Hingi Mingi, which is probably just a nickname because Belizeans have one for everybody, hails my wife with a “hello” that seems to emanate from the top of his lungs rather than the bottom. Indigenous to Mesoamerica, Hingi, a slight man of probably 60 or more years to my best estimation, is wearing his usual faded-blue sweatpants hiked a half-dozen inches or so above his discalced feet, which are making baby steps toward our gate, like those of a dog or cat that has been shooed from someone’s yard continuously for its encroachments.
My wife is still asleep, but I am up with our nearly 2-year-old son who likes to rouse me around 6 or 7 in the morning. All voices coming from the roadside can be heard clearly from the kitchen window, which faces the road’s northward approach from the second floor of our house. Even the meager volume of Hingi’s voice can be heard. As usual, I look down to see some freshly uprooted wild flowers with their dirty, dangling roots cradled in his hands.
“Hi, HIngi.” His head then bends up as if one of my words were a raindrop. As usual, he wants to sell my wife what he has harvested, though from where we never exactly know. I see him often just walking up and down the village road, which is the main road that stretches from one end of the Peninsula to the other. Sometimes if he sees me coming from the opposite direction and from the opposite side of the road, he will cross it to intersect me. I will say, “What’s up, HIngi?”
Hingi Mingi replies with the usual, “Just looking for a good Samaritan.” I have to tell him, once again, that I have no money to lend today.
Hingi is one of a very few Indians in the village who will beg me for money. The paucity of the village, if given a characteristic, is egalitarian. Its demographic stretches from the Mayan to the Garinagu (or, more popularly, Garifuna), to the Creole, to the Mestizo and sometimes to the proverbial “Gringo in Belize” (that’s Jerry Jeff Walker for a Caucasian whose tropical dream has stumbled over a misplaced bottle of rum or the unforgiving stump of a property he could not quite get off the ground). Unemployment prevails while industry either side-steps the village or creeps at a pace slower than that of Hingi Mingi’s.
The village is unavoidable for one who is bicycling, motoring or golf-carting from the tourist hub of Placencia northward to the ex-pat laden communities of Surfside and Maya Beach. I have read internet discussions from recent visitors to the Peninsula that liken Seine Bight Village to a refugee camp. Most of the roadside abodes are constructed of ticky-tack boards on stilts of wood, founded by pier blocks. I have seen white bicyclers stop with broad smiles while taking a picture of even broader smiles donning the faces of a gaggle of small Garifuna children. Belize offers the tourist a sea-load of such young portraits; nearly 40 percent of its population is aged 0-14, with the gender split being almost down the middle.
Despite the almost abject poverty that lines the village road, the pikni (Creole for children) do not betray their disposition in spirit. The Garifuna, especially, show an indefatigable buoyancy, despite circumstances, at any given moment. I remember helping teach a computer skills class at the school during my initial stay here. The children would come into the classroom, huddle around the teacher to hear what they would be taught for the day, and while waiting for the preview to end, one would invariably start dancing–without a shred of music; only the teacher’s drone and their shoeless feet. It may have been the morning’s sugary popsicles (called Ideal pops) that fed their improvisational evanescence of foot, but it was dearly something I had never witnessed, nor considered possible. I was actually starting to put music to their feet as I waited to assist the teacher with her lessons.
The pikni here roam from house to house (the proof often showing up on our porch), and young peripatetic teens–often carrying their baby or heavy with baby–saunter up and down the main drag seven days a week. By law, a child can drop from school at the age of 14. Often this saves a parent the annual tuition of a little more than $100 Belizean dollars (the equivalent of $50 or $60 U.S.), as well as a few BZ bucks a day per student for lunch money and $70 or $80 BZ for textbooks. It is a considerable expense for the average income of a villager. So, a noticeable number of the young are not fully equipped to step out of the whirlpool of poverty and premature motherhood or fatherhood by way of academic credential.
Alas. At this point I must recess from my keyboard as the clock nears the time our stepdaughter returns from school. The porch awaits she and her retinue with more open arms than mine.