Today we tried to visit the Goss Chocolate factory in Seine Bight, Belize. After traveling to get there we had a big surprise. Watch the video to find out what happened and how we handled it.
So, instead of eating yummy chocolate, we ventured into the village of Seine Bight. We ate some pretty yummy fried rice at the only restaurant that was open, saw a ton of kids having a great time playing, snapped a picture of two goats in someones front yard, and had an enjoyable mile-long walk.
Most importantly, instead of visiting a touristy place, we got to see the “real” Belize. Seine Bight is a typical third-world, Belizean village where people burn their trash in their front yards and kids play in the mud and overgrown grass. The homes are mostly rundown and the clothes people wear are second and third generation hand-me-downs. But everyone was friendly.
In contrast to the village, along the road from Seine Bight to Placencia Village are western resorts where people spend upwards of $300 a night on a hotel room. In fact, director Francis Ford Coppola owns a resort called Turtle Village where cabanas can be as much as $700/night during the busy season. As we walked along the road I couldn’t help but think about western decadence and the privileges we have just because we were born in a first world country.
My Western Decadence
When we first walked into the village I started to look around at the minimal possessions that people had. There were no decorations around the houses and very little furnishings inside, no one wore jewelry and the cars were all at least 5 years old. As we walked, I started to become very conscious of myself and the extravagance of my appearance. (Ok, I was also conscious of the fact that I was the only white person in the village, but that’s a completely different blog post.)
Here I was, a stranger in this village who is the essence of western decadence. I was wearing brand new, trendy clothing. My engagement ring costs what most Belizeans make in a year and a half. And my bleach blonde hair cost the equivalent of a Belizean worker’s monthly salary every time I visit the salon. And I won’t even mention the iPhone that I used to take a picture of a goat in someone’s yard while two little kids stared at me with wide eyes.
I started to feel so overwhelmed with a mixture of guilt and shame that I felt compelled to take off my ring while we were in the village. Shame because I put so much value on these things that aren’t required for happiness, and guilt because I didn’t really do anything special to earn the privilege of having these valuable things – I was simply lucky enough to be born in a wealthy country.
So now I’m sitting in my cabana (not one of the $700/night ones) writing this post wondering what I should do with these feelings I have. This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve been to an impoverished place and it’s not the first time I’ve faced my American privilege head on. But something feels different this time. Maybe it’s because we partly took this trip to reflect on what we wanted to do with our lives and I’m more open to my surroundings. Or maybe it’s because I really feel like I could help these people earn a better wage through the internet so they can have more stuff too. But is that really the answer?
Is it them who needs changed, or is it me?
Westerners LOVE talking about living a minimalist lifestyle, and I’ve always felt that I live pretty simply. I mean, all of my possession fit into a tiny storage unit and 2 suitcases. Most people fill massive houses and their garage with all of their junk, so I thought I was doing a pretty good job of living the minimalist lifestyle. But I still value wealth, and I still have the ambition of making a significant amount of money over my life; does that make me a bad person?
No, I don’t think it does. It’s all about priorities and how you choose to be happy. And right now, living in a tiny one room cabana with the love of my life, a few pieces of new clothing, a gorgeous engagement ring that took us a year to pay off, an iPhone that allows us to work from anywhere, and a head of bleach blonde hair makes me one VERY happy lady. Heck, I’d even be willing to give up the ring, phone and hair and I’d still be as happy as a girl could possibly be. I’ve chosen to value love, friendship and family above anything else – everything else is just a bonus.
Americans and other wealthy Westerners have to do a lot of soul searching to find the key to happiness because we’re so blinded by the next fancy gadget, but I think the folks in the village of Seine Bight have known the answer all along. And I’m thankful to them for opening my eyes to the true wealth that I possess. That knowledge is far greater than any piece of chocolate.
Staci Ann is half the brains behind Beyond the Diploma. She’s made it her personal mission to help other 20-something recent graduates find and follow their passions in non-traditional ways. She loves her generation (#GenAwesome) and wants to help make this the best generation ever! Start following your passion; watch this quick video to get 5 tips on how to make your 20’s the best years of your life.