I was tooling along Princess Margaret Drive in Belize City recently when I heard a repeated scraping sound as my little Nissan surmounted speed bump after speed bump.
Following the policy of “ignore it and it will stop,” I kept driving. Just as I passed the entrance to Marion Jones Stadium I heard a clanging, and glimpsed my muffler rolling to a stop on the road side.
Allow me to explain how you can handle this situation if it happens to you:
1. Get out of your car and retrieve said muffler when there is a break in traffic. Stow it in the trunk.
2. Drive to your mechanic George who, with a good-natured chuckle says, “You need a new muffler.”
3. Get referred by George to a “bally ‘pon Cran Street,” who does mufflers.
1. Buying a car. There are few dealerships of the kind you’ll find in the U.S. and other bigger countries. However, the streets of Belize City can be considered one giant used car lot. Just look for vehicles with large white dollar sign and phone number decals on their rear windows. Call the number for a quote and test drive!
Or, you can go to the Facebook Group “Belize Buy & Sell,” where you will find a number of posts showing photos of cars along with prices and contact information for the sellers. (You can also find clothes, cell phones, jewelry, and just about anything else you can think of).
I opted to buy a used car from a broker-dealer named Brian who has a mostly empty lot along the highway and a great website, where I spotted my intended. His office is a tent, or the driver’s seat of a car he’s trying to sell.
I paid cash for something called a Nissan Platina, made in Mexico. Someone said to me later, “Oh, that’s a Third World car.” I took this to mean it was hardy and could handle the rigors of dust, iffy fuel and rough roads. Fingers crossed on that one.
Anyway, Brian defines full service! He drove me to the Traffic Division to meet the person who hired him to sell the car so we could transfer the title. The seller was a nun named Sister Rose. The car, I should say, is more than 10 years old and has only about 50,000 miles on it. It’s not fancy, but it runs and doesn’t guzzle gas. Sister Rose took great care of it.
Next, Brian drove me to the insurance company of my choice, where he waited with me until I was duly insured. Finally, he recommended a mechanic he trusts.
2. Servicing your car. You can take your car to one of the major dealers and wait a day or more for an oil change. Or, you can get a referral for a good mechanic who works out of his yard. The guy Brian recommended to me is named George, and it turns out he is the first cousin of my first cousin’s wife. And he lives around the corner from me.
When I called to make my appointment, George advised me to buy my oil and filter, as well as steering fluid (my wheel was stiff and making ominous sounds) and bring these items to his yard. I made my purchases at Westrac, a place—let it be said—that is an automotive paradise: You go in and sit at a kind of bar to share your vehicular woes with a sort of bartender/car expert who pulls the items you need. My filter had to be brought in from another store, but—no worries—they’ll get it in the same day. George serviced my car in less than an hour and drove it around the corner to my place.
3. Parking. There are a number of actual parking lots around downtown Belize City, which is a relatively new development. Parking there will cost about two Belize dollars per hour. Still, you will find yourself parking on the narrow city streets much of the time. In this regard it is helpful to have a Platina, which is about the size of a Toyota Tercel! Parking can sometimes be precarious, as many streets are lined with open drains and a few inches here or there can land you in their murky waters.
Thankfully, whether in a parking lot or not, there is usually someone to help. On the street this will be a random guy who appears out of nowhere and provides expert advise via hand movements, shouts, and thumps on the side of your car. He will be genial and quite pleased to help you. It’s not so different in a parking lot, although the guy helping you is an actual employee.
4. Getting a carwash. Once you have parked your car in the lot across from Brodie’s rear entrance on Regent Street, a shirtless man bearing a bucket will offer to wash your car while you go about your business. There is no set price, but I try to be generous.
There is a guy who combines parking and washing services in the area of the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts nearby. He must have a sixth sense about when I will be in the area, because he materializes out of nowhere–guaranteed.
5. Getting gas. Filling your tank in Belize will cost you about twice as much as in the U.S. One thing that might ease the pain at the pump is the fact that gas stations are full service. Young men in neat uniforms (and baseball caps) will do the honors and clean your windshield and rear window while you wait. They will also put air in your tires.
What must it be like to be a beauty pageant contestant in Belize in the age of social media? When I was pageant-ing in 1986, there was no way for members of the public to instantly criticize me and share that criticism with hundreds–even thousands of other people. I heard very few negative comments; I suppose my friends and family shielded me. The few I did hear were baffling as well as dismaying.
