Monday, October 30, 2006

I've been meaning to upload these for ages

Andy has helped me figure out why I haven't been able to upload any photos for a while, the files were simply too large.

So anyway, here are some pictures of what's been happening here in last few weeks

First up, the kids getting ready for the Independence day parade. Several took Banana Bank horses along.

11-year-olds probably should not yet be left in charge of toddlers. Proof of that is this next picture of little Henry. Jessica made a right mess of him (it did make us all giggle though)

I've finished my 12-day introductory program at the new gym in Belmopan. I had to go and work out at the gym for 20 minutes every day & follow a diet. I didn't stick to the diet too well as I didn't really want to diet whilst I'm nursing. So anyway, I'm not sure that I got the full effect of it all, but that's okay with me. It's just nice to have gyms (yes, there are two now) in Belmopan.

And finally, John's living room has become rather crowded with this pool table in it. But he likes it!

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Jaden Foundation this year

There are many things that I should have done for the Jaden Foundation by now that I haven't yet. Amongst them are:
  1. Updating the website
  2. Adding pictures and stories of the new sponsors to the website
  3. Visit all the sponsored families (several in remote villages) to update the children's information and to take pictures
  4. Do the Jaden Foundation accounts
  5. Visit the local schools to get a clearer view of what each school's needs are (mainly for the group from 'FAB' that will be coming from Rochester next spring) and also to find out what each school's privacy policy is with regards to the information we can share about the students online

So there you go. It's a fair list.

What I have managed to do is the following:

  1. Buy and distribute school books to 19 Primary school students
  2. The same for 2 High school students
  3. Supply school uniforms and shoes to 5 students
  4. Pay (weekly) for the school transport of 6 students
  5. Sort out sponsorship for 6 children of low-income families that allows them to attend one of the country's most prestigious private schools
  6. Support the 'Friends of Pediatrics' in Belize, to help finance an symposium on Developmental disorders such as: Attention Deficit Disorders (ADHD/ADD), autism, speech language disorders, mental retardation, hearing and visual disorders. The aim is the help people (doctors, teachers, parents) in identifying these at risk children at an early stage & to share information on how to best help and educate these children (I will add more on this in the coming days)

The reason why I haven't done as much as maybe I should have is because the Jaden Foundation is basically a one-woman show. Karen helps me a few times a year with the accounts, but apart from that it's just me doing everything. Something as easy as 'buying and distributing school books' takes many weeks of my time. Books only become available in drips and draps (so I have to visit the bookstore a few times a week), most the book lists that the children give me are impossible to read, some children are first told that they are in a certain grade and later find out that they are in a different grade, etc. It is incredibly annoying work. I also ask all the children to bring back last year's books to see which ones can be reused, so I have to go through piles of old books too.

Anyway, I do apologize to all of this year's sponsors. Sorry that I haven't been in contact with cute pictures, hand-written notes from the kids, etc. But please rest assured, 100% of your donated money has gone to helping children here in Belize. A big, big 'Thank you!' once again.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Weekly assembly

Lucas' school starts every Friday morning with assembly. I stayed and had a look this week.

The kids actually start every school day with the Belize national anthem. Lucas loves it. He sings the Belize national anthem all around the Jungle Dome, especially in the pool. It never fails to makes me laugh.

Something else they do at his school every day is recide this pledge to Belize

Here's Lucas and his class mates right at the front.

He tries to take part in the songs and the dances, but doesn't totally get it yet.

Friday, October 20, 2006

A 'Feedblitz' oops!

For those of you who subscribe to my blog, my apologies. Those postings that you were sent today were not new postings, but old ones that I had added some labels to. I'm trying to label and categorize my postings so the blog will be easier to navigate in future.

So, the Jaden Foundation is not broke. We're okay. That was a while back. Anyway, I'll update on all the Jaden Foundation stuff on the weekend (much to talk about).

Have a nice day y'all...

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Little crash

Yep, I had a crash. Nothing major though. I just drove into another car's bumper as I got out of the car park at the market square. I wish I had a good excuse, but I don't. I just didn't see him coming.

Lucky enough, we're dealing with Belizeans here. So no shouting matches, no dramas, it was all dealt with in the most civilized way.

He followed me to my insurance company & the whole process took about 15 minutes of our time. A quick pictures of the damage, exchanging of information, we shook hands and that was that. He went on his way, the insurance company will cover the repairs bill and we, most likely, won't even lose our no-claims bonus (that's what I've been told anyway)

So, big up to Mrs. Pinto and Regents Insurance! They do a great job. We were once involved in another car crash (which wasn't our fault & which was a lot more serious). Regents Insurance paid us out at lightning speed & then battled with the other insurance company to get that money back. How's that for great service?

I just wished all insurance companies were like that....

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Bloody ants

There are always some annoying critters around here. For a large part of the year it's mosquitoes nibbling at you (not now, thank God!), Sand flies and/or Doctor Flies (both dreadful creatures) & right now it's ants! Bloody millions of them. They are everywhere.

I have never seen so many sugar ants and fire ants in my life. The sugar ants crawl onto every plate, cup, spoon, anything you put down for more than 20 seconds. And as soon as you run the plate (or the cup or whatever) over to the sink, the little buggers are all the way up your arm and in to your neck. I absolutely hate that feeling. You could use that as torture on me.

You also have to check where you stand these days, as fire ants seem to have claimed much of Belize. It's crazy.

Anyway, all these critters come and go. It's a bit like avocados and mangoes here. They all 'come in season' for such a short period of time. But I'm sure another annoying insect will take their places again.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Belmopan social scene

One of the hardest things about living in Belize (and Belmopan especially) has been the lack of a social life. It has always been hard to meet other women here. I mean, you see a lot of the same faces in town, but you hardly ever have a chance of meeting them. There are no fun little coffee shops to hang out in or nice bars, restaurants or clubs to go to. So where to meet each other?

