I spent two weeks in Belize recently for my wedding and honeymoon. It is a tiny, magical country of palm trees, tropical jungle-forests, brilliant aqua-clear ocean with 200 miles of barrier reef just off shore, and gently rising, forest covered mountains best seen from the Hummingbird Highway. Only a little more than 350,000 folks live here. The people smile often, work hard, and genuinely seem to enjoy tourists. I learned this most deeply through the patience and humor sent my way as I learned drumming rhythms with the help of Garifuna Masters from Hopkins and Punta Gorda. Whether they originally hailed from Central America, The Islands, China, India or Africa, most natives of Belize live simple lives without a lot of frills, and many times without indoor plumbing.
I had many mystical, once-in-a-lifetime moments in Belize. Snorkeling with 300-pound sea turtles and nurse sharks and hoping for an up close, in the water manatee encounter. Entering caves by jumping into cold pools, then swimming, wading and climbing small cave-waterfalls miles inward. In the deep, pitch-dark mystery (with a little help from the lights attached to the front of our helmets) we got to see thousand year old Mayan pots and bones scattered about in sacred chambers. In the cooler, earlier morning hours we kayaked peaceful rivers filled with crocodiles, parrots, blue crabs and snakes. We hiked through miles of jungle jaguar preserve where we were assured that even though we weren’t seeing them, a few of the more than eighty-five jaguars who lived on this land were most certainly watching us. You could feel their energy permeating the forest.
But more magical than the jaguars, the boas or the Flame Trees covered in brilliant orange flowers, was a joyful, humble cacao farmer I met named Eladio. Eladio lives in the foothills of Southern Belize, not too far from the coast. We came upon him in his forest-farm holding a machete and cutting fruit from his cacao trees. He was deep-brown and bare chested wearing black rain boots and old work pants held up by a belt made of some kind of vine from a near-by plant. Eladio “Pop’s” smile radiated an absolutely pure, exuberant love. He was beyond excited to meet us and to show us the complete harmony of his farm. He showed us how impressive the ants were at making a trail through the forest and exclaimed about how nice it was that they were happy to share their trail with him. Pop explained that fertilizer, pesticides or other activities not natural to this forest were unnecessary and detrimental. He didn’t have to protect his beloved cacao fruit from the squirrels because they only took one small bite of fruit from the occasional tree. Also, they made it possible for the birds and insects to share the fruit. This was in turn part of the composting and germination process that kept his farm so rich, fertile and productive. He emphasized that every tiny bug, decomposing mango leaf and plant was essential to the balance of his forest-farm.
Eladio shared stories of how he was called to come to this land, and to work with it in a very different way than his Mayan father had farmed. He talked about how he was just a tool, or a “wagon” for God. That every day he felt so blessed to be living this life. Every morning when Pop comes to the farm he begins his time on the land in prayer. Giving Thanks. Asking that the Lord use his hands, his feet and his mind to do His work. He shares all this deep wisdom simply and with such happiness and joy that I found my eyes welling up with tears as we sat knee-to-knee talking and laughing.
I am so grateful for all the people who shared a little of their Belize with us, especially Eladio. I look forward to the day I can continue my education of this magical, mystical land.