Worthwhile.Posted: January 12, 2012
Yesterday, as I was crossing the Swing Bridge from Southside to Northside, I passed a big white man who pointed the way I’d come and said, “Is there anything worthwhile over there?” If I hadn’t been preoccupied with getting to the post office, I’d have stopped to give him a piece of my mind. But as it was, I just said, “That’s a big question, sir. I don’t know how to answer that.”
Of course, one of the favorite pastimes of white tourists is to criticize how other white tourists are “doing it.” (I speak for myself.) So I’ll leave the matter alone. But: Is there anything worthwhile over there. Removed from its context, it’s a profound question. This is my third day in Belize City, a place all the guidebooks say to skip as soon as possible, to get thee on to Ambergris Caye or Tikal.
But I’m here because my mother taught here at a Catholic girls’ school in 1962. She was only 23, far younger than I was when I finally got brave enough to travel on my own, and at a much more tumultuous time, and she stayed for much longer. She came because she’d just traveled through Europe—a college graduation present—and she badly wanted to give back to God for all she’d been blessed with. So she signed up with the Papal Volunteer Corps. She fell in love with Belize, but she never got to come back.
Yesterday I visited Pallotti High School, where she taught. The buildings are painted tropical green and yellow. Sister Clara, the administrator, greeted me with a hug. It struck me as such a bright and prosperous place: all the girls wear white, and they go from class to class laughing, draped over each other, or serene and solitary. I found a shady spot to sit outside the classrooms and just listened for awhile.
I didn’t expect much, going there (though of course I had brief fantasies of an ancient nun calling me “Mary Anne!” and rushing to me with tears in her eyes). The irony, of course, is that when a child searches for a lost parent—the letters they wrote, the places they stayed, the things they touched—she already knows that the most precious relic is her own body. My mother made me. Not metaphorically, but literally: she built me, cell by cell. So if she is anywhere, she is wherever I go.
Tonight is laundry night in Belcove Hotel Room #33. I’ll use the complimentary towels to wring my clothing dry. In the morning, I take the bus to San Ignacio, and from there, to the Mayan ruins.