Ambergris Caye, Belize, birth, Buddha, travel, travel writing
I learned to negotiate randomly placed crab holes with crutches this vacation. As if crutches in sand aren’t hard enough – crab holes can be wicked – one wrongly placed crutch-end suddenly six inches down a crab hole can send me and my 9 stitches vaulting pommel-horse style into a hammock, into a thatched roof hut, into a thicket of palm fronds, hopefully landing on my one good foot and sticking the landing al a the best Olympic athletes…
Sometimes you just don’t know what is coming. The day started innocently enough, we rented a golf cart to explore the island of Ambergris Caye in Northern Belize. I absolutely love driving golf carts on sand roads, it’s some sick tropical obsession I have. First we drove south past the air strip, the catholic church with its sun-faded Madonna, past the tortilla factory which was really two old women working side by side in silent unison, past the dump, down a path, past some iguanas until we ended up dead ended where the road washed out in a puddle I was too chicken to gun it through (yes, I’ve both drowned a golf cart and watched one go up in flames on previous adventures). We had an unexpected guest who joined us at some point on our explorations – 13 year old Ivan who appeared in the back of our golf cart like the ghost holograms who ride in your cart at the haunted house at Disneyland. I have no idea how long he was stowed away when I noticed him, but he was pleasant and answered our questions about this building and that, about the island. I treated him to a Coca-cola, and then was gone as silently as he appeared.
After South we explored North, past the German-expat bakery stop for an amazing sandwich, over the steel bridge now mending an old hurricane cut to the island, past the odd new modern Cinema building playing some movie from last year, to the Palapa Bar for fresh coconut water drinks, and finally back towards town. Really, the day was perfect.
That’s when I decided we should stop for a quick swim and ocean style bathroom break. I was only about 4 steps into the water – knee deep? thigh deep? I don’t remember, when I stumbled on something under the water. I stuck my foot out to brace myself and I didn’t feel sand, but something large, coarse and sharp. I could feel my foot being cut, sort of in slow motion, aware it was happening but unable to stop the action. The salt water burned, and when the pain didn’t subside in a few seconds, I knew it was bad. When I lifted by foot up and saw the 6 inch fillet-style slice and the blood running down my foot into the ocean I knew it was really bad. Thank god I have a strong survival instinct because the next 30 minutes were like an action packed movie.
I stumbled out of the water and started screaming to my friend to give me her T-shirt to make a bandage (I have no idea why I thought to do this – girl scouts, first aid training, too much TV?). Good thing Gap sells nice clean white V- necks for only $12.00 as hers was now sacrificed as a make-shift bandage. I got into the golf cart and started to drive while yelling simultaneously to some slack-jawed passerby “Where’s the doctor’s office! Where’s the hospital!” I have no recollection as to the answer, but I started driving there, trying to figure out what to do with my foot and the growing blood situation. Elevate, elevate – I tried to put the bloody thing up on the dash but it wouldn’t stay and only made a huge blood smear across the lower windshield. The sand in the floorboard began to turn pink as we drove the three blocks, five blocks to where stunned pedestrians pointed or said the doctor was.
When I saw the white sign with neat black writing “Dr. Gonzalez OBGYN” ahead on the street I had a brief moemnt of “you’ve got to be fucking kidding me” but I needed a doctor, any doctor. I whipped the golf cart to the side of the road, began hobbling up the sidewalk through the dirt front yard, all the while yelling to my friend to lock the golf cart – the guy said they get stolen a lot. Yes, strong survival skills. Now it’s lucky I’m no stranger to clinics and doctor’s offices in developing countries. Volunteer work and time spent south of the border had prepared me for the modest – or should we say meager – cinder block house with cracked tile floors, folding chairs, rusty-bladed oscillating fans, stacks of this and that in plastic bins behind the counter, and really bad bare-bulb overhead lighting. I made it up the sidewalk to the open front door, and the last thing I remember seeing was a row of about 5 pregnant brown Mayan women sitting in folding chairs against the wall. And then I passed out cold.
