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A Goot Life

Photo © SimonDannhauer | Dreamstime.com

She is tiny, painfully thin. I can see that much even through the worn, pale blue sweater that she’d pinned closed with an old-fashioned diaper pin, the kind with the yellow plastic closure shaped like a duckling. In the heat of late morning in San Ignacio, Belize, I stand outside Pop’s Restaurant waiting for a table to open in the minuscule café and am only half aware of her squatting in the shade created from the building’s overhang about twenty yards from me. She has a patch over one eye and seems to be staring off at nothing in particular, bony arms resting on the knobby knees jutting up from her homemade skirt. I’m distracted by my own thoughts, weighing my options for the day ahead and sketching some rough plans to make the most of each minute. This is my first time on a solo international trip, and I’m eager and nervous and feeling just a little bit guilty, keen to justify the indulgence by packing in as much as possible, to “earn” this time abroad while Justin holds down the fort at home.

My attention rivets back to what is before me when the door of Pop’s opens and people begin trickling out. I notice her rise slowly, picking up a faded green mesh bag that is nearly as big as she is, and she walks with back bent and steps deliberate in my direction. The two men and a woman leaving Pop’s each drop a few coins into her outstretched hand and I reach into my own bag to see what cash I have. About two and a half Belizean dollars, not much at all.

As I hand my paltry sum over, I see that her eye patch is just a folded white handkerchief with a corner tucked into an ancient winter beanie that has the word “American” across the fr...