7.26.2006

Words from an International Criminal

I know, I know... I took way too long to write this post. But I'm not gonna waste any time with excuses, so I'll just jump right in.

I wanted to share a couple of thoughts about my time in Belize (beyond what I've already shared). I learned a lot about the culture, economy, government, etc. out there, and it makes me really grateful for the country that I do live in.

A lot of times the U.S. gets a bad rap for being too capitalistic or materialistic or consumeristic or imperialistic or whatever. And sometimes there's truth to that. But I have to admit, the U.S. is definitely the lesser of two evils. Or, compared to most of the world, I think it's probably among the least of many evils.

I readily admit that what I learned was mostly from one local guy named Calvin, so there may or may not be some inaccuracies. But let's start with the facts.

Calvin, who worked with us on painting a school in Caledonia and a community center in San Narciso, is a very educated man. He got a full scholarship to a university in Santa Fe, New Mexico (can't remember which university) where he was able to earn his Associates degree. While there, he and other international students took trips to various cities throughout the U.S., allowing him to see much more of the U.S. than many Americans ever see. He then returned to Belize to be a high school teacher.

At the end of one of our work-days, we swung by Calvin's house to pick up some mangos from his mango tree. His house was fairly nice by Belize standards--it had an indoor kitchen! But I have to admit that by U.S. standards, it very likely wouldn't have passed inspection. As we left, it occurred to me that no matter how educated Calvin is, no matter how good he is at what he does, no matter how intelligent he is (and he is very intelligent), Calvin will never have a house like the one I live in. And mine is nothing spectacular by any stretch (heh... at least by U.S. standards).

It must be so frustrating for Calvin.

Some other things I discovered. All of our meals were prepared by one particular family in San Narciso. Howard Storm said that they were one of the wealthier families in the village. And that was obvious--their house was much nicer than most of the others. I asked Howard what "wealthy" meant in a village like San Narciso and he responded, "Less than $10,000 a year." I was shocked.

That means that Calvin, who is not one of the wealthier people in his village, probably makes around five or six thousand a year.

It gets worse.

A lot of times people will say that the cost of living is much cheaper in developing countries. Not true.

A gallon of gas costs $6.00 ($12.00 in Belize currency). That's about twice what we pay in the U.S.

A 3-liter bottle of generic cola costs $2.50 ($5.00 Belize). I only pay 59 cents for a 2-liter Kroger brand soda.

And why is soda so expensive. Because Coca-Cola holds a virtual monopoly in Belize. A couple years ago, Pepsi was forced to close its bottling plants, making Coca-Cola the only legal soda in Belize. Other sodas can be imported, but there are huge taxes on imports (which is another reason why the cost of living is so high in Belize--impose taxes, raise the price of imports for the end-consumers, generally the poor of Belize).

The funny thing is that generic colas are smuggled into Belize all the time. The 3-liter bottle of generic cola that some locals shared with us was considered contraband. Yup. That makes me a criminal in Belize. The funny (or sad, or maddening) thing is that Coca-Cola is putting huge pressure on the Belize government to stop the smuggling of contraband colas.

So, there you go. Life just isn't fair for people in Belize. It is truly a country where the rich are filthy rich and the poor are dirt poor.

How do you fix something like that? I suppose the government could take steps to bring more prosperity to the people of Belize. But take one look at the roads in Belize (worst roads I've ever experienced) and it's clear that the government really doesn't give a rip about it's people. If they did, they'd fix the potholes.

So, I'm not gonna complain about my paycheck anymore. I'm not gonna complain that my house is too small. I'm not gonna complain that I don't have a home theater in my house. I'm just gonna be thankful for what I do have and do my part in helping make life a little better for those who don't have as much.

And I'll go back to Belize next year.