Views from the ANThill: With Missionary Zeal

by douglas c reeser on 6.21.11
Here in southern Belize, where I'm slowly working on dissertation research, it's hard to miss the influence of the Church on the local populations. There are a variety of churches trying to position themselves as the faith of choice here in Punta Gorda and in the villages of Toledo. Roman Catholics seem to be the most rooted here in the region, as evidenced by the many RC schools scattered throughout the district. However, Protestants continue to make inroads, and are quickly becoming a force in religious lives of many.

Other religious groups are active as well. It is not uncommon to see a Maya woman in traditional dress - except for her Mennonite bonnet. The Jehovah's Witness has a number of buildings here too, and one can often witness the men in suits walking with bibles in hand, hoping to find another convert. And white missionaries from various faiths seem to be here in various guises. The above picture is of a church in the village of Boom Creek, and in it's construction, Maya tradition (the thatch roof) can be seen blended with icons of the Church (large crosses cut into the front walls).

A friend doing research in one of the nearby Maya communities has described the religious division in the village: Catholics mostly inhabit one side of the creek, and Protestants the other. She occasionally has drinks with the Catholics, while such activity is forbidden on the other side of the creek. The divisions based on religious lines appear deeply rooted, and have consequences in the daily life of the village.

And what becomes of traditional Maya spirituality in such circumstances? For me, it is hard to say definitively, as my research (or that of my friend's) is not on religious and spiritual issues. However, having worked with Maya healers, it is safe to say the Maya spirituality remains alive for many here. It appears that there is little conflict between traditional spirituality and missionary religion in the minds of those who practice.

The Impact of Values

by Debbie Jordan on 6.18.11

Recycled Minds guest writer, Debbie Jordan, is a peace advocate and the author of The World I Imagine: A creative manual for ending poverty and building peace, a collection of 47 essays originating in the column she writes for the Arizona City Independent Edition. Jordan writes about her solutions to some of the world’s most detrimental social issues. She is committed to inspiring others to improve the world through community involvement and volunteerism. Visit her online on:

Values. Ethics. Call them what you will, values are vital in life and in politics. Not merely buzzwords, values define what we believe, how we achieve our goals, who we really are. Choices made because of values have wide-ranging social consequences. The different ways people approach the issue of marriage is a good example.

Currently, the hottest arguments relate to same-sex marriage: Most liberals are for, while conservatives are mostly against. Some middle-of-the-roaders like civil unions but aren’t wholeheartedly sold on full marriage for gay and lesbian couples. Just as vital as the gay-marriage dilemma are attitudes toward single parents, especially mothers, and unmarried couples with children.

Much attention is focused on the fact that gays, lesbians, transvestites, and transgendered people are frequent targets of discrimination. They can be denied jobs and housing, they’re often victims of violent crime, many can’t get employee medical benefits for same-sex partners, and those who are married in states where it’s legal don’t enjoy federal rights and benefits granted to married heterosexual couples.

Unmarried heterosexuals face problems too. Despite a growing movement to grant employee benefits to live-in partners, the policy isn’t universal or equal to benefits married couples enjoy. Children living with single parents, especially mothers, have the greatest chance of living in poverty. But the conservative response is to reinforce the dangerous situation that costs society so much in money and lives.

Recently, a potential GOP candidate bemoaned the relationship between single motherhood and poverty. Rather than suggest positive solutions, he repeated the mantra that women get married, with no regard to feelings or a prospective mate’s economic potential. Judges have been known to order that "solution" too, but I think including matrimony in a plea deal gives truth to the term, "the old ball and chain." It rarely solves the economic or social problems it’s meant to remedy. Considering the participants, it’s often likely to foreshadow more abuse and poverty.

The issues are well known, but real solutions are less understood. Even more difficult is finding a way to bring together the disparate sides so we can implement solutions. That requires logic, which is hard to come by in politics. Instead of addressing social problems according to ideology, right vs. left, we must find common ground so people from both sides can work together.

