25 Years Ago

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Dancing has always been a special part of custom and traditions. Even in the years before Christ (B.C.) there were dances to go along with special festivities. Today in modern places like Cancun and even San Pedro, you are able to find entertainment and dancing on a daily basis. What about twenty five years ago or let’s say in the 50’s and the 60’s? Which were the popular dances that occurred throughout the year? In a nutshell they were the New Year’s Eve Dance, the Carnival Dance, Easter Dance, Caribeña General Meeting, and the Christmas Dance-five in total.

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Today it costs about $1,500 to have a normal child delivery in Chetumal, Mexico, which is where a lot of locals have their babies. It costs $2,000 if there is surgery. In Belize City, it costs about $2,000 normal and about $5,000 if there is surgery. It only costs about $500 in San Pedro, but there is no surgery facility yet, so many people do not want to take that risk and prefer to be in a facility where surgery is available, just in case.

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I would like you to imagine a little San Pedro village with a population of about 5 hundred. One hundred of these were boys and girls age 5 to 14 and attending the one and only primary school, the San Pedro R.C. School. The other one hundred were housewives. The other one hundred were fishermen. About one hundred were children age 1 to 5 and the remaining one hundred comprised about 50 young men and 50 ladies. That was San Pedro- 500 strong, one Garifuna principal teacher from outside, one Creole policeman, one Creole nurse and nothing else.

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So there was a time when there was no electricity and to beat up an egg you used the hand beater. And when you wanted to get to some spot down or up the coast, you walked the beach or hoisted the little sail in your dory. And when it was too hot to sleep inside, you took your hammock out on the verandah or downstairs. Yes, it is probably true that nobody missed electricity back then for when you do not have something, you do not miss it. Today electricity only has to go off for a few minutes and everyone would start grumbling.

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Imagine a San Pedro without electricity. What would life be like without? No power for the refrigerators, no power for the electric fans or air conditioners. There would be no power to charge the golf cars or power to use the blenders at the bar. There would be no ice to refresh us or power to use the electric irons to keep us ooking sparkling clean and bright. Of course there would be no electric washing machines. And talk about the television, how many people would die without them?

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Some of the best journey cakes (or Johnny cakes) sweet bread, Creole buns, or even salt bread used to be baked in a special oven that was actually made right here in San Pedro. As a matter of fact I have a neighbor who still uses it today. This oven never had any electronic faults or defects, but it did rust after some time and needed replacement when it got too rusty. I am talking about the “drum oven” or the “horno”, as it was called in Spanish, that was used over the fire hearth 25 years ago.

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Welcome to Coco Plum Land. This seems like the invitation from those areas where the coco plums abound. However, wherever the coco plums abound, there also seems to be a warning sign that says, “Keep Off”, for wherever the plums abound, there is also an abundance of that wretched poison tree known locally as “Chechem”. The chechem, for those of you who know it, is as bad, or worse than the poison ivy. However, the chechem is not a vine like the ivy. Rather it is a tall tree.

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Today it costs fifteen to twenty thousand dollars to put on a fairly small wedding. A big one with some eight hundred invited guests and two bands costs forty thousand. I am talking about the wedding reception. If you talk about the wedding dress, you are talking about one thousand dollars and it can get really fancy and expensive to the tune of five thousand dollars.

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I did something last week that made me say, “Gosh! Things have really changed!” First I bought a gallon of coconut water and paid ten dollars for it and secondly I purchased a can of coconut water imported from some Caribbean country and paid $2.50 for it. Now that would never have happened 25 years ago.

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What would you say is the town’s biggest event today in San Pedro? Could it be the graduation of a particular school or Independence Day Celebration? Could it be Mother’s Day or Dia de San Pedro? Which is the event that the entire town prepares for and awaits with eager anticipation? Could it be the Costa Maya Festival?

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Twenty five years ago the manner of dating and socializing were very much different from today. The younger generation will probably laugh at this but here it goes anyway. Besides sports like softball and baseball and swimming, what did young people do in their spare time to socialize? Boys and girls would walk around the village, 2 or 3 blocks over and over and chit chat until they got tired. They would also sit by the beach under the moonlight and simply chat. That was very pleasant as long as one was with the right company.

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It is hard to believe that those darn mosquitoes that existed 25 and even 50 years ago, still live on and pester us today. Their annoyance, it seems will never end. Today some people react like this, “ The town council is doing nothing about the mosquitoes and wait too long to spray.” Others will say, “They must be spraying water or kerosene instead of malathion because those insects don’t seem to die.” Still others will complain, “I hope they do not spray with that darn malathion for that chemical is dangerous to human health.

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I love eggs for breakfast and so do a lot of people. It is the most convenient thing to prepare a quick and delicious breakfast. You can simply fry your sunny side up or scramble your eggs. You can prepare an omelet with ham or bacon or sausage or any left over meats or poultry. You can boil it or you can have it pouched. Well, there are one hundred simple ways, or you can take your time and prepare an egg soufflé.

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For June 29, Dia de San Pedro, there has always been the “Misa de Mañanitas”, or the early morning mass for men only. Twenty five years ago we used to fill up the church and had some standing room only. I recon there used to be about 250 men at mass. Just a few years ago we garnered some 100 men and we thought that was poor. This year there must have been between 40 to 50 men at the Misa de Mañanitas.

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You would think that the front page of a newspaper is the one page that attracts first attention, but it is not always the case. When I talk to a lot of locals, they claim that the first thing they check is “Pepito” by Perlita, and a whole lot of other residents claim they first read the column “Twenty Five Years Ago”. A few U.S. friends tell me they particularly enjoy my old fish recipes. So here goes especially to you, some lobster recipes we enjoyed 25 years ago.

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How wonderful if this would be the situation today. If lobsters would exist in abundance today like twenty five years ago, all fishermen would be millionaires. And how come they are not millionaires if lobsters were in such abundance back then? Very simple, because the price was very low. Fishermen will recall when whole lobsters sold at 2 cents per pound, then 5 cents, then 10 and 15, and perhaps as much as 20 cents per pound of whole lobster.

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At this time of the year all over Belize we are enjoying one of the most delectable of all tropical fruits- the mangoes. They come in all sizes, colors and tones of sweetness, but all of them with that unique mango flavor. The mango has always been a seasonal fruit and people await for its arrival to San Pedro with much enthusiasm. Most mangoes today sell for fifty cents, a dollar or even one dollar and fifty cents depending on the variety and size. This year mangoes will be relatively cheaper because there is an abundance all over the country.

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My uncle Ramon of Ramon’s Village has reminded me to write about these boats called “tanqueros”, and it is because he used to work in one of these along with his father and his brothers. Yes, Ramon was a village fisherman and made his humble living working in a “tanquero”. He made hundreds of journeys to Corozal to sell fish with La Lupita, one of San Pedro’s most famous “tanqueros”.

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Did you know that 25 years ago seeing a naked boy walking the streets of San Pedro was a common occurrence? Boys walked the streets naked up until about seven or eight years of age. There was one particular family from Belize City, the father was a boat builder, and those children walked naked until they were maybe ten or twelve years old.

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A “fogon” or fire hearth is an apparatus used for cooking outdoors using some type of firewood as fuel. Of course you will not want to have one of these inside your tiled kitchen, but having one outdoors is a fun way of cooking many things and with advantages. Your neighbors might complain that the smoke of your fire hearth is bothering them, but you can easily solve that. Send your neighbor some cakes baked over the fogon, or a piece of fish roasted over the fire, or even a piece of meat smoked on a hot grill over the fogon.

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