After unpacking our bags the first day, we walk across the street to the grocery store, then up the boulevard to try to find a Chinese restaurant that was recommended to us. We’re puzzled by the restaurants we pass, certain that none is the one intended. None of them has any place to sit down; the storefronts are protected by steel mesh, with a small hole through which you place your order, pay, and receive your food.
Realizing we’ve missed the restaurant, we walk up the road a bit to the river and stand on the bridge, enjoying the breeze. When we return to the business our landlords own, they are frantic. “Where did you go?” they want to know.
“We were trying to find the Chinese restaurant, but we couldn’t, so we took a walk.”
They are shocked. “You’re very adventurous.”
“We just passed a lot of school children wearing uniforms and carrying their backpacks,” we replied. We had chatted with some of them, asking what grade they were in, what their favorite subject was.
“Does this neighborhood feel dangerous to you?” T. asks at one point. “No,” I replied. This is where experience comes in. What we’ve seen so far looks a lot like so many towns in India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Nepal, Indonesia, South America, the Caribbean. We’re in the tropics, in an area that is not particularly wealthy. The traffic is less frantic here than other places we have traveled. No tuk-tuks, fewer motorcycles than Asia. Drivers usually obey stop signs, traffic lights, cross-walks.
Still, M. & G. warn us to stay on the boulevard and other main streets, and not to walk into the neighborhood behind us, and particularly not into the neighborhood further up the road. We will soon find out why.
The guy at the front counter of the grocery store checks us out, in every sense of that word. He asks me if we’re tourists. No, I reply, we’re here to volunteer at the prison. He translates my answer into Spanish for his companion, who raises his eyebrows in surprise. I make it clear that we’re connected to people in the neighborhood. The faster words gets onto the street about why we’re here, the safer we will be, G. had said. We soon realize that we are the only Anglos living anywhere near here.
We like our apartment, except for not having air conditioning. For a few hours each day it is unbearably warm, with the sun beating in through the windows. Theoretically, we don’t have hot water, but what comes out of the tap is warmed by the sun, and only a few degrees cooler than what I would choose, if I had the ability to choose.
Someone told me that Belize was beautiful, but dangerous, and that the airport was the sketchiest one he had ever been in. Aside from some extended questioning by the customs guy, it was like any other airport in the less-developed world. And, quite frankly, they processed people faster than most places. It was far better than landing at Ljubljana at 11 pm, or Yogyacarta at 10 pm, or Kosovo at 2 am, or the old Delhi airport any time of the day or night.
Our easiest class at the prison is the one we were most concerned about: the adult men. They are taking the class by choice; a number of them are in an addiction recovery program; and several have visited or lived in the U.S. The literacy level is much higher than among the women or the juveniles. They participate actively, ask questions, spark lively discussions. Class is held in the chapel, and we’re perplexed about why one side of the room is full, while the other side is empty, until someone explains that the breeze is much better on the full side, and the ceiling fans are too noisy to be used. Someone has paid for brand-new, auditorium-style upholstered seats in the building. Unfortunately, they’re very comfortable, and the class is right after lunch. In a warm room, it’s hard to keep everyone awake.
We make a standard statement at the beginning of every meditation course: There are no stupid questions. If you have a question about something, probably someone else in the room has the same question, and is afraid to ask. And we probably had the same question when we were first learning.
We won’t say that any more.
Because we were not prepared to answer questions about the relationship between meditation and astral projection. Nor could we put mindfulness and compassion into the proper context for the Voudoun practioner who claims to be able to place thoughts into other people’s minds. Nor did we wish to address claims that the best way to meditate is with ganja.
I did my rational, science-based best with that last issue, discussing the difference between state changes and trait changes; how one does not necessarily lead to the other; and that meditation is a demonstrated way to develop permanent, positive trait changes.
Total waste of breath.
©2016 Teresa I. Sivilli. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be used or reproduced in any way without permission of the author.