As I type this, I am at my desk in by beachfront guesthouse in Hopkins village by the sea in Belize. I spent the morning learning how to clean fish Garifuna style while hanging out with two brothers who came home late at night from a fishing trip. Friends and family came and went as the fish were scaled, hacked with a hatchet, and sprayed clean on a dilapidated makeshift, seaside table. Various kids: sisters, brothers, and cousins came around and played in the sand and on the boat (that had been driven up into the beach) as fish were weighed and distributed to people in the neighborhood. Dudley, the grandpa, came out to check the scene and have his big bowl of warm meal, perched up on the end of his weathered, dugout canoe, the boats his ancestors have always used for fishing. Children followed me to my outdoor kitchen next door to pick books from my bag to take home. I told them I needed to clean up from my breakfast before we could go to the beach and make necklaces; they followed me to the sea to toss my fish bones in. We paraded back under the coconut palms in the wind with my dirty frying pan. They waited patiently for me to finishing cleaning up and then we took beads and twine to the beach and made necklaces together. They all thanked me graciously when we were done.
I went back to the fish cleaning station and Donavon, one of the brothers, helped me hook a sweet, yellow coconut out of the palm and showed me how to open it properly and make a little spoon from a piece of the husk. We talked about the Garifuna event called Nine Nights, one of their culture’s grief rituals, as I am hoping to go to one while I am here. Donavon and Big Grouper also told me more about the Dugu, a ritual of making offerings and removing spirits, which is intended to help with various problems of spiritual imbalance.
So, here I am. An orphan of my old life in a way. I have lost my partner, left my homes – rented them out – so that now my home is wherever my backpack and I am. I have left my job of 16 years, my dog, my second son has moved out, and I am out here learning how to really be on my own in a way I have only done for 6 months of my entire life. I have started my journey by planting myself in a small guest house with an outdoor kitchen on the Caribbean in a village that I have been returning to for the past 13 years. Here I have friends and families I visit with. Kids come to see me, as I always bring books, art and writing supplies, and clothes for them.
As for my week’s miracles, I was invited out to sea twice. My first journey was in a long, gas-powered fishing boat with a local family and 3 of their friends. We fished for hours in the still, hot sun with our long lines wound around carved wood or Styrofoam hourglass shapes. Our bait was anchovies we had used a round seining net to catch. We’d move from spot to spot in search of the best fish, aiming to be at the edge of the reef, where it dropped off into the deeper water. Our driver Francis, skillfully directing Rocket where to toss the anchor, we’d prepare our lines and throw them overboard, letting the weight hit bottom and wait. Sometimes we’d be over a school and the fish would be coming in one after another. “Haul it up!” would echo though the crew of Garifuna people as we quickly pulled our lines in hand over hand in a pile on the bottom of the boat until the prize at the end showed itself. The 2 young kids on board would squeal in delight with each fish that came onboard. We brought in mackerel, snapper, grouper, and for the grand finale I sadly hooked a beautiful spotted moray eel, who’s life ended with a club to the head. Throughout the day we sang spontaneous songs and munched on oranges, plantain chips, fry bread, processed cheese, and stewed armadillo. The best sing-along of the day was Elton John’s I Guess That’s Why They Call it the Blues.
My second journey was on a hand-made wooden sailboat with an American ex-pat living simply here. I got to go on that voyage because I swam to the boat a few days before and made friends with the boat’s owner, letting him know I could help if he’d like my assistance in the coming weeks. Yes for making friends! Here’s a big shout out to Bryan and my new love, his sailboat Brujula. Check him out if you come to Hopkins! brujulasailing.com
This is the end of my 1st week. It has been more challenging to unwind from the layers of multitasking and overdoing and parenting and empty nesting and property managing than I expected. I have slept more than usual and battled waves of grief and depression every day, even in this tropical paradise.
My youngest son moved out this week. I thought I could outrun the empty nest feeling by running here. Grief and loss can’t be outrun. You’ve got to feel it to come out on the other side. Each day I dip into the sadness and each day I come back out and experience the present moment of the natural beauty and the community I am a part of here. It’s hard not to be hard on myself when these grief waves come. My life is beautiful and full of synchronicity and miracles. I have my health and mobility, friends, and family, gratitude and love in my heart and the means to get myself here. I am never alone; I make friends everywhere I go. Most people here take time to stop and sit and chat with me; time moves differently in this swaying, rhythmic Caribbean village.
Yet, when the grief storms in, there is very little I can do to change it, no matter how good everything around me is. I can have gratitude and experience the daily miracles with glimpses of joy, but there is a veil keeping me from being as fully in the joy as I was able to be. I had never experienced a feeling quite like this until after this past year and a half. I remind myself that it is an opportunity to experience a glimpse into a state of mind that someone who wants to exit their body and leave this planet must feel consistently. To know a state like that brings me knowledge and understanding and empathy. I have the good fortune of sliding in and out of it –instead of being stuck in it all the time. It serves as my reminder that if I keep surfing these waves I will be able to release the sadness and know a more complete joy and freedom again. I am having so many more opportunities to feel free and joy with the sea and this community holding me…swimming, snorkeling, sailing, fishing, being with the lovely people here. I am on the road back to freedom and happiness. I am sure I wouldn’t be faring this well with another Shasta winter.
I see clearly that my current job is to learn to slow down and be even more present. To get out of my own way. To make peace and find the happiness within myself and to find my true essence without all the activities I have always identified with. To focus on gratitude for my life and to learn to just take care of me for a while. These are harder tasks than I realized they would be after 23 years of dedicating my life to my children, my students, jobs, animals and gardens, and properties. Ah, the quest for balance……
Ah Life. How sweet, beautiful, devastating, challenging, and profound it can be!
If you made it this far, thanks for sharing in my journey! I love you all.