If I look back at my travels as a series of lessons through contrasting and testing experiences, beauty, wonder, connection and solitude (and I often do): I would say that my arrival in Belize city was probably the hardest test of all.
I arrived at my very small and depressing room with a decision to make: Taxi back to the airport? Or: Become a woman who travels alone around the world? I was almost peeing with fear about the thought of setting foot outside, but I knew I had to. I grabbed my small pack, a few dollars and nothing else (with the rationale that it was less to lose when I got mugged, which felt like an inevitability at that point)...
Walking up North Front Street in my best casual stroll, I experienced one of the things Belize is known for: Men and young boys riding bicycles or walking along the street shouting 'Hey Sexy' or 'Hi Honey'... 'What's your number?'. I suppose I hadn't expected it to be quite so common place or physically in-your-face. I found it unnerving, but it happened so frequently on that one shaky walk that I numbed to it. It felt important not to show my terror about this simple walk, you know; in case people realised I wasn't local.
I managed to buy some bottles of water, keeping my cool when a lightly aggressive drunk man asked me why I was buying water and whether I had a dollar for him. Boosted by my escape from death in the water/spare dollar exchange, I walked over the swing bridge and up the road a little, where I came to a fruit stall. I decided that I would really integrate with the locals now, by buying a banana from the (quite frightening looking) vendor. He was tall, broad and in a customised combat jacket. His styling and general poise borrowed heavily from the Military Dictator epoch. 'Hi there. One banana please.'
He had a rough hook in place of his right hand. I saw his scarred wrist first, with a crude contour map of mending skin just above where his hand had been lost. I made quick assumptions about the violence involved in the loss of his hand and tried not to betray my thoughts when I spoke. The hook was resting by the bananas. 'Two dalla.' he said with shark-eyed hatred. I paid my two dollars, took the banana 'Thank you' and rattled, I hurried away. 'A HA HA HA HA... TWO DALLA?' He bellowed theatrically after me 'White girl jus pay TWOOOO Dalla for a banana! A BANANA!!' I was embarrassed by my stupidity and white Westerness, guilty and awkward. I also felt a bitter sting of anger: He's blown my cover. Now everyone knows I'm not local!
My photographs from the first few days in Belize are all in a sort of near focus, I only attempted to capture the things I could without having to move my arms too much or draw physical attention to myself by creating unusual body shapes or lingering in one spot for too long. I was so jumpy and worried about the obviousness of my foreigness. I was convinced I would be mugged or kidnapped or would inadvertently blunder into danger. Blending in has been a go-to social strategy since childhood. In Belize city everythingwas so different to anything I had ever seen or been amongst before that blending in was impossible. I stuck out. I felt like a total fish out of water, wide eyed and gasping. Things did get better! It just took a while to be able to relax and trust that things would be alright...
More in the next few days x