Forget me… forget me not…
I played that game as a child as I plucked petals from a flower.
That was a game… forgetting Belize and all that reminds me of it is not.
It was but a few years ago that my marching orders to myself were “Belize or bust!”
Specifically, my objection was “Return to Belize… no matter what!”
I spent just one week in the tiny San Jose Succotz Village in the Cayo District on a missionary trip helping build a church. What I found there was much different than what I expected.
The events I participated in changed the course of my life—and I’m a senior citizen. I got a new lease on life, even though I didn’t know I needed one.
Living among the kind-spirited, welcoming people, visiting them in their homes (even the houses on stilts), I was made to feel like family… and it was a memorable feeling.
That feeling was the catalyst for my change of direction. After that one week… I just had to return to Belize…
I remained on the Belize path for three years, and, though I’ve since moved again, Belize was perhaps the perfect stepping stone for my new life overseas. My years living there were some of the best years of my life.
Upon my return to the States after my mission, I took stock of my life. My parents were no longer with me, and my children were grown, with families and busy lives of their own. Even my one and only grandchild was an adult with his own life and responsibilities.
When I realized that no one was really depending on me, I decided that the time was right to branch out on my own and make some new memories. So I cut the reins, took off the blinders, and set my sights on Belize.
It may have been the lush, plush greenery of the abundant nature… the quiet and slow stress-free lifestyle I experienced… or the villagers’ warm hospitality… I don’t know exactly what it was… I just knew that I wanted more of it.
So a year later, I arrived at my local airport in the United States, marching orders in my mind and two suitcases and a one-way ticket to Belize in my hands. This time, I was not headed to Cayo but to Punta Gorda on the country’s southern coast.
During my year of due diligence, I had been invited to board with a lady I had spoken with but never met. She allowed me to stay with her while I decided where to settle in Belize. The expansive mountains and natural resources in the Punta Gorda area took my breath away and left scenes of magnificence forever in my mind and heart.
For the next three years, I visited and enjoyed experiences in all six districts of Belize. I learned about the different cultures and the languages used (along with Belize’s official language, English). Over the course of my stay, I continued to expand my horizons figuratively and literally in this small country of fewer than 400,000 people.
I became an active part of Belize with my daily activities and met new and different people from all over the world who came to visit or relocate.
When newcomers arrived, I did what I could to make them feel welcome and to help them settle in if they were relocating. Belize had opened a door for me, the door of new opportunities, which I wanted to help hold open for others. Because I knew how it felt to be a stranger alone in a new land, I wanted to try to make the transitions of other expats as seamless as possible.
English being the official language in Belize was a great help. But although the language spoken was the same, the way things were run was far from it. Life was an adjustment—new foods, new ways of shopping, and so much more.
Those interested in volunteering often joined the Rotary Club. Others interested in becoming part of the many activities offered, especially in Corozal, were encouraged to attend the monthly Art in the Park event, directed by the House of Culture. It brought artists from far and wide to exhibit and sell their wares. One could get jewelry or a fashion outfit made on the spot. Those fun times will live with me forever.
Belize allowed me to do what the country itself did in 1981—to break away from the known and venture out on my own. It was in 1981 that Belize, formerly British Honduras, secured its full independence from the U.K. Like any country starting out, Belize has hit some bumps in the road but what spirit this country and her people show facing them.
While living in Belize, I discovered so much about myself, including that I like change. The more change I experienced, the more I was ready for more new challenges and adventures.
I wanted to learn a new language, to be immersed in it and to use it every day. I wanted to experience new cultures and to see what other countries had to offer.
In short, I was ready to relocate again.
After some research and soul-searching, I headed north to Mexico, where I continue to live today.
Belize turned out to be the bridge I needed to launch myself out of the United States and into the great unknown. It was the perfect “halfway house.”
And the friendships I made in Belize will last forever.
It’s true that absence makes the heart grow fonder…
I cannot forget Belize!