On the eve of 2017, I had the chance to visit with an extraordinary man. Extraordinary is a word used to describe those who have accomplished far beyond that which everyday people could ever achieve, and that is the only word I can use to describe the indomitable Edubejez Velasquez, a man who has so far lived to the ripe old age of 105. One may say that reaching that age is his extraordinary achievement. The truth is that the quality of that long rich life, the current condition of his body and mind, and the memories that he keeps, are in reality what makes him a great man.
Papa Du, as he has been affectionately known his entire life, has outlived all his children, and even some of his grandchildren. This man was riding his bicycle from his home village of Esperanza to his workplace in Unitedville on a daily basis until well into his 90s, easily traversing the famed Mt. Hope, which has brought many of Belize’s greatest pro cyclists to their knees. Even today, his granddaughter and caretaker Patricia, describes his frequent jaunts into San Ignacio to walk around, hitching rides with friendly bus and taxi drivers that compete on who will drive this stately gentleman to his destination or back home.
Papa Du is a man that is content in his own skin, but never giving up on learning or seeing more of this world. His mind is sharp and his wit is quick; this is obvious from the first time you engage him. His amazing recall of names and places from his youth and even from recent times is remarkable; and even his barely lined face and full head of white hair belies his true age.
The information that lives in this man’s head is incredible. He can recount intricate details of land transactions from 60 years ago; names of relatives and relatives of friends long gone; including the names of current descendants of those long gone. This treasure of Belize is a history book of details of the golden age of the Cayo District. Papa Du is a man of the soil; a logger, a farmer, a lover of the land and its vast possibilities. His firm belief is that one should never leave land unattended, lest it becomes impassable, unusable and overgrown, or worse, lest a squatter finds better use in your absence. Papa Du gives directions to places using paths no longer accessible, because he himself sees, with a twinkle in his eye, through bush to be conquered while others see only the roads that have been prepared for them.
The true essence of the man is on full display when inactivity compels him to take his machete to cut his front yard because it bothers him, or when he climbs the ladder that is permanently attached to his front porch up to the roof of his house to make repairs that only he will do. When asked why; he calmly replies, “…unless one has done it (work) all of his life, one will never understand how to do it”.
Papa Du is a national treasure. He is the type of man upon whose back this nation was built, but more than that, he is a positive man. After leaving this absolutely charming man, I could not help but reflect on the power of positivity: Papa Du never complained about his ailment, his only question to me was “the doctor said I am anemic; what do you suggest I take for anemia?” Being way past an age where most humans have long given up, this man is still looking for ways to endure upon this land that he so loves.
This inspiration gives me hope for the New Year that is on the horizon. I am not a fan of New Year resolutions, but next year; at what I thought was a ripe old age of 50; I shall follow the example of this extraordinary man, and shall resolve to seek the magic that has given Papa Du that extra 55 years beyond this, my own journey through life.
Happy New Year to all.