Last month I experienced and observed some of the friendliest possible insults ever.  I spent a month on Ambergris Caye, Belize—an island that is a short hop from the county’s mainland. Belize is home to these ethnic groups:  Mestizo, Creole, Maya, Garifuna, East Indian, Mennonite, White and Asian.  With so much diversity, one might imagine that the people who live there would be of the “woke” persuasion.  [Hint:  “woke” is a dumb term used to describe “being alert to injustice in society, especially racism.”]  While Belizeans are quite likely be alert to many injustices and racism, it is not obvious in the spoken word.


In the course of the two hours spent getting my Covid hair fixed by a local hairdresser, we chatted about life on the island where she was born. She covered a wide range of topics from childcare to the best restaurants and the availability of medical care, all the time referring to the “gringos” on the island.  This gave me–a Gringa–pause, but it was impossible to feel insulted because she obviously enjoyed our conversation showed no malice whatsoever. 

Later that day, I had a problem shifting gears in my rented golf cart (no cars allowed) and crashed into the cart parked behind me.  A local guy drove by, waved, smiled, and yelled, “No problem, Mama!”  I don’t mind being called “mama” (in fact, I like it) but I was startled and reminded (once more) that I feel younger than I look.

Another time I needed to find a store to buy whipping cream and was directed to “The Arabs.”  It turns out that “The Arabs” grocery store was the same one on my last visit the locals called “The Taliban.”  Obviously, the more recent name is an improvement and is not considered an insult. Still, I wonder how the very kind Lebanese owners feel about it.  Lebanese have lived and worked in Belize for five generations—since the early 1900’s.

I gave the local vocabulary a lot of thought while waiting for our little grandson’s birth and concluded that in this small country with numerous languages spoken—English, Spanish, Kriol at a minimum on the island—the easiest way to identify people is by their most obvious “otherness,” which may be why my son once got a restaurant tab in Belize City that identified him as “White Guy.”


Photo of San Pedro Town street by me. Undersea squid photo by Ben Popik.



About Alexis

Alexis Rankin Popik, author of Kiss Me Over the Garden Gate, is an award-winning short story writer whose work has appeared in The Berkshire Review and Potpourri Magazine. She has penned numerous articles about local history that have been published in Connecticut Explored and the University of Connecticut School of Law and The Hartford Seminary publications. A former union organizer, Popik traveled the country educating shipyard workers about health and safety and founded a labor-management health plan before turning to writing fiction full-time. She lives with her husband in New England.
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