Thursday, November 27, 2008

Basil, Papaya and Mr. Ventura

It has been a whirlwind first 6 weeks in Belize. Aside from the usual paint and nails and re-establishing my contacts for fresh fish filet's, lobster and imported culinary niceties like arborio rice and cous cous, I was re-establishing my sensitive herb garden. The salt air on the coast is hard on the non-native varieties of Italian Basil, dill, sage, marjoram and thyme, so I seek out small micro-climates out of the wind, on the back sides of buildings, offering protection and some partial shade. One such area I had established last season was, happily, right outside the kitchen door. One big basil plant remained upon my return this year and I was able to make a very big batch of pesto before my well meaning do-all maintenance yard man, Machine, fried it with some non-organic fertilizer. I have hauled in some fertile dirt from the Sittee River and changed out the soil and have now re-planted basil, dill and sage there. I'll keep you posted with pictures as they begin to sprout.
High point of my little garden forays is the maturity of 3 papaya trees which I started in March. When they were 3 feet tall by the time I left in late April, I planted them near the driveway and in front of the entry steps. When I came back in late September, they were 15 feet tall and laden with fruit. Guests now enjoy fresh from the tree papaya with yogurt and any other fresh fruit from the local stand in Hopkins village. I was saddened to hear of the death of Mr. Ventura over the summer. He was an elderly, slightly overweight Garifuna man that became my friend by way of me practicing the Garinagu language on him. The Garifuna, of which Hopkins is probably 80%, are descendants of Africans who were on slave ships which crashed into the reef in the 1700's. the surviving Africans mingled and married with the local Carib Indians and settled in groups in Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. The language that evolved to these culturally vibrant people is a mix of African and Arawac Indian. Since the staff in my busy little kitchen and restaurant are all young Garifuna who speak the language to each other, I try to learn as much as I can, usually things to do with food and drink, but also saying of life etc. By learning a new sentence each day, I soon began to steer conversations towards words I knew in Garifuna and such was the case with Mr. Ventura and I.
"Abba lebu green peppers, bieme lebu jicama," I said the first time I met him.(1 pound green peppers, 2 pounds jicama).
The startled gentleman asked where I learned to speak Arawac, and I told him I was just learning and my staff taught me.
My other great encounters with Mr. Ventura showcased a skill I developed from my many years buying produce and meats, and that is I am very good at estimating the weight of anything from 1/2 pound to 25 poundsw. I can fill a bag with any vegetable or fruit, weigh it in my hands and come to with-in one ounce every time.
I would walk to the hanging scale in the old vegetable stand and hold up bag after bag of vegetables, proclaiming its weight in Garinagu before placing it on the scale and watch as time after time I got it right. This always prompts me to bet a banana or bag of fresh roasted peanuts(Banana= 10 cents, peanuts 50 cents for a bag) to any new young recruit at the vegetable stand and Mr. Ventura would chuckle each time as he watched as I would eat my banana and tell the new guy that it is the absolute best banana I have ever eaten because I won it from him.
On another occasion, the ve getable stand was very busy, with a lot of locals buying one or 2 -50 cent items. I have learned patience in Belize, and indeed find it entertaining to see the people in big hurries for nothing so I patiently waited my turn when a Belizean working from one of the larger restaurant/resorts on the beach came in wanting a large amount of potatoes right now! An exchange of words in Garifuna took place and Mr. Ventura proceeded to ignore the man completely, even serving others that came in after him first. The last straw was when the old man looked at me, asked me how much of this and that I had, never putting it on the scale and allowing me to just pay for it with-out ever weighing it. That sent the "hurried up" man out the door with steam shooting from his ears. That was my chance to spring a new Garifuna saying I had been practicing.
"Fuda Bah, Chulu Beya Haruga
Beyba-ba-dan, chulu beya Oogaen," I said to Mr. Ventura after the episode.
(Hurry up- and get there tomorrow, take your time and get there today.)
"You got that exactly right my brother, " he said.
And we both had a great laugh.


Anonymous said...

very beautiful........

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Hippo said...

"Hurry up and get there tomorrow, take your time and get there today"

With your permission, I shall have that engraved on a plaque and hung over my bar.