We all know the superstition, right? Say something that you want to happen or don't want to happen and then "knock on wood"! In the past 11 years (~10 in NYC and ~1 in AZ), every time my Dani and I had this "knock on wood" moment (and due to this crazy world, these moments were/are way too frequent), we'd look around trying to find real wood!
Fast forward to now (August of 2021) where Dani and I have been living in Belize for about a month and a half. In this crazy world of uncertainty and our big life changes, there are so many moments where we say something that is followed by "knock on wood". However, unlike in the past, we now laugh because we are surrounded by so much wood in Belize, maybe too much! In all honesty, the wood here has been almost an annoyance. Every piece of furniture is soooo heavy. I miss IKEA? Dani and I laugh so hard because I have to push her 11-year-old, skinny ass into the table at restaurants because the wooden chair is that heavy. Neither of us had any clue that one of Belize's most prized offerings is its wood (and many types, especially Mahogany and Rosewood). And OMG, it's absolutely beautiful! (See these pictures of our cabinetry)
When we moved here, we heard about this amazing breakfast/lunch place called, Estel's, Dine by the Sea. My strategy when living in a new and different locale is to find a few places where you repeatedly go so you can go build up to a place where "everybody knows your name" and you can more quickly learn how to navigate your new world. This strategy has bode well for us in Belize. Estel's is definitely a tourist "must". But, it gets its share of locals (mostly expats) as well. Dani and I go once a week for brunch and we continue to get to know the staff there, as they get to know us.
Because Estel's is a tourist hot spot, there are beach vendors that sell their art right outside. I'm not sure how it works, but after a month of observing, we realized that the same vendors have claim over this coveted spot. While patronizing this place, Dani often ran around the beach, collected shells, put her feet in the water, etc., etc., etc. Meanwhile, I sat there and watched this one particular artist chip away at wood to make the most amazing pieces of art work!! From the restaurant you could hear him "chip, chip, chip, chip, bang, bang, bang". I then realized that most tourists who buy his pieces couldn't possibly appreciate the work he puts into each piece, and it's of no fault of their own. I only know this because I've had the opportunity to watch him work for hours with such awe.
To be completely honest, Dani and I were scared of him at first. We had seen him be a little salty to tourists that tried to pick up his pieces for sale (anyone that has ever spent time in the customer service industry can understand this annoyance with certain customers). Unbeknownst to him and despite my fear of him, he impressed me and I began to strategize on how to meet him and ask him about a custom project idea, but hopefully not insult him and his work in the process. (That's James below and sorry for the worst photography here!) Anyone that visits San Pedro, should definitely check out Estel's and then pay a visit to James's table, because my picture doesn't do it justice!
One day, after a month of watching his artistry, I finally conjured up the courage to approach him about my idea. I told him I had been watching him do his work for hours and I told him how impressed I was (and am) with how he could create such beauty with very little in the way of tools. I told him the story of my Dani and me moving to Belize. I politely asked him if he could make me a smart phone holder and described what I was looking for. He was very nice and was honored that I took the time to watch him work. 3 days later, I went and picked up my masterpiece. The best part was that as I walked up to his table, he was using it to hold his own phone as it played his reggae tunes. He told me I got his wheels turning and his smile was something I will never forget. It's one of the biggest reasons I even care to live in this negatively-skewed, animosity-filled, insane world now, though that doesn't exist here in Belize (which was one of the reasons I chose this life here). If I can make someone smile and have a positive impact like this on even just one person, I'm all in.
As someone who has been in marketing and informing product innovation for almost 20 years for some of the biggest corporations in the world, this was so different and so much more rewarding. It wasn't at all rooted in a desire for money. This true artist was genuinely happy to just meet a need that he'd never thought of. He said he will be making one for himself! I can't even describe how rewarding that felt.
Dani and I have met a connection for life. James has so graciously and genuinely offered to teach Dani his craft and knowing the artist she is, she will totally get it. I see them sitting on the beach listening to great Caribbean music and creating beautiful things. I think she may give him something in return--likely her appreciation for the beauty in the simplest of things. But from what I have observed, he seems to already have that. I see a life connection between a city kid and an island artist mentor and an unforgettable memory for both of them.
I suppose time will tell, but moments like these continue to give me the utmost gratitude for this life of ours here in Belize. <3<3<3