By Pam Viele, BV volunteer, Belize
The Blue Ventures homestay in the quaint fishing village of Sarteneja was the perfect way to experience the culture of this lovely spot beyond the perspective of a tourist. Like most of the volunteers, I was paired with a roommate for the homestay. I must confess that apart from my trepidation about living in the home of strangers, I was also apprehensive about having an unknown roommate. My anxiety on both counts evaporated within minutes of meeting my roommate and our homestay family.
It was clear that careful thought had gone into the roommate pairings as my roommate Louise and I bonded easily from the outset. The opportunity to broaden my cultural horizons and fully embrace the Blue Ventures experience was immeasurably enhanced by spending five weeks with Louise, a striking, self-aware, and thoroughly engaging Brit who was on an early leg of a year of world travel and self-discovery. Her encouragement, insight, and humour spurred me on during those inevitable travel moments when, out of my comfort zone, I was compelled to ponder the question, “Now, why am I doing this?” and was always helped by Louise to find the answer, “Ah yes… now I remember… I am doing this to experience life outside my comfort zone.”
The homestay assignment was an equally thoughtful and inspired match. The sincerity and warmth with which we were welcomed immediately dissipated any second thoughts I had about being able to “feel at home” in a foreign land. Louise and I found ourselves in the fortunate position, due to the close relationship of our homestay family to the next-door neighbours, of enjoying the incredible hospitality of both families throughout our time in Sarteneja. Because the neighbours treated our host family as part of their own, we generally all ate meals together, gathered around the neighbour family’s large kitchen table, the heart of the home and a social hub for the many neighbours, friends, and extended family who often joined us for delicious meals and lively conversation.
I won’t begin to describe the variety of delectable meals prepared by our hosts, but will say you cannot know how delicious tortillas can be until you have tasted them fresh off the griddle, steaming, warm, soft, comforting and perfectly ROUND. I naively took round tortillas for granted until, despite intensive and expert tortilla making instruction provided by the family, my ill-fated specimens more closely resembled deflated, sagging footballs. I must also mention the plantains, something I had rarely eaten prior to my stay in Sarteneja. Harvested directly from our host’s farm, served shimmering in their own tantalizing glaze, I came to love these sweet-tooth satisfying treats. And, will I ever stop longing for the fragrant, tart-sweet tanginess of fresh lime juice prepared… yes, you guessed it… with fruit picked from our host’s trees.
Apart from comfort food extraordinaire, meals were always the setting for lively, stimulating, and frequently hilarious conversation among family members and the friends, neighbours, and extended family members who often joined us. Whether discussing the day’s happenings, comparing educational systems of Belize, England, and the USA, or debating the likelihood that the star of the nightly soap opera would survive being hung by his enemies over several installments of the show (he did!); conversation always flowed easily and was anything but dull. These gatherings, as much as any aspect of family and community life, revealed the richness and strength of the emotional bonds that connect family members to each other and to a network of close relationships throughout the village. Experiencing first-hand the warmth, sincerity, generosity, and hospitality of our homestay hosts will forever remain one of the most special gifts of my unforgettable Blue Venture adventure.