Excerpt from The Research Report (Part 1 in a series)

Chapter 1

Monday, February 4th, 1980

Jäcki said: — I’m looking forward to the food.

Irma: — I’d rather work.

— I work when I’m eating!

The taxi drove past a patriotic monument.

Flagstones. Chains. Grenades. An angel.

Men perched stiffly on concrete benches.

— Dangriga, home of the Black Caribs, the cab driver said. — Not the capital of the Black Caribs: there’s no such thing. Dangriga is the capital of the Black Caribs of Belize. You’ll be able to get around. People here speak English and they speak a mixture of African and something Indian. I don’t know much about it really. Something to do with their history.

— The snake restaurant, Jäcki said. — They served armadillo and iguana.

— They flayed the toads alive. I didn’t much care for that.

— But if I decided to try them you’d yank the camera out of my hands and shoot the whole roll.

— You have no idea what you can do with a wide-angle lens, Irma said.

— I think their cuisine is like the forest people. Here and in Dahomey and Bahia.

Irma and Jäcki fell silent.

The South Asian cab driver took advantage of the silence to launch into his well-rehearsed history of Dangriga.

— A cannibal cuisine, Jäcki said during a lull in the driver’s travelogue. — Like in Brazil. Antediluvian. Did they have the Flood in Brazil? If I’d finished writing up those notes I could have a syllabus ready by now.

The taxi drove across a sandy lot.

Three dogs trotted over and nipped at the tires.

— Here we are, the cab driver said. — I’ll go see if the Pelican Beach Hotel still has something available.

— I don’t think they’re overrun at the moment.

— What kind of reservation shall I make?

— Thank you. I can do it myself.

— I’m just saying it would be better if I take care of it for you. What do you need?

— A double room. With a shower. If they have one.

— Every hotel room in Belize has a shower. How should I register you? Are you married?

Jäcki was about to protest when it occurred to him that in fifteen minutes he would say goodbye to this cab driver forever.

— Tell them we’re ethnologists. Tell them we’re a photographer and a writer. But we want a double anyway.

— For how long?

— How long? Tell them at least a week.

They had stopped in front of a two-story wooden building.

The cab driver got out.

— Maybe you could find out where we can get a proper meal around here, that would be very helpful.

Offended, the cab driver rounded the corner.


Sea breeze.

The sound of rustling sea grass.

The clanking of a motor cooling down.

— Like when the Black Indians roamed throughout Bahia, Irma said.

— Once upon a time they were just a rumor. The headline: Ethnologists In Search of Mysterious Black Indians.

— We couldn’t find them.

— No one would tell us anything.

— Maybe it was the ethnologists leaving behind their own tribal clothing.

There are Indians who die from a common cold. From a cut. From grief. The Organization for the Protection of Indians. Oil found in Bahia!
The South Asian cab driver came back with a Mayan Indian and the two began to unload the trunk.

— Could I see the room? Jäcki asked.

The Maya led him up the front steps and opened a door on the second floor.


Square plastic furniture.

A ceiling fan.

Jäcki had expected a different sort of room in Dangriga, one with rough walls and mosquito netting, no bathroom, shower at the end of the hall, rats, roaches.

— Cozy it isn’t, Jäcki told Irma outside, — but it’s comfortable!

The cab driver insisted upon picking them again at the end of their stay. He wanted to know the exact day, and carefully wrote Jäcki’s flight number down in a notebook.

He told them the fare, poorly feigned gratitude at the tip, and left them three business cards.

— No, the Maya told them, — you can’t eat here. Not today. We’re expecting a party of twelve this evening. We can’t serve you.

— If there’s room for twelve why not fourteen? Jäcki thought.

— Go into town. Ten minutes from here. They have good food.

— Local?

— Yes, Chinese.


The party of twelve still hadn’t shown up when Irma and Jäcki left the Pelican Beach Hotel.

Irma left the room key on the desk.

The three dogs had gotten used to them.

It was the dogs at the house next door that yapped at them, and Irma squeezed Jäcki’s arm as they sniffed at her calves.

— If I were wearing long pants I wouldn’t mind so much.

The road led to a radar antenna.

Next to it a black box on a lattice of pipes: the city water tank.

