Monday, June 29, 2009


Some time ago I blogged that the sun was the main reason we enjoy living abroad. I was lying, I must admit. Probably the biggest enjoyment is the quality of our life here. To a great extent this is contributed to by Silvia. Silvia is our helper. Personally I despise the word ‘maid’ or, even worse, the French term ‘la bonne’ and coming from Holland, one of the flattest countries in the world (both geologically and hierarchically), I prefer the term helper.

I was born with a peculiar form of indolence. I would not call it outright laziness, more like a gift for avoiding unpleasant chores. Such as: cleaning, cooking, washing, ironing, in short all domestic tasks. I can confirm what my brother told me years ago: nothing in life gets you hooked so quickly as the absence of domestic tasks.

Back to Silvia. She went to the bank last week to fetch some money to make a deposit for a piece of land she had bought. She is walking to the deposit office, a bottle of coke in her hand, as suddenly two guys jump out of a tree and grab her purse. She doesn’t let go but one guy hits her in the face and brings a broken bottle near her throat. Then she remembers her own empty coke bottle; she quickly slams is against the wall and with all her strength whacks him on the head until blood spurts out.

A woman who has witnessed it has gone to the police station, 300 meters (imagine!) down the walk way. De police find Silvia with a cut on her nose and only the straps of her purse on her shoulder. But she is not yet defeated! She has recognized the guys from when she worked at the American Embassy. They once were waiters at a cocktail party. And because the one chap had to go to the hospital for sutures, the police are able to catch them quickly. The next day they are locked away in a bare cell with no toilet at the Belmopan police station. Good job…End of story?

Not in the least. It has just started. Silvia has lost her 250 US dollars, and she wants it back. The police want her to testify. If you have read my previous post - The Country Where Everyone Knows Everyone – you’ll understand that she is scared. She has filed an official statement, three copies on authorized paper with all the right stamps. She has paid a judge to hear her statement. He will now have to decide if there will be a public court case. If she has to testify I will go with her. Because she is so brave, she is my heroine. There is such a word as heroism but I could not find the female version so I will invent it today: heroine-ism.

Monday, June 22, 2009

My First Time Ever...

Today I did something for the very first time ever. I felt very shy about it, even though (or maybe especially as?) I was on my own. Afraid of being caught, I had closed the curtains and even locked the door. Despite my reluctance I did it anyway and boy, did I feel good afterward. Okay, I was tired and sweaty but the physical relaxation that flowed through my body was worth the embarrassment.

What did I do? Aerobics in my living room while watching Fit TV! Do you know Fit TV? It is a non-stop parade of fitness kings, yoga gurus and pumped up Pilates princesses in tight pants and pink mini-tops showing off their muscled tummies, screaming to the TV- audience as if they were a bunch of teenagers in a self-esteem workshop … “You’re doing great, keep going, feel your power, gr-r-r-r-reat job”.

There are no sports clubs in Belmopan, at least not that I am aware of. I went a couple of times to the En Croix Christian dance school run by Youth With A Mission (they abbreviate themselves as Y-WAM, how cool is that?) but they closed last week for a long summer holiday. There is aqua-gym for ladies but I feel I haven’t quite reached the stage where I have to do things in the water while I can still do them on the floor.

So, unless you want to work out in a non-air-conditioned gym club with a handful of big black bodybuilders where you can smell the wafts of sweat and testosterone even when driving by, there seems no other option than Fit TV.

Thus this morning I rolled up the Indian floor rug in my living room, rolled out my gym mat, put on my sweat pants and followed the warm up moves of Sharon Mann, four-time Canadian Aerobics Champion. Just as I get warmed up, there is a commercial break. Come on guys…you can’t do this. This is good for public health…why can’t this be on public TV without commercials? Anyway, Sharon, who is wearing her hair in two ‘cute’ little pigtails for the occasion, is so enthusiastic that I can’t let her down. I try to follow her but it is not easy. Just when I get the hang of one step, she goes onto the next one. And on and on and on. Anyway, it doesn’t matter if I don’t follow exactly, nobody is watching me. When it is time to stretch, I almost lose two fingers in my ceiling fan. But you know what, if I don’t have too many muscle aches, I think I might do it again tomorrow! Behind the closed curtains...

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Country where Everyone Knows Everyone

Antoine, Michel’s son, came to visit us for the first time in Belize over Easter. When we drove back the 80 kilometers from the airport to Belmopan, I was carefully studying his face to see his first reaction to our new country. He kept quiet during the first 40 kilometers, and next he asked: “Papa, where are the houses? Where are the people?”

It’s true and especially remarkable to us coming from crowded Sri Lanka that Belize has only 300,000 people and consists mainly of
jungle. With a meager 12 persons per square kilometer, Belize is among the countries with the lowest population density in the world (bottom of the list is Greenland with less than one person per km2 and on top is Macao with more than 18,000 people per km2). We all know the problems associated with overpopulation in poor countries: the poverty, the pollution, horrible traffic situations, overstretched use of resources, devastating natural disasters… but have you ever thought about the opposite? Countries like Belize with low population and low GDP have their own set of problems.

Evidently, the key problem lies in the use of resources. Take infrastructure. Belize has only two major roads (‘highways’) which are sufficient to connect all the cities and towns. The other roads are dirt tracks. Now there is money available from the EU to build new roads, but is it worthwhile to construct an expensive tarred road if only 20 cars are using it each day? In Belmopan, new caf├ęs and restaurants open regularly but many disappear as quickly as they pop up for lack of clients. At Brodies, the only air-conditioned supermarket, I am often the sole customer; I don’t know how they survive. My friend Edna, a pediatrician at the Belmopan hospital, has an agonizing dilemma; should they purchase an expensive neonatal intensive care unit when they average only 30 babies delivered per month, most of whom are healthy? It is difficult to develop an underpopulated country, simply because there are too few people to utilize available resources.

But that is not the only challenge Belize as a low population country is facing. Recently, a twelve-year old boy accidentally witnessed a brutal assassination by a drug lord. Terrified, he did not want to testify. The Belize police came to his house over and over to pressure him into testifying. A few days later he was found murdered. Obviously, everyone saw the police at the boy’s house, but nobody could protect him. Witness protection, undercover police, officers in plain clothes; these concepts may have very well prevented this boy from being killed. But these things simply don’t work in a country where everyone knows each other.

The flip side of this is perhaps the consolation that it is practically impossible for prisoners to escape and disappear because everyone knows who they are...

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sugar beats Banana in EU football

Last Saturday, our friend Tony organized the first ever EU football tournament on the occasion of EU day here in Belmopan. Yes, there is such a thing as EU day, it is called Schuman day named after some French guy who considers himself a founding father of the EU. It is normally celebrated on the 9th of May but because of the swine flu break out in nearby Mexico it had to be postponed. Anyway, EU day is probably only celebrated outside of Europe and I am pretty sure that 99% of Europeans have never heard of it, which can probably also be said for the European Anthem, Beethoven's Ode to Joy.
There are four EU-fun
ded programs here in Belize: one for the sugar sector (ours), one to support the banana sector, a rural development project, and a government support project. Each project formed a mixed football team, with the rule that at any time at least four women had to be on the pitch. I was ready to play but I am terribly bad and when I saw the five girls in our team, all working for the Sugarcane Farmers Association, I humbly gave up my place to let them play. The first match ended in penalties with a close victory for the Sugar team, which then had to face the dreaded Banana team in the final. And what a final it was! It had all the ingredients of a breathtaking, nerve-wracking, nail-biting grand finale: a send-off, a penalty, an 18-meter free kick and a last minute goal, scored by...Michel! My own little sugar daddy...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Weather Quiz

Dutch people like to talk a lot about the weather. When I was still studying anthropology in Amsterdam, I read a study by an Indian anthropologist researching a small village just off the Dutch coast. One of the things he found peculiar with the Dutch was their preoccupation with the weather. They can not stop talking about it. One of the easy explanations the Dutch people offered him was the fact that the weather is so unpredictable in Holland, and therefore you can talk about it all the time. But that would be the same for Germany or Denmark, and the anthropologist found that Germans and Danish would not constantly refer to the weather. So hmmm, what could be the reason for this Dutch obsession? After long and hard thinking, his final conclusion was that it had to do with control. Dutch people like to have control over things. They are well organized and tidy people, and they have a place for everything. Bread goes in the bread box, tools in a tool box, and dirty laundry in a basket. (Sometimes I wonder if I am really Dutch). Everything is done according to rules and regulations. And because we can not control the weather, we need to talk about it often... Here in Belize the weather is not very predictable either. Although it is hot most days, there are storms, rain, thunder, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, droughts you name it. Belizeans do not talk about the weather often, why should they? It is boring and you can't change it anyway.

(photo @ Belize Tropical Educational Centre)