|If you like
to pick up the phone and give your congressional representative a piece
of your mind, you're going to miss this opportunity in Belize.
Put your energies in charity or volunteer work where you can make a real
Shock Is Real
shock is what happens when everything looks about 20 degrees off kilter,
when all the ways you learned were the right ways to deal with people turn
out to be wrong. It is a state, someone said, of temporary madness.
it happens after about six months in a new situation. At first, you're
excited and thrilled by the new things you're seeing. Then, one day, you
just can't stand one more dish of stewed chicken. In Belize, culture shock
is sometimes masked by the surface familiarity. Most Belizeans speak English,
albeit a different English. They watch - such a shame - American television.
They drive big, old Buicks and Chevrolets. They even accept U.S. currency.
underneath the surface sameness, Belize is different, a collection of differences.
Cases in point: The ancient Mayan view of time, cyclical and recurring,
and even the Mayan view today, are grossly different from the linear way
urban North Americans view time. The emerging Hispanic majority in Belize
has social, religious and political views which are quite different from
of the average
North American, or, even of the typical Belizean Creole. A Belize Creole
saying is "If crab no walk 'e get fat, if 'e walk too much 'e lose claw."
Is that a cultural concept your community shares?
cases, family connections and relationships are more important in Belize
than they are in the U.S. or Canada. Time is less important. Not wanting
to disappoint, Belizeans may say "maybe" when "no" would be more accurate.
Otherwise honest men may take money under the table for getting things
moving. Values North Americans take for granted, such as "work hard and
get ahead," may not apply in Belize in the same way. Physical labor, especially
agricultural work and service work, because of the heritage of slavery
and colonialism, is sometimes viewed as demeaning among some Belize groups.
A Belizean may work long hours for himself - fishing or logging can be
backbreaking labor - but be reluctant to do so for an employer.
Prepare yourself for a truly different world view. If you have trouble
adjusting, get away on mini-vacations whenever you can.
has no Wal-Marts. No K-Marts. No Home Depots. No Circuit Cities. No McDonald'ses.
It has a Burger King, but not the Burger King you're thinking of.
this lack of homogenization is in Belize's favor, it also means that you
can't go down to your neighborhood hyperstore and select from 40 kinds
of dish soap, or 18 brands of underwear. Rum may be US$6 a bottle, but
Cheetos may be US$3 a bag. Every CD player, nearly every piece of plumbing
and electrical equipment, every car and truck, every pair of scissors,
every bottle of aspirin, is imported, and often transshipped thousands
of miles from one port to another before it gets to the final destination
in Belize. Then it's carried on a bus or under a Cessna seat somewhere
items simply aren't available in Belize, or supplies may be spotty. Bags
of cement, for example, sometimes are in short supply. To get ordinary
items such as building nails or a certain kind of auto part, you may have
to call several different suppliers.
small population is spread out over a relatively large area, served by
a network of bad roads, old planes and leaky boats. Although the government
is shifting its focus from excise and import taxes more to income and consumption
taxes, much of government revenue still comes from import taxes, so the
prices you pay may reflect a tax of 60 or 80 or 100% or more.
Belize is an inefficient market of low-paid consumers, a country of middlemen
and mom 'n pop stores, few of which could last more than a month or two
in a highly competitive marketplace like the U.S.
is what gives Belize its unique flavor in an age of franchised sameness.
But, you better Belize it, it also provides a lot of frustration and higher
Buy local products where possible, and make trips to Mexico or the U.S.
for big-ticket purchases.
doesn't have a cost of living. It has several costs of living.
traditional view is that Belize is the most expensive country in Central
America, yet one of the least expensive in the Caribbean. While there's
truth to that, especially as regards travel, it really doesn't take into
account that the actual cost of living in Belize can vary from almost nothing
to sky high.
can live in a luxury four-bedroom house on Ambergris Caye, with air conditioning,
telephones and faxes, a dishwasher, microwave and cable TV, U.S. food in
your pantry and Jack Daniels in your glass, and you can spend thousands
a month. Or you can live in a small house in Cayo, or around P.G., with
no phone, eat beans and rice and rice and beans, with local rum to drink,
maybe someone to help clean and cook, for US$300 a month. Some condos in
Belize go for more than US$200,000, but I know one happy Belize resident
who built and equipped his small house, using his own labor, with thatch
from nature and timbers from a lagoon, for US$4,000, and that includes
furniture and kitchen equipment.
all, the per capita income in Belize is less than US$1,650 a year. A weekly
wage of US$100 is considered pretty good. Tens of thousands of Belizeans
live, and in many cases live comfortably, on a few thousand dollars a year.
You can, too. Or you can compromise, forsaking those high-cost icons of
civilization such as 80,000 BTU air conditioners, while keeping the Ford
Explorer, boat or other toys which you enjoy. Live partly on the Belizean
style, partly in the U.S. style, and enjoy the benefits of both, and you'll
get more, for less.
Live like a Belizean, at least some of the time.