Jäcki and Irma stumbled across the planks of a little bridge.

Fireflies fluttering and flickering around them: they seemed crazed to Jäcki, feverish.

Only a few people out in the streets.

They said hello to Jäcki and Irma.

Wooden houses sitting on stilts as tall as a man. Underneath them families eating dinner around the fire.

The paint on the houses gleaming in the firelight. Milky colors. Browns.

In town: a police station, a Christ statue, a bank, a Seventh-Day Adventist church, another bank, a few bars, a Chinese restaurant. Chicken soup and fried chicken.

— What would you like to drink? Fanta?

— No. Do you have any beer?

— Heineken?

— Yes, Heineken.

Irma didn’t want beer.

— Do you have fresh orange juice? On the way here all we saw were Pomona orange groves.

— Orange juice, of course. From concentrate. Or pear juice?

— Yes, pear juice.

— The chicken tastes old-fashioned. Like from my agronomy apprenticeship. They only fed the chickens grass, Jäcki said.

On the way back Irma wanted to buy some mosquito coil.

The Chinese grocery store owner was supervising two Chinese employees counting out coins and paper money. He didn’t greet them; he didn’t look at Irma and Jäcki. Rolling up coins in newspaper and snapping red rubber bands around stacks of bills.

Only when he’d locked it all up did he sell Irma a packet of Chinese mosquito coils.



The three dogs approached them from some distance away.

Now the German Shepherd looked like a wolf to Jäcki, and the little brindle hound less like a retriever and more like a mastiff puppy. The other shepherd walked with its haunches slung low, like a jackal.

They didn’t bark.

They didn’t wag their tails.

They left Irma’s legs alone.

The hotel was dark.

Jäcki couldn’t tell where the mangrove swamps gave way to the beach, or where the sea ended and the clouds began.

The party of twelve already in bed.

The front door unlocked.

The key where Irma had left it.

Silence upstairs.

No night clerk.

— Are we at the Pelican Beach Hotel by ourselves?

— Are we the only tourists in Dangriga? Or worse: on the entire Yucatán peninsula?


Eleutheria means “freedom,” Jäcki thought.

— From the verb “to go.”

— Wherever you want.

— To the beach.

— In town.

— Me without a phone connection.

— Irma without her pots and pans.

— You can’t just walk around Hamburg anymore. You’ll get a sinus infection.

— Everyone’s got a sinus infection. It’s not just the exhaust. It’s the fog.  here’s so much radioactivity in the atmosphere it’s eating away at our mucous membranes.

— Walking around in Panama you’d get mugged.

— The revolution in power in Nicaragua.

He had walked around in Nicaragua. Unlike his colleagues, ferried around in government cars. He was very pleased with himself, but he knew if they’d offered him a ride he wouldn’t have said no.

He’d walked around, in a bubble, while schoolchildren carrying machine pistols instead of knapsacks stared at him.

— The revolution will repress neither streetwalkers or cruisers. But behind every condom stands the shadow of the policeman.  The revolution knows how timorous queers can be. Surveillance is enough.

Despite the escape from Hamburg, from Panama, from Nicaragua, despite the relief and the happiness: “Here I am, among the Black Caribs of Belize!…”

— Let’s go!

— On the road again!

— Travel! he thought. — Embracing the world!

— All of it! Yes!

— Travel, thought Jäcki, is the obliteration of the world. — To be everywhere. Nowhere.

— And what do I do with the chicken soup from the Chinese restaurant?

Irma asleep.

Or was she lying awake, motionless, watching him?

Was she breathing? He listened, and beneath the whine of the mosquitoes he could hear her breathing.

He breathed with her, but her breathing was too rapid: he kept losing his breath.

He gave up.

He thought that if he were to coax her breathing into slowing down to match his, she might wake up.

Jäcki had moved the fan above the bed.

Now he could smell the mildew.

He thought he could hear footfalls on rotting floorboards.

— What kind of hotel was this?

— Tile bathroom. Gleaming shower. The manager said there was party of twelve. Leave the key at the desk with the night clerk. There wasn’t any night clerk.

— The hotel the whimsy of a casino owner from New Orleans.

— No one comes here.

Jäcki felt the blindfold grow taut across his eyes.

— Am I getting a fever already?

