Maya woman called to Bar in Belize!

This is so exciting! This is how lasting change in the status of indigenous communities happens so YAY for Monica Coc Magnusson!

“Monica Coc Magnusson, the sister of noted Maya rights activist Christina Coc, made legal history today as the first member of the indigenous Maya community of Belize to be called to the Belize Bar…

While she has not been formally asked to join the effort of the Maya to secure communal land for the 38 Maya villages of South Stann Creek and Toledo, she says she will treat all her cases as “big ones.”

She says her efforts are a signal to Maya women that they have other trails to blaze in what has been a traditionally agriculture and land-oriented community with few educational opportunities for girls.”

On Writing the “Other”

Photograph by Johan Ordonez, AFP/Getty Images

This blog post, 12 Fundamentals Of Writing “The Other” (And The Self), by Daniel José Older is timely.

Almost all of my stories are at least partially about people not like me. As an anthropologist I worry a lot about cultural appropriation and how to avoid it, but I still have moments of fear. I ALWAYS assume that I suck (see #2 on his list) at writing/understanding the other, but it is still a risk and so I enjoyed reading this post a hell of a lot.

I especially liked this one:

“7. Ritual ≠ spectacle.

I recently edited Long Hidden, an anthology of speculative fiction from the margins of history. My co-editor Rose Fox and I received a number of submissions that had no speculative element at all but featured non-Christian ceremonies. Other people’s cultures/beliefs are not fantasy. It’s one thing if a demigod or spirit is out walking around, interacting with the world, and even that walks a complex line, but to have people simply celebrating their beliefs be a “fantastical” element is racist cultural imperialism.”

My academic specialization focused on religion and, over time, I came to believe very strongly that ritual and religious belief is something that should always be held in respect (barring abusive beliefs, etc). I’m not Catholic, but I would never feel comfortable doing what PZ Myer did to a communion wafer. I don’t believe the cracker is actually the body of Christ, but some people do. In my opinion, religious belief is, for many people, a central, emotional, visceral, authentic part of who they are. Religious experiences aren’t just something fabricated, they are deeply felt and genuinely important. Which is why I always cringe when I see depictions of non-Western ritual as some kind of cool, weird entertainment.

Ritual does a lot of important things (helps individuals genuinely feel part of a group, verify and vivify their belief systems, etc) and so I always hesitate to represent ritual of the “other.” However, in the book I’ve just finished I do depict a few Maya rituals, and so I’m very glad to see this post from Daniel José Older, because it reminded me to always be thinking about these things.

How is this even real?

This is one of the latest images released by NASA taken by the Hubble telescope. The long-exposure image shows us the deepest space that human eyes have ever seen. In just this tiny quadrant of space they have counted thousands of galaxies.

I literally cannot wrap my brain around these photographs. It looks like a mediocre sci-fi illustration to me because the implications of this being real are too humbling for me to process.

More information and big, zoomable photos available at NASA.


Alright, I’ve heard about it for years.

I’ve pondered the bloated corpses of half-finished novels floundering on various hard drives. I have just received an email asking to buy a piece of my fiction. (also, HELL YEAH! WOOT WOOT WOOT I SOLD SOME FICTION!) These events convince me that I might be an okay writer after all, and thus I should probably, you know, finish a book.

So, rather than farffing around with the three different works I currently have in progress, I have officially declared my intention to focus on one piece and just git ‘er done. One of my works in progress is a young adult urban fantasy type thingy with only a few thousand words written. I suspect it will end up being around 55-60,000 words. Perfect for a National Novel Writers Month project where you join hundreds of thousands of other writer in a sprint to puke up 50,000 words during the month of November.

Therefore, in a challenge to myself, I hereby declare my intention to finish a draft of this book by the end of the month. Let the writing commence!

Thinking about Belize

As I am working on my (almost finished) novel, I’ve been thinking a lot about Belize these days. The book takes place all across Central America and Mexico, but it is really the deep jungle that I hated/loved/miss/hope to never go back to. Especially my time at the Programme For Belize where I learned many things: what it’s like to be genuinely hungry, what it’s like to have fungus growing on your nether bits, how to use a machete, what it means to feel truly competent and confident in your abilities as a human being, how to survive in the wild, that people are ultimately the same everywhere, that life without technology can be truly wonderful. I could go on.

One thing I definitely miss is the wildlife. Especially howler monkeys which used to serenade us every evening. I got to see hundreds of these guys as well as spider monkeys and a few other kinds of monkey.

Also the coati, SO CUTE.

And, of course the jaguars and other big cats, which I did see in the wild exactly once. Yes, I wet myself a little.

I, however, do not miss the fer-de-lance, fondly known at the two step snake (because you will get bitten, then take exactly two more steps before you die…which is actually an exaggeration. Really you will likely only lose the limb that gets bitten, just don’t get bitten on the nose…). I did come face to face with a few of these, including one literally face to face. They tell me I levitated backwards though I have little memory of that. I also killed a few with my machete, Very Carefully.

The best part about these snakes is that they are aggressive. I heard stories of people being chased through the jungle by one of these territorial pit vipers.

Though the fer-de-lance was deadly, the real danger in the jungle was packs of peccaries. Look at this photo – see how cute they look. Until you look into the mother’s eyes. Look at them, see the cold evil? These things travel in packs and, if disturbed, will shred your ankles with their sharp tusks. Then, when you finally fall over on bloodied stumps, they feast on your corpse (okay I’m exaggerating, but only a little. I did see local guys that killed fer-de-lances like they were nothing frantically climb trees to avoid peccaries).

In addition to snakes and wild boar, the animal that truly terrified me while there…. the ocellated turkey. Don’t laugh. Check out the razor sharp spurs on that sucker. It’s hard to see it, but they are like little stiletto blades. Dual wielding even.

One of these lovely birds decided that our camp’s pit-toilets were in her territory. If you needed to piss, you needed a buddy. One person would distract the turkey while the other made a mad dash for the toilet. Once inside (behind the trash bag hung up for privacy) you had to hurry, lest the screaming mad bird notice you and attack while your pants were still down.

Living there for so long was an amazing/terrifying/life-changing experience that’s for sure. I do hope someday we can take our little Danger Monkey there to experience some of it.