As my time in Belize slips away, I’ve started to think about what I am going to miss the most about Belize. Most of these are little things that just make life a bit easier or a bit more fun in the world’s smallest capital, but a few of these will leave gaping holes in my life that will never fully be filled.
Dress Code – Over the last two years, I have worn a suit four times. The first was my friend Kris’s wedding just before I arrived in Belize. The last was for my fraternity formal two weeks ago. Both of these occurred in the U.S. The other two times were for Hash Ball where I only wore half a suit as it is formal on top and sporty on bottom. Actually I have worn a dress as often in Belize as I have worn a suit.
My housekeeper, Roberta - I’ve read a ton of foreign service blogs where officers swear that they will not hire a housekeeper or nanny, only to break down a few months later. I was the exact opposite – I wanted to hire a housekeeper before I even got to country. For US$25 per week, my housekeeper washes and irons all my clothes, sweeps and mops all the floors, does the dishes, cleans the refrigerator, dusts the shelves, and straightens up. It is the best money I spend every week.
Settlers of Catan – Before I came to Belize, I randomly bought a board game called ‘Settlers of Catan.’ Turns out that this was the favorite game of Beth and Kevin – the couple who owned the pizza place in town. Sam, the young British lawyer, was also a huge fan. For six months, the four of us got together almost every Monday at Beth and Kevin’s to play Catan. Our friendship really developed over those games (mostly while we waited for Sam to decide what to move to make). Although we still play Catan occasionally, it hasn’t been the same since Sam returned to the U.K.
SCUBA Diving – One of the activities I was most looking forward to in Belize was SCUBA diving. Although it took me longer to get certified than I wanted, it was all worth it in the end. In the past 18 months, I have done around thirty or so dives. I reached into the depths (140 feet) of the Blue Hole, explored the barrier reef and dived with whale sharks. As much as I love seeing the fish and the turtles and sharks (oh MY!), my favorite part of the dive is the quiet solitude. When I am diving, I spend forty-five minutes to an hour lost in my thoughts. No TV, no internet, no music. Just me and the sea. I will keep diving after I leave Belize, but who knows when I will live this close to the ocean again.
Salbutes, Tostados, Papusas, and Tacos – Growing up, my experience with Mexican food was limited to Taco Bell and Old El Paso taco seasoning. In this, my parents truly failed me. In Belize, I have discovered amazing Mexican and Salvadoran food that is delicious, filling, and stupidly cheap. Today, I ordered three salbutes and an order of three panades for lunch. This cost me US$1.85. Papusas are tortillas stuffed with goodness. I have contemplated driving to three hours to Chetumal simply for the fantastic tacos. Hopefully, I can find some good places in DC to tide over my cravings.
Pasquales – My parents owned a restaurant when I was growing up. By the time I was a teenager, I worked there three or four days a week. I still think that I ate more often at Pasquale’s the past two years than I ever did at my parents’ restaurant. The food is above average, albeit a bit pricey. But the company is top notch – on almost any day, I can find Nigel in his “office.” The staff all calls me A-1 (one of the delivery drivers mistook my name for my house number and kept trying to deliver the pizza to the wrong house). Pasquale’s was always my go-to restaurant when I didn’t feel like cooking (which was quite often).
Consular Work – Turns out that I like Consular work. Unlike people who find visa interviews tedious and repetitive, I find it fascinating. I get to listen to people’s life stories every day. What they do for work, where they live, why they want to go to America. Visa interviews are like 3 minute mini-trials. How could I not like the work?
In American Citizen Services, no two days are ever the same. I’ve dealt with everything from arrests to suicides to missing persons to lost passports to car accidents to pirates. No, seriously, I have a piracy case. I visit people in jail and explain to their families that Belize was recently named the best prison in Central America, so really, it could be worse. I never know what I will be doing on any given day and that is what I love about my job.
Weekend Trips – I’ve gotten to take lots of weekend trips while living in Belize. Since the country is full of resorts, you can often get good bargains on empty rooms during slow season. I’ve taken fantastic trips to San Pedro, Chetumal, Placencia, Caracol, Calabash Caye and Hopkins. You can’t beat spending a long weekend with good friends on the beach. It’s even better when Margarita plans it all and all I have to do is show up.
