The Charms and Perils of Being Exotic

Howdy, folks!

Apologies for the infrequency of my blogging.  Computer troubles are to blame.  My poor work laptop, a Dell that has shown me a fair bit of loyalty in the midst of serious road warrior conditions, just can’t seem to take the heat.  Right now, he’s in the hands of a repairman friend of Perlina’s, and I am hoping against hope that he’ll be back in my arms tomorrow and ready to surf the web again.  Say a prayer!

So, before I go into the theme of this entry, which is, of course, “the charms and perils of being exotic,” a few recent adventures that may be of interest…

– Today, I took my first swim in the Caribbean!  If it can even be called a swim.  One of the wonderful things about PG is the incredible view and presence of the water right outside almost every person’s door.  The downside is that there are no especially desirable “points of entry”–aka no sandy beaches where you can bask with a book and then wade into the surf.  My swim, therefore, was not typical.  First, I had to find a place to get in the water.  I decided to investigate a part of Front Street near the nicest hotel in town, assuming that they’d have some sort of a beachy something that I could use.  All they had to offer was a pool for their guests and a somewhat questionable set of stairs down to the rocky foot of the sea.  Determined, I went for the rickety stairs, and managed to enter the water without injuring myself.  It was nice to be submerged in the sea, but because it was rocky, and because there were lots of mushy spots on the ground, it wasn’t especially easy to move around.  I’m definitely going to have to seek out an alternate entrance point.  I have a few in mind, and I remain hopeful!

– As I mentioned in a previous post or two, this weekend has been the annual Cacao Fest here in Toledo (the southern region of Belize).  On Friday night, Akiesha, Ashley (a PW volunteer), and I attended the Wine and Chocolate Tasting event at the Coral House Inn.  It was surprisingly swankier than we anticipated, and in spite of the rain that fell for most of the evening, we had a nice time.  Funnily, nearly everyone at the event was white and pretty clearly a tourist.  This was a pretty big bummer in my mind, as I’d hoped to have a more authentic Belizean experience.  When I asked my Belizean coworkers about it, they said that no one from PG wanted to spend 50 dollars Belize for such a thing.  It made me smile, because I realized that an event like this in the US would probably cost 50 US dollars, and I certainly wouldn’t want to pay that for it and wouldn’t go.  But since 50 dollars Belize is only 25 US dollars, we US people feel like we’re getting a steal!  So there we were–the US contingent of Belize, all sampling chocolate (which was very good) and drinking wine and the newly released Belikin chocolate stout beer.

The chocolate sampling area was set up under a group of tiki-style tents in the grass, and some of the chocolate makers had made special truffles and fondues and things.  One company even made a ginger chocolate s’more, which was divine–probably the best thing I ate.  As we were walking from tent to tent, though, many people started slapping at their feet, and mine started to hurt as well.  Pretty quickly, we realized that while we were feasting on chocolate, fire ants were feasting on our feet!  I would never have guessed that an ant could cause such pain, but I will not doubt again!  Akiesha and I quickly got over to the pool to soak our feet–a huge relief!

On Saturday, Front Street (the main street in PG, and the street where I live) was closed off to traffic.  The cacao fest committee put up tents along the street and soon there were vendors selling Mayan crafts, local food, and chocolate.  I bought some chocolate-based lip gloss to give as a gift, and also some really delicious chocolate tea made with cacao shells flavored with ginger and other spices.  There was even a truck selling chocolate ice cream (which, I am sad to say, was extreeeemely inferior to ice cream in the US).  Emmett performed on the African drums, and there was dancing and all sorts of revelry.  I got up early and strolled around for a while, and then took a break to read and nap in the hammock before going back out again with Akiesha and Perlina.  I also ate a Mayan dish of steamfish grilled in a palm leaf, which was pretty much not pleasant, but definitely an experience.

In the evening, there was live music, but the crowd was a bit smaller because of the rain.  When the three of us got there, there were people dancing and drinking, and this one guy pulled me over and started dancing with me, which was pretty funny.  Throughout the night, he kept pulling his shirt up over his belly and dancing on an overturned crate in front of the crowd.  The rhythms of Belizean music really do make you want to get up and dance, and I think people (myself included) would have done so had it not been for the rain.  There’s a style of dancing that they do here in Belize called “punta,” which is basically a dance that involves very pointed hip movements.  It’s kind of belly dance-ish, and reminds me a little of my dancersize workouts.  Akiesha and I have decided that we are going to make our native Belizean coworkers teach us how to do it.  Watch out, world!

– I went to church this morning, and was surprised to find St. Peter Claver crowded to the point of standing room only.  It was an interesting service, and the priest spoke about Jesus’ ascension, and compared it to the times when we have to say goodbye in our own lives–goodbye to high school if we’re graduating, or goodbye to friends and family when we move away, or goodbye to a loved one who has passed away.  He reminded us that these goodbyes can be both happy and sad.  My thoughts, of course, went to Gram, and how sad I am to be without her but how happy for the memories.   This mass was also the celebration of Holy Communion for a number of children, so there were lots of pretty white dresses and veils and suits.  The children sang a version of “Kumbaya,” too, which made me smile because I sang that at my own First Communion in the US a long time ago.  Sometimes the world seems so small, and at other times so vast.

