Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bag Lady

Soon it will be exactly one year since I arrived in Belize- the 1st of February 2009.
I remember so well my arrival at the cute little Philip Goldson airport in the mid-day heat. I was exhausted after wrapping up my job in Sri Lanka, packing up the house, saying emotional good byes to friends and staff, and then making a 32-hour trip journey across the world.
Michel had already been here for a couple of months. He was renting an apartment as he did not dare to choose a house without the approval of his wife (very wise, darling).

Actually, he was not sure if I would want to live in Belmopan, being the small and rather boring town (oh sorry, city) it is. He thought that his cosmopolitan wife might prefer to live in Belize City. And so he drove me, straight from the airport, to Belize’s former capital for a sight seeing tour. It had just rained and the streets were clogged with water and dirt. I found Belize City a dump, even by developing country-standards.

The one-hour drive from Belize City to Belmopan was an enjoyable experience though, and upon arrival in Belmopan I was pleasantly surprised. It looked clean, with wide streets, and surrounded by green grass and parks. Okay, the three run-down buildings that make up the ‘down-town’ area did not impress me, but compared to Belize City (and to Sri Lanka) Belmopan felt like a haven of greenery, cleanliness, and peace.

This ‘clean feeling’ lasted until a couple of months ago. To be precise: until a lawn mowing tractor cut the grass besides the highway. Wow, was I mistaken! I tried to stop the tractor to get pictures of ‘before’ and ‘after’ trimming, but it was already on its way back, leaving all the rubbish, the Styrofoam boxes, and plastic bags exposed. Beauty dies where litter lies, I thought.

Solid waste management is an issue in Belize. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has recently approved an 11 million USD loan to strengthen the Solid Waste Management Authority. I hope it includes a component to educate people about littering. We’ll have to wait a few years to see the results.

In the meantime, I try to contribute to a clean environment by refusing to accept plastic bags, whether at the vegetable market or the Chinese supermarkets, where they try to put every piece of soap, loaf of bread, or tin of peeled tomatoes in a separate little bag.

I like to preach to the cashiers and clients, saying things like: ‘Did you know that it takes a hundred years before a bag like this disintegrates’? Mostly they stare at me as if I am from another planet.
Well, maybe I am. Maybe I am a strange white bag lady, the only one in Belmopan who brings her own shopping bags into the store. I don’t care. It is my mission. To be perfectly honest, I am proud to be a supermarket missionary. I just wish I was able to convert more souls


Tuesday, January 19, 2010


I met Kristine through my work with UNDP. Originally from Norway, she has lived all over the globe with her diplomat parents, and is now the assistant resident representative in Belize and thus the highest ranking UN employee in the country. With our European backgrounds and UN experiences in Asia and Africa we have quite a few things in common.

She cracks me up all the time as we share multi-cultural anecdotes. She’s brilliant at imitating accents and her stories make me laugh out loud, like the one about the Italian guy visiting Belize, asking for a Ristretto (rolling r) in a Belmopan cafĂ©. ‘A what?’ the Belizean waitress asks, ‘A Ris-trrretto’, the Italian asks again, louder now, rolling his r a little longer. The waitress gives him a blank stare and looks to Kristine for an explanation. He repeats his order, louder yet, as he honestly can not imagine anyone on this planet not knowing what a Ristretto is.

Or the anecdote from some years ago about a French UN diplomat, her superior at the time, of whom she had asked a not-so-silly question, something like: How are we going to put this into practice? His answer: “Ben (pronounce Bah, French for well eh), use your brain!” Merci, so much for French diplomacy.

Another thing that expats like to share is freaky stories about snakes, bugs, and scorpions, so I related my experience about the freaky room in our house (see my blog post May 2009). She too has scorpions in her house, and a brave cat named Storm that defies them, or tries to at least.

She comes home from work one day and she sees something moving under the carpet in her living room, and the cat is meowing and making funny jumps at it. Wow, that is a big scorpion, she thinks, or perhaps a mouse, or, God forbid, a rat? From her bookshelf she takes (and I quote) ‘the only appropriate book for this kind of action, the fist-thick biography of Pol Pot’, and slams it on the bulge in the carpet. Disgusted, she carefully lifts the carpet to find…

...her mobile phone on vibrate.