— Convulsions in bed, speaking in tongues?

— All for nothing.

Those were real footfalls.

The dogs growling. Choking.

Jäcki had read in the Belize Times about a farmer who had been found stabbed to death in the swamps, a knife in his stomach. He’d been sleeping with one of his field hands. The field hand had turned on him and stabbed him. The boy had been sentenced to death, hanged the day before Jäcki had read about it in the newspaper.

— Is the whole thing some kind of set-up?

A gang of Mayan Indians robbed a cab driver and beat him to death.

Had the cab driver delivered them to his accomplices at the Pelican Beach Hotel?

He’d forced Jäcki into his cab in Belize City, talking about pre-Columbian artifacts he had for sale that he’d gotten from the leader of a dig who had smuggled a jade head into Canada.

— The one they have in the vault at the Central Bank of Belize is a fake. But the government doesn’t know that.

The cab driver had warned them about gangs in town at night.

Jäcki would have rather been mugged than listen to a warning. He was mugged the following evening in the middle of town.

The boys running from the bridge.

A policeman blocking the way.

They ran by Jäcki again.

One of them dropped his hat.

Passersby didn’t even turn around.

— It was a toy knife he pulled on me.

Back at the hotel Jäcki sifted through his newspaper clippings.

— J___, our correspondent in Nicaragua, tells us he was mugged in Panama City.

The following morning Jäcki had just walked into the lobby when the cab driver scooped him up and drove him back to the center of Belize City.

The cab driver stopped in front of a group of teenagers and waved a tall, good-looking boy over. Slamming the doors, three of them had climbed into the back of the cab.

The cab driver made no effort to stop them.

He drove them along a drainage canal.

Thumping noises and blowing paper came out of a little wooden house.

A little further on, two laborers spearing peat with pitchforks. It tumbled across the planks back into the green canal.

The cab driver winked at Jäcki.

One of the boys in back seat clapped Jäcki on the back, indicating he get out of the car and leave the driver in his cab.

The road narrowed.

The cab had to stop.

The boys took Jäcki into a wooden shack.

The walls gone, only the framing remained.

The driver waited outside. He had to keep an eye on his cab.

They wanted a down payment for finds from the excavation.

— I didn’t say I wanted to buy anything.

The three of them closed in on him.

Jäcki could see their yellow eyes.

— Malaria. Or hepatitis.

Jäcki told them that ten hours earlier he had been mugged on the bridge where they had been standing.

They drew back.

He thought he saw a change of expression in their faces.

— Shame, fear, or uncertainty over this absurd situation, trying to rob someone who tells you he’s just been robbed.

They let him go.

The cab driver scolded Jäcki.

— You never should have gotten out of the cab! You never should have gone into that house! How would you like it if they stabbed you? This is what I do for a living! I’m responsible for you! I know those boys better than you. You don’t just go off with them if I’m winking at you. That one’s called Baby Brains.

— So why did you go up to them?

— I shouldn’t have done it. I just wanted to do you a favor. Then I saw that it was Baby Brains. He’s the worst. You could have gotten stabbed.

— How many people are there in Belize?

— 150,000, I think. Why?

— Just a few more than Grenada. And Belize City?

— Forty thousand.

— So everyone here knows everyone else.

— Yes.

The cab driver started the cab.

— I might have something else for you. I can’t sell it to you, but I can show it to you. I’ve got it buried. I’m holding it for a professor. Later.


After lunch the front desk had called the room again.

— The cab driver is waiting for you again.

— Already?

But it wasn’t the South Asian cab driver: it was Baby Brains, wanting to sell Jäcki some jade pieces.

Baby Brains called Jäcki “Professor.”

— These jades aren’t even Mayan. They’re from some hippie necklace your girlfriend left behind.

Baby Brains took his leave when the cab driver came to take Jäcki and Irma out to Dangriga.

— Even Belize City has a rush hour! And detours.

Trucks blockading the gas stations.

The cab driver stopped in front of the prison. He opened an iron gate in the prison walls and ushered Jäcki inside.

— This is where they hang people.

— Have you ever seen it?

— No, and I don’t want to.

— What a strange thing to say, Jäcki thought. — This man?

— My sister lives here. She’s married to the warden.

