Rising with the sun, I enjoy a last stretch with plenty of time to start my day. I throw on some shorts and a tank top and head to the porch adjacent my bedroom to see what the sunrise has done to the sky today. Beautiful. Again. The typical morning streaks orange and purple into the exact spot where sea meets sky. My first thoughts revolve around the beauty of creation and how thankful we are to experience six months in Belize as a family.
When I go back inside, I inevitably hear our four kids stirring in the room they share. Our two girls, ages 7 and 2, share a double bed, while each of our 10-year-old and 11-year-old boys have their own twin bed. The slats are partially open to the cool morning breeze but the room of half-sleepy children is still dim and comforting.
During the week, the kids attend school in the tiny town near us, Monkey River Village, a community of only 300 people. They wake up and don their uniforms – a light blue button-down, collared shirt and dark blue pants or skirt. They head downstairs for a bowl of cereal and then pack up their book bags. We make sure they have the $.50US to buy the school lunch of rice, beans, and some kind of stewed meat (which they love, surprisingly enough), a water bottle (since half the day seems to be spent playing soccer), and a tiny bit of toilet paper (just in case the restroom is out, and it often is).
Around 7:30, we hear the whirring motor of the school boat coming toward our dock and I yell, “Lloydie’s coming! Time for school!” Lloydie is the neighbor who picks the kids up in his black skiff and drives them to the village every morning. As I stand on the dock, waving and watching them go, I contemplate how crazy and beautiful it is to send one’s children off to school in a boat riding the vibrant waves of the Caribbean Sea.
I turn back down the dock, with words I want to write humming excitedly through my head. Our little girl walks with me and we swing arms as we march back into the 2,300-square-foot house we’re house sitting for friends. Kevin’s got the coffee going and, inevitably, some tortillas cooking for breakfast. We move to the screened porch, with its view of palm trees and the sea, where we check email and get started on our thoughts for the day.
Mid-morning typically finds us taking a break for a float in the calm blue waters. Our toddler works as a sand-castle artist while we float on rafts tethered to the dock and gaze up at the fluffy clouds. After that, we towel off and get back to work.
Here we are allowed to be creative. We have time to be creative. Here I’m not sitting at my desk remembering all the retail errands I have. I have no retail here. If we didn’t get an item on our last trip to town, we do without. Shopping just doesn’t factor into our life. What a relief this life is.
Having been a freelance writer for the past 12 years, I’m writing more than ever here in Belize. One reason is simply I have more time. But more importantly, once I’ve cleared all the clutter of first-world living, I have more space in my head. I don’t have to worry about keeping up with the Jones’ or shopping or calling people back. I don’t even have to worry each time about hand-washing our laundry since our handyman’s Mayan wife (a sweet woman and fast becoming my friend) works for only $2.50US an hour and is happy to help us with laundry and sweeping the wood floors. I’ve never hired any household help in my life. But here in Belize, it seems perfectly natural.
If work projects are done, we head back out for a quick swim and to meet the kids off the school boat at 3:30. They are usually happily sucking on a “cold cup” they bought after school from one of the tiny stores in the village. They buy these frozen juice cups for a shilling (half of a U.S. quarter).
The children have adjusted to school quite well and are making friends. Each afternoon, they regale us with stories about the local kids – Raul, Johnny, Abigail, and Alisha. The boys tell interesting tales about how the local boys all have lighters and know how to run a 15-foot skiff by the time they’re six years old. About who ‘likes’ them and who likes to fight and who can’t speak any English at all. The boys talk about their teacher, also the principal, who often scolds the Standard 6 class for not trying hard enough and not caring about an education. Many of my boys’ friends will not continue and instead will head to Farm 10, where they’ll pick citrus or bananas for the rest of their lives. My daughter tells about her little girlfriend who comes from a family with 14 children. Indeed, this is not unusual among Belizean families.
The kids go inside and change out of their school uniforms, which are usually filthy from their two breaks and recess period, when they climb trees, hack coconuts, and play soccer. They grab a snack and, instead of heading straight for the television, make a bee line straight for the beach or the jungle. They’ve been avidly working on creating Christmas presents for each other from materials they find in the bush: palm fronds, bamboo, coconut hulls, driftwood, and beach glass.
On some days, Kevin and I and the baby take the boat to our truck, where we drive either into our local big town, 45 minutes away, or head to another town to interview people or sight-see. Always we get supplies, since we don’t know the next time we’ll be out and a family of six constantly needs something. If it’s the weekend, the kids go with us. We explore new areas, meet interesting people, and sink into the laid-back style of living so prevalent here in Belize.
In the evenings, we turn the generator on to supplement the solar power system. Then we help the kids with homework, cook a dinner from natural, whole ingredients, and get everyone through the shower. Lights out usually comes early – around 8 or 9 p.m.
We were worried about certain things before setting out on this adventure. Having come from a comfortable life in a middle-class, suburban neighborhood, we didn’t know what moving to a ‘third-world’ country would be like. We expected to have run-ins with snakes and tarantulas and maybe even angry locals who didn’t appreciate our effort to ‘see the world.’ So far none of that has happened.
The biggest challenge has simply been facing the isolation. Both Kevin and I are social animals. Since it’s difficult to get to town, we often long for authentic interaction with people. Even when we do get to town, we’re really only exchanging pleasantries as we buy groceries or get gas. But most of the time we’re content to have some time to contemplate life and each other. We needed to take a step back into simplicity to figure out where we want to go in this life.
The list of benefits counteracts any challenges we might face:
1. Our kids have always been helpful, but this experience is bringing out the team in us all. I haven’t seen as much cooperation out of any of my four children as I see here, where the chores are more intense and we have to depend on each other.
2. At home, we often spend our free time watching TV or pacing in circles around the house. Here, we allow ourselves to sit down with each other and, with the crashing waves as the background, have meaningful conversations about life. I’ve gotten to know my kids in more depth than ever before. I’ve rediscovered my husband and the many reasons I love him. I’ve come face-to-face with my own individuality, where I’m out of the context of my regular life.
3. We appreciate more in this place where everything is harder to get. We’re thankful for everything – sun to warm us, rain to drink, fish to eat, places to explore, and people to learn about.
4. In a new world, where we’re outside of our comfort zone, we’re more curious. We’re more creative. We’re more alive.
Now that we’ve been here for 40 days, we can’t imagine going back to a life so full of busy schedules and lack of awareness. In Belize, people don’t have much in the way of material possessions but they do know how to enjoy life.
We’re learning, slowly, that the world has opened to us on this adventure. With less stuff to carry, we can continue on a path to see the world. With more time to focus, we can plan new pursuits that make us ridiculously happy and fulfilled. With new eyes to see, we don’t have to fit into the same mold as everyone else and are free to live our dreams and teach our children about taking their own path.