The butcher of Belize City. 1983

This is one of the scariest old men I’ve ever met.

As I was wandering around Belize City market when I came across this gentleman. I found the colours and textures immediately appealing and I wanted to take a photograph.




Years before I would’ve just taken the photo, like a thief and run if I had to. Those days were behind me and I didn’t believe in doing that anymore. I now believe that photos can be much more interesting when the subject responds to the camera and it’s ethical to ask first. So I walked up to the butcher who was chopping up the meat with a very big cleaver, and I asked him if I could take a photo of him and his shop. His response shocked the hell out of me.

He raised his cleaver and pointed it in my direction and in an angry and aggressive tone, asked me why he should allow me. I told him I that it would make a good photograph but he was not having any of that, and then he also told me that he wasn’t interested in being portrayed in a way that would make him look like fool. I tried to explain again that it was the colours and textures that I was interested in. He said he thought I was trying to make him look like fool, all the while, brandishing the cleaver. I was starting to get worried as his voice started to raise even louder and the cleaver got more animated. I was feeling very threatened and wasn’t too sure how I was going to get out of the predicament without just running.

My break came when I told him my grandfather was a butcher who had trained in England, and that he might be interested in seeing how the butchers do things in Belize. His mood changed immediately. He asked me how old I thought he was. I said late fifties (I was telling the truth about what I thought). He smiled a big smile, puffed out his chest and said he was 78. He then said, “O.K., you can take your picture. So I took the first picture from a distance and I noticed he wasn’t smiling, so I asked him to smile.

“So you want to make me look like some grinning old fool?”
“No! No! I won’t have it!” He picked up the cleaver again.

To mollify him, I backed down with an, O.K., O.K! I then asked him for one more shot a little closer with him standing and he didn’t have to smile.

After that, I put down the camera (I didn’t think it would be wise to take anymore) and he relaxed. He then started asking me questions about my grandfather. He loved it when I told him my grandfather once got in trouble with the law in England, after the war during the time of food rationing. Both my Grandfather and his boss were brought up on charges for putting too much bread crumbs in their sausages and not enough meat.

In hindsight it’s not hard for me to understand why he was annoyed. I’m sure that people in markets all around the world are sick of having their photos taken by tourists for nothing in return. He just wanted to be treated as a human being, to be engaged with, rather than be photographed as some colourful object.


This post was first posted on the 24th of April 2007

3 thoughts on “The butcher of Belize City. 1983”

  1. It’s that cultural sensitivity thing…
    When you visit a butcher shop like that, with a big chunk of animal lying on the table with some pieces cut off with a cleaver — well, you know right where your dinner came from. Not neatly packaged in plastic and labeled with a bar code from a truck from somewhere else.

  2. Donald

    I’ll say! I find such places a sensory overload and so many levels.


    He was scary but I guess you’d have to be scary to survive in a place like Belize City (the worst place I’ve ever been to)

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