Monday, November 27, 2006

I’d like to share one of our many memorable ‘Belize moments’:

Ball foot

A few years ago we bought a lovely Arab/Quarter horse from a man called Walter Friesen, who is the spiritual leader of a strict Mennonite community in Belize.

This Mennonite community is very ‘Little house on the prairie’. They have no electricity, no cars, no telephones & they don’t even have mirrors for everyday use (only small ones that can be used for ‘non-vain purposes’, for instance when something gets stuck in your eye). The Mennonites are very similar to the Amish. I believe they’ve branched off from the same original group and religion. But please don’t hold me to that, as I’m no expert on the matter.

Anyway, as we strolled away from his farm Walter Friesen asked:
“Do you want to take the horse now or shall we bring it in the coming days?”
Obviously, we couldn’t take the horse. We’d come to Barton Creek by car (over an hour’s drive) and had no trailer with us.
“Bring it please,” I answered.
“And just give us a call before you set off”
The moment those words flew out my mouth, I knew I’d said something stupid. “I’m sorry, you don’t have a phone. Do you?”
Walter simply smiled.
“We’ll bring it on Thursday morning”
And that was that, the arrangement was made.

It was only when we got back home that it dawned on me: Mennonites don’t have trailers. Christ, they don’t even have cars.
“Oh shoot!” I cried “How on earth is he going to get this horse to us?”
That hadn’t occurred to Andy yet either
“Hmm, maybe he’ll ride it here? Or maybe he has some kind of Arc and will be floating it downstream?”
“Haha, very funny Andy”
I actually got quite worried for the old man. Surely he wasn’t really going to ride it all this way? Again, if Mennonites had phones, it would have been easy to find out what he had in mind. But as it stood, we just had to wait and see.

Sure enough, late that Thursday morning we heard the sound of hoofs coming towards our house. And there he was, Walter Friesen walking next to our horse and a bewildered Mennonite teenager on the horse’s back. Walter had walked for over 4 hours in the Belizean heat to get to us! And he must surely be in his fifties or sixties, which made it even more astounding. I felt so bad. This poor man had walked all this way, because I (by being so thoughtless) had actually asked him to do so. Dumb, dumb, dumb, Simone!

I tried to invite them in for a drink and some food. But Walter and his son wouldn’t move; they just stared at our house.
“What is this place?” Walter sighed
“A Geodesic Dome,” I answered, “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of them?”
Walter shook his head. The boy, who turned out to be his 16-year-old son, was trying to keep his head low whilst secretly darting glances up at the Dome’s enormous structure.

I have to admit, our house is unusual even by Western standards and, apart from looking like a big wooden egg in the middle of the jungle, it’s also pretty huge.

“Is this where you live?” Walter gasped
“Yes, it is”
“And how many other people live here?”
“Er…just me and my husband. Just the two of us.” I was a bit embarrassed to admit this. The house could easily accommodate 10 times as many people (that’s why we ended up turning it into a resort)

“Hello Mr. Friesen, how are you? I turned around and saw Andy appearing from his vegetable garden.
“Thanks for bringing the horse. You didn’t walk all this way though, did you?”
“Yes I did, Mr. Hunt. And my boy here rode the horse, which has been a great experience for him as he has never before left our community”
“But tell me, Mr. Hunt, how have you been able to buy a house of this size? It must have been very expensive”
“Well, I used to be a professional football player back in the UK”
“What was that you said? Ball foot? You played ball foot?”
“Football. Soccer.”
Andy scanned Walter Friesen’s face, but there wasn’t a hint of recognition.
“No, never heard of this ball foot. We don’t have games in our community. But people used to pay you money for throwing a ball?”
“Well, for kicking it. Yes they did. They actually paid me a lot of money for it. Footballers earn more money than doctors, teachers or even politicians”
“Well, well, isn’t that strange?” Walter murmured.
“Yes, Mr. Friesen. It sure is”

We later found out that the Barton Creek Mennonites not only are unfamiliar with games, but also with soft furnishing. Walter’s son sat down on our sofa (once we finally got them inside) and acted like someone had thrown him on to a flying carpet, hands levitating in front of him, swaying from left to right and looking both shocked & pleasantly surprised by the experience (we quickly turned off our wide screen television, surely that would have caused the poor boy’s head to explode)

We talked for hours and were once again mesmerized by the cultural diversity of Belize. That such a tiny country can have so many different social groups with such diverse ways of life. And, thinking about the money my husband and I used to earn as an entertainer and as a professional sportsman, it again made us wonder: which society is really the strange one here?