So, I salute the ten contestants in this year’s Miss Belize Universe Pageant, whose pageant month was full of public appearances and opportunities to be scrutinized.
If I were to provide advice to young women about whether to enter a beauty pageant in Belize, here are a few items I would ask potential contestants to consider.
Do you know what it feels like to lose? I suspect young women who know what this feels like will be able to face what’s coming. So, if you have competed before (e.g. in sports, academically, in other kinds of contests) and survived defeat with your ego intact, that is a point in favor of entering a pageant.
Do you know how it feels to win? This is important because the minute you triumph you will become a magnet for people who want to be in your life, for better and worse. Being a gracious and humble winner can go a long way in keeping your ego intact.
Is your support system strong and absolutely on board? Any ambivalence in the people closest to you can lead to self-doubt. Your friends and family love you, but they may not see entering a pageant as something they want you to do. Also, a ride-or-die crew will make sure you have the resources you need: They’ll help you find sponsors, be your cheering section, and remind you that you’re awesome no matter what happens.
Are you confident? Confidence is not the same as courage. In my mind, courage gets you through something you may not believe you can actually survive. Confidence means that no matter what happens in the pageant, you’ll be fine. Maybe you’ll shed a few disappointed tears, but you won’t be shattered.
What happens next? Do you have a plan to get on with your life, win or lose?
Would I do it again? Yes. I won a college scholarship (as did the 2016 winner, Rebecca Rath). I traveled to Singapore, Europe and all around Belize. I was probably too young; at age 17, my ego was fragile and the Miss Universe experience was overwhelming. Still, no regrets.
A foodie visitor to Belize might observe that the country has a vibrant “street food” scene. In Belize, we just call it food, comida, and dinna (dinner). There are small vendors everywhere. On a recent five-minute car ride from my neighborhood to the grocery store I counted at least ten pop-up, semi-permanent and permanent purveyors of food: meat pies, tamales, panades, barbecue, johnny cakes, rice and beans with stewed chicken–you name it!
For a poor country, there is a lot of food around. Grocery stores are plentiful and well-stocked. Upscale eateries and casual eateries abound in the tourist areas (there are not as many in Belize City). Portions, whether on the street or in a hotel dining room, tend to be generous. Prices range, depending on where you are (in the districts versus a tourist destination, for example), but a few Belize dollars can fill your belly.
And yet, children go hungry.
Recent years have seen the rise of school feeding programs for children who may not get a nutritious meal on any given day.
It’s hard to find information on the exact numbers or reasons for hunger in Belize. I did find the World Food Programme Hunger Map, which calls the “prevalence of undernourishment” among Belizean children “relatively low;” about 9 percent of kids ages five to 14 don’t get enough to eat. That seems rather high, in a country where food (literally) grows on trees and in the sea. Are adults simply hogging all the food for ourselves?
The second largest population group consists of children 0-14 years: 34.87% (male 61,822/female 59,312)
Children under the age of 5 years underweight: 6.2%
An informal economy
Back to the food vendors. Are their families eating the food they prepare?
I also wonder whether the official economic statistics include these entrepreneurs. Then I think of the people who have day jobs and do other things on the side to make ends meet, to feed their children.
They do nails or hair in their parlours (living rooms); sell clothes out of their bedrooms (using Facebook to advertise); cook in their own kitchens and deliver to customers. There are car dealers without car lots (they park their vehicles on the streets and post contact phone numbers in the windows). There website designers, domestic workers and childcare providers.
Which is harder: To realize one is out of one’s element or in one’s element? This is not a trick question, but it’s not easy to answer.
I think one can be out of one’s element and function perfectly well. Coping is what we as human beings strive to do. Survival, right? The problem is that coping can come to seem normal, since there may be nothing in particular to point to that is making one feel that things don’t quite fit. And yet, things don’t quite fit.
“I acknowledge the four elements. Water in the North; incense to recognize the air in the East; flowers for the earth in the South; a candle for light from the West. It helps me keep perspective.” Laura Esquivel
Mind you: It’s not all sunshine in one’s element, either. Still, it feels different. Even bad days or in frustrating moments, the element feels different. Moving through the trouble (whether a little or big one) feels different. The element is working in one’s favor, so to speak.
