Belize Survivor, part 50

For the first day, Max and Alexis stayed in an eight-person framed army tent. There were two couples: William and Helen, Daniel and Elaine and their two kids, a young single pregnant woman named Leah, and an older man named Thomas. Alexis and Max learned immediately that only full names were acceptable; no one was permitted the use of nicknames. Apparently, it was considered disrespectful. They also learned that many things at The Farm were not as they appeared. On the exterior, people were smiling and cheerful. Yet, inside the family domain, hostilities quickly surfaced.

Alexis settled their things into the corner of a partitioned area in the rear of the tent, and then walked around, incredulous, staring at the green canvas walls of the bleak dwelling. Max covered his edginess by helping Helen put some more wood into the Franklin stove. The others sat around on old threadbare furniture or rude wooden crates covered with thin green army blankets.

"Yeah," Daniel growled. "The hierarchy sits up there in their fancy house on the hill with their running water and hot showers while we live in these cold drafty army tents. Like everyone else, when I first came here, I took the obligatory vow of poverty and gave all my worldly possessions to the collective. Their part of the deal was to take care of me and mine. Everybody was to be treated equally, but you learn real fast that some are ‘more equal’ than others.”

“It's true," said Elaine. "You might have read about how we sent all those sweet potatoes to Nicaragua when the earthquake hit in 1972. A great humanitarian gesture, except that it left only the third-grade sweet potatoes for us – more appropriate for animal feed. They're so rotten and full of bad spots that sometimes we have to cut up twenty-five or thirty of them just to get enough for one meal. But at the Big House, they eat first grade sweet potatoes."

"The water situation is the worst part," said Thomas. "All the family units have their own tanks, but we have to depend on the water truck to deliver before we run out. It seems like no matter how much we conserve our supply, we wake up one morning and the tank is dry. And do you know why? Because our neighbors run out of water first and they steal ours in the middle of the night. Sometimes I stay up all night outside just protecting our water tank. These aren't bad people. They’re our friends. But when you need water, there’s no choice.”

That night, lying on clean sheets with nice blankets and pillows atop the inflatable mattress they’d purchased in Key West, Max and Alexis almost felt guilty for enjoying more comfort than the permanent residents.

“Why did they want us to interact with the permanent people if we'll hear all these negative remarks?" Max whispered to Alexis,

"Maybe the Big House is unaware of what goes on," she whispered back. "But I'll tell you one thing, I'm already sick to death of everyone calling you ‘Maximilian.’”

"This place is all wrong," he said. "It's not what a commune is supposed to be."

The next day, after a few bargaining sessions with the hierarchy, the young couple was finally allowed to set up their solo tent in a secluded area on a wooded ridge, and Alexis felt better immediately in their own space. Unable to sit still, she followed her nesting instinct and kept arranging and rearranging the comforts of their little temporary home. Physically, Alexis was so huge and uncomfortable that, at times, even breathing felt impossible. Otherwise, her outlook on the prospect of motherhood was positive. Later that day, she attended a pre-natal checkup, met the midwives who would assist in the delivery, and was given a clean bill of health. On the way back, she planned to pick up some food supplies at the communal store. In the book Max had originally showed Alexis, The Farm had emphasized the importance of organic foods and healthful living. So, naturally, her grocery list included soybeans, yogurt, honey, fruits, vegetables, and herbal tea. But in the store, the shelves were absolutely barren of anything that could be considered wholesome. There was a bin of white sugar, another of white flour, three tins of baking powder, a bag of salt and a few fuzzy gray sweet potatoes. A disinterested young man sat in the corner on a stool trying to hide the fact that he was munching a Snickers bar and two empty Dr. Pepper bottles lay in the corner. She backed out of the store, and gave it a wide berth.

"You know," Alexis said to Max when she returned to the tent, "I really think they’ve got some junk-food junkies on the sly. They praise the almighty soybean, but they bring back chocolate bars and Pepsis from Summertown. I mean, if people choose to eat junk food, they should at least be allowed to do it openly. They shouldn't be forced into being hypocrites."

"Yeah," Max agreed. "It’s only been two days, and the longer we're here, the stranger I think this place is." He and Alexis had both looked for evidence of alternative energy sources like solar and wind during their stay. But instead they'd seen a motor pool of fossil-fuel-burning machinery. Heavy tractors had seemingly trampled the vitality out of the soil, and it appeared that they'd given up organic farming after the very first crop.

"I get a feeling the hierarchy doesn't trust us either," Max continued. "This place appeals to the backpacker types, the true homeless hippies. Hey, if you've got nothing going for you, The Farm's a good deal. But if you've got your act together, it seems to threaten the system. We're probably just too independent for them."

"Yeah," said Alexis. "I never really thought about us being ‘capitalists.’ It's always been a dirty word to me. But now ‘commune’ is starting to sound a lot worse. I feel sorry for them. This isn't just a commune; it's communism."

"To me, Ntombi, the perfect path is one that combines free enterprise with spirituality. Most people don't think that's possible; they think you either have to be a cutthroat businessman or a dreamer. But I believe there's middle ground."

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