Saturday, September 15, 2012

Slices of Life from Belize - 9/15/12

Living in a foreign country means getting used to a new way of doing things, communicating, and figuring out workarounds for items that were readily available in the States. Below is the first batch of odds and ends that we’ve learned so far in the four months of living in Corozal.

“Morning, Morning” – this is a standard A.M. greeting from the locals.

“Evening” – If someone tells you, “I’ll stop by this evening,” it means sometime after noon. It took us a bit of time to catch on to this one, because we associated “evening” to be sometime after 5 p.m.

Addressing your elders – When addressing someone older than themselves, locals will call you “Mr. [insert first name]” or “Miss [insert first name].” Whether it be the guy who does your yard work, a bank teller, or a mechanic, it’s the social custom everyone uses.  It was interesting when we first met with Fernando, our ace master gardener, because we are the same age. I suggested he just call me “Elizabeth,” but that didn’t make him feel all that comfortable. So, we now answer to “Miss Elizabeth” and “Mr. David.”  In cases where workers may not know your name, like the guys who installed our septic tank, they called me “Mum,” which is similar to calling a woman “Ma’am.” 

Current – what the locals call electricity.

Pipe – means the city water service. Many locals here only use collected rain water.

Block – refers to cinder block.

Rod – equals rebar, which by the way, comes only in 20 foot lengths.

Stick – any type of poles, including telephone poles, palapa supports, and the like.

Zinc – any type of metal roofing material. Interestingly enough, most of the metal roofs aren’t made of zinc, but everyone seems to know what this Kriol word means.

MM/DD/Year vs. DD/MM/Year – Boy, this confuses the heck out of me. Some folks here use the MM/DD/Year format, but many write it out as DD/MM/Year. Most of the time, I haven’t a clue what day of the week it is, not to mention the actual date. If you factor in my somewhat dyslexic tendencies, you can imagine how twisted my brain gets if I see a date written out like 06/08/2013. I have to pause for a bit to figure out if it’s June 8 or August 6. 

Bits and Bobs

Bookstores – you’re not going to find them, at least here in Corozal. You also won’t find stores that have any racks of magazines. Most expats end up bringing down some of their own books, which end up being shared with others and/or use their Kindle, Nook, or other electronic reading device. There is a small library in town, which should be fun to check out sometime soon.

Greeting cards – If you are looking to pick up a card to mark a special occasion, you won’t find it here.  We’ve heard there is one store that has a small supply, kept in a shoebox, which you have to ask for at the checkout counter. This might be one of the few places where Hallmark hasn’t made any inroads, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Rice and beans versus Beans and rice – One might think these are one in the same, but they aren’t.  If you order “rice and beans” they will be cooked and served together. But if you order “beans and rice,” they will be cooked and served separately. 

Pears – when Fernando first told me he was going to bring us some pears from his property, I thought, “Wow, how great. We haven’t had pears in ages.” The next day, he dropped off a bag of avocados. I’m wondering what happened to the pears, until my pea brain finally understood that “pears” mean “avocados.”

Air conditioning – most homes and businesses don’t have air conditioning, mostly because electricity is expensive. There are some government agencies, banks, along with a few stores that do use it and trust me, you appreciate it with how hot it gets here. That being said, there are one or two places that have the air cranked up so high that you not only freeze while in the establishment, but the transition when you step outside is like walking into the hinges of hell and, depending on the humidity levels, you’re eyeglasses will be fogged up for quite some time.
You may think that stores might have some sort of fans installed, but you should think again. You might find some small fan blowing at the cashier, but that’s about it. What this means is that you should be prepared to break a sweat wandering the aisles.

Clothes dryers – again something few people have. Pretty much any place you look, you will see clothes hanging on lines any day of the week, providing it isn’t raining. And even it does rain while your laundry is on the line, you only need to adopt the mindset that the clothes are getting a second rinse and all will be fine.

Twist ties and zip lock bags – I noticed when we were here in March that few items you buy have twist ties. The bags are either knotted shut or have a small piece of tape to keep it closed. Of course, once you remove the tape, you’ve probably put a hole in the bag and then you’re screwed to keep it tightly sealed.  So to solve that problem, I brought down a baggie filled with twist ties, and we save the rare ones we find down here.

Another interesting thing that we discovered during our March trip is that zip lock bags are considered by some locals to be a hot commodity. My guess is that they’re too expensive to be purchased on a regular basis. The thing is that the generic brands that are available, the zipper piece usually comes off. That means you have to buy a “name brand,” which are pricier, which then explains why locals view them as prized possessions. We brought down several boxes, which we try to use sparingly and reuse if we can.

Life in Belize…never dull, always something new to discover, and not for sissies.

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