The first thing I found in my hotel room in Dangriga was a mosquito coil the color of moss, wrapped in tissue paper. I sat on the bed and unwrapped the coil and ran my finger from the inside of the spiral to the outside -- it smelled like a spicy incense even when it wasn’t burning. The sub-equator sun that had been so high earlier in the day was gently retreating and this made my institutional little room look even more so. There was one casement window, high above my head with a crank that had seen better days. The paint on the ceiling was peeling slightly and my bed looked as though it would rather I just leave it be. But the room had one redeeming feature, a screen door that slammed. And if I sat on the end of the bed, I could look out across the sandy yard of the hotel grounds toward the sea.
As I sat there considering lighting the coil to leave it smoking up my room while I was at dinner, a shadow filled my screen door and bellowed at me, “Do you hear that noise?!” It was Mizz Rockbottom and she was ticked again.
“Yes, Mizz Rockbottom, I do hear the noise. Its exciting, don’t you think?”
“The man at the front desk said the drums will be playing all night. All night! How are we going to get any sleep?” I had to think about my answer to Rockbottom’s question. And as I pondered each answer, I realized that none of them would satisfy her so I ventured into a bit of sarcasm, she already despised me, why not have some fun?
“You could turn up your air conditioner to drown it out.”
“WHAT air conditioner?”
“Oh, right, there are no air conditioners in this hotel, sorry.”
“This hotel is practically a rat trap!” She was seething now and she wanted me to let her into my room, but I wasn’t budging, I just sat there on the end of the bed and let my screen door make a movie out of her, the caribbean shadows danced all about her and the drums in the distance beat and beat and beat.
“I don’t know if you could call it a rat trap. Flop house maybe. It certainly isn’t as nice as our previous accommodations. But Nigel said the food is amazing and London is going to take us all out in the bus tonight to see the Garifuna celebrate.”
“I plan to be in bed after dinner. I have no desire to go into town after dark.” I smiled at this, it made me happy that she wouldn’t be coming with us, but I realized my smile was not appropriate. I stood up and moved closer to the door, I felt as though I was approaching a lion in her cage. She put her hand on my door to open it but I pulled the door back and opened it myself. She stepped back just slightly, and I wondered if she realized that I was annoyed with her. “I think you should know the others are unhappy also," she growled.
“I will speak to Nigel, and I will certainly let the folks back home know that perhaps Dangriga on the eve of Garifuna Day is not the most ideal destination for our travelers. But in the meantime, I suppose we are going to have to make do Mizz Rockbottom.” The drums seemed to get louder and the sky was getting darker. I felt something bite my neck. A mosquito dammit. I slapped at it and Mizz Rockbottom spun and marched off, her shoulders still exhausted from holding the rest of her up. Had I won this battle? Perhaps, but inevitably I would lose the war.
I lit my mosquito coil and dressed for dinner, all while the drums thundered through the concrete walls of my room. The drums beat all through dinner and my herd of senior citizen travelers hung their heads over their plates piled high with fried parrot fish and plantains. Only two people seemed happy, Jeanne of the CIA and London.
When our desert of cassava pie and coffee were finished, London proudly stood up and announced the bus was leaving for town in ten minutes. This was his hometown and his small contribution to our trip. He was a Garifuna and proud of it. The night was young. Jeanne was the first to stand up and say that she would be on the bus, and she was followed by the Rittles, Miss Flit of California, and Miss Minebird of Wisconsin. London wasn’t phased by the fact that the rest of the group opted for bed instead of a bus ride into the inner depths of Dangriga, he was probably used to most travelers taking a pass.
Nigel and I sat up front with London and our small band of brave voyagers sat close behind us. London wheeled right into the middle the carnival—the drums and the black sea of dancers parted for us, the bus became just another reveler. London explained that everyone in Dangriga would stay up and dance and sing and drum all night until the sun would rise and the boats would arrive. The boats would be filled with Garifuna dressed in traditional African garb -- they would re-enact the settlement and their escape from British tyranny in Honduras. He explained how the boats were filled with cassava roots that would be the basis for their new crops in their new land. We filed off the bus and merged into the crowd with London leading us. He left the bus lights on and the doors open and I asked him if that was safe? “This is my town Miss Wolfy, everyone knows London’s bus and they watch my back.”
The street was heavy smoke and spice -- marijuana and cinnamon sweet coconut. We walked by shanty’s with their doors wide open to the street, the party paraded in and out of every shop and every home. There was an intoxicating joy and at the same time there was an undercurrent -- voo doo -- I looked into the eyes of a man who came toward me, he was not of this earth, he was a zombie I was certain of it. I was transfixed by him and he came closer and closer to me and grinned a jagged white smile that stretched his skin tight over the bones of his face. London grabbed my arm and pulled me out of the zombie’s path, “You mustn’t . . .” he didn’t finish his sentence, but I knew what he was telling me.
We met London’s wife, one of three apparently, and his little children were there too. Everyone was out on the street, dancing, dancing, dancing. We ate conch fritters and drank Elephant Beer and forgot time.
But time eventually said go to bed. And we magically found the bus again -- all lit up, a safe harbor, a light house in the stormy chaos -- there was nothing settled about Settlement Day.
I fell into a deep sleep in my bed made of only springs and rags. I was so dizzy from night that I left my door open and the breeze rattled my screen door in rhythm with the drums. I dreamed of the zombie. He came into my room and stood by my bed. He lit me on fire and laughed and laughed as I burned.
But morning came with a kiskadee on my stoop. I eyed him through the screen door. His fine yellow head was cocked jauntily sideways and he was devouring a lizard. The drums were quieter, more distant. Yes! The boats were coming, filled with palms and cassava and African princes!