I was on a plane to Belize, on my way to an author workshop, reading an in-flight magazine article about some high-flying London investment banker. Reading it made me think that when I grow up I should don black court shoes and expensive corporate couture and earn tons of money for brandishing something mysterious called power. Of course, I shouldn't. And here's why.
I'm here in Belize working with a team of teachers. That's one of the things I do for money (there are several): get teachers together and coax publishable textbooks out of them. It's sometimes fun, and occasionally it takes me to out-of the way places like Belize. (Map below for those of you that think I'm talking about somewhere in France.) But that's not why I shouldn't become a corporate ballbuster like Nicola Horlick.
Thing is, I heard today that one of my authors won't be able to complete the job. "There are serious problems at his school," said one of the others. The others looked up, with grim expressions, nodded and shook their heads with the kind of concern that tells you this is something a touch more serious than petty thievery or bullying or cheating on tests. In South Africa that expression means that the school is having issues with heroin or tik. In the US it means that a kid came to school armed with an automatic rifle. In Belize, however, we weren't talking drugs or homicide. We were talking...
I look carefully at the faces around me to check whether they're having me on. But no.
"Several of the children at the school have been possessed," I am told. "The demon seems to be near to the pit latrine," he adds helpfully.
He's not kidding. The school has been closed for several days, entire community in an uproar. It made national news. (For the article, click here.) Children have been hospitalised. A high-profile exorcist has been brought in at great expense (8000 dollars, I am told); the money has been raised from the concerned Belizean public. After all, what can one do when your community has been stricken with a nasty demon? Collect some cash and pay to get it taken out, that's what. The exorcist reportedly found a box containing - surprise, surprise - some dolls with pins stuck in them, and some sand with "a very particular odour". To prove that she wasn't "a mock", as my source called it, she led some representatives from the school to a graveyard, where she showed them some sand with a similar odour (although, being older, it obviously had a different colour).
Of the ten Belizeans in the room, not one had any degree of scepticism about the story. I wondered whether mine was written all over my face. Or whether they could see the other thought: you just don't get that in boardrooms in London, man. You just don't get that good voodoo shit up there on the 47th floor.
(the tiny country between Mexico, Guatamala and Honduras)