I am a worrier. I like to have things planned and arranged way in advance. Everyone told me this would not work well for long-term travel. It took me only a few hours to find this to be true. I flew into Belize City, the first stop on my Bonderman Fellowship expecting to stay the night then head west into the jungle.
What I didn’t realize was that November 19 was a Belizean national holiday. The buses were only to run every three to four hours instead of every half an hour. If I was able to make a bus at all, it would have been extremely crowded. There had also been heavy rains with flooding, and being in the wet jungle with mosquitoes was not my idea of a relaxing first day, so I made other plans.
Though the buses ran less frequently, the water taxi to the two main tourist islands, Caye Caulker and Ambergris Caye were still running on normal schedule. I know what you’re thinking, “you said you didn’t want to go to tourist places, you said it was about local cultures.”
It still is about the locals, but after being in San Pedro on Ambergris Caye for the last several days, I have developed a different concept of what that means. Though it feels more like Texas or Florida than a foreign country to me, I’ve still had the chance to meet people from all over the world. It’s different from the status quo, but there is a unique tight-knit community here.
I have met locals, tourists, and expats alike. A group of British American tourists immediately took me under their wing as one of their own. I’ve talked to numerous expats who are living out their dreams here who are interested in hearing about mine. Then there came a man that I’ll call Aaron.
I had gone to get some lunch, then stopped at the local bar across the street to have a beer. Aaron summoned me over to his side of the bar, since I had met his friend and told her about my trip the day before. As usual, he seemed fascinated when describing that I had a no strings attached, paid trip around the world. I told him this is partially true, but I am also looking at aging and dying because I hope to be a hospice nurse one day.
He didn’t ask me why, he didn’t commend my work, instead he rolled his eyes and sneered. “I didn’t hear that part. I would never do that. I spent my whole career peeling dead bodies off rail road tracks. You’ll become immune to it, and that’s what they want. Just make as much money as you can so you can get out when you’re fifty. Unless you really care about helping people or something like that, but you won’t. After a while you’ll only care about yourself. Hospice is a good business, you can make a lot of money”
“Traumas do happen, and they are difficult to deal with, but that’s not what I’m looking at. I’m looking at people who are terminally ill or elderly and are expected to die, and how I can make life better for them” I explained.
“Does it matter?” he said. “Does it make a difference?” I tried to explain that I do think it’s different, and there are people who do that type of work, but it’s not what I’m talking about.
He didn’t hear a word I said. After he heard the word death, he could only relate it back to his feelings, and his experience. This man knew nothing about me at all, and was trying to tell me who I am and how my life is going to end up.
I felt really mad for a second, and then I remembered that his comments are a reflection of him, and not of me. He is not a nurse, and doesn’t know anything about my experience in the last ten years. Instead of asking me about it, he assumed I was naïve and would hate it once I started doing it.
People are often only able to see the world through their own lens. It dawned on me that this will probably not be the last time I meet a person who is made uncomfortable, or is offended by my mission.
I don’t know how many drinks Aaron had, or how many he usually has, but I saw him as a lost and hurt soul. I know he only said the things he said because he has not dealt with his own trauma.
I try to take this in stride and ignore these types of comments. If Aaron were dying and I was his nurse, I would treat him with just as much dignity and respect as those patients who do appreciate me.
No matter how different we are, there are universal values that make us all human. I’ve already met many people that I may have thought I wouldn’t have anything in common with, or would ever come into my social circle at home. Despite some negativity, I have been shown so much kindness from others too. I think as a world traveler it is so important to return this same kindness to those that are not like me.
My first week is not at all what I thought it would be. Different places, different people, different plans. This world is beautiful and wonderful in spite of, and because of our differences.
I believe that under the surface, we all want life, love and happiness, we just express it in different ways. I try to use empathy as much as I can, while remaining true to my heart and reaching for my goals. This is my mission, and I’m proud of it no matter how many people disagree.