I met Timesha 2 years ago while writing a story about the Mennonites of Belize. The Mennonites are austere and hard working, yet each Friday, many of the men allegedly went to a local bar in Orange Walk, drank, paid women for sex, and partied. I found it hard to believe, so I arranged to take photos at the bar on Friday mornings to help with my story. I showed up for five weeks straight before I finally got the photo I wanted:
While waiting for the right shot (it is difficult to get candid photos of men sneaking around and breaking rules), I met Timesha. She slowly opened up to me and over the next few months she told me her story. I asked permission to post it here, as I asked permission from everyone in every photo. Here is her story. I repet it here because it is not an unusual story for young women in Belize. Here it is:
“Most of my hair fell out when I was 7 years old.” Timesha told me recently, sitting at a corner table in the abnormally quiet bar. “And my skin turned almost white. I was really sick. They said it was because I didn’t eat enough food. For a year, all we had to eat was boiled plantains. I got to hate them. My grandmother in Belize City started sending a box of food for us once a week on the bus and I got better.”
Timesha never really knew her father while growing up, and she and her four siblings were raised by her mother in Orange Walk Town. When she was nine, her mother’s boyfriend moved in with them and, not long before her tenth birthday, began having sex with her. She had her first child, a girl, when she was 15. The child was taken away from her by the girl’s father when the girl was 2 years old. The father, who was living with a woman in Gayle’s point in Southern Belize, seldom stayed at Gayle’s point and the child was left primarily in the care of the father’s girlfriend, who burned the child severely and repeatedly with a hot clothes iron. “She stares a lot now” said Timesha while describing her last visit with her daughter – something she is allowed by the courts to do once a month. Timesha has been trying, without success, to get her daughter back since the very day she was taken from her. As long as she keeps her current job, there will be no hope of retrieving the child.
She pulled out a tattered photo once to show me herself (left) and her daughter with the daughter’s paternal grandmother, who must be present at all Timesha’s visits with her daughter.
Timesha works as a “bar girl” in lover’s bar. She is not a prostitute. She is young and pretty and men may sit with her providing they simply buy her a beer. When the beer is finished, they must buy another or leave the table. Sometimes she dances to attract customers, either by herself of with another girl at the bar.
She dances provacatively, in the Garifuna stye – with much swinging of the hips and suggestive hand gestures and body language.
Timesha is charming and intelligent and is in high demand for conversation among the bar’s clients who can afford a beer, but not a prostitute, or who simply want the company of a pretty woman – frequently hoping that they can bed her later. A beer normally costs $1.50 for a patron who buys one for himself, and $3.00 if he buys one for a girl. Timesha is paid $1.00 for every beer that she drinks. When each beer is delivered to the table, the girl is given a chip which is cashed in at the end of the day. While a man is sitting with her, they are allowed to touch her, except for the private parts of her body, and she will place her hand in a friendly manner on the man’s leg or drape an arm across him in some fashion.
“How many beers do you drink on an average day?” I asked her.
“It depends” she replied. “On weekdays maybe 20. On weekends I can have over 50. I once drank 16 beers in half an hour. The customer liked me. I usually make an excuse, after a few beers, to leave the table and then go to the bathroom and throw them up. I put my hand down my throat”
“Do all the girls throw them up like that?” I asked.
“Most of them do” she said. “But a few just drink until they get too drunk to work”.
Timesha is adept at dispatching beers without appearing to chug them. The faster she drinks, the more money she can make.
Timesha was born and raised in a tiny house at the edge of Orange Walk Town 22 years ago. The house has belonged to her mother’s family for three generations. She seldom went to school – there was usually no money for books and other costs associated with education, and in addition, she was needed at home. Timesha is the eldest of five children – she has three younger brothers and one younger sister. They are all from different fathers. Timesha’s father left home when Timesha was three years old and never returned. He provided no support after leaving, and little support while there, and did not contact Timesha for 14 years after leaving. She confronted him when she was 17. She told him about the lack of food, clothes, electricity and the absence of even the simplest comforts in the home she lived in while he, during the same period, was drinking, partying and ploughing through a long line of women. He had come to the home, on learning that he had grandchildren, and brought a doll as a present.
