Pageant-ing in Belize: 5 things to consider before you don your sash

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.

Yours truly with my predecessor–and friend–Romy Taegar! Circa November 1986.

Congratulations to Rebecca Rath of Dangriga! She is the newest Miss Belize and will represent us at the Miss Universe Pageant. Watch as she won on Sept. 10, 2016!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Rebecca Rath (holding the water bottle, wearing black dress) joins her fellow Miss Belize delegates for lunch at Cafe Michel’le in Belize City.

Follow Rebecca’s road to Miss Universe on Facebook!


Belize: Where food is everywhere and yet…

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!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

10 Belize feeding programs (there may be more):

  1. Rotary Club
  2. Dara’s Feeding Program (fundraiser)
  3. Social Security Board Ride Across Belize (fundraiser)
  4. Toledo District School Feeding Program
  5. St. Paul’s Feeding Program
  6. St. Peter’s School Feeding program
  7. Together We Can Solve Hunger
  8. Cornerstone Foundation Feeding Program
  9. Holy Cross Anglican School Feeding Program
  10. Belmopan Police Feeding Program
  11. Red Cross Feeding Program

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?

Belize snapshot (Source: CIA World Factbook)

  • Population: 347,369 (July 2015 est.)
  • Population below poverty line: 41%
  • Adult unemployment rate 12.9% (2014 est.) 14.1% (2013 est.)
  • Unemployment, youth ages 15-24 total: 25% (male: 18% ,female: 35.6%
  • Adult obesity rate 20.6%
  • 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.

Check back here for more economic musings. 



On the elements

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.

Vier Elemente wie Yin Yang


On home, hometowns and place

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….

Did I choose Belize or did Belize choose me?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Dear Prince: You had me at ‘Controversy’

Somehow it’s hard to imagine Prince resting in peace. In the afterlife, I see him making divine music, dancing up a storm and–yes–throwing shade all over the place.

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.PRINCE

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.

RELATED: See list of every concert Prince played in the state of Michigan

Random concert impressions:

  • Sheila E. being a virtuoso on the drums
  • 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

[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.

Sunday: Chickens and beads in Ybor City, Tampa

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.  


Democracy & politricks: The way money moves 

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. 

TEDxKC 2015: An event worthy of an August full moon in Kansas City


Explaining TED and TEDx to the uninitiated can be a challenge. If you say, “It’s about great, important ideas,” the whole thing sounds more highbrow that it really is. To say, “It’s inspiring,” makes it sound vaguely religious. “Talks by cool people about cool things?” Well, you get the idea.

Still confused? More about TED here. Click here for TEDx, its awesome offspring. I recommend listening to The TED Radio Hour to sample the talks.

August 29, 2015 was the night of TEDxKC’s “Reimagine” event. TEDxKC is the largest TEDx event in the United States, and among the largest in the world. While smaller TEDx endeavors may focus on local speakers and entertainers, the Kansas City version brings in names from around the country and even the world. One local “Challenge” speaker, chosen through a video submission process, joined the lineup.

SHOUTOUTS: I got involved with TEDx when I connected with the great folks at TEDxCincinnati in 2013. And, to my delight, there’s now a TEDxBelmopan in Belize!

As a TEDxKC volunteer, I helped hand out T-shirts and swag bags before the show and earned a free ticket to the simulcast. Both it and the the live show (both at Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts) were sold out.


My 5 favorite moments:

  1. Opening act: The Louisville Leopard Percussionists. This is a group of pre-teens who know they way around xylophones and drums!
  2. Terri Trespicio: She used to work for Martha Stewart. Now she’s a branding strategist with her own podcast, Solopreneur. Favorite quote from TEDxKC: “You don’t follow your passion. Your passion follows you.” Her message was about how waiting around for passion to strike can mean a host of missed opportunities.
  3. Martin Pistorius: He rolled onto the stage in wheelchair, with a laptop balanced on his knees. The freelance web developer (originally from South Africa, living in London) spent more than a decade trapped in a world only he knew existed–unable to communicate, but able to see, hear and understand everything around him. It took an aromatherapist to alert family and medical experts that Pistorius was ready for the world. His book is Ghost Boy. Favorite quote from TEDxKC: “We are told actions speak louder than words, but I wonder: do they?” In the end, it was his words that made the difference.
  4. Scott Hamilton. Yes, that Scott Hamilton! The Olympic figure skater, a cancer survivor, is now a leading proponent of a cancer treatment I’d never heard of. It promises to beat cancer without the toll chemo and traditional radiation can take. Favorite quote for TEDxKC: “There’s a new kid in town and it’s called proton therapy.” I learned that proton therapy is offered in only about a dozen places around the country, it is currently very expensive, and that major insurance companies won’t cover it–even through Medicaid and Medicare do and it’s FDA-approved. There is center planned for Kansas City, Hamilton said at TEDxKC.
  5. Chaz Ebert. She is the woman who married Roger Ebert, the film critic. Now she runs a foundation that aims to bring empathy to the filmmaking. Sounds like a tall order! Still, if anyone can do it, Ebert can. Favorite quote from TEDxKC: “When we empathize with others, it turns out to be in our best interest as well.”


