14 May 2010

More than just Biology Credit in Belize

Education involves more than simply memorizing rhetoric and compiling flawless APA style papers. The material can leave an entirely different impression upon one person’s mind depending on the environment surrounding them. I have discovered that one topic approached in the Czech Republic has an entirely different focus in Germany, although the countries are close and cultures relatively similar.

Although, my recent trip to Central America actually connected various traditions I have observed in Southeast Asia. I have spent a total of four months in Southeast, mainly Cambodia, teaching English and Computer skills to indigenous youth. At first it was simply the climate of Belize that brought me back to Southeast Asia. Any frustrations I had towards the tourist aspects of this trip were calmed by the warm breeze carrying a sweet sugar cane scent through our bus.

As soon as I could interact with locals around San Jose Succotz, in the Cayo district of Belize, my mind began to race with previous experiences. I tried to clear them so new perspectives could be let in from this tropical culture, but even those seemed reminiscent of Southeast Asia. It was not that I held onto traditions discovered in my past visits to the tropical climate of Southeast Asia; only that this culture was extremely similar to the other.

The people of Belize melded with the environment surrounding them just as smoothly as those in Cambodia. They came from an agricultural background and passed down knowledge of using nature for their benefit, while still preserving its resources, through many generations. Their ancestors had already faltered from misusing the land and now it common sense to comingle with the environment, rather than dominate for a short time.

This devastation from human’s arrogantly taking advantage of natural resources was extremely apparent within the landscape of Guatemala. Pastures stretched for miles along the roadside to provide grazing areas for beef cattle that will eventually be shipped around the world. Gorgeous fields of Banana trees balanced these wide open stretches spotted with cattle. Although I was excited to be in a more familiar culture, the sight of this commercial land-use outweighed any joy. Grazing pastures and fruit tree plantations are the main causes for deforestation in tropical areas.

We had to stop numerous times for work crews widening the main highway to permit easier access for dump trucks. I find this quite ironic because in Southeast Asia, the Chinese have paid for road work to enable their dump trucks access to precious gems and plantations; however, these same trucks have created more potholes and landslides than were previously seen on the dirt roads. The environment does not quickly bounce back from these offenses.

Nature does triumph in the end though, as was seen all over the Mayan temples of Tikal. These massive structures have nearly returned to the earth around them despite the efforts of humans to restore their luster. The same situation occurred with Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia. When humans overused the natural resources they were forced to abandon the city and allow the forest to rebuild. They lost details of their city under the forest canopy for centuries; only now is it apparent how different these two tropical regions really are.

Angkor was preserved by the forest, except a few Strangler Figs crushing down through stone walls; however, Tikal nearly crumbled under the dirt of the forest. Now humans are uncovering and preserving Tikal for future generations to enjoy its glory. Yet, the structures of Angkor have been mistreated by tourism. The Cambodians had attempted to clean every bit of nature off these structures to reveal exquisite details for others to view, but did not realize that these bits of nature were the structures only protection against erosion. Now they are limiting human contact with the surfaces and attempting to reconstruct a few buildings that collapsed after being cleaned. The powerful effects of nature cannot be avoided and each country has learned to respect them over time.

The locals were full of other stories in which nature dominated arrogant humans who had blindly led others to their end. Although none were as poignant as the modern examples seen daily throughout my trip, whether in farmlands of Guatemala or along the rivers of Belize, humankind’s impact was too obvious. Their consequences are fast approaching and must be realized as part of reality before future generations are faced with them.

I have not dismissed every bit of information relating to biology during this trip, but rather added to it throughout my experience. These new cultures blended with my previous ideologies to form a rich educational encounter that will not be forgotten. I only hope that others who can this opportunity will make changes to preserve the environment and connect, rather than dominate whatever resources are available.