This week’s blog is a more personal, reflective piece by SCRAP team member Dave Blaine. Enjoy!
Tuesday, 24th of May…
It’s my second day of fieldwork since 2019, yesterday having been partially called off due to a torrential tropical downpour. It’s only halfway through the day, and I’m already tired… a bit nauseated… I feel slightly off-balance… Sleep so far has been largely ineffective… It’s really hot…
I feel like I can either have a drink… or just collapse into a fetal ball and weep.
My mind strays to a week ago, sucking air and body aching from a weekend of backyard gardening in daytime temperatures barely half as hot as today, with no humidity! That felt hard! And with every year I clock past 40, it seems like it’s getting harder.
I’m seriously starting to wonder whether I’m still cut out for this sort of thing.
So far, my return to the field following almost three years of pandemic lockdown has been a humbling experience. However, I found air travel to have changed little due to Covid-19. Airports are still the same familiar melee of bureaucracy and lineups; masks and vaccine records not so much disrupting the whole process as adding on to it.
No, it’s the fact of being away close to three years, of being shut in that’s really wearing me down.
I’m not just telling myself that as I sit panting on the jungle floor, trying not to pass out from heat exhaustion. But the truth is this is one hell of a way to start travelling again after such a long and wearisome hiatus.
Since joining the SCRAP team in the field, this is the first time I will have been on site for the entire field season. The work begins with the labour-intensive task of clearing away the vegetation from the mounds we’ll be excavating. And unlike the forests back home, the regrowth here after only a few years is such that you could be forgiven for assuming we’d never worked here at all.
Unphased, our collaborators from the local Maya community – wielding machetes with surgical precision – clear every bush, root, and blade of grass from our proposed dig sites, literally peeling the brush back almost like a carpet. The North Americans try their best to help out, but our machete skills are lacking so we mostly just help clear away the chopped material with our gloved hands.
Our team has new and familiar faces this season, and I’m unexpectedly moved to be remembered so fondly by local companions I haven’t seen in so long.
Bit by bit, the week progresses through the opening of all three of this year’s dig sites, all of us getting acquainted and re-acquainted as we went along. What emerges is a continuum of the little vignettes that only come out of getting to know people. Saralyn deploying an hourly application of bug repellent from a can the size of a bazooka; Mr. Paquiul identifying the mournful baying echoing down from the nearby hills as the cries of Howler Monkeys – he calls them baboons – calling for the rain; exchanging stories with Mr. Juan about how determined and focused our daughters are: his will go to work for a bank, mine will be a veterinarian…
Belize, I quickly remember, is demanding but also rewarding.
Later, the weekend affords a short getaway to the beach and possibly the best pizza joint – certainly our favourite one – in Belize. Shawn observes philosophically that he likes having favourite places in different countries. As I take stock of this favourite place, I realize, despite the only recent lifting of pandemic restrictions, that it seems busier and more touristy than the last time I was here. The place has expanded, and they’ve added services… After the last week of getting our project started again, it becomes clear that not everyone who travels gets to visit places in quite the same way we do… and not everyone wants to.
For me, travelling for field research harkens back to a time when you were privileged to travel somewhere and experience an authentic adventure in a faraway place. It feels like much travel these days has become about simply appearing somewhere, hoping it will drive more engagement on your social feed. But nothing we’re down here to do is merely to say we’d done it. Why we’re here and why we keep coming back is for a reason:
To learn (and share) something interesting about a place, and its people.