For the last 2+ months here in Belize, I’ve been humbled many times for certain “American” tendencies that exist in stark contrast to Belizean norms and habits. It’s difficult to see my own weaknesses magnified in the context of another country, but I am ultimately thankful, because without realizing that change is necessary, it’s unlikely that change will occur. I’ve concluded that there are three particular weaknesses that are inhibiting rather than enriching my life, and upon return from Belize, I’m anxious to practice greater care in these areas. Want to know what they are? Of cour se you do! (Or at least I hope you do, if you’re read this far…)
1. Wastefulness. The people of Belize use their chickens the way the Native Americans used their buffalo. Nothing gets wasted. Most Belizeans think that the American tendency toward eating boneless, skinless chicken breast is both wasteful and laughable. To them, we’re missing out on the skin, the flavor, and the opportunity to suck the marrow out of the bones, which apparently both tastes great and delivers nutrients that help to combat arthritis and osteoporosis. Jill, the chef at Driftwood Cafe right below our bunkhouse, told me that when she first came to Belize, she collected all of the bones from the chicken she was eating and prepared to feed them to the dogs when a woman stopped her in horror and asked her what she was planning to do with that food. Jill quickly realized that she’d made some sort of a faux pas, and offered the bowl of bones to the woman, who took them and made a meal for her SEVEN children and herself! While I wasn’t there, I’d bet a lot of money that it was delicious too. When it comes to food, Belizeans are much more resourceful than Americans. Perhaps it’s because hunger is more “close to home” for people here than it is in suburban New Jersey, but whatever the reason, I’ve realized that just because I don’t see hungry people outside my window each day, it doesn’t mean that they’re not present in huge numbers throughout the world. I plan on being more mindful of how I purchase and consume my food when I get home…using extra vegetables to make soups rather than letting them go to waste, cutting fruit so as to maximize the edible part and minimize the waste…there’s a lot that I can do. Here in Belize, I’ve become pretty good at cutting mangoes, but I often have difficulty extracting all of the edible fruit from the center core. I know that any Belizean would be shocked at how much of my mango typically goes uneaten, so for me, the “walk of shame” has become my walk to the compost pile after I’ve eaten a mango, making sure that no one sees how much of it I’m throwing away. This has to change. That I’m admitting it to my enormous readership 🙂 is a step in the right direction, I think.
2. Materialism. Now I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I think that I manage to outdo many of my fellow Americans when it comes to how much I “need” to get by in terms of stuff. I can go a long while without a hair straightener, makeup, air conditioning, deodorant (just kidding)…many things that some would consider non-negotiable. That said, my ability to survive with less does not translate to how much I have or how much I accumulate. In Belize, people don’t possess exorbitant amounts of clothing, cosmetics, home decor items, or really anything, and many–most–of them are the happier for it! I realized it in Peru, and I am realizing it again here in PG. I have too. much. stuff. Last summer, I came home to the US with big plans to upend the contents of my closet and give things away as freely as possible, but my words were louder than my actions. This year, I am even more determined to rid my life of excess…and to truly live out the ideal of “living simply so others can simply live.”
3. Disrespect for the earth. Most Americans, myself included, place their trust primarily in allopathic (Western) healing and medicinal treatments. We also rely heavily on grocery stores for most of our nutritional needs. It’s rare that we take into account the health benefits that come from living off our own land and treating many of our maladies through more natural means. I feel that even after spending a single overnight with Gustavo and his family, I’ve seen the richness that comes from eating your own produce and utilizing plants for more than just their aesthetics. I will continue to learn more about all this by growing my own vegetable garden back home. I’ve already made a plan and done some research, but I’m going to start small and expand my harvest over time. My number one goal upon return to the US is to get some fresh arugula growing in the backyard so that I can stop buying it at the grocery store and make my salads the way they ought to be made–fresh from the garden!
Like I said, it’s not easy to look at my flaws in so bright a spotlight, but the good completely outweighs the bad in this case, and I’m excited to live more sustainably and respectfully because of all that I’ve learned here in Belize.