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Belize: The Few. The Humble. The Sure.

Belize City, summer of 2000, I was 15 and it is here I experienced what contentment, culture and caution was all about.
Amy and I at St. George's Caye

By the end of that summer I had found a contentment of living in Belize. This new unfamiliar environment had soon become a pure joy when I finally acquired how to do it and became part of the daily life of the city. I was in a country full of people who had less than me, or so I thought. But what filled my soul was how content they were with as much or little as they did have. Despite their low socioeconomic condition, It made me aware (an epiphany for me) that living “simply” does not mean living “poorly!”  I never got the feeling of envy, jealously, or lack of pride.  They may sleep on the newspaper but they read it before lying on it. The literacy rate is around 94%, which proves their thirst for knowledge. I was humbled by every Belizean I met… the good and bad. 
In the middle of the Caribbean
Getting Conch out of its shell!
There were numerous skills I acquired that summer in Belize which offered so much culture for me to learn in the cities, cayes, mountains, jungles and rain forest.  The locals in the cities taught us to dance in the discos and to appreciate the music, food customs and everyday way of life as well as an understanding and bargaining in their open markets. To explore life outside the city we rented a van from a local taxi driver for the weekend to venture into the country side for $40.00 (for the entire weekend).  In Caye Caulker we attended the Annual Lobster Festival, wandered the 3 dirt streets exploring all we could and boated out into the Caribbean with locals and ate the conch straight from its shell to observe the simpler way of life by utilizing the natural resources that surround you (thinking back, probably not the smartest thing for two young white Americans to do- go off with locals on a boat with no land in sight). I observed daily the skills of the local fishermen catching the plentiful seafood and preparing it for the restaurants, their own supper tables, and us as we sat by the beach-side bbq. We passed women washing clothes in the rivers that ran through the mountains.  The jungle & rain forest created music by the whirls of the wind, strange animals, birds, and afternoon rains.  After hiking to the top of Xunantunich Mayan Ruin I had my first breathe taking or “ahhhhh haaaa” moment, looking over Belize and Guatemala, it was beauty and peace for as far as I could see. Like nothing I had ever laid eyes on before. I am pretty sure this is when nostalgia became one of my favorite feelings. 

View from bridge downtown. Where we would wait for the water taxi
Lori, Caye Caulker

Art has always been an active topic in our family. We have a handful of artist (mastering different mediums) in the family. My late Aunt Martha taught me to find the beauty in what surrounds us, no matter what or where it be. She was a water-colorist. I was lucky enough to have her teach me for two of my 4 years in high school. Because of her, I look at our world differently. I now notice the shapes of clouds in the sky, the oh so many ways the sand forms with each step taken on it, the shades of green as I drive down the road,  the architecture of buildings (new and old) and the tools people have to work with and how they use them. I saw that first hand in Belize. Since Lori, Amy's mother had been going to Belize for several years, she had a handful of friends. One of which was the Prime Minister's son, Yasser Musa. He owned and operated and local art gallery,  Image Factory Art Foundation It is located right in the heart of town and still thriving. While hanging out with Yasser, we also met Gilvano Swasey, a local artist who called me Emily Dickinson as that was his only connection with USA and my name. They became our tour guides and gave lessons on the do's and do not's while we were there. Gilvano was having an opening the week we left. I was so pleased to be able to attend. His work is moving, inspiring and you continue to think about it after the fact. He is so creative and uses his Belizean resources to the best of his ability. Before we left, he gave me two pieces of his art work. both signed to me. I remember being so excited to get back to show Aunt Martha and tell her about the "real artist" I met and the "real artwork" he gave me. I remember her telling me we can all can be "real artist" and create "real artwork". Those creations still decorate my walls today.
YMCA in Belize City

Ruban, the son of  Lori's friend

First day in Belize (still had long hair, before I got a Belizean haircut). Me in the park in front of our house

The girls on top of  Xunantunich

I had never seen so many people who look so much alike in one condensed area until that summer. There is an amazement factor that comes with entering a country, which at the time was not touristy (the airport was a tiny building and the runway basically a dirt road) and where everything about you is different from their norm. One of my first perspectives gained is how the Belizeans would stare, for long periods of time at the visitors of their country… Me. You could tell they were just as surprised by the foreign looks of those visiting their turf as we were in learning about their cultures. It was explained to us that we should not be afraid of the staring but we should embrace it. I learned they were not staring in a condescending or coarse way, but with honest genuine curiosity.  Most Belizeans outside Belize City could not communicate verbally with us. People in Belize City spoke 'English', but once outside the very very little was spoken.  So, they observed and studied the only way they could- by looking. Many Belizeans were stunned with how three of us were from the same town and looked completely different. 
Our house! #4 South Park Street in Memorial Park in the Fort George District

Moho Caye

Me on the swing bridge

Days before departure, our house was robbed.  There were huge fruit trees in our front and side yard. People would always be in the trees picking fruit for food (why not, it was free) so we never paid much attention to it.  One day, someone took it a step further and came into the house and packed our pillow cases with all that they could.We enjoyed life to the fullest, with never losing sight of the facts: we were young and in a foreign country. We used caution to the best of our ability; we never went anywhere alone, we locked the doors, stayed in well lit areas. My mantra, “things could be worse”, was at that point confirmed once again. Thinking back I cannot recall anything that was taken, because it was not important. But I recall the laughs and memories made while learning every word on the G Love, Special Sauce CD. We listened to it nonstop the last 4 days, it was the only CD not taken, as it was hiding in the player.

Lori helping the driver on the water taxi to Caye Caulker

bar-tending at local bar on St. George's Cay
After that summer, I was hooked. Hooked on traveling, exploring and sharing. My mother has always said I came back a different person. I believe her. I did. I was forever changed by my time in Central America. For the most part, I paid for that trip. My mother sent Lori my portion of the month's rent and some extra for house stuff. But i was told if I wanted to go I'd have to pay for it (as I've been told with all my adventures since), I worked at a seafood joint called Crabby Jacks (yes, for real) and babysit almost every weekend to buy my $450.00 flight and several hundred in spending... my $300 was $600 there. I don't think I would gain all that I do from my travels if I didn't have to work to get there. 

I am forever grateful to my mother who rarely said no and more often said be careful. I am forever thankful to my mother who provided such a solid family and home foundation for me to always retun to. I am forever indebted to my mother who allowed me, from a very young age, to explore my curiosities with little hesitation.

Things to check out in Belize City and surrounding areas:

Open Street Markets in Belize City
Belize Zoo:
MoHo Caye: (Apparently it is private now, but when I was there it was great. It's a 10 min water taxi ride. We'd often head over for dinner or drinks after Amy was done with her class).
St. Geroge's Caye:

Where to eat (other than local street vendors, of course):
Wet Lizard
Dit’s Restaurant
Wish Willy

-Emily Ballard


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