How Belize Changed My Life
Everybody here in England is thrilled by the success of the London Olympics. But while cheering for my own athletes, I had a very special reason for cheering on Team Belize.
In 2008, the British Arts Council funded me to visit Belize to research the fight to save the rain forest and the difference – if any – that gap year volunteering made to young people’s lives. of Belizean life – might go through in order to achieve adulthood. The result of that research was a novel for young adults, ‘In the Trees’, which was set in Belize.
The six weeks in your country changed me. I learnt a lot. I now only have to see pictures of Belize, or meet Belizean people in the UK, or hear the music of Paul Nabor, or Andy Palacio and I’m transported straight back. It’s not just the country I remember. It’s the open smiles on people’s faces, and their open hearts. The taxi driver who’ll break your journey to raid an orange grove because you’ve never tasted Belizean oranges straight from the tree. The old woman living in the mangrove swamp, who tells you the names of all the birds. The Kekchi-Mayan family who welcome you into their home and sit up late with you, by candelight, talking about everything from politcs and poverty to land rights.
But where does Team Belize fit into all of this?
I came away from Belize with an obligation laid upon my heart. Firstly I wanted to tell people about the efforts made by young British gap year volunteers – many straight from school and leaving home for the first time – whom I’d met deep in the Chiquibul Forest Reserve, working on a project to help protect the rainforest. And secondly I wanted to tell people about the wonderful country of Belize, with its great natural beauty and its friendly, diverse and – above all else – hopeful people.
And it was in the process of that telling, starting with my own family, that a connection was forged with Team Belize.
It’s strange the way things happen sometimes. My daughter Grace smokes, which is not allowed in UK offices. Fag-breaking on a pavement outside the fashion house she worked for in London, she forged a friendship with a Belizean man who worked in the same building. His surprise at her knowledge of his country was compounded by her mother having been there, and written a book – one that the Belizean, Andy Wigmore, had read, and loved. One thing followed another, fashion following literature, followed by Team Belize for whom Andy Wigmore was Olympic attaché. Team Belize would be coming to the Olympics for their fiftieth year, he said. They had an Opening Ceremony outfit, designed by Jeff Banks, but were still in need of a sports kit. Did Grace, working in fashion, know anyone who might help?
By an extraordinary coincidence, Grace’s partner, Luis Lopez-Smith, is Chief Designer for the sportswear brand, Head, as well as Creative Director of his own sportswear label LLS. You can put the rest together for yourselves. Working for LLS, Luis has designed a kit that has made real waves at the London Olympics, turning heads from all round the world. It had its launch the day before the Opening Ceremony, and I was there to see Team Belize wearing it – a guest of the Belizean High Commission in London, along with Grace, Luis, Andy Wigmore and Jeff Banks, at a reception at Claridge’s. We toasted Team Belize in champagne and I, for one, have been following their fortunes ever since.
They’re back home again. Belize should be proud of them. They cut a fine figure on the London Olympic stage. If you want to see them in action wearing their LLS kit, go to the Team Belize page on Facebook. If you want to see the Luis Lopez-Smith Belize kit fashion shoot, go to the LLS page.
What a strange chain of events. When you write a book, you never know where it will lead.
This post was written by Pauline Fisk, you can visit her website http://www.paulinefisk.squarespace.com to find out more information on her life.