The past seven days of my life have been spent serving the children of Southern Belize, by applying fluoride and providing dental aid to almost 3,000 kids. Several things surprised me on this trip, and while some of them were things I wish someone had told me, some of them were impossible to prepare for. Do not drink the local water is a completely reasonable piece of advice that you would probably take my word for. But what if I told you, you would see five year olds with a mouth full of rotten through teeth, would you believe me? What if I told you I saw starving dogs ran into the ground after giving birth to litter after litter of puppies, would you believe me?
1. It is a different country so your customs may not be the same.
There’s nothing wrong with the tooth fairy, but the kids in southern Belize might not get your reference. No culture is the same, so making ignorant comments will happen, but try to learn from them.
2. The building regulations and standards will not be the same quality, but you will survive!
Gravel road highways, no air conditioning, comfortable beds, and dirt or cement grounds. Everything goes in some countries but bite the bullet and remember who you are there fore and that they are only small luxuries you can live without.
3. You will wish your drinking water was as cold as your shower water and that your shower water was as hot as your drinking water.
But both are apparently a luxury and therefore unobtainable.
4. The local food may or may not make you sick
This is simply a possibility everyone is different and your stomach is sometimes a little too used to growing up with a particular culture’s food.
5. You will be viewed by some, if not most, as a rich ungrateful American.
While the whole purpose is to serve the people of that country there are people who will try to take advantage of that. While someone may have more money than someone in a different country they are in the same social class in their own society. For instance those in the lower class in our country do have more money quantitatively than the lower class in Belize but they are also struggling to survive the economic demands of their own country.
6. Sometimes we are ungrateful Americans.
It's ok to realize that generally we are not as culturally diverse, grateful, or as resourceful and appreciative of nature as many other countries are. It’s like burning your hand on the hot oven; it’s not something you learn you’re doing wrong until you experience it for yourself.
7. Prepare yourself for the challenges the different climate and animals bring.
Research where you are going well ahead of time and prepare for factors such as malaria, bad drinking water, or any other recommended vaccination. You should also research the type of animals you could encounter because while you may be prepared for wasps in America they have nothing on scorpion stings.
8. You will sweat profusely 24 hours a day.
Buy a fan if you can’t sleep while you’re hot because some societies have a much higher tolerance for heat. You must adapt to it because the restaurants, hotels and buildings will not adapt to you.
9. Do not flush the toilet paper down the toilet, it may get messy fast.
Toilets in some countries do not have as large of pipes as we do in America so toilet paper must be put in a separate bin.
10. Your phone will become nothing more than a watch and a camera.
If you don’t have an international plan you will learn that your phone is essentially a brick. This is nothing to gripe about, because if anything, I loved being cut off from society for a week and learning I am not reliant on my phone for entertainment. I would much rather sit around and make meaningful memories and conversation with a group of friends.
P.S. We killed four scorpions on my trip to Belize and found one tarantula so I’m really not kidding, prepare yourself before one crawls through the crack in your shower.