Date: 22 April 2005
Hello! It is hard to believe we have been living in Belize for 3 years now. We have learned a great deal about so many things, not the least of which is how to live simply. We thoroughly enjoy our little town, Corozal. I remember thinking 'This is it? This is a dump,' when I first drove into town. It looked so poor and run down -- I suppose it is, but I do not see it like that any more. After living here these last few years, I have come to see how special this place really is, and how 'rich' the people actually are. Once again, it is the Belizean people that are the reason we are still here. Living in Belize has made it difficult to work, to get supplies, and to do basically anything 'the right way.' But the people have such a humble and carefree nature, it is very nice to live among them. They work hard, most for less than $20 a day. The majority raise a portion (if not all) of their own food. Through a large network of relatives and neighbours, people pass on extra fruit and veggies in their seasons. The sea provides a great deal to local fisherman. Local food is abundant and inexpensive. But getting an apple from Mexico 5 miles away is difficult. Here, apples are 'contraband'.
It has been an interesting time living here. We have gotten used to so much, we sometimes forget how odd so many little things were to us when we first arrived. Like buying eggs, for example -- in the stores, which are usually dark and unlit, there is a corner somewhere with a stack of eggs in trays -- they are not refrigerated. Each tray is 50 cents and has about 6 dozen eggs on it. You pick the eggs you want and put them in a regular plastic bag -- where are the cartons we would ask? Don't you have any egg cartons? These are going to break without cartons... Well folks, they don't break. You can fill a plastic bag with 2 dozen eggs and they will be fine. There are so many things like that here -- the 'Belizean way' we call it.
The video store on the corner, "Video Wherehouse", is a tiny store with hundreds of tapes to rent -- all taped directly from satellite TV. They are renting DVDs now. All are copies, some even of movies still in theatres. They are filmed in the theatre and uploaded onto the internet that night. Within a day, people are watching the movie all over the world. The quality is not so good, but since the country's only movie theatre is 100 miles away, this is what we have got. Behind the video store counter is a TV and VCR taping whatever is on Pay-Per-View today -- tomorrow it will be for rent.
The cable TV service is similar. There is a house down the street with a dozen satellite dishes in the yard pointing in every direction. Inside are 30 sat TV receivers each tuned to a single channel. All these are then assigned to various TV channels and re-broadcast via coaxial cable to the rest of the town. The cards in the receivers are all most likely pirated, and the signal quality for the customers is similar to getting TV from an antenna -- the line quality is not very good between the cable 'company' and the subscribers. They started out small several years ago and shared their sat TV connection with neighbours -- now everyone in town is connected for $20 month.
There are a lot of Chinese in Belize -- some 'red', some not -- a lot of Taiwanese. The Chinese stores are open everyday and later than most other stores. They are hard working. There must be at least 20 Chinese restaurants in Corozal and half of the little stores are Chinese. The most popular item in a Chinese restaurant is fried chicken. Don't bother to ask how many pieces -- you'll just get "chicken 5 dollah." "5 dollars?" "Yes, 5 dollah." "How many pieces?" "5 dollah" "1 piece, 2 pieces?" "5 dollah, 6 dollah, 7 dollah" "How much for 5 pieces?" "5 dollah?" "5 dollars? Alright then, how many pieces are in the 7 dollar chicken?" "7 dollah?" "OK just give me the 7 dollar chicken." I notice that they chop up each piece of chicken with a cleaver and I say with hand motions, "And no chop..." "No ketchup?" "No, no 'chop'" "Oh, OK, ketchup." "No, no ketchup either." "Oh, OK, no ketchup." He pulls 3 legs with thigh out of the frying wok and chops one in half. Apparently the 7 dollar chicken is 3 legs and 2 thighs (that's all they had to say, I do not know why it is so complicated). So there you have it, here's how to order fried chicken in a Chinese restaurant in Belize: -- "Chicken 7 dollah, no chop, no ketchup, no peppah" -- pepper is hot sauce, and if you don't tell them not to put it, they put it all over the chicken -- you learn that the first time. (2 Belize 'dollahs' equals 1 US 'dollah'.)
Gasoline is very expensive in Belize -- about US$4.25 per gallon. The Corozal Free Zone at the Mexican border sells gas to Mexicans for about half that -- Belizeans are not allowed in the Free Zone without a permit. There are a couple guys with permits who go into the free zone and fill up their trucks with extra capacity fuel tanks. Then they return and sell gas by the 'bucket' at home. We go to such a fellow for our gas. We drive up and show 1 or 2 fingers for the number of buckets we want -- a bucket is supposed to be 5 gallons but it is usually less. He has a faucet right on his truck and pours the gas into the bucket. Cost is US$15 a bucket.
Here's a bit of exciting news, the Belizean government raised government fees and taxes this year to the outrage of most of the citizens. The government did not raise teachers salaries as promised, and a whole host of new taxes and fee increases were added to help pay the country's unpayable debt (while the politicians run away with millions). As a result, a number of unions went on strike last month. Schools were closed for over a week. There were power, water, and telephone outages for days. The people descended on the capital city of Belmopan to tar and feather the Prime Minister. Finally after a couple weeks of this, the government postponed their budget measures until April -- I suppose we will see uprisings again as there is no way for the government to pay its debts -- it is bankrupt. Monthly immigration fees for foreigners quadrupled -- we used to pay $25 a month, now it is $100 per month. Our application for residency is 20 months now in process. We don't care about it any more.
This just in -- Belize is without telephone service. The the telephone company workers went on strike last week, and somebody cut the fiber optic line. The telecom monopoly here, Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL), has successfully buried every attempt to compete with them so there are no alternative phone services. They sent to the UK for engineers to fix the broken fiber line, but no sooner was it fixed than it was cut again. And none of this is going to make a difference -- it's a familiar story, 3rd world government steals all the money, country is bankrupt, and the people start rattling their cages. We'll see where this goes in the coming months...
We are making plans to travel to Honduras this summer. Work has been good down there, and there are more opportunities for telecom and computer services -- I am not retired yet, and what good is living in a tax-free haven if you can't make any money? Yeah, Belize has no income tax, but everything else is taxed and monopolized by scoundrels. But for retirees with money coming in from abroad, I think Corozal is a wonderful place to retire humbly -- it's like the Florida keys about 75 years ago.
It will be hard to leave. The children love it here. The school next door is wonderful, and every year we get more and more involved. I am teaching guitar on Wednesdays. We may homeschool the children next year depending on the school situation in Honduras.
Cheyenne has been asked to join a high school 'pop rock' band made up of high-schoolers. She is only 9 years old, but they have asked her to be lead singer and play however much electric guitar she can handle. Needless-to-say, she is thrilled. They will play at the next Questival music festival this month. Lakota and I are making some computer games using Macromedia Flash. He draws the characters and I make them bounce. When we've got something working, I will post it on the web site.
We are planning on keeping our house and renting it out furnished here in Corozal. It is a great location right on the water and walking distance to everything. If you are interested, let us know! I hope all of our stories haven't scared anyone away -- it is a beautiful country with kind-hearted people, with turquoise seas, jungle mountains, deep caves, fresh rivers, ancient pyramids, and a creole of cultures. It is an adventure!
As we travel again through Guatemala and Honduras in the coming months I am sure we will have more stories to tell. Until then...
-Eric, Lila, Cheyenne & Lakota