Here are three of my favorite recent TED Talks (all from TED Women 2015):

  1. Margaret Heffernan: Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work
  2. Roxane Gay: Confessions of a bad feminist (Ms. Gay is awesome to follow on Twitter @rgay)
  3. Rich Benjamin: My road trip through the whitest towns in America


This tranquil haven of democracy: Voting for a standard bearer in Belize

On Sunday, Aug. 9, voters from around the Stann Creek District converged on the village of Independence to cast their ballots at a United Democratic Party (UDP) convention. It was a three-way race to represent the Stann Creek West electoral division as standard bearer in the next General Election (date as yet to be determined).

Heading across the lagoon from Placencia to Malacate. From there, we rode in a van to Independence.
Heading across the lagoon from Placencia to Malacate. From there, we rode in a van to Independence.

We boarded a boat for Independence on the lagoon side of Placencia at 10 a.m. on Sunday. It was one of several flying a United Democratic Party flag bearing the name, “Walter.” Of the dozen or so people on board, about half wore red t-shirts emblazoned with UDP slogans or pro-Walter wording in white lettering.

All three candidates used boats and buses to bring their supporters to the polls. Upon arrival at Independence Primary School, voters navigated a genial gauntlet of die-hard boosters at the school yard gate who encouraged undecideds to pick their candidates. I had the feeling there were not very many undecideds.

In addition to bringing people to the polls, each candidate provided supporters with a full rice-and-beans meal at midday.

Glen Eiley sports his "Por la unidad" shirt on convention day.
Glen Eiley sports his “Por la unidad” shirt on convention day.

There are two electoral divisions in the Stann Creek District: The principal town of Dangriga and the rest of the district, known as Stann Creek West. MORE

The three candidates:

  1. Walter Garbutt, retired teacher
  2. Nathan Young, UDP constituency chairperson
  3. Ivan Williams, Labour Commissioner of Belize

According to, UDP party chairman “Alberto August described Sunday’s turnout as the biggest convention held by the United Democratic Party (UDP) in the division of Stann Creek West.” Walter Garbutt won with about 50 percent of the 3,100 votes cast.

My Aunt Martha greets candidate Walter Garbutt, a retired teacher.
My Aunt Martha greets candidate Walter Garbutt, a retired teacher.

I am not registered to vote in Belize (although, as a citizen and homeowner, I think I could be), so I attended the convention as an observer. 

Independence Primary School’s ground floor classrooms each served as polling places, based on alphabetical order. One room was reserved for the party Secretariat: UDP Secretary General Pearl Stuart and a team of party workers collected the paper ballots here, ensured their validity and stowed them away in a series of plastic bags. There were UDP staffers on hand to answer questions from voters about the process, but not about the candidates.

My aunt remembers a time when verifying voter eligibility was based on facial recognition: If a poll worker recognized you as living in the precinct where you said you lived, you could vote. Now, voters must be properly registered ahead of time and bring their photo IDs to the polls. Workers then check their list of registered voters to ensure you are eligible.

In Belize, where ballots are counted by hand, each voter dips an index finger into red ink to show he or she has already cast a ballot. Afterward, many people lingered in the school yard chatting with friends, meeting the candidates themselves or simply taking in the scene.

FullSizeRenderHon. Anthony “Boots” Martinez, Minister of Human Development, Social Transformation and Poverty Alleviation, mingled among the voters–shaking hands and thanking people for turning out.

Also on hand, the man whose departure from the party precipitated the convention: Melvin Hulse, former division standard bearer, came out to cast his ballot. In June, Hulse stepped down after a scandal involving tape recordings–recordings on which he reportedly slammed his party leader, Prime Minister Dean Barrow. Despite being in disgrace with party leadership, Hulse seems to remain popular with many voters, who greeted him with familiarity and affection. No doubt, Hulse voted for Nathan Young, whom he endorsed upon resigning from the party and his government post.

Overall, the atmosphere was peaceful and even festive. The stream of voters throughout the morning was steady and orderly. Still, the atmosphere, however easy-going, carried with it an urgency: This is important; we can vote, and we will vote.

Create a free website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: