It Feels Something Like an Ending

This week’s blog post is written by Mr. Dave Blaine who is a student in the Master’s of Interdisciplinary Studies at Athabasca University. Here he reflects on his first week in Belize and the future.

Its about 3pm on Saturday afternoon, and I’ve been travelling by bus, taxi, and commercial jetliner for most of the last two days. I’m squeezed into a tiny, noisy airplane with 8 other passengers, all of them clad in the garb of sun-seeking vacationers.

The pilot races onto a taxiway, corners hard and peels onto the runway – taking off quickly and unceremoniously – as though the departures gate at Belize City’s Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport was for him, just another bus stop.

Out my left-side window, a strut supporting the wing reads #FlyMayaBelize.  Beyond that, a seemingly endless expanse of turquoise Caribbean. I raise my camera to my eye and immediately start shooting. It isn’t lost on me that this may well be my last visit to Belize for the foreseeable future. SCRAP’s current funding cycle ends this season, and I will launch the final project of my master’s in September. There’s an unmistakable air of completion and ending to this season, and regrettably, rather than sitting back and enjoying the voyage, my head is reeling with images, shot lists, and to-dos.

Short Flight to Dangriga

This is my last chance to make good… and I’ll be damned if I’ve figured out yet just how to tell this story.

SCRAP has become a blur to me. A jumble of interrelated scenes, and diary entries that only the benefit of hindsight will eventually help coalesce into something vaguely story-like, and hopefully with an insight or two to share. The last week has been filled with these little vignettes:

Touring Ms. Aurora and Mr. Ernesto’s farm, chewing on stalks of fresh-cut sugarcane, while their farmhand, Don Antonio – who looks for all the world like The Old Man of the Sea – spreads spoonfuls of a pasty green mixture around the bases of several plants, to save them from the leaf-cutter ants.

Mr Ernesto and Ms Aurora at their farm

Digging out last year’s excavation, the rock-hard backfill dirt eventually peeled off the plastic sheeting we had laid down to preserve the unit floor and walls in the same way accumulated ice might chip off a frozen sidewalk. Sharing that comparison with my Belizean companions, to which a philosophical Mr. Paquiul observes very simply, “Different places.”

Digging out 2022 backdirt at ALA-003C

Sitting in the passenger van, while Meaghan and Shawn buy a round of ice-cold drinks after an especially hot day, Mr. Justino, many years my senior, laughs out loud when I suggest I might be getting too old for this. With a tinge of regret, he tells me that he thinks this may be his last season in the field.

Mr Justino preparing to build a shelter

This strikes me. He joined SCRAP in the field in 2018, the same year I did. That’s when I knew… this isn’t an ending. SCRAP will carry on, with new partnerships, funding opportunities, research questions, and initiatives, to become the regionally focussed project that it was meant to be, and that it deserves to be. Our companions will carry on, building their communities, and advocating for their culture. And I’ll carry on as well, taking this multimedia storytelling thing I’m concocting to the other archeology projects of the world, like I should.

No not an ending, but probably a Last.

Lasts are tricky. As people, we don’t usually see them coming with the same clarity as we see Firsts.

As I reflect on the people I’ve met, worked, and lived with over 4 all-too-short seasons of fieldwork; people whose knowledge, experience, and generosity I’ve been privileged to share; I can’t imagine any other circumstances in which I would have become so close, so quickly, to so many different people, and it’s hard to come to terms with the fact that this may be the last time I will see many of them, and I will miss them.