Belmopan Party Central – I have probably had more fun at Belmopan Party Central than anywhere else in all of Belize. Margarita and Emile’s back patio has been the site of numerous fantastic parties. These parties always feature great food, good booze, and fabulous friends. Usually, the party involvesda theme of some sort – we have had pajama parties, Greek toga parties, roaring 20s, Africa themes, cupid themes, and even a murder mystery dinner. In a town where you often have to make your own fun, Margarita makes the fun for us.
Hash House Harriers – I have been Hashing now for almost two years – since I almost killed Bailey with heat stroke on our first hash. Since then, I have set four hashes, attended two hash balls, drank countless beers, and even named two hashers (Boga-tatas and Piece of Schitzel). My best friends in Belmopan are all Hashers. I will probably Hash elsewhere (DC, Frankfurt, beyond), but it will never be the same as the Belize Hash House Harriers.
Belizeans – It can’t be said enough how nice Belizeans are and how pleasant it has been to live in their country. Personally, I have yet to live in a country with unfriendly people, but I hear that they exist. Belizeans are exceptionally friendly and laid back. They often go out of their way to make sure that you enjoy their country. I have never once felt like a Belizean was anything but happy to have me enjoying their country.
Pig and Parrot – On almost every Wednesday night for the past two years, I have made my way over to the British High Commission Housing Compound to the club house/pub that they call the “Pig and Parrot.” With apologies to Cheers, this is truly a bar where everyone knows your name – mainly because you have to be on the guest list to enter. Besides the company, the best thing about the P&P was that they didn’t sell Belikin. We drank imports like Stella Artois, Strong Bow, and Guiness in tall boy cans. Ironically, the Pig and Parrot is where I felt the most diplomatic as I regularly hung out with other diplomats and even ambassadors. The whole atmosphere always felt very British colonial (in a good way).
Commute – Each morning, I wake up around 6:45. I shower and dress by 7:10 and then take the dogs outside. I eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast and turn on the Daily Show at 7:30. At 7:52, about the time Jon Stewart is interviewing the day’s guest, I turn off the TV and get in my car. I circle the block to reach the gate. I wait, up to a minute, for both gates to open. I take a left turn to the end of the block. A right onto the gravel road, a block later I turn left onto the street where Barry used to live, which ends in front of the Embassy. A right hand turn is quickly followed by a left into the parking lot. I lock my car as I walk into security, tell the guards good morning and go inside the chancery, through the lobby, past Post One and the elevators and through the atrium to the Consular Section. I say good morning to my staff and log in to my computer when I reach my desk. The computer tells me it is now 7:59. It took me longer to write this paragraph than it does to commute to work each day. I will really, really, really, miss the commute.
My friends – More than anything else, I am going to miss my friends when I leave Belize. In October 2010, my grandfather was really sick and we worried he would not make it. I felt so alone at the time without having any family here. Although I had friends in Belmopan, I didn’t really feel close enough to really talk to anyone here about how I was feeling. If, heaven forbid, something similar happened again, I could talk to Kevin or Beth or Margarita or Emile or Nigel or Jackie. These people are no longer just friends; they are my family in Belize.
Leaving my friends here is going to be especially hard because I know that even if I see them again, it will never be the same. About half of my friends are in Belmopan indefinitely, while the other half have already left or will leave in the not-distant future. So, even if I return to Belize for a visit, half of the people I know will be gone. The ones who remain will have moved on with their lives. I will always be welcome back (Margarita will make sure of that), but it will only be as a guest. I’ve done this move enough times to know that it always changes and it’s never the same when you go back. (I am sure it is not the same when you stay in the same place either, but the changes happen more slowly, so you barely notice).
Facebook makes leaving easier. I can keep up with their lives. I will get to see Max Spiegel and the Mena kids grow up in pictures. We may meet up one day ten years from now and I can tell a mortified Max the “I wanna poops” story. (Kevin and Beth have told Max that I will be leaving Belize soon. Now, every time I say goodbye, he gets this petrified look on his face that I am never coming back.) Margarita swears she will be coming to my wedding and she is crazy enough that I believe her. Nigel and Jackie have a house in Croatia – I WILL be seeing them again.
The cliché is that we shouldn’t say “Good bye”, but rather we should say “See you later.” While the sentiment is nice, it is also crap. We might see each other again later, but time will have changed us enough that we will greet each other as semi-strangers. These friendships, as I know them, all have an expiration date of June 14, 2012. So, while I will miss my housekeeper, the commute, and the diving, nothing will compare to how much I will miss my friends.