It’s not embarrassing to pass out because you don’t really know you have and you don’t really remember, but it is embarrassing to think back later about what you may have looked like while you were passed out. Here I was, almost 6 feet tall, blonde, white as any first-day tourist, in a swimsuit and T-shirt, passed out cold with my legs inside the clinic and my body and head on the front porch, my Gap bandaged foot creating an ever increasing pool of blood at the feet of these stoic faced, pregnant women. They were sitting like 5 golden brown Buddhas in meditation growing the secret of life in their bellies when I passed out, and they were sitting exactly the same way when I came to.
Dramatic tropical fainting and lots of blood is also a way to get to the front of the line at a Belizean OBGYN’s office, and when I came to I was quickly ushered to the back room which I think was probably a delivery room, but for me was going to be a 10 heinous lidacane numbing shots in your foot before we stitch you up room. I’m sure Dr. Gonzalez was as gentle as possible, but I proceeded to scream like a banshee when he started jabbing needles into the bottom of my foot. I writhed, I screamed, I bit my friend’s arm, and I cursed like a peg-legged pirate before I was sufficiently numb. 9 stitches went in. Personally I thought I did fairly well on the hysteria scale – minus the fainting and the permanent blood stain to the waiting room tile grout. Dr. Gonzalez was as stoic as the 5 pregnant Buddhas through the whole thing, and all he said to me at the end was, “you should try having a baby some day,” and walked out of the room. I was left in the care of his robust nurse Evelina who kept shaking her head and saying in island style English, “it so big, so big. I never see one so big.” I think she was trying to be sympathetic in a seen-way-worse but won’t tell you type of way, but I had to tell myself it was my size 10 foot she was talking about and not the massive slice on the bottom of it that was the biggest she had ever seen or I would have fainted again.
I spent the rest of my week learning to use crutches in the sand, accepting gifts of codeine and other pain killers from strangers (other guests at our resort, don’t worry), and laying by the pool with my leg propped up trying to convince myself the novel I was reading was as fascinating as nurse sharks and sea turtles and all the cool things my friend was seeing while she snorkeled one of the longest reefs in the world. Things I learned were: how to get in and out of a dock-side boat on my hands and knees, how to maneuver a mosquito net with one leg propped on a pillow, how to make soda water and lime juice feel like a cocktail, how to get from crutches into a hammock and back out again, and basically how to enjoy 7 days in a tropical paradise with no walking, no cocktails, no snorkeling, no swimming, no diving, no more exploring, and no more adventures. This was not the vacation I had planned and I didn’t understand why this happened.
A friend told me a story a few months ago – I was telling her how I felt ready for change in my life, like something big was right around the corner. I didn’t know what, but I could feel it – yet I felt frustrated waiting for this big change, this life evolution – especially with all the little daily crap and incidents that kept coming up. Like it was time for something big, yet I was having to deal with an inordinate amount of annoying minutia. She told me there is a Buddhist myth that when something beautiful, something significant is about to be born, the Universe distracts you with little annoyances, the minutia of human existence, so the beautiful mystical golden gift can be born in peace and perfection. We are purposefully distracted from ourselves, so something much better than we ever could try to control or conceive can be brought into our lives.
Maybe it was no mistake I ended up at an OBGYN, with 7 days of supine contemplation I didn’t expect, with simple tasks becoming feats of stamina and balance. I still feel that change coming, growing inside me. And when I try to imagine what it might be, what life has for me next, all I can picture are 5 golden pregnant Buddhas sitting in a row with the hum of a dime-store fan in the background. Serene, unmoved, waiting – patiently. I feel it inside me too – something sweeter than tropical mango, something wanting to be birthed in peace and perfection, in calm, filling me with golden light ready to emerge in flawless divinity when I least expect it, when the time is right. In the midst of my raw humanity – with blood and screams, fear and chaos – I know it is there, waiting, just waiting, to quietly step forward into my world.