How To Cook a Tapir: A Memoir of Belize
There are certain experiences in one’s life that are defining in their impact. Although the actual duration may be short, these experiences help excavate the person you were meant to be and set you on the path to leading the life that you’re meant to live.
In 1962, when Joan Fry set off with her young anthropologist husband to a year-long “working honeymoon” in British Honduras (now Belize), she had no idea how this adventure would impact her life. How to Cook a Tapir is a fascinating memoir about Fry’s experiences living in a remote Kekchi village in the rainforest. Interspersed with recipes that Fry gleaned from the generous village women, the book tells a story of a twenty-year-old woman who can barely cook and her experiences as a young wife and teacher.
Fry tells of the disapproval she encountered from the village women when she spilled the precious water that she and the other women carried on their heads from the well on a daily basis. In this world, Fry, the educated westerner felt at a great disadvantage as she had no cooking or housekeeping experience. As the year progresses, Fry gains a newfound confidence stemming from the support and respect she receives from the community who value her contributions as a teacher to their children.
By the end of this defining year, Fry has started to question her relationship with her husband whom she dubs “The Answer Man” early on in the book. Interestingly enough, her experiences in Belize are what give her the courage to start a new life when she returns to the states. She writes: "I knew that if I wanted to live with the degree of independence that I enjoyed in Rio Blanco, I would have to claim it. My culture didn’t offer me the choice. Neither did my husband. Several months later, it came as no great surprise to either of us when the word 'divorce' came up in the conversation...Did living there change me? How? Yes it changed me, but I wrestled with the question for more than 50 years before I could answer it. I brought my idealism to the Maya—my willingness to fall in love and my desire to help—and they repaid me with their friendship...but then I think about Cirila and Lucia and Maxiana and all the other women who accepted a white stranger into their lives and taught her how to cook, and I have to confess I got the best of the bargain."