Thursday, June 21, 2012

Happiness in Punta Gorda (PG), Belize


I just returned from Punta Gorda, Belize where I met with business owners in preparation for bringing MBA students for a week in January. I didn't know what to expect, for this was my first trip to Central America. We are organizing this trip through ProWorld Belize and the Toledo Association of Businesses in PG. Many thanks for their hospitality, openness, and warm reception.

A little geography lesson; Belize is south of Cancun, Mexico and just above Guatemala. I had to find it on the map before I left. Punta Gorda is on the southern coast of Belize with a view of Guatemala across the bay. It takes 1 hour be prop-plane or 5 hours by bus from Belize City. My experience with Belize is the 3 full days I spent in Punta Gorda, Barranco, looking out the window as we drove and the interactions I had with the people I met.

PG doesn't have the white sand beaches and the towns are not featured in travel magazines. PG is very rich in Garifuna, East Indian, Creole, Mopan, Q'eqchi, and Mestizo culture. The business owners I met are very entrepreneurial and scrappy, making do with what they have and creative in overcoming things they don't have. I was impressed with how sharp and perceptive they are at understanding customer needs and wants. Of note, they are some of the most genuine and sincere individuals I have met.

Driving through the bush and into the villages, I met subsistence farmers, living in thatched roof houses and huts. It reminded me of how little we need to be happy. It also made me question if all development and advancement is good. You buy a car and now you have to make money for gas, insurance, and (if you borrowed the money) to repay your loan. For this, it keeps us in the "Rat Race", always chasing the dollar to pay for goods we don't need. It made me question what we really need and what I want out of life.

Now don't get me wrong, I really enjoy the comforts and conveniences I have. But I also realize that these things don't make me happy. To me, happiness is good conversation and being around the people I love. Happiness happens when I share a meal, engage in meaningful work, and give back to my community; however you define your community.

The conversations I had in Belize were very rich with thoughtful people. Sitting in 90+ degree heat with humidity and sweating like there was no tomorrow but having rich meaningful conversation was very rewarding. Learning about Belize, PG, and the different cultures was enlightening. Meeting with and thinking of how we can help the entrepreneurs of PG was both exhausting and invigorating.

I look forward to spending 6 days with a group of Mount Mercy University MBA students in PG and sharing in their experiences. I feel we can do good for the PG community and businesses. I know our students will come back changed, richer, and with a new perspective on life.

So what does this have to do with a personal finance blog? Nothing and everything. It is always good to get out of your comfort zone and question what is truly important and what makes you happy. I hope all of you have that opportunity.

To learn more about life in Punta Gorda, Belize, check out Sarah's Blog: http://belizeyoume.wordpress.com/