Belize It Or Not

There’s something about Belize that inspires coincidences.  Not only for me, either.  So many people have noticed all the implausible events that cluster around this small, insignificant country they’ve even coined an expression to describe the phenomenon:  Belize it or not.

Maxiana on my right, and her daughter Miriam on my left.  (Photo by Francisca Bardalez)

Maxiana on my right, and her daughter Miriam on my left. (Photo by Francisca Bardalez)

I Belize it.  For me, the first coincidence was when I discovered the Belize Forums (  It must have been around 2003, because by the time I wrote and posted my “Travelogue” on the Forums, it was 2005.   I was still so new to the Internet that I didn’t know the difference between a forum, a chat room, and a message board.  I used my real name because I thought I was supposed to, which turned out to be a good thing since it’s the name I use when publishing my books.  (So maybe that’s an extra half of a coincidence.)  I joined the Forums—keep in mind that the URL is singular, “forum”—because I was thinking about going back to Belize, but only if I could locate people I had known when I lived there.  I wanted to see the country again, of course, but most of all I wanted to see my friends.  Since it had been a British colony in those days—and since I figured not much had changed in the racial makeup of its citizens—I started searching for the one person most other people were likely to know or remember—my British expat friend Don Owen-Lewis.

I had luck on my side, but I didn’t realize it at first.   When I lived there, Toledo District was marginal to the rest of the country because “only Indians live there.”  (This from a Kriol girl—an office clerk at the American Consulate in 1962.  It’s still marginal—but as a result, nearly everybody with ties to Toledo District knows everybody else.  In fact some long-time forum members knew virtually every British expat in the country.  But it was a true Belize It Or Not moment when my post was answered by another American whose screen name was Belize Hank.  He not only knew Don, he owned property right next to his in Big Falls, and he gave me the email address of Don’s daughter Francisca.

Even as I put together—in my head, at least—a trip back to Belize, I continued to ask questions on the Forums regarding the whereabouts of some of my neighbors and former students.  I drew a blank on most of my students.  The big shift in Maya villages is that many men have taken jobs elsewhere, and come home only on weekends.  I wanted in particular to find my best friend in Rio Blanco, Lucia Bah, and Evaristo Choc, her older brother.  I sent them both letters, as well as one to Maxiana Choc, another of my students and Lucia and Evaristo’s younger sister.  The ones to Lucia and Evaristo came back.  The one to Maxiana did not.

Coincidence number two took place when I got a letter—a real one, that I picked up in the Post Office from someone with the handwriting of an 8th grader.  The letter had been written by Miriam, the youngest of Maxiana’s nine children.  The only reason Maxiana had received my letter is because she had married a man named Choc—Esteban, another of my students.  What are the odds?

After my first trip back, I met an American anthropologist named Rick Wilk on the Forums who had studied the Maya in the 1970s.  Several years later I met his brother here in California, who has ties to the literary community.  So do I.   Belize It Or Not.  Rick also liked and reviewed my book—and I never even sent him a review copy.

Then, when I thought I had just about run out of coincidences, I got an email from Leopold Grimage, a man who lives in New York City but grew up in Punta Gorda.  His father had worked on the old Heron H., the boat my anthropologist husband and I had taken from Belize City to PG in 1962.  Leopold’s father had worked on the Heron H. in the 1970s, and he was one year old when I walked down the gangplank into my new life.  He’s interested in photos of the Heron, and wondered if I had any.  I told him the only one I had was in my book, and that I had borrowed it, sight unseen, from the Belize Museum.  I’m still working on finding some photos for him, and if anybody can help, please contact me.

Some days it’s worth getting up in the morning just to see if it’s going to be another Belize It Or Not day.

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