The column “Twenty Five Years Ago” still has many items in the series of “first’s” in San Pedro. However just to change pace for this week, I want to talk a little about a few hardships people had to put up with until there was a first one to change this trend. For example, there was the first washing machine brought to the island, but I have no ideal who was that fortunate housewife.
Yes folks, there was a time when in San Pedro there was no toilet paper. Hey, it is no shame; there was a time when it was non-existent all over the world. People used to cut ragged clothes, old T-shirts for example, into little squares and used these. Others used to take regular paper and crumple it until it became soft and usable.
There was a time when nobody used body towels after a shower. So they used discarded dresses of mom or sister as towels. One dress would be handing from a nail in the bathroom and it belonged to junior. The next dress, a different style and color belonged to Pedro and so on. When the dress was too old and stiff to be used as a towel, it was then demoted to the floor to be used as floor mat.
There was a time when there was no toothpaste available in the one or two small stores on the island. I tell you what, many times the teacher used to send an entire class to the beach to scrub their teeth with soft white sand. At home the family used to use soap as an alternative to toothpaste. It had an unpleasant taste, but dad always said it had better properties to kill germs than toothpaste. Some older folks used the ashes from the “fogon” or fire hearth and scrubbed the teeth with their fingers. I am sure they did their job in some way or the other.
There was a time when there were no tortilla factories, so we had to grind the corn using a hand mill. To grind two or three quarts for the mid-day tortillas took some good thirty minutes, a task that had to be done by every boy and girl before going to school. Mom baked the tortillas on a hot plate over the fire. This task also took a good half hour, and was done at 11:30 so that the children coming from school could enjoy hot corn tortillas. Thank you moms.
There was a time when there were no electric tools for the carpenters. If you cannot imagine what that means, try setting up some steps and a verandah using a hand saw and hand screw driver. Similarly, there were no electric gadgets in the kitchen. Again try beating one dozen eggs and the mixture to make a cake without a blender or cake mixture.
There was a time when there were no hot and cold showers in the homes. So you filled a five gallon bucket with water, heated a kettleful of water over the fire, and warmed your bath water. This made a delicious warm bath. For all that work even before you started bathing, no wonder most people preferred to take a cold shower. Now that is what you call a refreshing bath- a cold shower. I do wish hot and cold systems had never come to the island. Why a hot bath in a hot climate like Belize?
A few more hardships? No spray to repel mosquitoes. So we burned coconut husks and let the smoke repel the mosquitoes. No electric fans. So we slept with the windows open. No ready-made coconut milk for the rice and beans. So we grated the coconuts on home made gadgets- the coconut grater. No outboard motors for the small boat or dory. So we used the pole or paddle to get to the fishing grounds. No deodorants, wow! So some people used alcohol or once a week treatment with limes or lemons. Hardships there have always been, and there are more, but I’ll leave them for another issue.