March 24, 2014

Adapting to Life in Belize

I could paint you a very dramatic picture of our life in Belize. If I did, I would fill it with the soft colors of a warm afternoon, the azul sky and the vibrant jungle greens. I would color the sun yellow and the horizon hazy, painting in the dragonflies that flutter over the tall grass and the yellow birds that flit from bush to bush. If I wanted to, I would paint you a picture of our adventures, riding the bow of a boat out to a tropical oasis of an island every Sunday and watching sunsets sink behind Mt. Victoria in the evenings. I would draw lines pointing out every location we have visited, from the brightly painted Placencia to the local, authentic Dangriga. I could paint you a dramatic picture of our life in Belize, leaving you writhing with jealousy and catching the next Maya Air flight to Kanatik.

Of course, I could also paint you a more realistic picture of our day to day lives. We wake up to the sunrise, although we are beginning to be able to sleep through the bright morning sunlight, and we eat breakfast. Breakfast is usually papaya, a boiled egg, and tea or coffee. Following this exciting event, we get ready for the day, I put on mascara to feel somewhat “put together”, and then I get on my computer. Blake will sometimes go to the office because the internet speed is better there, but he’ll often work from our home, answering emails, following up with clients and preparing for the weekend tour groups. I evaluate the Morningstar curriculum, take Spanish lessons, write a few papers here and there, generally wishing that I knew how to jump star Morningstar and get things rolling faster. 

We grocery shop in Dangriga, which I enjoy immensely. The man at the farmer’s market knows us now, and he has my favorite smile in all of Belize….second only to our yard guy, Victor. Victor has the best smile in the world. The Asians who run the grocery stores always stare at me and Blake, but that doesn’t phase us, especially since their stores are the only stores that carry our coveted dry goods. Next, we go to Dis Di Fi Wi Chik’n, where free range and organic are the norm and the prices will make your jaw drop because they’re so low.

A combination of high gas prices and a lack of our own vehicle has prevented us from running off all over Belize to explore. Before we leave, we will visit Maya ruins and hike the Jaguar Reserve…but we haven’t been able to be extremely adventurous yet. So we explore our immediate area, watching out for snakes and chasing iguanas on our bikes. Life runs slowly here, the afternoons are sleepy with the heat of the day, and our evenings are spent watching movies or playing Battleship.

If I wanted to glamorize our existence in Belize, I could do it very easily, but I don’t want to. You see, Belize is beautiful and the people are kind, but we live in a fairly isolated area and that has been a shock to our system. We’re used to the vibrant college campus community, the high energy that comes from working multiple jobs, visiting friends, and eating at new restaurants every week. I don't miss all those things, per say, but I think that I am experiencing a little bit of culture shock. The glamour has worn of, even though I still love Belize, I am aware of all the little things that are different now. I find myself getting a little bit more frustrated when I am unable to be understood or do what I need to do. Even though Belize is wonderful and not particularly difficult to step into, it is still a different world and it has taken a few months to realize that it is okay to feel "culture shock" here. 

One of my textbooks, Communication Between Cultures, says, "Culture shock is a mental state that comes from the transition that occurs when you go from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar one and find that your established patterns of behavior are ineffective." In so many ways, this resonates with me because my normal patterns don't make as much sense here. People don't understand my sense of humor as well. As a young woman, locals view me as a daughter figure rather than a student with ideas or big plans. There are little things I would have never considered comforting, yet, I find myself longing for a carmel macchiato just to know that I can comfortably walk into a Starbucks and know how to order. I feel tinges of culture shock when I know that "normal" activities still take more brain power and courage then they "should". 

Despite all of this, I love Belize. I love learning new things and I love the challenges of living in a new country and making a new home here. Perhaps this is why I feel so much internal conflict: I am experiencing the smallest amount of culture shock despite loving our lives here. Some moments are wonderful, some moments are hard. We have our routines, but there is no real "normal" right now.

I could paint you a beautiful picture of our lives in Belize, and everything I would say would be accurate. It is lovely here and the people are so warm and kind. Yet, there is so much more complexity to this country. Good things, bad things. Poverty, extreme wealth. Two ends of a spectrum that can never seem to meet in the middle. I am trying to figure out what our lives look like here and what they will become in our time in Belize. Our lives are simple here, realistic, but challenges still exist despite our ocean backyard. I am anxious to make this country our home, but I am the tiniest bit homesick and craving a carmel macchiato today. 

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