Belizean Reflections, Recognizing the Earth

Finding Simplicity in the Sky

As I traveled through Belize, experiencing the hopeful greens, bold blues and brave pinks of the Caribbean canvas, I couldn’t help but quietly observe the world around me. This painting presents something entirely new–a palette of colors that only seems fit for the imagination.

In Belize, the sky plays an integral role in country’s natural beauty. Dreary days do little to amplify the freely-growing hibiscus trees, and densely packed clouds do little to bring out the lucid blue water that covers the coast. When you do wake up to a cloudless morning, the country comes alive. The locals smile and greet you, the pace of life slows down, and the elegance of Belize can be seen in every direction.

Now settled into life in the United States, I’ve rediscovered this concept. Blue skies bring out the best in my classmates, as they roam freely across campus to soak in the refreshing color. Red barns and green grasses show brilliantly against the blue tarp that surrounds us, providing insight into how this world looked before we arrived. It’s a simple realization, though it plays a crucial role in my daily routine. The sky serves as a backbone; without its deep blue hue, the earth stands sluggishly before us.

“The sky is that beautiful old parchment in which the sun and the moon keep their diary.” (Alfred Kreymborg)

Belizean Reflections

“What do you grow in your yard?”

I honestly believe, as humans, that teachable moments have a way of finding us; when we least expect to have our world turned upside down, we find ourselves staring at the ground. This (wholly true) story works to prove my case.

While living with a local family in San Jose Succotz, Belize, a small village just minutes from the Guatemalan border, I developed a meaningful relationship with my home stay brother. To this day, I could not tell you his age; he liked to argue with his mom, who provided a different age than those who knew him well. For the purposes of my story, he was 13.

Succotz Soccer Field

At the center of Succotz lies the village chapel: a communal soccer field

During our first afternoon together, my brother, American friend and I walked around the village to prepare dinner. We made brief stops in several homes, purchasing each villager’s “specialty.” One woman owned a commercial refrigerator for ice, another passionately grew bananas, and another sold fully-dressed chickens. Each family seemed to feel empowered by their product–they made a contribution to the village and the village made a contribution to the family. This process, I learned, represents as the essence of local eating.

That evening, after hours of soccer and a meal made from the ingredients we gathered, I sat down beside my brother and engaged in small talk. He wanted none of it. “What do you grow in your yard?” he asked. I paused, taken back by the authenticity of the moment. Just hours before, his family walked me through their yard, which, at first judgement, seemed dirty and unkempt. Fruits, vegetables and herbs filled every inch of open land, displaying an ungroomed, overgrown plot in need of refinement. I didn’t understand.

“You know, we don’t grow anything,” I sheepishly replied. “Well, where do you get your food?” my brother continued. I stopped again, with thoughts of the American food system stalling my response. “Well, we…we drive to the grocery store, and buy everything we need.” I wanted to include that “our” foods originate nowhere near our homes, where they conveniently find their way to our grocery stores at extremely low prices.

“So, what the heck do you use your yard for?” he boldly asked, with more confusion than ever before. Entirely defeated, I responded, “Well, in America, its important that our yards…look nice.”

There I sat, staring at the ground.

I knew, in this moment, that I learned my lesson. Through the eyes of a 13ish-year old boy, I discovered one of the many foils of the American food system. We see Belizeans and other “developing nations” as resource-less and in need of relief. But does this family really need my support? Or does my family need theirs?

As I think about this sacred moment in my Belizean journey, I cannot help but consider the land’s providence. Suddenly, a Dole banana from Giant seems so unsacred. Have we completely lost sight of a responsible food system? Could we truly live off the land?

“Shipping is a terrible thing to do to vegetables. They probably get jet-lagged, just like people.” (Elizabeth Berry)

Belizean Reflections

The Background: Why Simplicity?

In August 2012, I enthusiastically boarded a plane for the rainforest of Cayo, Belize, in search of an escape. I wanted to withdraw the complications of college life; I wanted to experience, for one semester, a life with limited commitment and responsibility. Over the course of my four month journey, Belize molded my perspective on life in America, showcasing the value of simplicity in a world that strives for complexity. I never plan to look back.

Still Belizean Campus

The view from my front porch in Santa Elena, Belize

My semester abroad focused on two key principles: relating to the earth and living simply. Along with 16 fellow students and six staff members, I shared common meals, participated in communal chores and traveled throughout Central America as an engaged ecotourist. Along the way, I earned an education in faith, justice, ecology and sustainable development, understanding first hand how American culture impacts the developing world.

Over the next several weeks, I hope to dialogue about the people who changed my life, the lasting habits I acquired, and the simple life I continue to live. If my words resonate with your passions and motivations, or challenge your current values, I encourage you to continue the conversation by commenting below.

Thank you for joining me.

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” (Leonardo Da Vinci)