To say life in Belize and Guatemala is different than it is in the United States would be somewhat of an understatement. America may share the same continent as these two countries, but that’s basically where the similarities end.
Life moves at a slower pace in this part of Central America. It’s somewhat primitive and significantly behind when it comes to technology. Much of the country is very poor. Several generations may share a small household, and many of the women stay at home in the villages and raise the children while the men work. They don’t have big fancy buildings, drive-thru restaurants, or shopping centers. Most of the people, particularly outside of Belize City or Guatemala City, raise their own livestock and chickens and kill their own livestock or chickens when it’s time to eat. We saw a Guatemalan woman plucking the feathers from a chicken whose neck she just snapped along the side of the road. Once again, it’s different. Some people may find this to be a list of a bunch of negatives, but I found beauty in this old-fashioned culture.
Still, there were a few things I saw in Belize and Guatemala that struck me as… well…weird.
Babies on Motorcycles
This was especially prevalent in Guatemala, but we saw it quite a bit in Belize, as well. Many people in these two countries ride a motorcycle in lieu of driving a car because gas is so expensive there. (It’s more than double what we pay in the states.) But that means if the family wants to go into town for something, they either have to ride the bus, walk a great distance, or take the more
dangerousconvenient route: the whole family hops on the motorcycle together. And I mean the WHOLE family. We saw infants and toddlers on motorcycles, families of three or four riding on motorcycles… in fact, hardly ever did we see just one person on a motorcycle at a time. Not once did we see anyone wearing helmets either, not even the children. In Guatemala, there are no car seat or seat belt laws, but apparently there are also no laws about babies or squirmy toddlers riding on motorcycles.
Children Playing in the Highway
Maybe I’m a helicopter mom. I will admit I am a bit over-protective of our daughter. But if the non-helmet-wearing babies on motorcycles don’t weird you out, the kids playing in the street might. Whether it’s a rural, unpaved road, a street through a decent-size town, or the stinkin’ highway, you will see children who look as young as four years old playing, walking, or crossing the street ALONE. OK, their highways are still only two lane roads so we aren’t talking about major interstates like we have in the states, but still… Kids roam free there like little gangs made up entirely of tiny people. Except these gangs will only kill you with cuteness. (Seriously, we saw some adorable kids!) Moments before I snapped the picture above, those two kids who look to be about 7 years old were running along the narrow highway through Guatemala. I found it bizarre how much independence children have there and how much trust their parents must have in their kids and in others to let them roam the streets alone. Meanwhile, my kid won’t be able to play alone in the driveway of our house until she is at least 10… Ok, maybe 12.
Farm Animals Grazing on the Side of the Road
Speaking of things you see on the side of the road… It isn’t just children. It’s the whole family farm! We barely drove a couple of miles down the road from the airport before we saw a horse tied up on the side of the road eating grass along the shoulder. I thought it was odd, but we kept driving. Finally, about 80 horses later, I started questioning it. In the states, not many of us own horses, and those who do keep them secured on a ranch, fenced in and in a space large enough to roam and graze freely. If I did own a horse, I’d be afraid someone would steal it or hit it if I left it tied up on the highway to graze on the tall grass. But in Belize and Guatemala, this is commonplace. The horses eat the tall grass along the side of the road that would typically be mowed down. They don’t have lawn mowers there, they have livestock. It isn’t just horses. Pigs, chickens and sheep were also allowed outside the confines of a fence. In fact, on several occasions the animals would break free from their leash and be wandering in the middle of the highway.Totally normal there.
People Outside… Together
The American culture can be a bit closed off. We move out of our parents’ house immediately after high school, often relocate to different cities if not different states. We have garages that we park in, and each evening after work we pull into our garages, close them, and never see our neighbors. In fact, most of our neighbors keep their blinds closed all day. Many of us have never actually met our neighbors. It doesn’t mean Americans aren’t friendly. It’s just the way of life here in the United States. We keep to ourselves. That is not the case in Belize or Guatemala. Neighbors are practically family. They sit outside all day together… Talking… Sharing meals… Trying to stay cool since air-conditioning is not commonplace and it is flippin’ hot as the surface of the sun there! Everywhere you go, you will see people sitting outside on their porches, or hanging out their windows to catch a breeze. It would be hard not to get to know your neighbors in this scenario. I really liked this about the culture. When you think about it, this is probably the reason children can roam the streets freely or why they don’t have to worry about their livestock getting stolen. They all know each other, and they look out for each other. This may be weird to Americans, but I think we could stand to learn a thing or two from the Belizeans and the Guatemalans in this particular way. Maybe Americans are actually the weird ones.