San Pedro, Belize is a small Caribbean city located on an island; just a few miles from the second largest coral reef in the world. In the air or on the ground, the beauty of the sandy beaches with its cool, clear waves along with the stereotypical palm trees providing some shades from the warm summer sun never fails to amaze.
I was one of those amazed tourists as I was preparing for landing on the smallest commercial plane I have ever been in yet. The 8-seater performed a surprisingly smooth landing–making all 7 passengers loosen our grips on anything we could find–when it made a sudden turn into its parking spot which rattled us. The place amazed me at every corner as I was driven by one of the coordinators with Projects Abroad to my host family. The colourful school fence, the golf carts, the mix of tourists and locals, and the bikes that managed to weave through them all gave the place a vibrance and excitement I have not experienced for a very long time.
The first couple days was paradise. Not only the view, but my host family, my public health internship colleagues, and even the vendors were friendly and amiable. Even my tasks peaked my interests. Taking blood pressure, performing rapid glucose levels, planning for health fairs and researching about diabetes were what I wished to spend my three weeks in Belize for.
However, as I got accustomed to the uncomfortable bike seat and immense heat of San Pedro, I began to see some of less beautiful scenes around me. I saw the alarming rates obesity that is apparent in the locals. I began to hear the leering, the cat calls, and the inappropriate comments aimed towards my female colleagues. I began to smell the piercing stench when I walked past San Mateo, an unplanned part of town where immigrants and refugees mostly resided. As the night went on, you could feel the atmosphere of the streets change, pressuring you to look back every so often to check if anyone was following you.
San Pedro has been a mystery to me. The beauty and warmth of the place conceals the flaws so well to the tourists that no one would realize until it was too late. I am looking forward to revealing more of these dark secrets that the picture-perfect utopia is hiding.
Minhoo Kim – Forum 1D