Since we’re talking about this in terms of "family values," perhaps we can start by looking at what constitutes a family in the first place. Conservatives are stuck on the one man-one woman model. They support the rights of married heterosexual couples but balk at the idea of giving any ground when the needs of unmarried couples, single mothers, or same-sex couples are involved.

The primary argument is the religious defense: It was against the Mosaic Code, so it must be wrong now. Rather than trying to disabuse them of this belief, we must agree that the First Amendment gives people the right to believe anything they want, but that same law gives the rest of us the right to believe in our own religious values, or none at all. Those who choose not to live in accordance with fundamentalist tenets cannot be denied the basic rights granted to heterosexual married couples.

If two men or two women choose to marry in a church that sanctions their union, governments have no legitimate reason to deny them equal recognition. If a couple, heterosexual or otherwise, chooses to live together and raise children, just like any other family, they have the same right to legal protection enjoyed by their married counterparts. And if a single person takes responsibility for a child, society has no right to put roadblocks in the way of that family’s chance to enjoy a comfortable existence.

The current policies toward nontraditional families are damaging to our society. Ignoring the needs of people who are wallowing in poverty or are victims of discrimination and violence is costing us more than we can afford.

For instance, when single mothers and their children are denied full educational benefits, they’re likely to depend on welfare and their children often run afoul of the law. Offering full educational and job opportunities, along with professional child-care services, places both mother and children on the path to economic success and saves a great deal more public money in the long run.

I’m looking forward to the day when the term "family values" actually means respecting the rights and needs of every family and its members, no matter how nontraditional the arrangement. That would be a positive step toward solving so many other problems in our society, especially poverty, high crime rates, and even war.

If you are interested in being a contributor on Recycled Minds, email us: recycledminds(at)gmail(dot)com.

Belizean Food - A Taste of Things from La Cocina Dooglas

by douglas reeser on 6.13.11

The head of a Goliath Grouper, or Jew Fish:
the centerpiece of Earth Runnin's Fish Head Stew

I noted in my last post that I would be sharing some of my food experiences from Belize and beyond over on la Cocina Dooglas. This one is my latest, and I thought I would share it here to entice those food lovers that read Recycled Minds to check out what I have in mind. Enjoy!

Living in the far south of Belize in the small town of Punta Gorda, it can be a challenge to find unique and well-prepared food. I've been hanging out at Earth Runnin's with chef and owner, Giovanni Foster, where I'm getting a first hand look at some great food creations based on local foods and traditional food-ways. He served shark and fry jacks for lunch yesterday, which I'll post some pictures of soon, but this post is reserved for the fish head stew we made a couple of days ago.

First, the fish head gets machete-chopped into large pieces -
notice the good amount of meat that comes with the head...

After the fish head is chopped up and cleaned in a hot water bath, the
pieces get marinated in lime juice, cilantro, kulantro, garlic, onion,
curry, turmeric and black pepper.

Cooking the Stew: A house made coconut milk base (from fresh-picked coconut),
simmered with large-cut bread fruit, cocoyam, and okra, the stew thickens
and the flavors mingle...
The fish head is separated out after the stew is done cooking.
One then dishes out the stew, and chooses their piece of fish -
with hopes of getting one of the prized cuts with an eyeball!

The finished product: a delicious bowl of fish head stew!

Consumption Junction: Digital Versus Analog

by lana lynne on 6.11.11

Old-fashioned, cumbersome, time-wasting, paper-wasting, obsolete relics that can't keep up with our fragmented, hyper-consuming, surface-grazing culture? Never, argues author, teacher, and editor Lidia Yuknavitch, never will the printed book succumb to the false cries of a fatal future. In her moving piece about the longevity of books, Yuknavitch makes the case for books' cultural currency and their ability to enlighten, explain, enrage, and call us to action. She writes:
"People keep telling me that books are in danger of disappearing. E-books, Kindles, iPads will replace the object of the book as we know it. I’m not worried.

"The new technologies are pretty cool, to be honest. Very snappy. But until the day when we are cyborg-fitted with our art and literature, I already know why we’ll keep picking up books and putting them in our hands, turning the pages.

