Living in Belize
Date: 5 March 2004
Greetings from windy Belize! Yes, it has been a while since we have last contacted you all. I have been getting a lot of messages lately reminding me to write the latest newsletter. I was hoping it would be shorter this time, but it's been a while since we last caught up.
We are currently enjoying some fair and windy weather here in Corozal Town, Belize. But I suppose the most pressing news is that we have finally gotten our car back on the road! That's right, a year and a half after our Pathfinder was wrecked, we have finally completed the repairs and have a registered Belizean vehicle, duty paid, free and clear. We have been grounded for 1.5 years and have become accustomed to walking everywhere or riding our bikes, so the car has been basically sitting here most of the time. The problem now is keeping it clean and where to park it since our driveway has the bus in it. But it is very nice to have wheels again when you need them. So there you have it -- back from the dead. Never say die. ;-)
We applied for our residency in July 2003 after spending one year in Belize without being out of the country for more than 14 consecutive days (as is the requirement). In November, we had our first interview with an Immigration officer in Belmopan. He asked us the same questions we had answered on our Residency Application form -- name, address, education, etc.. It's a whole day to get to Belmopan from Corozal, do our thing, and get back -- just for that. A week later I got a call from the Corozal Police department asking me to come in. They asked me a few questions - address, occupation, whether I smoked or drank -- I said why? What does that have to do with anything? They already did a full background check on me months ago. He smiled. Sheesh, there are so many levels of bureaucracy for such a small country.
A couple months later, we are called in for a second interview in Belmopan. Again, it's another day shot. We go in, meet with Mrs. Flowers who has a single sheet of paper with the same questions as the last interview -- name, address, occupation, etc. -- nothing new. Now, we have heard from others applying for their residency that a 3rd interview would be required, this time with the Director of Immigration. So I asked Mrs. Flowers if we might go ahead and schedule that interview. Mrs. Flowers said that a 3rd interview would not be required in this case. Great. (We'll see). We call every week, and all we are told is that they will let us know soon. Meanwhile, we have to have our passport stamped every month ($50 each time) until the residency comes through. But any day now we should be getting it... (it's been 8 months.)
In December, I installed 4 Direcway satellite internet systems. As you may remember, I had a great deal of difficulty the first time I attempted this last year, but I have since become an authorized dealer and have worked out the procedures. A few more installations are scheduled -- I am leaving for Honduras next week to install a couple. I have also developed a few web sites for businesses in Corozal. Little by little we are finding our niche. Lila is beefing up her yoga web site, and we hope to have it in 3 or 4 languages. We'll keep you posted on the release dates.
The children are enjoying school. Both are flourishing -- especially since we have disconnected the cable television. We still watch tapes and DVDs, and get our news from the internet, but broadcast television has been cut off since July, and we are amazed at how much of it was sucking up our lives -- constantly urging us to buy, buy, buy, and borrow, borrow, borrow, and playing on our insecurities until we yell, "Bomb 'em, bomb 'em!" But I digress...
Music has been in the air here. Our band, the Paradise Wranglers, played in Consejo last weekend after a long sabbatical and without our founder, Sr. Rick who is enjoying a Colorado Winter this year. At home, each of us are learning and practicing instruments. Cheyenne is writing songs in guitar and recorder. I came up with a melody, and Cheyenne wrote the words. We may play it in the upcoming Talent Festival -- excuse me, "Questival". Lakota is constantly humming some tune, and we try to guess what it is. It has since turned into a game of Name That Tune. He's lost 4 teeth in the last couple months -- his permanent teeth are just coming in -- I'm going to miss his gummy smile.
Christmas was sad with the passing of my father. He died comfortably in his own home with his family around him. Thank you all for your sympathy and support. I spent a couple weeks in January in Canada during that time, and it was the coldest Winter I have ever remembered -- it was -40C for about the entire time I was there. Brrrrrr!! That's like a whole Winter in one week. But the warmth of good friends helped soothe the bite. It was good to get back.
Lakota had his 6th birthday in February. We had a little party in his class. He loves school (most of the time) and is the first one out the door in the morning. He is learning Spanish and is the first one finished with his work in his class. We didn't know what to expect sending the children to a little school in the 3rd world, but they are getting a classic 'British' education here and so far, so good. Of course, Lila and I give the children a lot of attention, and they get the majority of their education from us.
Well, we have been having a run of good luck lately. The car is fixed, and there was no problem in the registration to my delightful surprise (I've been getting a bit cynical over the last few months over Belizean inefficient bureaucracy, please excuse me). My visa expired 2 weeks before I noticed as a result of leaving the country and coming back in again -- I forgot my new renewal date. I went in to renew, and the officer practically threatened to have me arrested. We even struggled in the office as he would not let me leave the building. I obviously have a 'thing' about authority -- I don't like other people in control of my destiny. I eventually left the office in order to bring back some more documentation to justify my existence (again). However, Lila opted to return in my stead and came back with a full extension on my visa without any hassles. "How can I refuse you," the officer said to Lila as he signed the docs.
We also had not renewed our importation permit for our bus. The permit allows you to bring in a vehicle without paying duty on it, but it is for a set duration, and the vehicle must leave the country by then -- otherwise the duty is payable along with possible fines for being late. Last year we got a 6 month permit that was later extended another 6 months. We then left for 3 months over the summer and came back. Since we arrived late at night at the Belize border, and the 6 month permit takes all day to get, we only got a 30 day permit which only takes a few minutes (whenever they get around to it). We renewed this 3 times every 30 days and were told we could not do it again. Then I had to fly to Canada to visit my father. When I returned, the permit had expired. We didn't do anything about it since the bus was simply parked in the driveway. In order to get the new 6 month permit, we would have had to exit the country and re-enter and re-apply for the permit and spend all day doing it. PLUS, they could make it difficult for us because the bus stayed longer than it was supposed to and they could seize it (remember the sat dishes?). So we delayed and delayed. But after the visa success, I asked Lila if she would be willing to go up to the border and talk to the Customs director there and perhaps smooth things out so that we can bring the bus up and do everything we needed to do. If I go, I might end up in jail...
Lila called me from the border about an hour later to say that the 6 month permit was being processed and that she would be bringing a Customs official to do the vehicle evaluation (which is usually done at the border within a locked compound). Great! (I never would have been able to swing that!) So the guy came, I stayed out of the way (hiding actually -- I didn't even show my face), and he evaluated the bus at $1800 US with duty owed of $375 US -- this is great! This is a LOT lower than the evaluation was last year ($5000 US with duty of $3000!). So Lila saved us a day at the border, $2000+ in duty, and we never even had to move the bus! I'm just going to let Lila take care of all official business from now on. My good looks wore off a long time ago... ;-)
Until the next time, no worries,
Eric, Lila, Cheyenne and Lakota