The Diversity of Circumstances (Belize, Part 2)

Did you ever stop to think that the life you are living is due mostly to the circumstances of your birth?  While our personalities (determination, optimism, coping skills, etc), may help shape what we make of the life we have, most of what we do and enjoy is based on the parents who gave birth to us.  The circumstances of our birth, for most people, determine what country we live in, the type of food we eat, our religious and philisophical beliefs, to name just a few areas.  And our lives would be vastly different if we had been born into a different family.

These thoughts stem from recent conversations we had with natives of Belize.

on cocoplum cay belize

Belize is a beautiful country in the northern part of Central America, immediately south of Mexico and east of Guatemala.  It is a country full of colorful and interesting flora and fauna.

The major industry in Belize, besides the export of orange juice concentrate, is tourism.  The island we stayed at, which was a very small cay (less than 20 acres in size), was located about 8 miles off the coast of Dangria, Belize. 

The staff at the resort would come to the island by boat, leaving their families for a month at a time, to stay on the island, working seven days a week, and then going home for a one-week vacation.  While they were home for that one week, someone else on the island would do both jobs (the vacationing staff persons job and their own).  Obviously, these are people who all work hard.

We had a chance to have some in-depth conversations with a few of the people we met in Belize.  And here is what their lives are like.

Rojo was a young man, possibly around the age of 30, who performed various tasks at the resort.  He captained the boats, and guided us in some of our snorkeling excursions, and helped with the maintenance.  He shared with us his family life on the mainland of Belize.

boatHe grew up with his family in one house in an enclave of five homes, all about 500 or so yards apart.  This small community of homes is located in a jungle area, on a lake, with access to a river system and is accessible only by boat.  There are no roads, cars, bikes or any other mode of transportation.  The only way to get around is by boat or feet.

There is no electricity or any kind of modern technology/appliances/etc.  Once a month, someone from the community gets in the boat, and motors 20 minutes to a nearby town and stocks up on staples, such as flour, rice and medical supplies.  Everything else is caught, grown, or made.  They live on a lake, and they fish for their dinner.  They grow vegetables and have access to fruit trees, so all their fresh fruit/veggies needs are provided by the land.  They make their own oil for cooking/frying from coconuts.  They use the coconut meat and let it sit overnight in water; the oil rises to the surface of the water, and that’s what they use to fry the fish they catch.  They burn or bury any garbage they make.  And, most importantly, they love their life

Then there was Jorge.  Jorge was a young man, probably in his early 20s, who served mostly as the island’s jovial and comedic bartender and server.  He would pop up as you rested in a hammock in front of your cabana and ask if he could get you a drink.  He was lonely when the guests went off the island for any kind of excursion.  One time in particular, we were gone all day for a Mayan ruins excursion, leaving the island at 8am and getting back at 6pm.  He met us at the dock holding a tray, one handed, with about 15 rum punch drinks, with a huge smile, just waiting for us.  Jorge was awesome.

huntingJorge also provided a window into his home life.  He lived in a small home with no hot water, which we found out when he was talking about how he dislikes the rare occasions when it gets cold (into the 60s), because he has to heat hot water to wash.  The family hunted for their dinners, with the children (13 and up) having access to the family guns.  They would traipse off into the jungle and shoot dinner.  They would have competitions about who got the largest animal, or who shot it most cleanly.  Obviously, the children had the major responsibity for getting dinner.  No success, no eating.  In addition, he talked about how his dad taught the kids to swim – they all got thrown in the lake, and if it looked like they were about to drown, he would take them out, let them get a breather, then throw them back in.  His dad taught them to be comfortable in the water because they had to use the water to sustain themselves, both by fishing and in terms of work.  While Jorge didn’t specifically mention electricity, it’s probable that his family didn’t have any electricity either.  And Jorge was obviously happy with his life as well.

So here’s the thing.  I got the distinct impression they thought our way of life was unusual.  We could go to a store and pick out any food we want.  How is that better than going out and catching your own food or making your own?  We have to get in cars and deal with road rage.  There were no traffic lights in Belize.  None.  And we covered quite a bit of the country by car.  How is having a million cars, and smog, and lights, and radar, and police traps, any better than small country roads with a few stop signs here and there?

Think about it.  Our lives seem “normal” and perhaps in some ways “better” than the lives of those with less.  But are they really?  Quite frankly, the people we met seemed happier than most of the people we meet in our more industrial society.  I think it’s important to remember we’re only where we are because we were born to the people and in the place we happened to be arrive in. 

Just food for thought.

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