This post continues the retelling of my 2017 trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and learning about jaguar conservation.
Once I finished packing that morning, I made one last trip to the University of Belize’s Environmental Research Institute. I had been trying to schedule a time to meet with Yahaira of Panthera Belize for the past two days, but to no avail.
When I arrived at Panthera Belize’s office, I found three university students hard at work. One of them explained that Yahaira was not in today, because she had important business to take care of at home. But when this student called Yahaira to ask when she would be able to meet with me, Yahaira offered to come in right then.
I will provide a detailed account of what Yahaira and I discussed in a separate post.
After speaking with Yahaiara, I returned to Belmopan Tiny Houses for the last time. I said goodbye to Karen and Darwin, and then headed to Everest.
When I arrived, Raj was even more animated than normal. Someone had broken into the restaurant stall next door during the night, and had busted one of Raj’s security cameras. Fortunately, Raj’s other cameras captured the whole event.
The ‘thief’ seemingly broke into the stall just to cook himself a meal. He was a young man, and did not appear to be starving (meaning he had more than a little body fat stored up). Raj gave his recording, which clearly showed the man’s face, to the police.
I chatted with Raj until well after dark. Raj kept his restaurant open longer than everyone else, and opened it earlier than most as well. It must have been close to 8 pm when we were ready to leave, but then we received an unexpected visitor. A young man who resembled the suspect in Raj’s video entered the lot and went straight to the restaurant that had been broken into.
Raj and another restaurant owner confronted the man, who claimed to be a new security guard. Raj then asked where his uniform was, and why he had no ID? It turned out that he was the same person who had broken in the night before, and the police quickly arrived to apprehend him.*
Following our real life (and quite tame) version of a crime show, we started for Raj’s house. There were three of us: Raj, myself, and a watch merchant named Armando. Originally from Guatemala, Armando was an exceptionally likable man who looked to be in his mid 20s.
As we walked down an empty highway in the cool, night air, Raj told me about his past. He moved from Nepal to Belize in 2007 with his wife, and had a good job at the United States embassy. Appallingly, Raj was cheated by a Belizean man who stole most of his money and filed false charges against him. The scandal cost Raj his job, which is why he launched Everest. His wife eventually returned to Nepal: leaving Raj alone.
Listening to Raj’s story made me both angry and sad. It seemed wholly unfair that someone as kind as him had had to endure such hardships, and I wished I could help him in some way.
We arrived at Raj’s house after a walk of 20-30 minutes. It was a large and spacious house with a delightful balcony, but it contained little furniture. Raj explained that this was part of Nepali culture.
Another aspect of Nepali culture that I was unprepared for was the complete absence of eating utensils. According to Raj, all food was eaten by hand. This included the delicious fish curry Raj had made for the three of us. It was not the tidiest dish to eat with one’s hands, but the taste more than compensated for the messiness. Raj did offer Armando and I forks, but I used them as little as possible.
As I lay in bed after dinner, my mind wrestled with the day’s happenings. Raj’s home was not as cozy as my tiny house, and I missed being close to nature. But this felt right. Somehow, I knew that I was supposed to be staying with Raj – although I did not know why.
*Out of respect for the suspect’s privacy, I chose not to take any pictures of him or our confrontation with him.