“If you knew anything at all you would bring food.” She told him. “You buy that bitch you’re with a necklace and your granddaughter is hungry.”
Orange Walk is a small place, and the goings on of each citizen is well know to all of the others.
Timesha’s two daughters were born in this house. She had one miscarriage, at the age of 14. Few people in Belize go to hospitals to give birth. Most give birth at home, in front of the entire family. Children as young as two will watch. Mothers hand down the secrets of childbirth to their daughters, making midwives an unnecessary element of the society.
Violence in the home is the norm in Belize. Drug and alcohol abuse is endemic, and, when combined with widespread poverty, creates a volatile mix. Police will not respond to a domestic violence call unless a death or serious maiming has been the result. Judges will generally not mete out punishments for conflicts arising between husband and wife nor between parents and children. The general assumption of the populace is that marriage and family contain violence as an integral component.
Timesha was beaten by all of her mother’s boyfriends. Most of them because they were drunk and angry. One because she resisted his sexual advances. She still has a scar on her neck where the man held a knife to her throat, and in the heat of his passion and drunkenness, pushed the knife in. “Blood was everywhere.” She said. She still has the scar:
Timesha had always said that she would never work in a bar. She would clean toilets for a living first. But six months ago her younger sister, Shakira, who has worked more than a year for the bar’s owner – Pazus, introduced her to him. Pazus had been lobbying Shakira for many months to bring her sister in to meet him. Timesha and Shakira are close:
Pazozo explained to Timesha that bar girls were respectable girls, not prostitutes. He explained how the job frequently leads to long term relationships with respectable men who have good jobs and fine prospects. He told her that she could earn $50 a day from beers and tips. He told her the secret of purging the beers she drinks. He explained all this softly and sincerely as a father would explain some intricate part of life to a daughter that he loved. He summed up by saying that trying it for a day or two could not harm her and that she might be passing up an opportunity that she would much later regret.
Every prostitute in Pazozo’s bar began their career as a bar girl, and bar girls seldom quit their jobs. They could never make as much money in any other job available to them. Over time, sitting in the same room, and frequently at the same table as the prostitutes, who make three times as much money, the natural progression to prostitution commences. Here is Timesha and Shakira at a table with two of the bar’s “working girls”.
It begins, usually, with a real attraction to a given customer, who may, over time, have become close to the girl. Girls are forbidden to date customers outside of work, and if an infraction is discovered, the girl is fired. Customers, however, can pay a “bar fine” and leave the bar with a girl. The bar fine is supposed to cover the lost revenue suffered by the bar because of the girl’s lost work time. Bar fines are not fixed fees and are negotiated individually and personally with Pazozo. Pazozo takes into account the productivity of the girl, the amount of time she will be away from the bar and the estimated size of the customer’s wallet, and then comes up with a price. The girl gets 25% of the bar fine.
There is no talk of purchasing sex, and Pazus is clear with the customer that his success with the girl will depend on how smooth he talks and acts, and wishes him luck, but in the customer’s mind, he has paid for the girl and therefore has certain rights. It doesn’t take many encounters of this nature for a girl to begin to change her attitude towards herself. It’s a short walk from here to outright prostitution.
Timesha says she has considered it already. “Every man I’ve been with has fucked me, beat me and left me with nothing, except my babies.” She told me once. “Maybe it would be better to get paid for it. They couldn’t beat me in here.”
Timesah did not become a prostitute. She began living with me a year and a half ago. She has her own house on my property and she has her privacy. She has returned to school and is proud of her progress. And I am proud of her.
I tell this story because it is not an unusual story for this country. Due to the economic situation, there is rampant poverty and privation. The powerful accumulate the wealth and spread it to their own families. The rest have little. This imbalance could not exist if the law had teeth and the powerful were obliged to follow it.
I will continue to post these stories, with photos so that you might better understand where I live.
Three of my friends are still being held in prison on trumped up charges. They are:
They were charged and have been imprisoned because three legally licensed firearms were found in the incorrect rooms on my property (stretching the law to the extreme). I would ask you to please email the following and demand their release: