Friday, April 24, 2009

Viva Mexico?

We’re going to Mexico! Michel has to go for work to Orange Walk and Corozal, two cities in the sugar belt of Belize close to the Mexican border. We’re going to do some shopping in Chetumal, where many Belizians go because it is much cheaper. Belize is an expensive country…a small bottle of beer in the supermarket costs 3,50 Belizian dollars (or 1,75 USD) and a loaf of brown bread is 2,50 USD. Buy anything slightly luxurious and we pay through the nose like 5,50 USD for 10 slices of turkey ham, 6 American dollars for half a liter of plain yoghurt or for a bottle of shampoo.

I am excited to see Mexico and am even wearing a dress for the occasion. And a pair of high heels! I imagine Mexico to be a little more urbanized and stylish than Belmopan, where everyone always wears jeans and plastic slippers. Belmopan is very dusty and low-key and nobody seems to care much about looks. In a way that’s cool, but sometimes I just miss dressing up and hearing the clickety-clack of my heels on the street.

Upon exiting Belize we have to pay an exit tax. Ridiculous. Arriving at the Mexican border the border officers just keep waiving us through. Before we know it we have crossed the border and are on a 4-lane high way to Chetumal. Shouldn’t we have registered ourselves to get an entry stamp in our passports? Too late. Around 6 pm on Friday we drive into Chetumal, and because I am expecting (or hoping) to see Latin or Spanish looking buildings with white verandahs and lovely small plaza’s with orange trees, I am disappointed. It is not pretty… just like Belize's towns…low, square shoe-box type houses, electricity cables hanging everywhere and plenty of Chinese shops with cheap clothes. The city centre is comprisesd of one street and the beach boulevard is dark and deserted. The first thing I do at the hotel is exchange my dress for a pair of jeans. We find a restaurant that serves excellent steak and Margaritas so at least we feel a bit like being abroad.

The next morning we go the shopping mall where shops are good (especially the Liverpool department store) and prices are cheap, compared to Belize. We resist Soleine’s begging to go to MacDonalds and enjoy a small restaurant with local food. Then I start feeling sick, my stomach is upset and I am weak in the knees.

On the way out of Mexico we have to pay tourist tax which we did not pay when entering, and we have a car accident because some Rasta-man, totally stoned and wasted, decides to pull up out right in front of us on the high way in his jeep. We damage our car and the man is very apologetic: he tells us at least 25 times how sorry he is and that he loves us. The police arrive, surprisingly fast, and they ask us if we want the Rasta man (who introduces himself as Mr. Too Tall from Crooked Tree, can you believe it) to be taken to station for alcohol testing. We just want to get a police report for the insurance and get out of there. Back home the swine-flu thing is all over the news and I am even thinking I might have caught something as my body feels weird returning from Mexico. What a trip! I don’t think we’ll go back to Chetumal again. Okay, shopping may be much cheaper but add up the cost of the trip, the exit tax, the entry tax, the hotel and the car accident and the Swine flu stress and I don’t think we have saved any money on turkey ham or beer. And what is the point if nobody wears a dress and clickety-clack shoes anyway?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Our container has arrived in the port of Belize city. Yeah yeah yeah! After traveling at sea for almost three months - from Colombo to Singapore to Hongkong to Panama to Jamaica – our 88 boxes should arrive in our new house in Belmopan TODAY!

Everyone who has ever shipped stuff must know this feeling… I always consider it the best day since arriving the new country. Knowing Belize as an easy-going country, we’re expecting the container to be released and brought to our house the same day. But, from experience we also know not have expectations and to apply the ‘first see then believe’ principle.

Funny enough, I have half forgotten what’s in it. Apart from two princess dresses of which my daughter constantly reminds me, my newly acquired mega-painting from Sanjeewa Kumara
and my salad spinner I can’t say I miss much. Having been here for three months, I have bought all there is to buy in Belmopan, which includes essentials such as beds and plates but of course not books, CDs, toys nor pictures, just to name a few items.

