I have yet to see a glass bottle abandoned alongside the road in Belize.
“Would you like me to take these empty bottles away for you?” says the young woman stopping by our casita.
My wife and I are holed up in a small remote beachside house tucked along the barrier reef of Belize. Life is much different – from a simple drink of water to basic transportation.
To most of us, an empty bottle, be it Coca-Cola or beer bottle, is trash. In Belize, each empty bottle is worth twenty-five Belizean cents. In a part of the world where the per capita income is $4,400 a year, you can see why empty bottles are considered an unofficial currency.
Earlier in the week, an older man joined me in line at a small grocery store. His clothes told of a long, hard day: dust, paint, patches in his pants. In one arm were a half-dozen mismatched bottles. In his other, he held a cold drink from a nearby cooler. Only the next day did I realize he was making a trade with the quasi currency of empties.
Belize is a contrast of worlds – one of immense beauty and another of a life most Americans can never fully relate. Not that the Belizeans are lacking; on the contrary, they seem to be grounded in the real, valuing what is tangible and what matters the most.
One thing I’ve observed is people are happy for what they have instead of unhappy for what they lack. American life, unfortunately, is tilted far to the latter. Material objects with temporary value, shallow praise from social media, and the desires for more and more cloud our minds.
Each morning we rotely pick up our phones to immediately invite the outside world to contaminate our peaceful thoughts. We open kitchen cabinets to an abundance of items as simple as coffee mugs and dishes. We fill our closets with clothes that gave us a momentary boost of excitement but now sit dormant for seasons if not years.
We cannot understand the purity of pure life, simple pleasures, and the happiness of being.
In Belize, I’ve watched a man mow a space the size of an American football field with a small push mower. I’ve also watched a man shimmy down from the top of a coconut tree, machete at his side, without the help of a ladder. I’ve also observed another pull a rake across hundreds of yards of white sand to wash away footprints from the day before.
I asked the latter about his morning stroll.
“I love to rake the sand,” he said. “The quiet is so beautiful.”
In Belize, there are a different set of values, ones not exclusively measured in dollars, cents, or material objects. And while we as Americans continue to subscribe to our quest for the next bigger, better thing of the day, I’ve now seen a world of beautiful people genuinely happy without ever joining our the never-ending race.