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“My Buddy” A tribute to Sammy Dawson

Updated: Feb 3, 2019

Photo by Doug Garvey

The first time I met Sammy Dawson I had just flown into Dandriga a few hours earlier with everything I thought I would need for a year of living in Belize packed into two suitcases and a carry on.

I had agreed to take a job running Blue Horizon for Bill Poston, my new boss. He asked me to run his fly-fishing operation headed by the legendary Lincoln Westby even though my saltwater experience was limited to walking the beach a few times at dawn in Cozumel and casting a 6 weight RPL at bonefish strung up with some wooly buggers and zonkers out of my trout box. (They work by the way.) The only reason I believe that I had gotten the job in the first place was because of my involvement with Project Healing Waters, and the fact that I have guided in Vail, Colorado for many years and seemed to know the same customer that Blue Horizon coveted to book trips in Belize. Other than that, I have no earthly idea why I was there and yet something told me inside that I would come to belong.

As soon as I landed at the airport, I was told that we needed to go pick up Sammy Dawson, one of the guides for Blue Horizon at his house in the jungle 20 miles to the west. He was scheduled to do a trip the next day and didn’t have a car and didn’t want to get a cab as the cost would cut into his bottom line for doing the trip. I agreed, and we made the drive along the many orange groves and small houses tucked into the jungle along the Hummingbird Highway.

We pulled up just opposite a large orange juice refinery into a small dirt road that led back into the jungle. There he stood, having probably been waiting for some time. My first impression of Sammy on appearance alone was that he was going to eat me. He is a hulk of a man with broad shoulders, a long black and grey beard, and smart, brown eyes tucked back behind folds of wrinkled and sun darkened skin. He had a pack of colonial cigarettes tucked into his faded guide shirt and one hanging from his lips. I was riding in the front seat and he took his gunny sack filled with some gear and a few flies for his trip. He slid into the back seat and I could feel him sizing me up and casually staring a hole through the back of my head. After a few niceties, he began to break me down psychologically.

Sammy is not one to mix words nor does he ever wait to tell you what is on his mind. Even though we had just met he launched into a diatribe about what was wrong with Blue Horizon and why he was pissed off. “Dis is what I am telling you, they are doing it all wrong. Dey treat me like I am a common worker Scott. They tried to make me rake the sand at 5 in the morning, they tell me I cannot have a beer on the Caye, they feed me food that is bad for my cholesterol and make me eat it on a stool in the back away from the guests.” He went on “I don’t think dat I can stay with a company such as dis”

This went on for the entire ride back to Hopkins. At first, I tried to fix it all at once. Saying a bunch of placatory things that I didn’t really understand, nor should I have said in the first place. “Well Sam, I will get to the bottom if it and we will fix it.” I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. Eventually I picked up on the fact that Sammy knew I didn’t know what I was talking about and he dug the knife deeper into my psyche until eventually I just listened.

I got a brief reprieve from the barrage when we arrived, and I checked into Hopkins Bay resort and met all the people that would come to be the dearest of friends to me. Sammy, who was to stay with me that night waited patiently while they showed me around and eventually led us back to Villa 6 where I would be living for the next year. That night we sat on the deck and he told me all the things in his heart that bothered him. He even threatened to quit and kind of scared the hell out of me as we only had two guides at the time. I finally just offered him a raise and he said “dat would help me out a lot”. I often wondered if all his complaining was all along just a measured strategy to get a raise out of me. It worked.