UCSB Latin American and Iberian Studies Program

Dr. Anabel Ford and her recent work on the Maya Forest Gardens

In January 2020, LAIS Affiliated Faculty Dr. Anabel Ford traveled to both Guatemala City, Guatemala and Belize City, Belize to further conservation and development of the Maya Forest Gardens. The entry below is Dr. Ford’s account of her travels, generously shared with the LAIS community. Please note this is a follow up to an earlier article, available from the link below.  The Maya Forest Gardens speak now to the issues of our global disregard for the natural worlds — extracting for the short term without thought of the long term. Clearing forests for ‘Roundup’ ready soybeans, putting humans and nonhumans at close proximity the inevitable is this and may be not the only. We need to think of the landscape as alive and something to keep well: conserve water and reduce temperature with natural tree shade, build fertile soil for healthy foods, enhance land cover for habitat for ecological services we all need that inhibit erosion, encourage diversity in plants and animals that maintaining the balances for earth’s cycles, This is our world’s wake up call! The January trip to Guatemala and Belize was a whirlwind with productivity at every moment. It is hard now to conjure the great feelings we had with our meetings and results. The events put us in such a great spot and follow up was at the threshold. We hold our hopes that the trajectory we were on and had established will pick up where it left off, yet that said out loud makes it hard to imagine. The entire conservation, development, and education infrastructures of the Maya forest have been hit with such an unexpected series of events now in the age of the COVid-19 pandemic, yet I believe the focus on the Maya forest gardens is now, in April, more palpable than it was in January. Our first meetings were in Guatemala on the 23-24 January. We were tasked with looking at obstacles and potentials for the conservation of the Maya forest in Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. Called Selva Maya Trinacional and hosted by the U.S. Agency of International Development, representative stakeholders were included in the workshop that had about 30 participants from all three countries. Our Belize team made the most daring proposals and the workshop really praised Cynthia Ellis Topsey, our champion for El Pilar in her ability to think out of the box. None of the same-old same-old! She was able to motivate participants to show their true colors that shadows impossibilities and with that carry the theme of a world of possibilities forward. 

From Guatemala City we traversed the countryside to Belize City where we were set to close our exhibit “Chaya Dinner with the Maya” at El Pilar. Always a major undertaking where we host a large group to celebrate the Maya forest and its values. Coordination and support were drawn from all areas of Belize. Chaya tamales were prepared by San Ignacio Hotel and sent by courier to Belize City, folk musicians Brad Pattico came from Burrell Boom and Amor and Rose Obando from Branch Mouth. Dr. Joseph Palacio from Baranco, who is Belize’s first Ph.D. in anthropology (from UC Berkeley), gave a keynote reflection on archaeology in Belize, as well as the host Mexican Ambassador Carlos Quinsnel and National Institute of Culture and History, Director Sapna Bhavnani took part. Cynthia and I appeared on the morning interview Open Your Eyes (OYE!)  and the news media covered the event.  It was a spectacular experience. The outcome of our successful exhibit is its transformation to the Museum of Belize where it will feature as part of the new Belize education curriculum. Meeting with the Museum Director Alexis Salazar and his talented museum staff, we are crafting a beautiful story of landscape that will tie into the education of visitors, local and international alike. The original plan was to open in April, but that, like my field work, and all of our lives plans have been postponed until further notice. We had other meetings as well  with the Guatemalan Ambassador and separately the Belize Minister of Foreign Affairs who each were interested in how we can feature El Pilar as a part of the confidence building measures related to the revolution of the territorial dispute. El Pilar, as a binational cultural and natural asset protected contiguously in Belize and Guatemala has always represented a positive focus of rapport.