Living in Belize City

by Mark Chmiel

Carolina and Tatiana have been participating in the Be in Love with Yr Life writing course from Belize City. I sent them my “It’s About” (on what Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine is about) which they read on a recent JVI retreat and shared with their community members. Several of them wrote “off” of my text and I am happy to share their reflections with you.

Hannah Jones, First Year Volunteer in Belize City

Some might ask –
“What is living in Belize as a JV like?”
Ok.

It’s about trading recipes
It’s about the amount of shortening in fry jacks
It’s about meeting prophetesses who profess un-faceable truths
It’s about dollahdollah vans yo
It’s about loving mango teefers
It’s about being humbled
It’s about giving up your obsession with “proper” grammar
It’s about potholes and potlickers
Masses at Martins
Knowing doctors by name

It’s about being in the emergency room with your four best friends,
Watching a documentary about life depicted in chaotic messy snippets
It’s about ocean salt
And Oceanic love
It’s about ubuntu

It’s about sass, love, and violence
It’s about finding new life in your window and hoping to see it hatch
It’s about AIDS leading to amputations
About needing blood
Because the machete cuts deep

It’s about feeling needed and feeling disposable
It’s about learning that injustice is fought with anger and joyful passion
It’s about the fact that sometimes you run out of gas and get stranded
It’s about emergency shits

It’s about nonviolence as spirituality
It’s about hypothetical tattoos
It’s about white ink turning black
It’s about washing your face or dirt and sweat before 9am.
It’s about washing each other’s feet and remembering that we must first become servants before leaders.
It’s about learning that if you have come to help,
You are wasting your time.
But if you have come because our liberations are bound up with each other,
Then let us work together.

It’s about that.

Patrick Cassidy
Program Coordinator for JVC, Former JV in Punta Gorda Belize 2010-2012

My Return to Belize

It’s about work.
It’s about meeting after meeting.
It’s about remembering how ungodly hot it is this time of year.
It’s about cholis.
It’s about reconnecting with this space.
It’s about journaling for hours over a cup of coffee and a Nalgene of water.
It’s about listening.
It’s about continuing to learn – the new and the old.
It’s about evolving relationships.
It’s about discerning whether to share more or less.
It’s about green mangoes and wishing they were ripe.
It’s about stewed chicken, rice and beans, escabeche, cohune cabbage,
black dinner, fry jacks and tortilla.
It’s about feeling bloated all the time.
It’s about bathing in the sea.
It’s about prayer and the inner movements of the Spirit.
It’s about the violence, the beauty, the sass, the realness.
It’s about so much more than the work.
It’s about so much more than me.

 

Tatiana Cortes, First Year Volunteer in Belize City

It’s about
It’s about uncontrollable tears
It’s about sharing what is in the silence of our hearts
It’s about sharing about the experiences that have shaped us
It’s about dreaming who I want to become
It’s about the difficulty of living a life of compassion
It’s about failing each day
It’s about recommitting each day
It’s about children with eyes glimmering of curiosity and mystery
It’s about letter writing and crafting
It’s about slowing down
It’s about the corner of St. Barbara and Ebony
It’s about letting go
It’s about unlearning and relearning
It’s about seeing the hope amongst the struggle
It’s about hopes that look different
It’s about hopes that will be realized
It’s about hours around a dinning room table
It’s about losing ourselves and finding ourselves
It’s about holding onto droplets of gratitude
It’s about visioning a world of peace for all persons
It’s about struggling for justice
It’s about walking together
It’s about remember who have come before us
It’s about those who will come after us
It’s about questioning our role as guest and outsiders
It’s about seeing past our limitations
It’s about celebrating our differences
It’s about celebrating what makes us unique
It’s about the struggles that unite us
It’s about the struggles we cannot claim
It’s about coming together so may liberate one another

 

Carolina Dominguez, Second Year Volunteer in Belize City

It’s about heart-tingling feelings of interconnectedness with people
It’s about asking questions
It’s about listening
It’s about finding beauty in the ugly
It’s about being human, knowing we are limited but knowingly wanting to burst them
It’s about seeing raw humanity beyond resumes, clothes and smells
It’s about beans, beans, beans and some more beans
It’s about sitting in front of each other instead of television or iphone screens
It’s about finding fingerprints in tortilla dough
It’s about neighbors
It’s about feeling the cool breeze through windows on hot days
It’s about tasting dukunu
It’s about sharing the struggle
It’s about compassion
It’s about the world, that great mountain of food, and sharing the feast of life
It’s about not letting chaos rob us of our humanity, making us run run run like wild chaotic beasts
It’s about letting go of the glorification of busy
It’s about a world where big people need small people and small people need big people
It’s about scooting chairs so that people serving the table can come sit at the table
It’s about solitude as serene and un-morbid
It’s about our songs, dances, words as worship
It’s about being uncomfortable
It’s about stopping the silver spoon that feeds us, that keeps us empty within, and feeding ourselves with hands and embraces
It’s about letting go of being consumed by consumerism
It’s about a living faith and keeping it alive
It’s about being governed by courage rather than fear
Its about a love that doesn’t condemn
It’s about poetry, igniting passions, naturalness and vibrancy
It’s about itching and digging deep
It’s about intended quick trips to the market turned into hour conversations amongst citrus smells
It’s about waking up to kids in the mango tree
It’s about morning yoga turned into HAWT yoga
It’s about lying naked with your fan
It’s about praying off your knees and praying with your life
It’s about rising spirits with rising yeast in homemade bread on Sundays
It’s about butt-numbing, vulnerable conversations in Mennonite kitchen chairs,
It’s about being birthed anew each day
It’s about breaking bread and breaking expectations
It’s about surprise showers of tears and spontaneous boats of laughter
It’s about cholis in Fadda’s truck
It’s about learning to love myself
It’s about the violence
It’s about the peace
It’s about smushed dolla van rides
It’s about sinking into pothole “swimming pools”
It’s about karaoke and not being goof at it
It’s about not letting lard be scary
It’s about becoming who you are
It’s about the power of books
It’s about being sweaty, wiping it off and getting more sweaty
It’s about dusty-ness
It’s about re-coming each day
It’s about the corner of ebony and santa barabara street
It’s about hopes soon realized
It’s about trying to read the sky
It’s about praying, crying out with the howl of the street dogs
It’s about running out of gas n’ filling up your spiritual gas tank
It’s about trying to read the sky when I am feeling lost
It’s about feeling home in once strange arms
It’s about taking it in and letting go
It’s about the pulses within, and feeling them
It’s about crying into the rain
It’s about letting life grasp me

 

Mark Chmiel, It’s About

As I offer to share a 250-page novel/collage
(Dear Layla/Welcome to Palestine)
With a friend here and there
A typical question is–
“What’s it about?”
OK
It’s about good mimesis
It’s about memory, resistance and eutopia
It’s about Umm Safi
It’s about breakdown preceding breakthrough
It’s about broken hearts whichever way you look
It’s about contrapuntal compassion
It’s about being almost totally depleted
It’s about el derecho de vivir en paz
It’s about Natasha Laserstein
It’s about pratityasamupada
It’s about sumud
It’s about satyagraha
It’s about Scheherazade
It’s about Sarah Azad
It’s about Joanie French
It’s about Layla Lavasani
It’s about 147 other people I’ve met or dreamed of and transfigured
It’s about epistolary ecstasy
It’s about Walt Whitman saying, “Journeyers over consecutive seasons, over the years, the curious years each emerging from that which preceded it”
It’s about Murad saying, “Let’s not waste it”
It’s about the heart-tingling power of sri
It’s about the life-giving power of daydreams
It’s about the temporarily salvific power of a violin
It’s about olives
It’s about getting a little taste
It’s about postcards in the era before Tweets
It’s about the corner of Grand and Lindell
It’s about Jelly Helm’s line: “Everything in here is true, and some of it actually happened”
It’s about the Rolling Stones’ album, Exile on Main Street
It’s about that Zen saying adapted: When the teacher is ready, the student appears
It’s about xin hãy gọi tôi bằng chính tên thật của tôi
It’s about walking together
It’s about Madame Verdurin’s croissants
It’s about being together
It’s about life under military occupation
It’s about breathing together
It’s about life under neurotic preoccupation
It’s about staying human together
It’s about how grades aren’t everything
It’s about letting go, letting go, and letting go
It’s about a certain Spanish word

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