But, I must say it is actually kind of nice to have a tidy house without clutter. For the first time in my expat life I wonder if it is worth it to constantly travel with all your stuff and to pay large sums of money for the shipments (which, mind you, we have to pay ourselves).

Eventually, the container came four days after its arrival in the country. A customs officer was present at our house when we unsealed it. Out came our 88 boxes with the forgotten items – according to what the Sri Lankan packers had written on them, such as: cresmas deceracion, helmuts, ormanents, pientings and ladies axeceseres. Add to that Soleine’s books in three languages, family photos, pretty bed sheets and my Abba CDs and the answer to the question: is it worth the time and money to take your personal stuff when you regularly travel half the world, becomes easy:- without a doubt!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Belmopan Slide Show

Belmopan has been the capital of Belize since 20 years or so. Before it was Belize city, which makes more sense because it is much bigger though still small. The Belize government and many of the embassies shifted to Belmopan because of the hurricanes and floads affecting Belize city. Belmopan basically consist of one road, named the ring road. There are 12,000 inhabitants in this's even smaller than my home town in the Netherlands which I managed to escape on the day I turned 18. Sorry to say but Belmopan is boring and dusty. And I mean that literally and figuratively. There are no shops (unless you consider Chinese supermarkets as shops), no good restaurants, there is no cinema or theatre. Being in Belmopan feels like living back in the fifties. The good part is that the people are really friendly, strangers greet eachother when they pass in their cars, you can leave your car unlocked with the key in it. I find it hard to preserve my good habits of locking doors and putting seat belts. It is easy to do your shopping here because you simply buy what is available. Having limited choice is acutally convenient I have noticed.

Apart from a few colorful trees such as the Flamboyants, Golden shower and Jakaranda's there isn't much beauty in Belmopan. Nobody makes any effort to please the eye here. Restaurants and bars consist of wooden picnic tables and tasteless overdue Christmas decorations. You will understand that we have to make all the fun ourselves here in this hole. But we're pretty good at that...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Women's Fun

Fresh in Belmopan, I learn that there is such a thing as the ‘Belmopan International Women’s Group’. There happens to be a meeting at the Mexican Embassy the first week of my arrival. I go and I am surprised by the number of 50 or so women present. It was a lunch meeting and everyone had brought a dish so the large table was full with sandwiches, dips, cakes and what not. Each woman is wearing a name tag, the American way. I sit down, look around and listen. There are announcements about how to register as a member, about how to attract visitors the website (suggestion: putting recipes!), how money has been spent for a sick child and then there is a draw. You can buy a ticket and win a lamp made by one of the women. Then everyone attacks the lunch table and leaves.

I am not impressed but have learned not to judge too quickly. After all, there is very little to do here in Belmopan so every initiative should be supported.

The second meeting takes place at the huge fancy house of one of the most important families in Belmopan. Again there is a good turn-out with a mixture of women in terms of age and nationality. I did not bring a name tag and learn that we have to pay a fine if without tag. A symbolic one but still..I am beginning to feel uncomfortable. The meetings starts and I feel even more uneasy. I decide not to buy a ticket for the monthly draw.

Why I am feeling so misplaced? Because I am one of the younger women? Because I consider myself a professional women and do not want to be part of housewives / spouse clubs? Then one woman stands up and complains that the meetings always take place during day time. ‘I am w√≥rking you know...’ she says with such an air of ‘I am better than you’ that I feel like slapping her. I shamefully recall that I probably used to say the same thing when I was working in Sri Lanka…

There is also a men’s club in Belmopan. They go out on trips; kayaking in caves or diving in the blue hole. They have ideas for poker evenings, car rally’s and spicy dinner parties. They drink Belikin beer, talk shit and have fun. Like men do. Then I realize why I am not at ease with the ‘women’s thing. It has nothing to do with working or not…it’s about having fun. The women’s group just doesn’t have fun. Not my kind of fun at least.