Better Than Genocide

Here are a couple of stories about Belize City that aren’t in my book.

Chronologically, the country now known as Belize was “discovered” by Spanish explorers, settled by English pirates, loggers, and farmers.  But none of them were the country’s first inhabitants.  That honor goes to the indigenous people of Belize—the Maya, whose vast stone monuments dot the landscape like gold nuggets among the stones of a riverbed.

Better Than Genocide (Photo by Joan Fry)

Lubaantun, one of the many Maya ruins in Belize.  (Photo by Joan Fry)

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Time Change

This title can be taken three ways.  There is a literal time change when you fly to Belize from almost anyplace in the U.S.—which itself has six time zones, counting Alaska and Hawaii.    Canada has five time zones.  If you’re coming from anywhere else, you’ll have to figure out the time change for yourself.  As a country, Belize represents a different time—a slower, more relaxed one—and your mind and body will have to get in sync with it.  But those two words can also be taken to mean that the times themselves change, and that’s what I want to talk about today, now that Belize is 50 years behind me.

Fifty years ago, Gloria was a small girl who watched me try (and fail) to make tortillas.  (Photo by Joan Fry)

Fifty years ago, Gloria was a small girl who watched me try (and fail) to make tortillas. (Photo by Joan Fry)

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The Name Game

Here’s a story that didn’t make it into my book.  It happened fairly early during my stay in Rio Blanco, and I didn’t include it because I had already documented my many cultural blunders and didn’t see the point of including another example.  Besides—the incident wasn’t really that funny.  Except to the Maya.

The Kekchi girl on the left might accidentally have been named Sebastian.  Or Antonio.  (Photo by Joan Fry)

The Kekchi girl on the left might accidentally have been named Sebastian. Or Antonio. (Photo by Joan Fry)

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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)

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Retiring to Belize

Retirement-age Americans have been migrating south for decades.  If you had limited funds  you moved to Florida, but if you had money and a sense of adventure you might opt for south of the border— Mexico, Costa Rico, Panama, the island of Roatán north of Honduras, and, increasingly, Belize.  Land and houses are relatively still relatively cheap in all five countries.  (Considerably cheaper than Sarasota, FL for instances, although Sarasota now has so many medical facilities it’s become a very desirable place to spend your declining years—in stark contrast to Belize.)  Many Central American countries have well-established expatriate communities, so you have the advantage of neighbors who speak the same language you do.  Because the countries I mentioned are all third-world countries, if you want a little luxury in your life, many retired people can easily afford to hire a cook and a housekeeper (usually the same person) and a gardener.  But Belize has one advantage all the other countries lack:  your neighbors aren’t the only ones who speak English.

A bachelor's house in Toledo District.  He did the plumbing and electricity himself, but the washer and dryer, far left, come from Guatemala.  (Photo by Joan Fry)

A bachelor’s house in Toledo District. He did the plumbing and electricity himself, but the washer and dryer, far left, come from Guatemala. (Photo by Joan Fry)

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Making the Move to Belize

Three final tips about moving to Belize:  know where you’d like to live, be adaptable, and be a good neighbor.

The entrance to a Maya village in Toledo District.  Are you sure you want to retire to someplace that has no electricity or running water? (Photo by Joan Fry)

The entrance to a Maya village in Toledo District. Are you sure you want to live someplace that has no electricity or running water? (Photo by Joan Fry)

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So You Want to Move to Belize

Like most people who go to Hawaii for the first time, I had decided before the end of our vacation that I could live there.  (“There” was Kailua-Kona on the Big Island.)  But moving anywhere wasn’t feasible at the time because my husband had a business to run, although he and Mark, his partner, started a bicycle rental business on the main street, so we had an excuse to visit a couple of times a year.  I still love the area, although of the thousands of people who fall in love with Hawaii, many, of them did move there—and today Kona is as crowded and congested as Del Mar, California.  Belize is a little like the Hawaiian islands in that nearly everybody speaks English, the climate is great (no real extremes of temperature or climate), and everything costs more than it did back home.  But it takes a certain kind of person to pick up your roots and leave your friends—and sometimes your family—behind and move to Belize.

Two-story houses in Belize with both an inside and an outside stairway are very popular.  This house was built by two men with no previous experience.  (Photo by Joan Fry)

Two-story houses in Belize with both an inside and an outside stairway are very popular. This Maya house was entirely built in Big Falls by two men with no previous experience. (Photo by Joan Fry)

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Obeah in the 21st Century

When I lived in Rio Blanco, Father Cull transformed the school into a church so he could say mass there.  But since I’m not Catholic, I’m not exactly sure how he did that.  One night—and this story is in my memoir—I saw candlelight coming from inside the school and heard two people talking.  The next morning, I discovered they’d been burning black candles on the table/my desk.  Was somebody making obeah against somebody else?  The village mayordomo didn’t know, didn’t care, and didn’t want to talk about it.

A king buzzard.  In ancient Maya mythology, they carried messages from humans to the gods.  Kriols call all vultures John Crow.  (Photo by Danny Bates)

A king buzzard. In ancient Maya mythology, they carried messages from humans to the gods. Kriols call all vultures John Crow. (Photo by Danny Bales)

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Obeah–Belizean Black Magic

The obeah men who are paid to make spells believe that obeah itself is neutral—it’s simply power.  If someone asks him to make a spell against somebody else in order to hurt him and cause him pain, the power becomes evil.  If someone asks him to make a spell so that his sick child will live, the power becomes good because it will result in good.   Among the Maya—perhaps in an overlap stemming from their own ancient, oral traditions of witchcraft and sorcery—obeah is almost always used for evil.

If bullets are used in the spell, it's a good bet that the victim will die of a mysterious gunshot wound.  (Photo by Joan Fry)

If bullets are used in the spell, it’s a good bet that the victim will die of a mysterious gunshot wound. (Photo by Joan Fry)

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