The other day I was thinking about my first impressions of Belize
Evelyn and I landed at the Philip Goldson International Airport in January 2001. It was wicked hot and humid and we were both overdressed. We sweated through Customs and looked anxiously for our pre-arranged pick-up to take us to the Radisson Hotel.
Driving into Belize City from the airport, wending our way through the rough streets on the way to the hotel, observing the flow of traffic, the pedestrians and bicyclists dodging cars, trucks and buses, we both said at the same time, “Ghana!”
Ghana is a country on the west coast of the African continent. It had then a population of more than 15 million people, predominantly black Africans with different tribal allegiances, and dark and tan- skinned Indian and Lebanese traders and a relatively small number of British expats who stuck around after independence to help run the civil service.
In short, on the surface, it was nothing like Belize with its total population of 400,000 and its diverse population of Mestitzos, Garifuna, Mayan Indians, Creole, Mennonites and Chinese, except it was hot, hot, hot and it had that third world vibe that we got to know so well in Ghana, a mixture of sounds and sights and smells that bespoke poverty and wealth, hopelessness and dreams, noise and serenity, calmness and violence and a myriad other contradictions.
We landed in Ghana in 1966 with our 3 month old son. We had joined CUSO, Canada’s equivalent of the U.S Peace Corps, and signed up to teach school for two years. We ended up living in Ghana for 4 years and brought a 6 week old daughter back with us when we returned to Canada.
In Belize, we arrived as travellers looking for adventure for a 3 week vacation and we returned for 15 consecutive visits of 3 weeks, 4 weeks, a month, six weeks and for the past 7 years 2 months.
Looking back, it is now apparent that Ghana and Belize and Canada have much more in common than we first thought. We were all British colonies and we all achieved independence without violence. English is the official language of all 3 countries and the language of instruction in the schools. Of course, Canada has French as a second official language, while in Belize Spanish is the un-official second language. All three countries adopted British common law as the basis for their legal system. All 3 accepted the British Parliamentary model of governance. All 3 are members of the British Commonwealth.
For me, as a traveller, the familiarities of language, law and governance serve as a short cut to getting to know what’s really going on in the lives of Belizeans we meet on buses, in bars and restaurants and hotels and at social gatherings. What are their hopes and dreams, their aspirations? What turns them off and what turns them on? When they wake up in the morning what will they have to go through before they go to bed at night? And will they sleep well or toss and turn before the roosters crow in the morning?
Travel with me while I traverse the small country of Belize and learn what I can about the people who live there. And, maybe, someday you’ll swing on your backpack or roll out your suitcase and check out this sub-tropical country yourself.
An adventure awaits you.
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