Found this question on a Belize expat site to be absolutely adorable: “I am seriously wanting to make the move by the end of the year…what do I need to know?…”
It took me back to those very early days when we crossed that invisible line, too. “We’re going to make the move. My, god, I don’t know a thing about Belize!”
What do you need to know?
In all sincerity, how to use the search mode on the Internet.
There is a huge amount of information out there and yes, a lot of it is scattered all over the place and a lot of it is misleading.
But it is a good start.
When seeking information about Belize, the best thing you can do is read the readers’ comments and other replies to any statement. Chances are, for every statement of “fact” there will be a half-dozen replies taking exception — in a half-dozen different ways.
One of my favorite observations about Belize: “For every story, there are three stories.”
Which is probably why the gossip is so good. You hear one salacious rumor and then you quietly tell yourself “Wait for it … wait for it …” Then, boom. A whole other version or two or three emerges, completely upending the juicy morsel you were first fed.
Rumors, gossip, diatribes, suspicions, conspiracies — these make up a rich diet in some expats’ lives.
I also like this one, related to the above: “Nothing is as it seems.”
Never go with the first story you hear. Wait for the variations to unfold and then do your best to sift through this crazy-ass bouquet for the truth.
Which is another way of saying that Belize is a wildly diverse and complex country in which there is no one truth.
Helpful, I know. (He says with a gentle hint of sarcasm and commiseration.)
But embrace that fact and you will thrive.
It also helps if you know how to read human nature.
Peruse enough replies on Belize expat help sites and you will soon be able to sift out the racists, the chronically cynical, the bitter, the bubble-wrapped recluses, isolationists, the trolls, the real estate agents and developers, the speculators, the promoters and cons from the people who sincerely want to help you with hard-earned information gleaned from actual experience.
Always ask yourself if the person feeding you information has something to sell. And it doesn’t have to be just real estate.
Another good thing to know: You and me? We’re different.
When somebody asks something like “Where’s the best place to live in Belize?” understand that the answers will be as varied and conflicting as the number of people responding to them.
That’s called “asking a qualitative question” which, by nature, draws a qualitative answer.
For example, I have spent my entire adult life on or near the ocean. I need to look out and see a vast body of water, even if I don’t jump in it and go swimming every day. It comforts me. It gives me perspective. Some people have a dog or cat; I have the ocean.
Now, if you were going to ask me if it is better to live in the jungle of western Belize or on the shore of Ambergris Caye, I’d say it was a no-brainer — even though I have never lived in the jungle of western Belize for more than a few days. And I’d expect a forceful challenge from a host of mainland expats. Rightfully so.
Hand in hand with this: Belize is a land of contradictions. A well-known gent on this island, for example, is a former Grand Wizard of the KKK who thrives among the racially diverse and mostly harmonious community of San Pedro. Go figure. There is great wealth and great poverty. This is a deeply religious country that is saturated with American missionaries intent on saving the souls of the already deeply religious. It is a gloriously beautiful country in which people think nothing of tossing plastic bottles and Styrofoam food containers on the ground beside the road.
The one piece of advice you will hear over and over is to come visit. Stay a while. Make up your own mind.
We made up our mind after touring the country for a mere 18 days while staying in some unrealistically lovely resorts and visiting Mayan ruins and nice restaurants.
How naive can you get? Huh?
On the other hand, we got very lucky and met wonderful people all over the country, Belizeans and expats. They cared about our quest and didn’t try to sell us on their way of life. Face to face, people are extraordinarily helpful here and I am still trying to repay the early kindnesses we received.
People in general want to see you succeed. They know from their own experience that moving to Belize is a huge step.
So, yeah, don’t sell the ranch just yet. Come on down and knock around for a while. Buy somebody a Belikin and start (gently) pumping them with questions.
And here I have to backtrack on myself. Some of the people with the most objective and useful information that we found in our early quest were realtors, both in San Ignacio and San Pedro. “Looking to buy” was not part of their criteria of engagement. I wave at one of them every time I see him (I’m still that grateful!) and I’m pretty sure he has no recollection of who I am or the hours we spent talking in his office a few years ago. Another, from San Ignacio, gets a huge hug every time we bump into each other.
Some people are just generally and uniformly helpful to everyone.
Our friends John & Rose, for example. I hesitate to mention them by name because John’s blog keeps him busy answering the ersatz expats’ pleas for help. We met, blogger-to-blogger, and got on extremely well. So well in fact, that John and Rose opened up their home to us when we first landed for good, and still had no home of our own.
People here are generous like that.
Another benefit of boots on the ground is that you will get to see the Belize that is what I like to call “outside the edges of the postcards.” If you can look at the less picturesque sides of Belize and still feel like it can be home, you’re in.
The life for many here is hard. Many are poor and under educated. And hungry. A lot of the housing here would be abandoned if it were in the poorest communities in the United States. I am sometimes amazed that there isn’t more “thefting” from expats, who must seem terribly wealthy and self-absorbed to many Belizeans.
But if you only focus on this, you will miss the real heart of the people of Belize. Despite what you may hear, Belizeans are hard working people. Just visit a construction site and imagine yourself in their position for a day.
Some people hold as many as three jobs to compile a small income.
Recently, I gave a ride to a woman who cleans houses in the morning, sells plantain chips on the streets in the afternoon and is on call as a masseuse. She walks everywhere because she can not afford a bicycle.
One who could afford a bicycle, a teacher, had it stolen in November. Now she rises early and walks to her classroom, from southern San Pedro to San Mateo every day.
Then there are the two men named Jose. One paddles out to the reef every day at around 11 a.m., in all kinds of weather, to harvest fish, conch and lobster which he sells when he returns with the setting sun. The other bicycles north at sunrise with a machete and a couple dozen empty jugs which he fills with the sweet water he harvests from freshly cut coconuts.
I know a waiter at a wildly popular waterfront restaurant who hustles all day and then walks across to street to bar-tend until 11 p.m. at another establishment.
These are the people who populate my Belize.
And I am so proud to know them.
You won’t meet any of these people in a Facebook chat group. But you need to meet them when you do visit. Their quiet dignity and labors have so much more to say about the character of this little nation than all the crime statistics on a website.
And by the way, in my relatively short stay here I have met excellent electricians, plumbers, craftsmen, doctors and dentists. It is like dating. You kiss a lot of frogs until you find the one that turns into a prince/princess.
The other day, I ran into a former security guard I know who was hobbling around downtown San Pedro on crutches. He showed me the jagged scar on his left knee from a crippling construction site accident. We hung out and caught up on our families while waiting for Lino’s Meats to reopen after lunch. Javier had nothing else to do, so he rode around with me in the golf cart the rest of the afternoon as I paid bills at the various utilities, collected mail and did a little shopping. Javier’s random decision to join me made for a very pleasant afternoon.
Probably the last bit of advice for now, this one learned very early in my newspaper career: There is no such thing as an absolute.
A labor lawyer told me that just before I was about to testify in a union-organizing case against my newspaper. Tell the truth, he admonished, but try not to over-qualify every statement.
In other words, when someone tells you everyone is a thief, all cops are dishonest, all politicians are on the take, the government is corrupt, everything is filthy, blah, blah, blah …. edge away from them as quietly and as quickly as you can. (Hey, this applies in the U.S. as well.)
Find the sliver of light among the darkness and head for it.
Almost everyone and every situation has good qualities worth focusing on. Even me. Even Donald Trump. Even Hillary Clinton.
Revel in the good that you find, especially if it is something like a glorious sunset on a lagoon-side dock with friends.
Because that is ultimately what living in Belize is all about.