from another message board...
I will have lived in Belize for 7 years this coming Christmas Eve.
1. Belize is not the southern outpost of the US or Canada, nor is it the western outpost of Great Britain. On the surface, it looks a lot like all of the above -- language, legal system, the presence of amenities such as cable television, email, Internet, running water (most places tourists visit), electricity (most places tourists visit), an easy currency conversion.
It's not. Cultural values and mores are VERY different once you delve below the surface. (I liked someone's comment in a previous post about the many veils of Belize - that's a very good description.)
So, what we (the ex-pats) may think would be obvious to all around us, often isn't, and won't ever be simply because our truth and our Belizean neighbor's truth are often two very different things.
2. We'll never be from here, and that will be used against us in any argument we have with most anyone who IS from here. (Which I guess is a universal truth, notwithstanding the comments in no. 1 above.)
3. Some days I wake up and walk outside, look around, and can't believe I'm lucky enough to actually live here instead of just visiting now and again. Other days (usually after a particularly bad bank or utility experience - see No. 4 below), I can't for the life of me imagine why I would stay here another minute. In perspective, there were few (if any) days when I woke up in St. Louis and couldn't believe I was lucky enough to live there instead of just visiting.
4. The banking system and the utility companies suck. Fact of life, you just have to deal with it. (In Placencia, we even use the phrase, "bank rage" to describe our feelings about one of the local banks.)
5. Unless you don't care what happens to yourself, your possessions, your loved ones, your pets, etc., you must be ever watchful. It's your own personal responsibility to guard yourself and the things you care about because there are almost no systems in place to help you with that responsibility. For example, I don't know the phone number for the police station in Placencia because I have no faith that if I needed them they'd (i) answer the phone, or (ii) come to help even if they did answer the phone. Don't balance your checkbook in the States because the banks don't make that many mistakes? You better do it zealously in Belize because they DO make that many mistakes. Don't know the signs of erlichea in your pet dog? You better learn, as well as what you'll give the dog for it -- etc., etc., etc.
6. Owning a successful business in Belize is REALLY hard work. The supply chains aren't in place, most times the business owner has to create his or her supply chains from scratch -- and have several back-up plans. (For example, you can't call up and order 12 dozen hamburger buns to be delivered on Thursday. The person who makes the buns may decide not to make them that week, or one of his or her pieces of equipment is broken and no one will come to repair it, or there's no part available, or all of the employees just quit -- or all of the above, and there may be must one person who makes hamburger buns where your business is located.) Capital at a reasonable cost is non-existent. The labor pool is very small. Communication is very expensive. The bureaucracy is very slow. Services are in short supply. Nobody will return phone calls, which means you have to call and call and call again to finally talk to whomever you need to talk to in order to get whatever you need to get accomplished, accomplished.
7. We have a responsibility to other people where we live. I was struck by the fact that most of the postings on this thread concerned what the ex-pat would get from Belize. What about what Belize gets from the ex-pat? True, our efforts may not be accepted for many years, but if we care (and we should), then we have to keep on trying, in whatever way we choose to give back to our communities. Education and health care, to name but two issues, need much attention in most parts of the country. But, we have to be careful and try to contribute in ways that are not perceived as "noblesse oblige" for want of a better phrase.
8. Unintended consequences. If I ever write a book about living in Belize, that may be the title. What we do as ex-pats affects a lot of people, even if we don't realize it. I sometimes think that the reason so many Belizeans seem to be on the take, or so willing to exploit outsiders, is that we taught them those skills. Think about the first few influxes of North Americans to Belize. Many were running from something, whether that was the tax man, the law, a spouse, whatever. Usually people on the take. Others were relatively wealthy, and, in Placencia at least (or so I'm told), threw their money around quite freely. They just weren't here on a 7-day vacation that they'd worked all year to earn. Perhaps that has something to do with the way those of us who have come more recently are now perceived - lots of money, and running from something or someone -- fair game, in other words.
9. Everybody is related to everybody else. If we grouse about so and so to another Belizean, we'll usually find out in a few days that so and so is the aunt or uncle of whomever we were grousing to.
10. Da no so, dah nearly so, e.g., pay attention to gossip -- it's really the primary source of information in Belize. (Information is a very valuable commodity in Belize. Hard to get, and those who have it, don't like to let anybody else in on it, hence the need for creative speculation.) Don't believe it all, but keep your ears open, and look for the grain of truth in what you hear.
(I could add a few other things, but then there's that book . . .)
I hope the above doesn't sound preachy or smug, that's not the intent. These are just a few things that came to mind as I read this thread.