The Aviary by Fayemarie Anderson Carter
Setting: The story is not set in any city/town in particular and the reason for this is because the reader then gets to relate the story to his/her own, filling in the details from his/her own experience.
So why choose birds to tell the story? Because birds are colourful, varied, expressive and tropical. Each character is symbolic of some sector of our society so that together, we hope that our aviary is a true representation of our situation. As such, everything is significant, from the type of bird chosen to his/her name. Some birds lack formal education and are single parents with blue collar jobs; some are independently wealthy; some are formally educated; some are single and hustling. Some represent the middle class and are civil servants with steady salaries and a stake in the political outcomes. As the story develops, so will the list of characters.
The Toucan- Well the most obvious reason we chose this bird to represent the whole blog is that it is our national bird. There are two of us hence the play on the word toucan- twocan. Toucans live high up in the canopy of trees in the rain forests so they have a good view of everything. Scientists from NatGeo suggest that while their colouring provides wonderful camouflage in the “dappled light of the rain forests” their continuous talking indicates that they are not trying to hide but rather they just fit well into their environment. We would like to think that’s us : colourful personalities with lots to say and Belizean to the bone.
Bernice “Bernie” Toucan- The name Bernice suggests that she is creole with deep historical roots in her community. Her family, while not part of the wealthy echelon has,non the less, been influential. Her family members have been the founders of several communities around the country and as such, Bernie has a well developed understanding of Belizean politics and its part in her country’s history and the current state of affairs. She has traveled and lived in various places thus giving her insight into several other societies, peoples and ideologies as well as she has acquired formal education along the way. Bernice is married to a formally educated, supportive, professional and has three children, two girls and a boy. Her husband is self employed and Bernice is his business partner, playing accountant, secretary and manager as needed. This gives Bernice a certain independence and ability to freely voice her opinions. It is a privilege and she understands her special standing. Bernie is empathic to her fellow citizens who do not enjoy her very unique perch so that she is patient and encouraging of them as they struggle to balance a need for free speech and change while not jeopardizing their need to procure and maintain employment. Bernice is highly regarded by many as fair and kind. She is sought out often for her opinions and reassurances.
Dorothy “Doo Doo” “Dodes’ Chickadee- Ok, so the chickadee is more of a North American bird so it’s kind of a misnomer. I suppose I could have used a wren or some or similar bird but the chickadee appealed to me for some reason. This character is actually the most complex. She is representing the average Belizean and as such, couldn’t be too noticeable. Most tropical birds are big, colourful, majestic even. Think frigate, egret, jabiru, osprey, falcon. I couldn’t use these species to characterize the average Belizean, even though they are more native. I needed a bird that at first glance would be overlooked, dismissed as unimpressive or unimportant. However, upon closer examination, this is the bird that all this raucous is supposedly about, yes? The Belizean? The physical presentation is a small bird. Chickadees can be black and white and grey or black and white and brown representing the cultural mix that is the Belizean. Traits include curious, intelligent, approachable and they like to roam large areas. Which Belizean do you know doesn’t like to travel? “Doo Doo” is a pun on several levels. It can mean silly or stupid as is in our Belizean vernacular “Duh Duh” (referencing how many people underestimate our people); “Doo Doo” or poop as we have borrowed from our American friends, (referencing that our people are just shit on); and “DO” as in the Belizean just keeps on keeping on. Finally, “Dodes” is just an endearing nickname. As such, her name “Doo Doo” changes in pronunciation, hence its meaning, according to the situation and is left for interpretation by the reader. Doo Doo is a high school graduate, single mother of four. The two older children are full siblings while each of the younger two are for different fathers. I know that some people will call me out on this as being stereotypical or portraying the average mother in a negative, unflattering light. It is not intended as such. It is truly an attempt to accurately describe the situation and not a judgement at all. She is a factory worker so her work is steady but she is underpaid and overworked. She doesn’t mind though, because her hope is that her children will get an education and fare much better than she has. Bernice and Doo Doo are good friends who met in kindergarten.
Marion Enid Chickadee She is Doo Doo’s oldest child. She is 12 years old and about to go to high school. She, like so many other first born girls in Belizean society, is the second mother to her younger siblings. Dodes leans on her even more so because she s a single parent and this is going to lead to some conflict as Marion gets older. Not only is she a daughter but she is a de facto partner with responsibilities who helps her mother to make decisions about family finances and the other children.This creates confusion as she is held to higher standards than other girls her age, while still being expected to “mind” her mother and as such, is subject to spankings and punishments. Marion is developing a resentment towards her mother and her siblings because she feels burdened by having to take care of them as well as being her mother’s confidant. She wants to be able to chat on the phone with her friends or hang out at the park. Instead, she is washing dishes, washing the laundry and helping her siblings with homework. She often makes the evening meal and then has to do her homework and study. She has to make sure that her siblings do their chores too or else her mother is displeased with her and accuses her of not being at home taking care of the children. She often ends up doing their chores just to avoid the confrontation. As a result, she is withdrawing and becoming a very introverted person, engaging more and more in the fantasy world of her books. Late at night, after everyone is sleeping, she turns on a flashlight and reads books cover to cover.
