to see a croc before we left. The trail was beautiful, and as we stood watching a large lizard on a tree, we suddenly saw a long, slim, silvery green snake slither over the lizard’s tail and into the water, getting away from us. A parrot snake apparently. Towards the end, back near the lodge, I thought for a moment we had at last seen the top of a croc moving through the water; but as I looked excitedly, the top moved shape, and we laughed as we saw a gaggle of tightly packed baby ducks paddling full steam ahead! There must have been at least a dozen of them!

Lunch over, the four hitched a lift back over the causeway to catch the bus to BC, and we started our final pack up and clean of the little cottage which has given us so much pleasure over the last few weeks. As we left early this morning, with some clouds in the sky, a large beautiful rainbow arched over the cottage in a wave of farewell.


Well, this is a good way to start my day! I am having my breakfast and listening to Radio 4 – not the Today programme – but the World at One – it is  Gardener’s Question Time your time, so I have gone to Listen Again for the latest news. Sean Ley’s familiar tones are in my ears. Good old BBC!

I am going to say a bit about how Conor has been faring over here. As many of you know, he had had a lot of pain and discomfort ever since his ‘minor’ op in early April. The pain was thought of as ‘normal’ for 6 weeks, but when it didn’t show any signs of letting up, and as we approached our departure date, we were getting increasingly concerned. Much ping-ponging between his GP and the consultant’s secretary in the Western General Hospital led to an appointment a week before we left. Thankfully it was with a consultant who had been one of the few medics who was not fazed by Conor’s bladder’s extreme sensitivity reaction post-operatively in April – and knew what to do to stop the spasming. I felt a sense of relief as soon as I saw him. He very quickly went straight to the source – “Ouch, yes that’s it” – and diagnosed chronic inflammatory prostatitis. He thought that it was most unusual, particularly since the beast has been:

·        excised in May 2005 – a TURP

·        grown back to block the urethra 24 hours before radiotherapy was to start in November 2005, when they cut through it again

·        irradiated almost to extinction in November and December 2005

·        found to have regenerated again when they worked on Conor’s remaining sphincter this April, when in effect he had a prostatectomy. (“Lot’s of prostate tissue in there.”) Something tells me that some things just won’t be killed!

(Trouble with prostates is very common in men, but being blokes and to do with willies and things they just don’t seem to talk to one another about it. So as a woman I feel doubly ignorant, and have been on a big learning curve. Not just the cancer, but learning about the difference between ‘ageing’, symptoms of enlarged prostate, typical prostatitis, the cancer, and now this.)

Anyway, this nano-prostate has reared its head again and certainly succeeded in making its presence felt! The consultant reassured us that good old ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic we really should have shares in, would do the trick if taken continuously for 6 weeks – 3 months. So, 3 months’ worth was added to our suitcases – 2 of which were entirely devoted to Conor’s ‘paraphernalia’ as my mother calls it!

Apparently chronic inflammatory prostatitis is different to the other sort of prostatitis in that it is inflammatory. This means that anything which disturbs it can cause an increase in the symptoms. So being here and doing things at the weekends has been challenging to Conor in many ways. More steep and somewhat uncomfortable learning curves.

(‘Normal’ prostatitis is also a chronic condition, is very uncomfortable, highly resistant to antibiotics, very hard to get rid of, and causes a lot of men a lot of trouble.)

For those of us unfamiliar with the little beast, whether because we have a perfectly functioning one or none at all, they are situated around the urethra, and lie against the large bowel. That is why the easiest way to determine what is wrong is by a finger examination exerted about 2 centimetres up the anus. When the area is tender, lots of things cause problems: bowel movements; sitting for any length of time; sitting on hard surfaces or too much exercise such as walking. Another problem is that when it is agitated for any length of time, like all pain, the surrounding area can tense up too, especially the buttocks. There is also referred pain – or is it called deferred pain? I must check. It is when the nervous system in an area gets agitated, so that the pain appears to locate itself anywhere in the region.

Those of you who have ploughed your way through this journal may remember that we went to Caye Caulker on our very first Sunday here. Conor in particular enjoyed being in the sea. After travelling for 24 hours, acclimatising ourselves, jet lag, finding all the bits and pieces we need in Belize, his hind quarters were most uncomfortable. He found that the natural buoyancy of the water relieved the pressure around the pelvic floor, and he frolicked and swam with gusto. Later that night I awoke to the light on and the sound of Conor in the bathroom and drinking loads of water. I went through and there was blood everywhere! He had awoken feeling that his external catheter was blocked and saw a large blood clot. Fortunately it managed to pass, making a big mess in the process, followed by a lot of clotty blood. We knew from previous events that the important thing with clots is to dilute them so that they don’t block the catheter, so that explained the drinking water noise that awoke me. It gave us a big fright, and we did wonder if we were going to have to turn straight round and come home. But after about half an hour things appeared to be OK, and we managed to sleep again.

Since then, which was one week into his ciprofloxacin regime, things have got steadily but minisculey better. It’s an upward graph over all, but with ups and downs along the way. Any time we have done anything ‘too much’ – walking, walking in excessively sticky heat, long bus journeys on very hard seats, oh, and swimming – there has been a set back. Yesterday we got it badly wrong – we bused and walked to a place in the guidebook which had closed down. That led to a bit of an abortive day, following our noses rather unsuccessfully until we turned round and caught the bus for a 3 hour journey home. More often we get it about right now, and by and large it is at last improving. It looks like it will be the three months not six weeks course, but there is hope! And we are both clear that his health comes first and if we need to, we just catch a plane back.

Meanwhile, during the week Conor is successfully working with folk in the UK and other parts of Europe, using Skype. He has purchased a VPN gizmo, which apparently tunnels and fragments the phone signals via the US, which has, as promised, been undetectable by the Belize telemonopoly. They would block it when they spotted it, so I only use Skype on Conor’s computer. Incidentally, it is owned by Lord Ashcroft, the deputy head of the Conservative Party, who is really doing some pretty awful things over here. I am investigating with some other Brits how we can publicise the things more in the UK as this man ought to be more accountable if he is a Member of the House of Lords. It is quite intriguing to discover what the UK is doing in its Commonwealth countries without a by your leave.