The splendor and squalor of Belize
Trip Start Jun 14, 2004
27Trip End Jul 30, 2006
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But what I actually want to write about today is the stark contrast between experiences I have where the beauty of belize takes my breath away and the horrific poverty and hardships people exist with that also take my breath away.
Two weekends ago, Katy, me, jon and his two friends from home hitchhiked up to seven miles, the village that katy lives in. We found Pancho and two boys (and by boys, i really mean 18 year olds) and began our hike to the nameless 800 ft waterfall that no gringo and no women have ever seen in present day. We think that probably mayan women saw it long ago, but that was hundreds of years ago. We hiked and we climbed as Pancho and the boys created a trail for us with machetes. They hacked down a tree so that we could cross a river. we scrambled up steep hills on our hands and knees and scooted down them on our butts. We did this for two hours and it seemed like it was never going to end. But then, we were there. Looking up at an 800 ft water fall that actually split into three, so there was three waterfalls. Dropping into these pools that were icy cold. Being of course from the Adirondacks, the coldness of the water could not dissuade me from getting in although the rest of my friends refused to. I went with the two boys down the river, through different pools and rocks. It was just the most amazing experience because it was so raw out there. and we had worked so hard to get there, the reward was worth the hike from hell. it was silent except for the noise of the waterfall and the noise of the jungle. there were no other tourists snapping pictures or trucks running past the road. There was no chance we would run into anyone else because it was just so isolated and literally in the middle of the bush. I suppose its a little hard for me to explain how i really felt there. It was like we stepped back in time to a place where there were no cars or internet or microwaves. There was nothing protecting us against nature. Nothing if we fell or got bitten by a snake or if we got hungry (which we did and pancho found us things to eat which included a stem of a leaf that tasted a lee bit like strawberries and nuts that were like little coconuts). No mcdonalds down the road to pick something up quick. we just had what we had. It just really forced me to look at life differently if only for an hour or so. And i am so grateful for it.
And that was only the first half of the day. We left the waterfall, hiking back through the torturous steep hills and walking on the sides of mountains through the bush.
Our next stop was a cave. A three mile long cave that when we got in was one of the most amazing things ive seen. High ceilings at least two stories high, mayan pots hanging out and the formations of stalagmites and stalatites looked like they were designed, not created through thousands of years. I saw Pancho and the boys squatting down and looking at this hole. They were throwing rocks down through the hole and you couldn't hear it hit the ground. I was just totally blown away by that. Who knows how far down it was! Unfortunately we were so exhausted that we only went in a lee way, but I definitely plan on going back to see more.
I just felt so good about that day. Seeing the jungle and caves and enjoying the natural splendors that belize has to offer me. I feel lucky to have been able to experience it all.
The next week i was working with CARE Belize which is an NGO that works with disabled children from infant to six. we go to the houses of the children and evaluate them and show their parents the excersises to do with them. Yasmini and I headed to Los Flores, a village just outside of Belmopan, the capital of Belize. It was here that we visited two familes.
Yasmini warned me that the first family we were going to see was very poor. She has seven children and the father is a corn farmer. So that is what they eat most of the time, corn and then sometimes Ramen noodles. That's it. We walked up and on my left hand side was the building that they all slept in i think. i did not get to look in it, but it could not have been more then 10 x 4 ft with a dirt floor, the walls made of crude wooden boards. To my right was an open air area with rusted metal pieces used as a roof about the same size as the sleeping area, 10 x 4 ft. On one side was a long wooden table with fire wood underneath. on top was a semi-circle of rocks with two metal rods placed across them. And that was where she cooked. It just really blew my mind that that was it. Just some rocks and two rods and wood and fire. The children there, the four year old, the mentally retarded one was lying in a delapitated stroller with no wheels and barely a back. She could not talk or walk and could barely sit by herself. The other children, a 3 year old, one and a half and three month old were there also with the mother. All of them had bloated bellies from hunger.
Living and working mostly in san ignacio I am just not exposed to this type of severe poverty and it was hard to look at and take in and think about where i live and the food I eat and not feel guilty and angry and sad all at the same time.
The second family we visited was a women with a epileptic boy. Their cooking situation was the same as the first family and the woman talked about medications with yasmini. That sometimes the pills were stale and her little boy would have up to eight seizures a day that lasted minutes long. And even when the pills were working he would still have one or two a day. That it was so difficult to get into Belmopan to get the medicine for him because they have to take a cab and can't afford it. I couldn't understand what they talked about because both mothers only spoke spanish, but as yasmini explained to me what they said after we had left, my heart wanted to cry and break for these women that have such love in their eyes for their children. unconditional love and happiness for their children, yet such hardships to endure now and endure in the future. The unanswered questions of what will happen to them as they grow older. The trapped lives they live in a country with an unreliable bus system as their only transportation and as their children grow bigger and they cannot carry them everywhere, how do you get around? when there is no one to leave the child with, when can you ever leave?
And then there are the abandoned ones. We visited alfred at marlene's house of hope, a children's shelter. He is severly mentally retarded and was a product of incest. The daughter birthed her father's child and then abandoned it. When the house of hope first had him, he would chew on his hands and throw up any food he tried to eat because he was so tramatized from his life. Where will he go when no one wants him? Who will love him unconditionally like at least those other children have from their mothers? I dont know.
Through it all though, I have to take a step back. I have to realize that I cannot feel ashamed because of what i have. That life deals everyone a different hand and we have to play with those cards whether we like it or not. I feel helpless through it all. What can i do to help these families? I guess just me going with yasmini. showing them that people care, we are here and thinking about them and that they are not alone.
I am thankful for the opportunities i have been given and offered throughout my life. And experiences like this, seeing these children and their mothers and experiencing isolated waterfalls and magnificent caves are all part of it. Part of growing as a human being and trying to make myself a better person and trying to understand the world as it is with its wealth and poverty, war and death, and that life goes on.