MEET MILLICENT AVOCET
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 causes 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. Neighbours come to participate at all hours; passersby can stop to spectate and are often invited to join.
The Avocet is an elegant bird with stylish plumage and a long thin beak suggesting the “nose in the air” many Belizeans resent returning Belizeans for. Education, sophistication and a certain directness is mistaken for snobbery and returning Belizeans can be 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.