Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Moving to Belize Guide, Part 3

For those interested in leaving the rat race behind and settling in Belize, here is part 3 of my "Moving to Belize Guide"

Being humble

So you’re planning to leave western civilization and move to a developing country like Belize. Depending on your current social & financial status, you may be fooled in to believing that the developing country will be awaiting you with open arms, happy to receive your financial and professional input. Though this may be the case in some isolated instances, overall I can assure you of a rather rude awakening.

Most likely, the locals will be utterly unimpressed with who you’ve been “back home”. All they see right now is a foreigner who doesn’t understand the local way of life. Europeans, Canadians and especially Americans are generally regarded as arrogant. We talk too loud, we try to rush people and we usually think that our way is the better way (or at least a more efficient way).

We often come to developing countries with huge dreams and expectations; we will build an enormous resort, a hospital, a 300-seater restaurant, a water park, a crocodile park, a research center, the list goes on. We will be providing work and income for the local community & therefore expect the locals to be as excited as we are about our dreams.

We also may believe that we have found the “gap in the market”, like the man who opened the shoe shop on Placencia after noticing that no one had any shoes there. He invested his money, opened his store & then discovered that no one was actually interested in owning any shoes (there aren’t any roads on Placencia, only sandy beaches)

Then there was the man who decided to start the first fly-fishing business on Aruba (I won’t mention any names, but it’s someone very close to me). He paid someone to set up his “” website & then discovered that no one actually offers fly-fishing in Aruba because it is too windy there.

So, take it easy. Do your research. Start slowly. Get to know the local customs. Don’t rush in flapping your dollars in the air. Be humble. Observe. Then proceed, following the local customs as much as you can. Even if none of it makes sense to you. You are in their country, so you owe the locals a certain amount of respect. They may do things a certain way because it makes more sense in a small country or because it fits with their particular view of life. Who are we to say that theirs is an inferior way?

We always seem to think that we are so much more efficient, yet occasionally we will surprised by how quickly something can get done in a developing country. It just always looks like things move slowly. Mainly because no one rushes around the way we are used to. People chitchat more, take long lunch breaks, most paper work still gets done by hand, women file their nails whilst they are working and often they’ll just sit in silence, without jumping up to help the next customer.

That’s another thing we needed to get used to when we first came to Belize, the silences. We used to fill up “uncomfortable silence” with words, any words, as long as the silence got broken. Now we realize that silence is not regarded as uncomfortable in Belize. In Europe, if a silence continues too long, it means that it is time to move on (we all get that hint, right?) Not so in Belize. Here, silence can be many things. It can simply be a form of togetherness. People will come and visit you even if they have nothing to tell you. They will quite happily sit with you in silence for half an hour before they move on or say the next sentence.

Silence is also a form of negotiation, probably one of the strongest. If you are unhappy with what someone has just told you in a meeting, don’t argue with them, just sit there silently (maybe hum and hah a little & look a tat worried). After a while the other party will come with a new suggestion. Continue this process until you both come to an agreement. It’s an unusual way of doing business for most of us, but much more effective (in a country like Belize) than raising your voice or trying to persuade someone that you are right. And I’m sure it’s better for your heart too, in the long run.

Andy has become a master at “out-silencing” people. I still get uncomfortable. But then, for years I used to get paid to talk. It is my first line of defense when I’m scared. Maybe I’ll get used to it one day.