Journey to Belize: Epiphany

This post continues the retelling of my 2017 trip to Belize: participating in an archaeology field school and speaking with jaguar experts. This post details events that took place on July 3, 2017.

The most important lesson of my time in Belize took place on July 3, 2017, and it involved jackfruit trees. Vietnam, Maart, 2009 by Martha de Jong-Lantink. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

After meeting with Mr. Edgar Correa of the Belize Forest Department, I headed straight for Everest Indian Restaurant. Raj, the owner, had been a great friend to me during the past two weeks. I therefore wanted to spend the rest of my final day in Belize with him.

Raj lavished me with food today. He made delicious chicken curry, the Belizean staple of rice and beans, and more. When I asked Raj how much he wanted for all this food, he answered $10 US. I gave him twenty.

I hung out at Everest from about noon till well after dark. I did not say much, as I was in a sullen mood. I had no desire to leave this beautiful country, where everyone had been so warm and friendly, and return to northern California. But most of all, I was reluctant to end the friendships I had forged during my six weeks in Belize.

Little did I know, Everest was exactly where I needed to be that day.

Directly behind Raj’s restaurant was a chain-link fence that bordered an empty lot. In the evening, Raj instructed our mutual friend Armando to climb the fence. Once he was on the other side, Raj handed Armando several jackfruit seeds and asked him to plant them.

I then noticed that the fence was lined with vegetables, herbs, shrubs, and even two mature palm trees. It turned out that for years, Raj had been planting food-bearing plants in the empty lot. And this was not the only place where Raj had done so.

Raj said that he had also planted fruit trees in public parks. He did this so that when the trees grew old enough, anyone who happened to be walking by could enjoy their bounty. Raj said that he did not want anything in return; he just wanted to make people happy.

This is what mature jackfruit trees look like. Jackfruit by Malcolm Manners. CC BY 2.0

It suddenly occurred to me that I was witnessing the exact type of behavior that needed to be adopted en masse. Raj was no environmentalist out to ‘save the planet,’ and he certainly was not a hippy. He simply saw an empty field and felt compelled to plant trees in it: trees that would benefit everyone.

This is where the rest of us need to be. We need to get to the point where we perform pro-environmental and pro-social behaviors not because we are trying to, but because they have become second nature. These behaviors, and their underlying values, need to become so firmly ingrained in our cultural psyches that we regard them as ‘common sense.’

I then began to wonder if there were other people like Raj – individuals who already embodied the values that the rest of us so desperately needed to adopt? There must be. I suddenly knew that I needed to find these people, learn what made them tick, and tell their stories.

Perhaps by celebrating these individuals – while simultaneously making them seem human and relatable – I could nudge others towards adopting their values. More importantly, I might be able to improve myself.

When I started my jaguar journey back in 2015, I had no idea that it would lead me in this direction. Jaguar by Cloudtail the Snow Leopard. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I suddenly knew what I needed to do. I was not a scientist, and I never would be. I was a storyteller. I needed to learn how to tell the best stories I could, and then tell them.

Unfortunately, there was still the matter of my master’s thesis. I had been telling everyone for months that I was going to return to Belize and study the human dimensions of jaguar conservation, and I intended to make good on that promise. Thus, the conflict between what I wanted to do and what I felt obligated to do was strengthened.

In that moment, however, I was happy to be among friends. Darkness fell, and Raj made a fantastic liver stew for Armando and I. We then made the peaceful trek from Everest Indian Restaurant to Raj’s house in the cool, night air. It was the last time I would do so.

19 Thoughts

  1. Aww at least you had a good time in Belize! And your friendships haven’t ended, they’ll just be long distance friendships! Hopefully you get to go back soon and I also agree with you about helping the environment should be second nature. I hope in the future, that’s a reality for most people.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Shay! Long distance friendships are alright, but they’re not the same as actually meeting people face-to-face. I also hope that helping the environment becomes second nature for most of us, but I still have a lot of work to do on my end!

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Raj seems like such an awesome person!!! He gave you so much food and asked for so little, and planted fruit trees to help other people… wow. Thank you for sharing your journey!! I’ve never eaten jackfruit before. It looks interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I bet you miss him.
    What does jackfruit taste like? I’ve resisted buying one because all the ones I’ve seen are so large and expensive that for one person to get one not knowing what they are in for seems like a waste. I saw one smashed at the market but didn’t dare dip my finger in it for a sample. The Hispanics here seem to really go for them. It still amazes me that for my heritage, I never came across one and none of my Hispanic family has ever been seen with one, so it’s all new to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Wow! What an epiphany! – and I think you have hit the nail right on the head, Josh – as you said:

    “It suddenly occurred to me that I was witnessing the exact type of behavior that needed to be adopted en masse. Raj was no environmentalist out to ‘save the planet,’ and he certainly was not a hippy. He simply saw an empty field and felt compelled to plant trees in it: trees that would benefit everyone.

    This is where the rest of us need to be. We need to get to the point where we perform pro-environmental and pro-social behaviors not because we are trying to, but because they have become second nature. These behaviors, and their underlying values, need to become so firmly ingrained in our cultural psyches that we regard them as ‘common sense.”

    Fantastic conclusion to a great last day of a life-changing 6 weeks stay in Belize – and I hope you will be able to find a way to share your vision for the future, which I fully agree with and support. Even if it is not self-evident to people now that we need this attitude en-mass, I believe it will become self-evident over time.

    Finding our true path in life works this way – we come across signs and symbols and people and situations and events and places that lead us to small or large epiphanies – to the extent that we change course naturally as our route demands – the is the true meaning of following your destiny step-by-step, as it unfolds.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with us, Josh. I especially enjoyed this true story about Raj.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, thanks so much for this detailed and thoughtful comment; I’m thrilled that you enjoyed this post so much. Raj was an extremely important part of my time in Belize, and I suspect in my life journey. Should my dreams come to fruition, I hope I’ll eventually be able to repay him for his help.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Josh. This is a marvelous account of a snapshot in time for your personal journey. I see that I was about to repeat what Rob picked from your narrative.. “pro-environmental and pro-social behaviors not because we are trying to, but because they have become second nature.” But it was so mindful that I’m pasting what I had already copied anyway. ;)
    Hugs.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Raj seems to be a very wonderful person.

    I agree, we all need to get to a point where we perform pro-environmental and pro-social behaviors not because we are trying to, but because they have become second nature.

    It’s really nice to learn about your trip to Belize. I reckon your friendship with Raj is the type to cherish

    Like

  7. All the comments asking about jackfruit are reminiscent of how I first felt about avocados…I’m sure I’d love them but I’m scared to buy half the exotic fruits at the grocery store just because I wouldn’t know what to do with them! :) I was wondering about acts of kindness like Raj’s and political issues people come up against in the States when they try to do similar things. Sometimes, it’s tough to plant trees because the town will only mow them down. Other times, so many people volunteer for tree planting events that people have to be turned away! There are some small scale restoration projects that I’ve been lucky to be apart of, though. Thanks for sharing his story :D

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yea, as I said in another comment there are a lot of structural/systemic factors that encourage people to act in certain ways. Many, if not most, of the tree Raj planted were chopped down for being in the ‘wrong’ place. That sort of serves as a glimpse into the two competing impulses of our species: the compulsion to help and the compulsion to destroy.

      Liked by 1 person

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