The shootout on Vernon Street was in the news the next day. It was reported that both of the boys, the shooter and his intended victim, were in custody, though the police had not been able to find the gun; that it was a personal dispute; that they were trying to mediate the dispute.
And for a few days, things seemed quiet in the neighborhood.
But then a women in our parents’ class arrived visibly shaken one evening. She had been in the funeral procession for a friend who had died, and, luckily for her, had moved away from where she had been standing to talk to someone else. While they were still lined up on the sidewalk, waiting to enter the church, an SUV pulled up, and someone started shooting. The grandson of the man who had died was shot in the head. A few moments earlier, she had been standing next to him.
She skipped the funeral and came to class.
When we returned home, M. had messaged my phone, wondering if we were OK. She had heard that someone had been shot in the head on Vernon Street, and was checking to be sure it wasn’t one of us.
And she commented that this was going to light up the gang war even more.
Sure enough, over the next few days, the newspapers report daily retaliatory shootings. The funeral shooting happened on a Thursday. On Friday, a 15-year-old walked into the courtyard of the Queen’s Street police station and opened fire, trying to kill the shooter, but hitting four other people instead, including a pregnant staff member and a police officer.
More shootings on Saturday, and on Sunday someone fired 19 shots into a crowd, trying to hit one person.
Putting aside the larger issue of the gang wars, the biggest problems, in my opinion, is that no one here is a very good shot. Including the police. There are a bunch of children running around this city with automatic weapons, and no one taught them how to shoot.
They literally can’t shoot straight.
The church where the funeral shooting occurred is on the same street as the building where we teach. We are scheduled to teach a CBCT class for the teachers at the school affiliated with the church.
We know we are not targets of the violence. In fact, we have been told that we are off-limits for the gangs in the neighborhood. I don’t take this seriously until we are having a conversation with some of the guys in our adult class at the prison, and one of them is talking about some things in our neighborhood, and I ask him, “Where do you think we live?”
And he tells me. He knows which street, which house, that we live upstairs. He has been in prison for 17 years, and he knows all of this. And tells me not to worry.
So, unless we do something stupid, like walking around wearing a bunch of jewelry (which I don’t have) or flashing a bunch of cash (don’t have that, either) we’re fine.
Except there is this wee small problem of stray bullets, and the very real possibility of becoming collateral damage.
Our plan had always been that T. would depart Belize on July 12, for a pre-existing family commitment, and that I would stay until the end of the month to finish the class for the teachers and to offer some ongoing classes for parents and at the prison.
I am grateful when T. gives voice to the concerns that are mounting in my own head and heart.
“I don’t think it’s safe for you to stay on here after I leave,” he said one night.
“I know,” I replied. “I don’t think I can go into the prison alone. And I can’t walk home alone at night.”
“It isn’t even safe for you to go to that school in the day. The funeral was in broad daylight.”
And then we try to think of all the ways we can make it work. I could stay, and take taxis everywhere I need to go, and just stay at home when I don’t absolutely have to go out? Or maybe we can reschedule the class for the teachers, do it on a more intensive schedule, and complete it before T. departs?
We suggest this, and Tina, our partner for that part of the project, tries to make it work. But we’re cutting into vacation time for the teachers, and registration is low.
Reluctantly, we agree with Tina that we should cancel the class.
I am deeply disappointed by this. I was looking forward to working with her foundation, and looking forward to working with the teachers, who are stressed, like most teachers, and need support.
And I had thought that, with a lighter teaching load for the last couple of weeks of my stay, I would have time to hop on buses and explore the country.
But this isn’t a country that an American woman should wander around on her own. I will soon find out why.
©2016 Teresa I. Sivilli. All rights reserved. No portion of this material may be used or reproduced in any manner without permission of the author.