Walking between concrete piers that held up the warden’s house.

The cab driver kept looking around; they had seen a young girl watching them from the prison windows.

The cab driver unearthed a silvery clump. He unwrapped scotch tape and tinfoil.

Primitive stone flints spilled out.

— I’ve seen better.

— I don’t have any more. These are genuine. Mayan.

— The black one is nice.

— Too bad. Taken.

— What are you getting for it?

— Make me an offer.

— I wouldn’t want to buy it out from someone else.

The cab driver wrapped the blades up again and buried them.

He rolled a large stone over the spot.

— Anyone who sees that stone will know something’s buried there.

On the ride to Dangriga the cab driver dozed off.

As the cab headed for the bushes, he stiffened and jerked the steering wheel. Nothing happened. There was no one else on the road.

Just outside of Dangriga they were hit by a truck.

The cab driver settled things with the Maya truck driver.

A fender bender.

The truck driver gave their cab driver some money.

— It’s better this way. These people don’t have any insurance. They don’t even have licenses. I’d have to take him to court. It would have cost me more than the repairs.

Jäcki in bed in Dangriga.

Correspondent J___’s account of his mugging unnerved Jäcki even more than his own.

It occurred to him that he must have read at least two versions, maybe even three or four: one in Spanish in Panama, and one in German at the embassy.

— If only you didn’t have to save all these clippings. You just end up stuffed up with other people’s articles.

— How could I know that I myself would be mugged a couple months later?

— Just a sentence.

— No description.

— No faces. No fingers.

— No mention of the knife.

— No mention of a hat. There’s always a hat that falls off.

— How much did they get off him?

— How much money for an ecrivain engagé‘s Paris to Managua trip?

— How much money does an ecrivain engagé flash in the slums of Panama City?

— Like the gay American, rolled for his gold chains in a Port-au-Prince dive.

— He just has to take it.

— If anyone deserves it it’s him.

— I’d never walk around Belize City at night with gold chains or my passport. Five dollars. Oh well. Nothing to be done. It was a toy knife. Cops and robbers. My own fault. I was warned. The ecrivain engagé was warned too.

— Not a word about Panama  City.

— Nothing about the wooden tenements.

— Stables with entire families in them, stacked up one on top of the other.

— Stables, and stables on top of stables.

— Breeding. Stealing. No running water.

— Stables and stables behind stables.

— Yellow eyes.

Correspondent J___ says that General Torrijos turned out every policeman in the country to find the writer’s documents and cash.

Raids. Beatings. Blood. Snot. Piss. Clumps of hair.

Jäcki pictured correspondent J___’s account of the appointment with the Nicaraguan ambassador graciously receiving the guileless writer, handing him a personally signed visa within a few minutes, nothing perfunctory there.

— The rabble in the lobby, the ones in the queue the ecrivain engagé jumped–they might wait three days for their visas, taking two or three buses just to get to the embassy, submitting two passport photos.

Eleutheria: “freedom” means stamped passport photos.

Jäcki had been to the Nicaraguan embassy; his visa was signed by hand.

Patria Libre.

Free Homeland? Free Fatherland? New Homeland.

— The German article was an inaccurate translation from Patria Libre. He dispatched every detective in the city in search of a passport thief who had disappeared without a trace.

— So what.

— The childish handwriting of Nicaragua’s Minister of the Interior: This passport cannot be located.

— I know that already. I have a feel for errors in translation.

— Landing.

— Some airline official had turned out all the lights at the airport and gone out drinking, taking the keys with him.

— The moon to their right.

— The moon to their left.

— Tailspin.

— The sea to their right.

— The sea to their left.

— The forest to their left.

— The forest to their right.

— The death dive. A hundred passengers on the flight from New Orleans to San Salvador never knew what hit them.

— No accounts of drinks with General Torrijos for me.

— The private jet General Torrijos flew to visit his other guest, the Shah of Iran.

— The general offered the writer his private jet.

— A page and a half of drinks and private jets.

— The Minister of the Interior dispatched the overthrown dictator’s private jet for the ecrivain engagé, and then it flew the writer on to Nicaragua libre.

— Five columns in Patria Libre.

