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  • I met him off a dusty side street, huddled in the shade between two squat wooden homes.

    "Are you Paul Nabor?" I asked.

    "Yes I am," answered Paul Nabor.

    To many, he is Belize's national treasure, but you wouldn't have guessed it from a quick glance. He sat hunched, each one of his eight decades creased into his weathered skin.

    He keeps watch now over the Garifuna temple in Punta Gorda, its thin wood walls and thatched roof buried among the wooden structures that make up this modest southern outpost.

    Nabor is the minstrel of the Garifuna people, singing songs of exile and loss, of joys and celebration.

    The day I met him, he offered commentary on the virtues of corporal punishment.

    "I once met this woman. Her kids, they stole ice cream from the store," Nabor said. "I said, 'Why don't you teach your children what they did is wrong?'

    "She said, 'If I hit them, the government will come take them away.' This is the problem with children today."

    I came back the next morning. It was raining and there was a chill in the air. I had an offering of carrot cake and sticky icing. Nabor, dressed in layers against the cold, handed me a glass of rainwater. As I sipped, he slipped inside the temple, returning with his guitar.

    "From Los Angeles," he said proudly. He had just returned from playing a big concert in L.A., which has a sizeable Garifuna expat population. I found out later Nabor had just been robbed of the money he earned from that show.

    The guitar was flat and cold. But with each creek of a tuning knob and cautious pluck of a string, the instrument warmed, and Nabor came to life.

    He strummed his guitar and out spilled the minor keys of a rough, Spanish ballad. But in between the chords, the palm of his hand beat a sturdy rhythm.

    The paranda, at its core a traditional West African beat, is fused with Spanish guitars and traditional Garifuna instrumentation—mahogany drums, shakers, turtle shells, call and response vocals.

    "Yeah, you can mix it," Nabor said, beginning to pluck out a simple Spanish ballad.

    "I don't love her anymore," he sang in Spanish, as the rain spattered around us.

    He finished the song, drawing his finger up the frets. "Now listen," he said, beginning the same song again. "The same beat."

    This time, his withered Spanish is replaced by a full-bodied Garifuna with a lurching cadence. His gravel voice cascaded down the minor key in triplets.

    In recent years, there has been a revival in Garifuna pride and culture, particularly through its music. But these days, there are only a handful of musicians, paranderos like Nabor, who play the traditional paranda.

    "Now they have reggae, they have all kinds of music now," Nabor said. "I'm just watching out now because my time has passed. My time has passed."
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