– Yesterday, as I walked around town with Akiesha and Perlina, I really took note, for the first time, of the houses and living situations that exist in PG.  With the exception of a few hotel and business owners, the people of this town live in conditions that would astonish many of us.  One-room homes with six children, cement buildings with unpaned windows and no locks on the doors…  we take so much for granted each day, and a trip to Belize would do a lot of us some serious good.  Such a reminder of how much we really can do without.

One thing I can’t do without?  SUNSCREEN.  Just a quick note on sunscreen.  You know how sometimes you don’t know that something is effective until you stop doing it?  I’ve been religiously applying high quantities of sunscreen and bug spray to my entire body every morning.  And I have no intention of stopping.  Yesterday, however, I donned a shirt with a bit of lace on the shoulders.  I did NOT think to put sunscreen underneath the lace, and now I look like I have some sort of gross poison ivy-looking stuff on my shoulders.  As much as this stinks, it’s only slightly red, and I have officially been convinced that my sunscreen is doing its work.  Excellent work, Neutrogena SPF 70!!!

– An addition to the list of weird things that I’ve eaten: callaloo.  I could easily have spelled that wrong.  But it’s basically a spinach-like green that I enjoyed in an omelette made for me by Jill’s assistant, Andrea, this morning.  Andrea is awesome, by the way.  She has six kids, the first of whom was born when she was 16, and now she has three grandchildren at age 38!  She’s super sweet, and never without a smile, even though I can’t imagine that her life has been easy.  She also makes some darned good homemade tortillas.  Noemi tells me that I won’t be able to find a Belizean husband if I can’t make homemade tortillas, so I’m mentally preparing for a lesson.  Don’t worry, single ladies reading this–I will share what I learn, with pictures, at some point in the next two months! 🙂

-Books.  As I believe I mentioned, I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading while I’ve been here.  It’s been almost a week, and I’m finishing my third novel today. Being in PG is so conducive to reading…it’s too hot to do too much in the way of physically exerting activities, and the hammocks just seem to call to me…”Sit down and read, Sarah…do it now…”, so I do.  🙂  Anyway, in case anyone is looking for reading suggestions, here are my three recent picks…

1. The Wrong Mother – I can’t remember who wrote this, and it’s definitely not my normal genre of reading.  It looked like one of those “summer beach thriller” types, and I figured it would be a good plane read.  Turns out it was quite an interesting story, and creepy as anything.  I would be lying if I told you I still didn’t think about the circumstances and fear for my life.  But if that’s your kind of book, I say go for it!

2. The Memory Keeper’s Daughter – This was sad and poignant, and really beautifully written.  It’s about how loss and Down’s syndrome take effect on a family over twenty years, and it’s something of a page turner.  I told my PG coworkers about it and now it’s being passed around from one to another.

3. My Antonia, by Willa Cather – This book is one that I think I should have read long ago.  I never read Willa Cather’s work before, but I’m a little more than halfway through My Antonia, and loving the story.  Willa Cather is known for her literary depictions of midwestern America during the days of the pioneers, and her style reminds me of an American Thomas Hardy.  I’m thoroughly enjoying, and just pleased to be finally adding Willa Cather to my repertoire!

 

And now, FINALLY, to the theme of the day.  I was told before I came to Belize that it was “one of the most sexual countries in the world.”  I wasn’t sure of exactly what this meant when I heard it, and I’m still figuring it out, but I’ve begun to understand some of the ways in which this culture’s attitude toward the sexual differs from what I’m accustomed to.  Firstly, there are the sexual innuendos.  No matter where I walk around PG, even if it’s just a few blocks, there’s a 98% chance that someone will say something sexual to me.  Yesterday, for example, I walked past a small house where a few men were sitting on the porch.  One of the men looked at me and said, “Enjoying the Cacao Fest?”  I replied, “Yes, but it’s hot,” and he said, “Need some hot to go with your hot.”  Ew.  Then today, as I walked back from my swim–fully covered by a dress, and with a towel around my neck–a man (40-something?) said, “Hey, baby, I want to go swimming with you!”  Men also often make kissing noises with their mouths as you walk by, and one guy who was working on a roof today must have called me by every romantic term he could think of–“beautiful,” “gorgeous,” “honey,” “girlie”…I ignored every one, which he thought was very entertaining.  While I don’t particularly like this sort of attention, it seems that it’s not avoidable here, and that it’s considered something of a norm.  Funny enough, it’s not just the men either.  Women dress very provocatively in general, and even in church, there are women wearing very low cut shirts and exposing brightly colored bra straps.  Women also seem to be generally less concerned about their weight here, and will often wear things that I wouldn’t wear in a million years unless I had the body of a Barbie doll.  The positive side of this is that I think women of Belize have, in general, more self-esteem and physical confidence than women in the US.  On the negative side, this confidence can cause a level of immodesty that I think can be detrimental.  I haven’t yet made any major conclusions about any of this, except that I think I’d like to take a page from the confidence book that the women of Belize all seem to have read, and to walk with dignity in the knowledge that I am “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

Alright, folks, so much more to say, but my hands are tired, and I imagine that your eyes are too!  Stay tuned for pictures coming soon, as well as my own homemade version of “The Price is Right: Belize Style”!

Much love to y’all!

Sarah

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