I’m pondering wages and cost of living in Belize.
It’s somewhat difficult to dig up what the average laborer in Belize makes. I believe the current minimum wage is $3.30BZ/hour (that’s $1.65US), and will make an average of $6,336BZ/year ($3,168US/year), not counting overtime or bonuses.
I’m piecing this information together as I move around Belize and research. If any of you are experts on economics or labor rates in Belize, please chime in if I’m getting any info wrong.
In other unrelated (but totally related) news, yesterday I first heard about fish pedicures. Although it seems these spa treatments have been around for years, somehow they’d escaped my notice.
I was standing on the car ferry (which, by the way, a guy moves by using a hand pully, probably getting paid $3.30BZ/hour). As we crossed the Belize River, we saw a huge school of finger-sized fish in the black water below. My friend said, “Oh, I think those are the fish used in fish pedicures.”
Fish pedicures? I was flabbergasted. My friend explained, “Yeah, basically the fish just nibble away at all the dead skin cells on your feet – even calluses. It’s supposed to feel really good and your feet get very soft.”
Anyway, I guess I had feet on the mind this morning as I got ready to walk into town on the dusty gravel roads. My flip-flops were dusty as I set out. And, although I had just showered, my feet were already gray and gritty, too.
My feet are no different from other feet here on the roads of San Ignacio. Many days are in the 90s and, though it’s often cooler in the shade and at night, when you’re walking up the mountain in the full sun, you appreciate… well, any time you’re NOT walking up a mountain in the full sun. You appreciate clean feet, right after a shower, before you crawl into your crisp sheets at night. You appreciate a trickle of water over your tired and dusty feet. That trickle is the sweetest thing in the world.
I think back on the few times this non-spa girl has gotten pedicures in the States. These days, all I need is that trickle of water at the end of the day.
The cost of any pedicure I’d gotten was around $30US.
Remember the average worker in Belize makes $3.30BZ/hour. That’s $26.40BZ/day (or $13.20US).
So my pedicure for $30US costs more than twice what a worker makes for an entire day, working in a shop, picking citrus, or laboring domestically.
Are my feet really that special?
I’m struck by the inequity in this. I have met many people here. They seem to be hard-working, happy people. But how can it be easy to raise a family in 2012 anywhere in the world on $13.20US a day?
Crime in Belize has risen in recent years. People are clamoring for better wages. Some are choosing to rob others who have more. So far, thank God, I haven’t witnessed any crime personally.
Instead, I’ve found Belizeans to be courteous, gentle, and kind. Any time I’m out getting my feet dusty, people who pass me never fail to meet my eyes, give me a smile, and say, “Good afternoon!” I feel as though I’ve stepped back in time by about 60 or 80 years.
I hope the people here realize that we aren’t here to live grand on their dime. If anything, I’m here to simplify and step away from the excess in our American culture. It’s difficult to live in a place where the divide is so great, however.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family, a town, a nation that allowed me an education and a fair wage for a fair day. Heck, our government even pays some Americans to NOT work more than Belizeans get paid to work for the entire day.
As I’m walking around town alongside the people who grew up here, I often wonder what they’re thinking about me. They’re probably wondering why I’m here. How much money I have. How much luxury.
And how much I make an hour.