A LOSE-LOSE SITUATION
Here it is again, this experience that I have had over and over again. After travelling for hours on unpaved roads - red clay, mud, potholes and scrub-board stretches, I once again turn the curve at Maya Beach to begin the last stretch of the journey to Placencia. Beach, waves and foam come into view and the fresh smell of salt air clears my nostrils. I know that my entry into paradise is imminent. I slow down to take it all in, and turn around to show it all to Malik, my two-year old godson who is making the pilgrimage with me this time. I invite him to share this moment of awe and exhilaration with me, and tell him why I have made this journey at least once a year for most of the past eighteen years of my life. This, I explain, is the one place on earth I can put body, mind, and soul back together, no matter how bruised and battered I become.
As we drive along the peninsula, occasional breaks in the foliage afford glimpses of sea on the left and lagoon on the right. I gaze wistfully at the sea and recall the internal struggles I have resolved while sitting on these very beaches. I realize that this time I will really need all the balm that Placencia has to offer as I work through the battles raging inside. I am at one of those seven-year marks in my life that usually arrives with much internal wrestling and many major life-changing moments. I need to move the decision-making process forward as I work at shaping my future and making a very difficult choice. It is a choice that I have always known would have to be made, and all my delaying tactics have not kept the moment at bay. The decision to finally make the move to pursue graduate study, after eleven years of procrastination, has precipitated this moment.
That such a move would eventually be made was as inevitable as the dilemma it spawned. My natural intellectual curiosity and the short attention span that has always led me to seek out new challenges had to be satisfied. But there is a price to be paid, and I now have to haggle with myself about the precise quantum of the debt I am prepared to incur. I have completed the first of two years work toward a master's degree in English. I now have to begin contemplating whether or not I will go any further after the end of next year. The fear that the further I go on the graduate school road, the further I am drifting away from home is uppermost in my mind.
That is the tough part. Although I was not born in Belize, I have lived there for thirty-two of my thirty-five years on this earth. Belize is my world. And I have carved out a comfortable niche for myself in this paradise. I have enjoyed working with the students I get from Belize City's more "socio-economically challenged" homes. They provide ready opportunities for me to influence real change from day to day. I always have the chance to make a difference.
On the other hand, the absence of a vibrant, intellectual community is a source of frequent frustration for me. It takes regular trips out of Belize to keep me supplied with the books I want to read and the music I want to listen to. There are very few people I can talk to about the "big questions" with which I struggle. In this environment, what would I do with a Ph.D. in English?
Arrival in Placencia interrupts my musings. As Malik and I walk up the "sidewalk" which functions as Placencia's main street, I greet old friends and purchase cinnamon rolls from John the Baker Man who is making his daily evening rounds of the village with his basket of goodies. It has been a year since my last trip to Placencia, but I am able to slip back into this easy-going community as if I had never left. This recognition and easy camaraderie are key ingredients of life in Belize, and I am in danger of giving them up for the anonymity and cutthroat world of big-city academia.
Those thoughts are too heavy for a mind worn out with travel and I resolve to take a break. I busy myself opening up the house and putting the furniture out on the verandah. Here at last I can just lie in the hammock and distract myself by rocking Malik to sleep. Tomorrow we can explore the village and resume the struggle to find a path through life that will allow the best of all possible worlds.
Early morning rain and Malik's cries serve as cock's crow the following morning. The rain raises a damp-earth smell and sandflies from the grainy sand. As we get ready for the day the sun makes an appearance and announces that he is going to reign supreme today. The sky is clear, as if there had been no rain, and I know it's going to be a scorcher. We fortify ourselves with johnnycakes fresh from Miss Nora's fire hearth, and sally forth to meet the day.
We head straight for the beach. Malik is armed with bucket and shovel and goes to town playing in the sand. I spread a towel to avoid the scratchy feel of sand on skin and sit down leaning my back against the rough trunk of a coconut tree. I close my eyes and drift off to peace
. . . perfect peace. In my mind I float along on my back - eyes closed, sun kissing my skin, salt spray tickling it, the gurgling sound of the currents on the seabed lulling me to sleep. The waves splash against the beach and an occasional roar tells me a big one is coming in. I have known many big waves, and have been swamped by many a big wave both in the sea and in real life. Even with my eyes closed I can see this one coming in, standing above the ripply surface of the water as it crests. I brace myself for the sound of its crash on the shoreline.
But it's a different crash I hear. A clear two-year old voice haltingly works its way through "Goosey, Goosey, Gander." The smile that starts to form freezes as I am swamped by reality. Much of the impetus for staying in Belize would be provided by the opportunity to be a significant force in Malik's life. After all this is what I had promised God when I took him to church to be baptized. Images from that ceremony crowd in on me.
Can I be completely selfish and desert Malik and other young Belizeans as I pursue my own dreams? Is it true that as one friend has said, I have done enough social service and need to start taking care of myself? Will I? Will I really go after that Ph.D., or will I settle for a masters and a lifetime of service to my native land? Factor in intellectual curiosity and the need for challenges and the answer is no great mystery. Deep down I have always known what I want to do, and eventually most likely will do. I look over at Malik and a part of me is regretting the decision even before it is made.