Learning the ropes

On Monday I serendipitously discovered something that makes my life much easier: Night Shopping.  This is much preferred to the Sunday activity I tried, which I’ll call Storm Shopping, both of which rank highly above my normal Sweat Shopping. No pun intended. After work on Monday I had decided to walk via the beach to my favorite Mexican restaurant for dinner, forgetting that it was closed on Mondays.  After letting go of my sopa de tortilla disappointment, I cut up to the main streets and saw that many of the shops were still open, despite the fact that it was after dark.  So I headed down to Back Street to see if the local all-you-need store, Caye Supply (it’s pronounced “key,” btw, just so you know), was open for business.  Fortunately I had come prepared with my giant canvass elephant bag from Anthro, and started the walk home with a brand new crock pot, a light blanket for the bed, and a scented candle.  Just a couple of blocks from there I wandered into the giantest supermarket on the island, and wandered out with a $15 US bottle of Chilean wine.  All of this without breaking a sweat.

The purchase of the crock pot means that I truly have no good reason not to start cooking again.  My most recent excuse for not cooking has been that for the last oh, month, I have been out of propane.  Interesting fact about Belize: you can go to the grocery store to exchange your water bottle (which they deliver to your house free of charge), but not your outdoor grill-sized propane bottle.  My tiny propane tank is locked in a bodega by the house, so I have to be here for the delivery, and I’ve not been around the house enough during the day for the last 4 weeks to have the guys come out.  On Monday I was finally back in the office and ready to re-gas, but realized that I misplaced the last bill and could not remember the name of the company.  Go ahead and Google propane home delivery, Belize.  Let me know how that works out for you.  I finally had to email my landlord to ask for the number. I’m hoping for a working stove by tomorrow. I’ll let you know. (Update: I have gas!)

Whether Night Shopping or Sweat Shopping, I always run across amusing, unexpected little things that make living here fun.  I enjoy the odd flavors offered for otherwise mundane foods (Chili flavored Ramen Noodles), the street vendors selling hamburgers with habenero sauce, and the oddly coexisting weekend bbq chicken vendors (with rice and beans or flour tortilla) who set up by my house, but never on the same day.  Are they related? Do they call each other and say “I’ve got Saturday this week, you can have Sunday”?  I haven’t figured out a pattern, but it’s all delicious.  Both will also still feed you if you are short a dollar (I always go back and repay them).

Frightening

I think this must have been on the shelf since 1954.

Another baffling thing about Belize is the obvious lack of regulation of products and services, juxtaposed with the amazingly iron clad regulation of certain products.  (You’ll be noticing a theme, I expect).  For instance, you can get any number of household products thinly disguised as name brand items.

Seems legit

Actual Lysol cleaners are common, but Clorox products are nonexistent, with the exception of toilet bowl cleaners.  Viagra?  $5.  However, you can only buy Belizian beer (Belikin, Lighthouse, and a special version of Guinness which is actually bottled in Belize) and Coca-Cola products (also bottled in Belize).  Most other foreign liquors and food items seem to be fair, if expensive, game; a fifth of Smirnoff will set you back $50 US, whereas the Belizian vodka is $10.  We are a stone’s throw from the Mexican border, but not a drop of Mexican beer can be found for sale in the entire country.  Tequila?  Sure, why not.    I’ve still not had the nerve to try Belizian vodka.

That’s $2.50 US

And then there are the duties.  I don’t mind paying taxes on goods brought into the country, but Belize has really taken it to a new level.  When flying in, I always declare items just to stay on the good side of the customs agents.  So far I’ve seen 3 agents, and have had to pay duties twice: 1) for a computer monitor and other office/field supplies (~$60 duty, reimbursed by work) and 2) for some tupperwares and press n seal (~$10 duty).  The one who sent me through Scot free?  I had over $500 US of declared household and office goods, which she saw upon opening my bag.  Shipping to Belize is beyond ridiculous.  You will pay at least twice as much to ship anything here as the item being shipped is worth.  Simon sends care packages occasionally, which I really look forward to.  But the warm and fuzzies are a little offset by the fact that the customs agent at the Post Office gets to open my package and reveal all of the goodies in front of me.  He then calculates how much he thinks everything is worth, then charges me duty on that amount. Walking home with my dissected box can be a little anticlimactic.  But not so anticlimactic that I don’t want more of them to come.

And yet, this is how my mail from the Belize City WCS office reaches me.

I do actually have to go to Tropic Air to pick it up, but am never asked for ID.  Maybe they figure I couldn’t have made up that last name, so it must be me.  Most of the mail items delivered by Tropic are just garbage bags full of items with someone’s name and approximate location stapled to them, so it’s always fun to see what weird things are being delivered.

Since I’m paying quite a lot of foreign transaction fees, I decided to get a local bank account for bills and things. How hard can it be, I can ship a TV to Lucy on Caye Caulker without so much as a photo ID.  This idea proved to be folly.  Since my Belizian Social Security Card is only good for 1 year, it is not considered an official form of identification. Therefore, in order to obtain a checking account (literally I just want to give them cash to hang on to for me), I have to provide 2 character references (“you know, just someone who will say you are trustworthy”) and a reference from my US bank.  I honestly have no idea how to get a reference from a bank.  Then I have to tell them how many children I have, if I’m married, and what level of education I have.  Also how many deposits a week I will make and where that money will be coming from.  They require copies of two utility bills in my name from the States.  And let’s not forget the background check, but not the background check that was performed by my employer three months ago, a new one.  I kept laughing at the poor customer service guy, and then politely took the paperwork saying I’d fill it out at home and bring it back.  I refrained from asking him what that big computer next to him was for, other than printing out forms.

The local stores seem to deal with their debtors fairly handily:

You see these in the windows of grocery and hardware stores everywhere

I could go on, but I’ll save it for another post.  Let’s just say I’m constantly amazed by the dichotomy here.  I’ll get the hang of it eventually.

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4 thoughts on “Learning the ropes

  1. this is all amazing. amazing! also: when i opened a bank account here, one of the things they asked me was whether or not i was in the japanese mob.

    • Did you say, “Yes, no wait! I mean, no of course not.” *Shifty eyes*

      My friend here just applied for her visa to visit the States, and on the application they ask if she was planning to bring in any illegal drugs.

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