Darnell Oliver Chickadee He is Doo Doo’s second child and only son. He is 10 and a half and hasn’t quite taken the role as “man of the house”. He is allowed to be very childlike and spends much of his time making kites, playing marbles and trying to get out of doing his chores. While he and Marion are closest in age, she is actually closer to their younger sister, Melanie. Darnell seems oblivious to the heavy responsibilities Marion has, while Melanie often helps her out and scolds the other children for making things harder for Marion. The girls have take to calling Darnell “King” because their mother never seems to punish him for not doing his chores and often gives them to someone else to do. Their mother gives him the choicest bits to eat as well, which annoys everybody and causes disagreements at the table. He gets seconds when no one else is allowed because their mother says “he is a growing boy” and the girls have to “keep their figure if they want to catch a good man”. His grades are mediocre so that while the girls work and study hard to get A’s and B’s, their mother celebrates when Darnell gets a C plus. Darnell has done poorly enough that he is only in Std IV instead of Std V where he should be. When Marion tries to tell her mother that she is showing preferential treatment to Darnell, her mother responds by saying that Darnell has it worst of all the children because he has no father figure. This makes Marion’s blood boil because she wants to scream at her mother that none of them does. The result is Darnell has taken to ordering his sisters around, threatening to tell their mother some lie or the other, if they don’t do what he wants.
Melanie Annette Chickadee She is the third child, only 8 and a half and in Std III. She is like Marion in a lot of ways. She is smart and responsible beyond her years and often shares the majority of the chores with her big sister. They wash clothes together on Saturday morning while Darnell watches cartoons. Marion scrubs and Melanie rinses. While this chore is hard and sometimes made even harder when it rains or it is still and the mosquitoes are out, this is Melanie’s favourite time with her sister. They put on the radio real loud and sing at the tops of their voices. Sometimes friends, on their way to the market, stop by and chat. Part of Melanie feels proud that she can do such a grown up chore and do it well. She takes pride in squeezing every drop of water out and hanging the clothes like little soldiers, lined off at attention. The towels are the hardest and sometimes Marion grabs one end and she the other and they giggle as the wring out the water. Melanie doesn’t like what she sees going on in her home and she has started to vocalize her disapproval. Her father didn’t even stick around long enough for her birth, so she has little respect for men and little tolerance for her mother’s indulgence of her brother. She gets back at him by stealing his biscuits and his snack money. When she bites into a piece of fudge bought with the money she steals from him, she closes her eyes with secret pleasure at having gotten one over him.
Lindsey Lynnette Chickadee She is the fourth child, the baby, and has a special place in everyone’s hearts. She has blue eyes and a big smile. Her father is a limey soldier long gone back to England. This is the only sister Darnell doesn’t tease or hit. He has a soft spot for her and she is the only sister he shares his things with. Darnell takes her for walks by the sea and they look at tadpoles in the drains together. More than once, Marion has had to quickly wash her clothes because she slipped into the nasty black drain water. Once, Marion had to turn Lindsey upside down to dislodge a marble Darnell had lovingly given her. Darnell got really upset because he almost killed his favourite sister with his favourite shooter. After that, he only gave her biggies to play with because she couldn’t swallow those. At five years old, she is only in Infant I. School lets out an hour earlier than it does for her older siblings and she has to wait outside of Marion’s class for her to walk her home. This makes Marion nervous everyday because when she can’t see the top of her sister’s head through the classroom window, she panics. She lives in constant fear that someone will snatch her sister. This anxiety is fed with the constant news of little girls being abducted, raped and murdered just these past few months. Marion frets when she thinks of what will happen when she has to go to high school. Lindsey’s father is the only one who regularly writes and sends packages from England. Sometimes, Marion fantasizes that he will come back and marry their mother and take them all back to England with him but every time she mentions it to her mother, her mother sucks her teeth and changes the subject.
Buster and Paulie Piam Piam- The Piam Piam is actually a Brown Jay but Belizeans call them Piam Piam for the noise they make. They are loud and cantankerous so that in this story, Buster and Paulie will serve a dual purpose. They are twins so that dynamic plays into their attempts to outdo each other thereby providing much needed comic relief. The second purpose is to act as the devil’s advocate. They are bachelors so they are not burdened by concerns for providing for dependents except an elderly grandmother who benefits from a pension check and the support of her children, including the twins’ parents, uncles and aunts. In other words, they are mostly faced with supporting only themselves. As such, they are able to focus on other issues besides education, crime and the day to day grind of care giving of children. They are able to explore scientific research, study economic trends and pursue more leisurely activities like visiting the islands and other countries. They can be irreverent and bawdy and sometimes obtuse but on the whole, their charm and wit makes them a welcome addition to any gathering.
