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Author Joan Fry Provides Window to 1960s Maya Village Life in Southern Belize

22 May 2009 No Comment

How to Cook a Tapir, by Joan Fry

I love a good travel memoir, better yet, a full-immersion culinary travel memoir. So it was with great anticipation that I cracked open Joan Fry’s latest book, How to Cook a Tapir: A Memoir of Belize. The book documents the author’s time living among the Maya in a village in southern Belize in 1962. A sophomore in college, Fry fell into her life abroad by marrying a dashing anthropologist and following him into the unknown. Tapir offers a unique snapshot of remote village life in the most forgotten corner of British Honduras (as Belize was then known).

Fry’s struggle to find her place as an outsider there is told with grace and humor. Amid her own bumbling misadventures and cross-cultural whirlwind, Fry observes, “Was it their surroundings—their daily struggle with the rain, the dryness, the heat, the brilliant, cold nights, all the deadly creatures lurking in the rainforest—that made them such fatalists? Or was it something in their most basic beliefs about themselves? Expect the worst—anything else is a gift.”

The book’s publisher, University of Nebraska Press, calls Tapir “the funny, heartfelt, and provocative story of how Fry painstakingly baked and boiled her way up the food chain,” offering “a rare and insightful picture of the Kekchi Maya of Belize, even as this unique culture was disappearing before her eyes.

Fortunately, the Kekchi have not disappeared and, for better and worse, village life has not changed a great deal in half a century. Travelers to southern Belize can, in fact, see it for themselves as part of several homestay programs. Or you can just sit back and read Fry’s story:

Order How to Cook a Tapir on Amazon | An interview with the author by Colette Case

— by Joshua Berman, author of Moon Belize

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