Can a person claim a place, or does place always trump the person?
When one lives in the middle a very large country, in a fairly large city, it’s easy to exist in a relatively passive and insulated sort of way. Privacy is pretty much guaranteed; people don’t just drop by unannounced. Running errands is not likely to put one in contact with anyone one knows. Co-workers may become friends, but they just as easily may not.
This kind of existence means you can opt into community life or not. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found this less appealing than I once did. The effort required for a single professional woman with no local ties to make friends is daunting. Endeavors–at least for me–often ended in a sort of disappointing neutrality. The outing or activity was fine, the people were perfectly fine, but no real connection was made.
“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you. If you see what I mean.” ― Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book
I have no idea how this will turn out, but I recently made the decision to move back to Belize, finding the pull of my native land suddenly extremely strong.Over the years, I have made a point to visit at least once a year–sometimes I’ve managed more than once a year. Although I didn’t grow up in Belize in terms of actual years, Belize is the place where many of my formative experiences took place. It’s where I have a large circle of extended family, friends and acquaintances. For better or worse, people know a great deal about me–warts and all. There is both comfort and trepidation in this!
Having moved around my entire life, Belize City is the closest thing I have to a hometown. So here I am: Day Four. Here we go….
Many of us fans may believe we really understood Prince, really “got” him. My own sense is that he probably experienced great happiness, tremendous joy, and deep dark times. He certainly lived; no doubt there were few things he wanted to try that he didn’t try.
The first concert I ever went to was Prince: The LoveSexy Tour. My boyfriend and I were among the fans at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit on Halloween in 1988.
Prince playing the keyboard rising from the stage atop a heart-shaped column
There was a bed on the stage
There was a basketball hoop on the stage
There was a full-scale replica of his Ford Thunderbird on the stage
Memory is not always reliable, but I have a strong recollection of my first Prince moment: Hearing “Controversy,” on Radio Belize. I must have been around 12 years old.
“I just can’t believe All the things people say, controversy Am I black or white? Am I straight or gay? Controversy
Do I believe in God? Do I believe in me? Controversy, controversy Controversy.”
[Release date: October 14, 1981]
Any guesses which line jumped out at me? I was impressed by the music, and blown away by the reference to being biracial; I could not recall ever hearing such a thing in music.
Learning of Prince’s death felt like a light going out. One moment he was here: bright and eternal. The next, gone. It was good to live in a world in which Prince also lived. Now I console myself with my concert memories, my Prince music collection (good thing I kept his CDs), and the thought that we shared a planet for a time.
Impressions: Ybor City coming slowly to life on a Sunday afternoon. There are shiny beads all over the place, which –along with the tattoo parlors, bars and tourists mingling with locals– give the area a pleasantly seedy Bourbon Street vibe.
Live music in the bar & grill where I’m eating: Not a bad rendition of “Hotel California.” There is, as Belizeans might say, a rain breeze. Like it might pour or might not.
Low humidity and anything can happen. There is no comparable sensation in the Midwest.
Amtrak train cruises by a street away, startling a clan of chickens–yes, chickens.
Belize is a democracy. Elections happen with regularity and voters have strong feelings about both leading major political parties.
A friend of mine recently observed Belizean politics in action and found himself dismayed by one particular aspect: paying for votes.
The practice, by which a person connected to a candidate offers money to secure a vote, is tolerated. In some cases, a would-be voter asks for the money before the handler can even get his or her campaign spiel off the ground.
For voters in a poor country, a proffered “blue note” (hundred-dollar bill) can mean food, a paid bill or school fees. My theory is that people take the money and vote for whomever they feel like on Election Day.
In the United States, the money flows the other way: Millions of dollars donated to campaigns. (This happens in Belize, in smaller amounts).
There are the modest donations that individual voters send, in the hope their contributions will help pay for TV ads, bumper stickers, or campaign volunteers’ coffee.
Then, there are there big checks written to candidates, PACs and causes. The donors are banking on the fact that winners will not be able to forget all those zeros when the time comes for favors and special consideration.
You’d think that knowing money plays such a huge role in the democratic process would turn us off–and many people are, in fact, turned off.
And, yet. And, yet. The ability to vote in an election has an addictive quality; we are hooked on the idea that each of us can make a difference.