Beka Lamb, by Zee Edgell, is a novel about not only the coming of age of the title character, but of the country of Belize itself. Beka is a fourteen-year-old girl growing up in Belize City, where she is struggling to deal with her family’s expectations at the same time she is trying to help her best friend cope with a devastating situation. She is also caught up in her country’s political uncertainty, as the people of Belize try to take control of their destiny.
Although Beka’s father Bill never wanted her to go to high school, her mother Lilla persuaded him to let her attend St. Cecilia’s Academy. Unfortunately, Beka doesn’t apply herself to her studies, and as a consequence, she fails her first year. To compound the problem, she lies about it, a habit that has led to trouble between her and her parents on previous occasions.
Beka’s best friend Toycie, on the other hand, is a model student. She’s a favorite of all the adults, both at school and in the community. She falls in love with a local boy, however, and her life begins to spiral out of control. Between Beka’s own shortcomings and the crisis facing her friend, Beka must discover an inner resolve she didn’t know existed.
The turmoil in Beka’s life is set against the backdrop of the identity crisis facing her country. Belize was a British colony, with all the problems colonialism entails. Beka’s father, while not necessarily pro-British, is doing well enough under the current political system and doesn’t want to rock the boat. His mother, Beka’s Granny Ivy, on the other hand, is active in the People’s Independence Party and dreams of an independent Belize. To complicate things further, the government of Guatemala wants to annex Belize. It’s enough to make Beka say to her teacher, “Sometimes I feel bruk down just like my own country, Sister.”
Beka manages to work through her struggles and find her way, as Belize inches closer to the end of its existence as a colony. It seems somehow fitting that Belize finally gained its independence in 1981, and Beka Lamb, which was released in 1982, was the first novel published in independent Belize.
There were so many vegan or veganizable dishes mentioned in Beka Lamb that I had a tough time deciding which one to make. Rice and beans, panades (little cornmeal turnovers filled with refried beans), and johnny cakes were just a few of the choices. Ultimately, the one that sounded the best to me, once I figured out what it was, was potato pound.
While attending a wake, Beka’s Granny Ivy asks her if she wants “[s]ome lemonade and a piece of potato pound?” That’s exactly what Beka wants, so “Miss Ivy lifted a heavy brown pudding from a side table, cutting a generous slice for Beka.”
Potato pound is described in the recipe I found on Food.com as similar to bread pudding, except that it uses sweet potatoes in place of the bread. The only change I had to make to the recipe was to replace the butter with a vegan spread. With a little splash of vegan whipped topping added, it made for a very tasty dessert.
I didn’t have to think twice about which organization would receive my donation for Belize. Sacramento’s own Joey Garcia, author and advice columnist for Sacramento News & Review, was born in Belize and has founded a non-profit organization called Rise Up Belize! This organization “initiates, supports and promotes educational activities that benefit the children and adults of Belize.” Among other things, Rise Up Belize! operates summer camps and offers high school scholarships for the children of Belize. More information about Rise Up Belize! is available at https://www.facebook.com/pg/BelizeRising/about/?ref=page_internal.
NEXT STOP: BENIN