"In times of crisis, we can still remember them burning."
The act of reading a book on an e-reader, or of reading a book on this same screen I type on now, seems as unappealing as reaching my hand into a sewer pipe. This is evidently not the case for those non-technophobes with the means, to which Amazon, Inc. can attest: The online retailer announced last month that digital book sales have finally outpaced print book sales after a four year battle.

I will concede that all of this digital consumption is not such a horrible thing on the grand scale. As reviewer Robert McCrum points out, there is a huge surge in global literacy. We're reading, writing, attending book festivals, and paying attention to literary prizes on an unprecedented level. And the art of writing is undergoing change as well. With the interactive nature of digital, stories can transcend (or incorporate more than) text, creating a narrative that swerves, plays along, and is engaging.

Perhaps that is the case for some. But I'll take my Choose Your Own Adventure over clicking any day.

Image credit: Plus Factory Blog

Views from the ANThill: Going into the Field

~ The Purple House in PG ~
by douglas reeser on 6.2.11

Some of our regular readers may have noticed a drop in the frequency my posts here on Recycled Minds. I am happy to report that: 1) there was good reason; and 2) that posting will begin in earnest in the coming weeks. And now, the rest of the story…

Over the last month or so, I have found myself in a bit of upheaval. As an instructor, I find the end of the semester is always a bit hectic, and that held true this year. Grading final research projects and final papers, figuring out final grades, and working with students concerned their grades won’t be good enough are just some of what makes the end of the semester a busier time than usual.

Complicating matters this spring was my impending departure to the field for my dissertation research. There was a field school for which I was asked to teach that was to start just 2 weeks after the end of the semester, and I was planning to just transition into my fieldwork from there. While I am greatly disappointed that the field school was not able to take place, it was a good thing in many ways, as I had to pack up six years worth of living in St Petersburg, Florida. Living in a house, I managed to collect more stuff than I ever thought would be possible during my stay in the sunshine state.

I pushed my departure date back to June 1st, figuring that would provide plenty of time to get things in order. I underestimated the amount of time saying goodbye to the last six years of friendships – of life – would actually take. I managed to get myself in order, but only after days on end of constant activity, little sleep, less food, and lots of anxiety – something I am not all that familiar with. I hope that this is ample explanation for the dearth of posts over the last month-plus. Frankly, I’m happy to have gotten the few pieces up that I did.

And now on to what I see as the good news, and what is definitely the more interesting topic here. I have arrived in southern Belize just days ago, and am beginning to settle in to the slow pace of Belizean life. I am here to conduct fieldwork that I will write up for my dissertation as my final requirement to receive my PhD in anthropology. In short, I am here to research the way that the diverse ethnic population in southern Belize uses the medical system that is in place. The system in its entirety includes: the state provided health care from a local hospital and small handful of clinics; a very small number of clinics run by international NGOs and other organizations; the traditional medicine practiced in unique forms by Maya, Garifuna, East Indian, Creol, and other ethnic populations. I aim to be here for about a year and a half, so I’m counting on some funding to come through to make that a more real possibility (the photo above is of my new Belizean home).

My plan for the column “Notes from the ANThill” is to write about the experience of doing my dissertation research as well as provide commentary on news, culture, and politics from an anthropological perspective. Columns will include the variety of my day-to-day experiences, including comments on everyday life in a small town in southern Belize, the experience of conducting research in such a diverse and unique place, some aspects of my research itself, and any number of experiences that I am able to share. I am also working on my photography skills, and will be sharing photos from various experiences here. I am excited to relate this experience, and hope that I can engage with you, the reader, such that you look forward to hearing what happens next!

My first column, which will be coming shortly, will introduce my fieldsite, and attempt to articulate the experience of transitioning from an urban life at a large university to a small rural town that could be in a different time, dimension, or universe.

I look forward to sharing my experience, and feel free to ask me to write on any questions you may have about what this experience is like. Share your thoughts and questions in the comments, or send an email to – I’ll be receiving those emails directed to me on a regular basis. Most of all, I hope you enjoy my stories and tales from the field!

Finally, for those readers who are interested in food, I plan to share pictures of my Belizean food experience with semi-regularity at La Cocina de Dooglas.