Ha ha, good one Storm!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Winter in Belize

Okay, it is not exactly snowing here like back home, but it is frigging cold for Belize standards. The cold front that is pestering Europe and the US has decided to come and harass us for a little while. I am supposed to be 'used' to the cold, but after 12 years in tropical countries I am shivering too. Here's today's update from the Belize Meteorology Service. (
I can't really read that satellite picture where Belize is so small, but I am assuming that blue means 'cold' and red means 'hot' and I am not seeing any red in or near Belize. I also don't know why Belize is using Fahrenheit, being a British crown country, but all you have to do it subtract 32 from the Fahrenheit number, divide the answer by 9 and then multiply that answer by 5. So at the moment it is 68-32 = 36 /9 = 4 x 5 is 20. A child can do the laundry (as we say in Dutch), or a piece of cake...

Time..............................4 PM
Temperature......................68 F
Relative Humidity(%)...............77
Wind (kt)........................WS04
Pressure (hPa).................1022,0

The average late afternoon temperature in January is 79.2° F, so here we go again 79.2 - 32 = 47.2 / 9 is ehhh, long live on-line converters!

"What??", you may say. "SIXTY EIGHT whole degrees (or TWENTY), that is like summer where I am from. let me stop winging and show you this picture of Thomas, a friend's son. I can tell you that he has never in his life wore gloves nor a wooly. That's how cold it is here at the moment!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

All Inclusive Prison?

During the Christmas break we went to Mexico. Yes, we occasionally need to escape the smallness of Belmopan, to keep breathing, so to say. We drove to Chetumal just across the border and from there straight to Cancun; beach and party paradise! With between 2 and 4 million visitors per year – depending on the year and the guidebook you consult – Cancun is the first tourist destination of Mexico, just multiply this by an average of 1,000 USD expenditure per person and you can smell the bucks…

Situated on a small strip of land packed with 4 and 5-star resorts, it reminds one of Las Vegas but with turquoise beaches and no casinos. It was my first time in an all-inclusive, not counting the times I was conducting workshops hosted at beach hotels in St Lucia or Sri Lanka. The food was great and from all corners of the globe, (well, compared to Belmopan), the cocktails and wines flowed continuously, we played tennis and mini golf, swam in all of the five pools, including the ‘adults-only’ pool when Soleine was playing in the kid’s club, went to the movies and the gym. The only things not included were the on-demand porn movies and spa treatments. Fair enough.

With friendly staff, a la carte restaurants and a spacious room we had nothing to complain about. So why were we both oh-so-very happy to leave? Okay, firstly we felt as if we were staying on a different planet, like the fat people in Pixar’s Wall-E movie, and the ‘living in a golden cage’ image also pops up; but that was not it.

It was the relief of being away from all the other all-inclusive guests. With the risk of sounding snobby, I would advise that you not go to a 5-star all-inclusive place to meet nice people. The guests are loud, rude and complaining. They pile their plates with endless heaps of food that no one could finish in one sitting, order multiple drinks from the eight bars without finishing any; they don’t greet you nor do they thank the waiters, and these people are not even Russian! I met some Dutch people who were nice enough but I had to listen to a never ending list of complaints about mosquitoes, heat, and dust bunnies under the beds. After three nights I too felt irritable and intolerant. It seems this kind of hotel brings out the worst in people - the greedy and demanding beast that hides in all of us.

That summarizes our stay in the 5-star hotel in Cancun: you get the good stuff for a fair price, - good food, 24 hour(s) drinks, sports, and entertainment for the kids – but you have to live with the obnoxious people, including yourself. Truly All inclusive. "Grand Parnassus 5-star hotel or luxery prison"?

By the way, we did not ONLY go to Cancun, we also visited the old colonial cities of Merida, Izumal and Valladolid. See my slide show pictures below.

Monday, January 4, 2010