Charles “Charlie” Crow- Nobody really likes crows. Their plumage lends perfectly to the commonly held beliefs they are mean and aggressive, even menacing; but, they are also among the most intelligent, so that their presence while not preferred, can not be denied. The sound of a crow is thought to sound like jeer jeer and some species can actually imitate humans. They are wonderful puzzle solvers. In Norway and Sweden, fishermen make holes in the ice and drop their lines to catch fish. Crows will pick up the lines and walk backwards as far as they need to to pull up the fish which they then eat. Crows are also known to send out cries of distress so that other crows quickly come their aid ready to attack their predator. In this way , they avoid the demise of many other types of birds who fall prey to cats, larger birds etc. All these qualities are best observed in what passes for the upper class in Belize. The name Charles signifies how tightly this small group holds on to old patriarchal ties with their European ancestors. Charles, then, can be assumed to be formally educated and from “old money”. His family would own majority in some industry or the other, benefiting from the hard work of the common man, much like the crow eats the fish the fishermen catch. Similarly as crows come together to attack a predator, so do the members of this upper class, however divided they may be publicly along political lines. Since they are all usually related by blood or marriage, in the end, ”hand wash hand”, and it is very hard to crack through into this level of society. No amount of money can guarantee entrance. The rest of society resents them but envies them at the same time so that it defers to them often even though it would rather kick them out of the country. They are often accused of not being “real Belizeans”. The favour of this level of society is fiercely sought, though they are thoroughly mocked and ridiculed by the masses.
John “Johnny” Crow- “John Crow” is what Belizeans call the King Vulture. Its hovering presence indicates death or impending death so in The Aviary it is used mostly as a foreboding and isn’t actually a character per se. The naming of this presence is also a reference to the Jim Crow laws of the United States affecting African Americans between the latter part of the 19th and early part of the 20th Century. These laws provided for separate but equal rights for whites and blacks; but, really just allowed for inferior resources for blacks, thus creating lack of progress and advancement, the effects of which still can be felt in gang torn urban areas. Many of our Belizeans go to the United States for a better life only to fall into gang culture and find themselves deported. This phenomenon has had devastating effects on our society and is blamed for much of the rampant crime in Belize. I fully expect John“Johnny” Crow to have a distant cousin named Jim Crow appear as the story continues.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Vulture Listen Here: They only hiss since they don’t have a large voice box.
Millicent “Milli” “Blue Shanks” Audrey Avocet - “Blue Shanks” is the colloquial name for the American Avocet, earned for its thin, long, grey legs. Milli is an old school friend who has left Belize to live in Los Angeles, California in the United States. She is a nurse and lives in a multi-generational home, including her grandmother, her mother and her two children. In many ways, she has a mini Belizean community in her own home and this causes comfort and conflict. She enjoys having her own mother to take care of her children and to cook her food from her childhood but she resents living with the vestiges of traditional expectations for women. Her grandmother often admonishes her for the way she dresses when she attends church telling her she needs a lap cloth to cover her knees and when she would rather sleep in on a Sunday morning after a late night out, her grandmother blasts evangelical services on the television to bring “god” into her sinful life. Milli obviously will provide insight on the dilemmas faced by Belizean-Americans who dearly love their country but can’t seem to find a way to live home and as such, have created a new one abroad. Milli is the Belizean citizen much depended upon by extended family left behind, to provide medicines, clothes and money via Western Union. She is more than willing to help as she keenly understands the lack of resources but often can feel put upon and over burdened by all the demands. She is the only one ever expected to contribute anything since she has an American job so that she becomes a de facto leader in every situation/family crisis. This creates tension among her family members because while she provides everything, the older members still feel that they can tell her what to do and treat her like a child. She is so tired of the constant requests that often she refuses to answer the phone. This cause her grandmother to start banging her walking stick on the floor, yelling at her to answer it because it might be an emergency. And to Milli, it’s always an emergency. Nobody ever just calls to ask how she is doing. If it’s not rent, it’s school fees, or money for milk and diapers, or graduation or confirmation. Sometimes she wants to scream at them that she shouldn’t have to take care of pickney she didn’t have any fun making but she loves them all and doesn’t want to hurt their feelings. Milli’s character is introduced to The Aviary when she returns home to bury her Granny Ray, an experience many Belizeans go through. While it is a time of grief, it is often a time of reunions and joy and there is much merrymaking at the wake which can last for nine nights or a novena. A novena is ritual performed in the Catholic Church lasting nine days, during which prayers for favour is asked. Mourning is only one of the reasons this ritual is performed and can be done in the home or at church or both during those nine days. In Milli’s community, they have integrated this religious ritual with cultural practice so that the result is very unique. Men and women dance and sing and play drums. They drink rum and play cards and dominoes. Neighbors come to participate at all hours; passersby can stop to spectate and are often invited to participate. The Avocet is an elegant bird with stylish plumage and long thin beak suggesting the “nose in the air” many Belizeans resent returning Belizeans for. Education, sophistication and a certain directness is often mistaken for snobbery and returning Belizeans can often be resented and shunned by their own family members. Many times, these Belizeans are told that “dey nuh memba whe de come from” but of course it is much more complicated than that. Hence, Milli is an important character even though her stay will be short. Milli embodies many issues facing a large, if not, the larger part of our Belizean population, the emigrants.