— Literacy campaigns for Nicaragua’s campesinos so they can read in the communiqués of the Ministry of Interior how the writer was mugged; so they can read how Torrijos pampers the Shah; so they can read how the general unleashed every gendarme in the country to find the writer’s money and passport; so they can read how the general and the writer drink whiskey together; so they can read how the writer has two private jets at his disposal to fly off to see the newly literate campesinos.

— Correspondent J___ politely declined to use of the general’s private jet and took the ousted dictator Somoza’s jet instead.


— The paper mill in the hills.

— Carter-hating Lopez Portillo, friend to Reagan, built a paper mill in the hills for the Nicaraguan Revolution. Mexico City needs the pulp, and he wants to help the Nicaraguans scrape their hills clean.

— The campesino theater at the Ministry of Culture, in the villa of the ousted Somoza. From above, the Minister of Culture watching them in the courtyard.

— The revolution knows no timetable, plastered throughout the villa of the ousted dictator. Meaning the workers no longer can count on fixed schedules.

— Hourly wages cut so that El Señor Minister can go to the theater.

— That’s what that means.

Jäcki freezing.

His fingers swollen.

He saw the villa, the slums, the Shah, the ministries, in miniature.

Poking at his manuscript with hot, thick fingers.

Jäcki felt that he had lost some of his grazie.

— What’s it called again? Grace. Right, thanks. A Catholic concept.


— I’ve mastered the interview.

— I can uncover hidden rites.

He didn’t want to conduct any more interviews.

Didn’t want to uncover any more rites.

— The entire police force can scour the countryside for a pickpocket on behalf of this ecrivain engagé.

— Let’s go!

— Just go!

— Where?

— The disappearing Black Indians of Bahia.

— The snake restaurant.

— Flaying toads alive.

— Where can you eat the woodsmen’s cuisine?

— This is where the Black Caribs found refuge.

Jäcki could hear a ticking noise outside, in the swamps.

— A trap.

— This hotel–it’s a base.

— For whom?

— Geologists?

— Jesuits?

— Guatemalan troops?

— Belize will be annexed.

— Oil.

— Gobbled up.

— Knifed in the guts.

— The cab driver keeping his accomplices informed.

He was watching Jäcki at the Mayan ruins, noting Irma’s camera equipment.

— Too cavalier with money.

— The gangs masquerade as guerrillas.

— Sacrificial lambs.

— At the darkest hour of the dugu. Before dawn. The hour of the death cult.

— No one will eat the cuisine of the Indians.

— It’s us.

Jäcki heard the drumming, louder than Irma’s breathing, louder than the whine of the mosquitoes, louder than the choking of the dogs, and louder than the final, sand-muffled footfalls just outside the hotel.


Hubert Fichte

Self-identified as half-Jewish, illegitimate, and bisexual, the German writer Hubert Fichte (1935-1986) lived in Hamburg for most of his life. After spending part of the war in a Catholic orphanage, he later worked as a child actor on the Hamburg stage, an apprentice agronomist, a shepherd in Provence, and a counselor at a home for juvenile delinquents in Sweden. He turned to writing full time in his late twenties. His first novel, Das Waisenhaus (1965) (translated as The Orphanage by Martin Chalmers), was a critical success; his second, Die Palette (1968) was a succès de scandale and a bestseller. While continuing to publish novels, plays, essays, and journalism, Fichte spent the remainder of his life exploring syncretic religious practices among peoples of African descent in the New World (e.g., santería, voudun, candomblé, etc.). This "poetic ethnography," as he called it, resulted in more than a half dozen volumes (none translated into English): Xango, Petersilie, Lazarus und die Waschmaschine, Explosion, Das Haus der Mina in São Luiz de Maranhão, and the novel from which this excerpt is taken, Forschungsbericht, which is also one of the high points of his posthumously published projected nineteen-volume roman-fleuve, Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (A History of Sensitivity).

Adam Siegel

Adam Siegel is Languages and Linguistics Librarian at the University of California, Davis. His translations from the German, Russian, Czech, and Polish have appeared in publications such as Conjunctions, Context, InTranslation, and elsewhere.

Forschungsbericht. Copyright (c) S. Fischer Verlag GmbH, Frankfurt am Main, 1989. English translation copyright (c) Adam Siegel, 2013.