Placencia Bids Farewell to Fyah Gal
We’re on the Point. The torch is lit. Twenty-four glittering contestants line the boardwalk, each taking their turn to hold the flame high against the candy blue sky and pass it to the next contender. I’m last in line and I drop to one knee with the flame, lighting the poi in front of me. A familiar beat blasts through the speakers and the flaming poi start spinning in time with her blonde pigtails. Fire burning overhead and through her legs, I know many are worried she may light her hair on fire again. Or maybe they want her to, yeah, the sea is pretty close. Fyah Gal! She waves her poi and sets The Olympic Torch ablaze. Her hair and polyester shorts are safe! The flame reflects off a hot pink disco rug and the crowd cheers! The games have begun.
Stephanie Wandke, Placencia’s resident fire dancer and my best friend, hailed as Fyah Gal all over Belize, has decided to bid a fond “see you later” to us after ten years. She will be joining her boyfriend in Tasmania, an island state of Australia. These Beach Olympics are an elaborate farewell, reminiscent of the ones she first hosted in 2009, and the type of gathering that fits her spirit. People of all ages, nationalities, and athletic deficiencies gather together to compete. Add beer bongs, bittaz shots, and, in her signature fashion, copious amounts glitter, to simple team games on the beach and the fun brings itself. There is only one rule on the list of rules: 1 whiny comment = 1 shot. I find that rule very representative of how Stephanie lives her life – her contagious positive spirit reminds us to stop complaining and celebrate the beauty in our community and glittery fun around you.
A biomechanical engineer by trade and straight out of corporate America, Stephanie first came to Placencia for a friend’s wedding in 2005. Knowing she wanted to move here, she set out on an around the world trip in 2007 only slightly afraid that she’d find “a better place.” Lucky for us, after having visited 40 countries- from India to Indonesia, through Europe, Africa and South America, she feels Belize has it all. Rich in history, lush in its natural beauty, Stephanie found her home quickly among the English speaking community and has since become as integral to the Placencia community as the Barefoot Beach Bar.
Using her passion for science and her love of community, she whole heartedly threw herself into being a Friend of Rotary and active with the youth center. Intent on becoming one with her surroundings, Stephanie has never shied away from things that would qualify her as a true Placencian. She orders stew chicken for breakfast, attempts to respond in kriol and relishes being barefoot. She taught herself to fire dance, just like she taught herself how to build websites, allowing her to work digitally and pursue her travels. Six feet tall and known to sport a pink Mohawk – after setting her hair on fire in the early days – Stephanie says that Placencia allowed her to grow into the person she was meant to be.
She loves that here you can meet people from everywhere and she has made a point of visiting many of her new friends in their home countries. With her huge smile and arms spread wide open, her sheer presence reminds us to turn and talk to the person next to us. In her words, “Placencia opens up the world. You can sit around a table with people from so many different countries – whether they were born here, are living on a boat, or visiting for two days. It’s so special. Everyone has a story.” And indeed, two tourists walking on the beach were invited by her to join the Beach Olympics and they now share a gold medal story!
She belives the charm of Placencia is in the every day happenings. It’s a place where everybody knows your name, that shoes are never mandatory and that every grocery trip is a scavenger hunt. Her favorite day of the year is the End of the World Marathon. As a six time winner of the Best Water Station Award, on the Maya Bistro team, she loves that its a global sport with an international roster. “The marathon brings people from a dozen countries around the world to an event that truly showcases our strengths,” she tells me, “creativity and community spirit. It’s a unique chance to be a part of our village, experience our hospitality, and see our crazy side”.
In the spirit of looking forward (though it’s hard for me to do knowing she will be so far), Stephanie says that when she arrives overseas and people ask her where she’s from, she’ll say Belize. “This is where I chose to live and this is the flag I wave as I travel. This is the place that has shaped me, and where I grew up.” Her legacy of glitter, positivity and love of everything fun is now in our hands and we’ll try and do her proud …until her epic Welcome Home party.
Remember, Fyah Gal Says:
Say No to Plastic.
Don’t Pet the Turtles!
Be Excellent to Each Other <3