The solution: An International Women's Group. I know, it sounds a bit crap, but it has been the best thing ever! It started about a month and a half ago & I believe that we already have about 40 or 50 members. It's great, because now when I see other women in town, I actually know them (it does mean that every little thing I do in town now takes twice as long, as I'm so busy chatting ; )

Anyway, it's a very vibrant group of women and lots of stuff is being set up by the group. For instance, water aerobic classes twice a week. I went yesterday and it was one of the best thing I've done in Belize for a long time. It was so much fun. The setting is heavenly, the women are all having a blast of all...we end the morning with eating cake! Isn't that a wonderful contradiction?

Oh, and I have been given the title Second Vice President of the Women's Group. Which sounds very official, but all it means it that I'm in charge of organizing daytrips (weekday trips for women only and weekend daytrips for all the family), plus I will be the Poker instructor and host the first Poker night.

By the way, for those of you who'd like to read about other people's experiences in Belize, go check out the blogs of our dear friends Maya & Colette. They have settled on San Pedro and are living the beachy kind of lifestyle. So quite different again from ours. Their blogs are really funny. Have a read: & their animal shelter blog:

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The chase is on!

Yes, Aidan has started 'crawling'. Well, not actually crawling, but he's moving forwards. Guess life will get a bit more complicated now. Time to start child-proofing.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Typical expat culture shock

My husband Andy and I had only recently arrived from the UK to Belize, Central America and were trying to figure out how to make friends here. Inviting one or two local cowboys to a movie night seemed like a good way to us.

That evening, as Andy was putting some bowls of popcorn on the table, I was scanning our rather extensive DVD collection. All of our stuff had arrived from London a few days before and we were still getting to grips with how much stuff we actually had. As a matter of fact, the unpacking of the 20-foot container had been a rather embarrassing experience. All the Mayan families had gathered around our house to watch us unpack. With each item that was lifted out of the box, they let out a loud “Ooh!” and “Ah!” I had never felt ‘filthy rich' before, but I did then. Out of shame I ended up giving away quite a lot of things. The families grabbed anything we didn't want. Down to the boxes themselves, which they apparently turned into wardrobes.

“So babe, do you think they will like 5th Element or The Matrix? Or will those movies be too far out for them? We don't have any John Wayne movies, do we?” I just didn't know what DVD to pick.

But before Andy had a chance to answer, the cowboys arrived with a knock on the door. And they hadn't come alone; our deck was filled with what looked like a complete Mayan village. There were the cowboys, their wives, their wives' parents, their children (lots of them), their nieces and nephews, babies suckling young women's exposed breasts, even their dogs had come along. This surely wasn't what we had been expecting. And they all looked like they were going to a wedding, with the little girls in frilly white dresses and the little boys with shirt and pants and freshly washed hair, that their moms had glued to their heads in tight side-partings. Looking at these clean and proud Mayans, I felt like a total slob. To me, movie night always meant ‘T-Shirt, sweatpants and no make-up'. But obviously, things were slightly different here.

“I'm sorry,” I said, as everybody poured through the door in near silence “We don't seem to have enough chairs for everyone”. But nobody seemed too bothered about the lack of chairs; they just squeezed as many people on the sofas as possible (nursing mums and grandparents on the comfortable seats, the kids sat down where ever). The grandmother looked ancient and dignified. I thought that she was at least 80 or 90, but found out later that she was in fact only 57. I guess the years of hard labor, the Guatemalan war and the many children she had, had taken it's toll.

Whilst I was attempting to be a host to the women and children, Andy and the guys had taken control of choosing of the night's movie. Pretty soon they reappeared with their choice of the night; “The Godfather”.

I blocked the guys from moving towards the DVD player, saying: “No way! We can't watch that. That's way too violent for these children.” Andy shrugged his shoulders “They said it was okay with them”.

”No, no, I'm not having that” I snatched the DVD out of Andy's hands and walked back to the rest of our collection, followed closely by the cowboys. “We don't mind. Our kids watch movies like this at home too.”

I wouldn't budge and asked them to choose again. They picked “Die Hard”. I said no. They picked “The end of days” I said no again. I picked “Peter Pan”. They said no. I picked “The Wizard of Ozz”. They didn't even answer me anymore.

Andy, in the meantime, was getting annoyed with me.
“Simone, what's your problem?”
“They don't care about their kids watching violent movies, so why do you?”

“Well, whatever the policy is in their house is their problem. I can't change the policies in my house. And my policies are no violent movies for young kids”

We eventually settled (grudgedly on my behalf) on Star Wars. They got their bits of violence & I hoped that the kids would at least enjoy the funny aliens.

So this was one of our first introductions into Central American culture & it taught us two important things:

First of all, be cautious when inviting people in Central America. In the US or Europe you may invite 200 people to a wedding and expect 100 of those to show up. In Belize you invite 50 and can expect 200. It's just the way things are here. Invitations are a kind of free for all & people love to bring their extended families along.

Secondly, even though the Maya community seems very friendly, innocent and peaceful, they do expose their young children to violent images and movies & the children's play often reflects that. They may run around with fake Ninja knifes and pretend to slash each other's throats. But even in the midst of their “throat slashing” sessions, they will waive at you and smile the sweetest, most innocent of smiles.

So, will we ever fully understand our local community? And will they ever fully understand us? Probably not. Still, this is what makes living in a different country and culture so interesting. We all look at each other, shake our heads and smile. And even the most mundane becomes interesting when done in such a different way from what we were used to.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Info gatherer

I've come across a very cool service recently. It's a site called Infogatherer & it's like having an online Life Coach or your own Genie in a bottle. What that means is that Infogatherer can help you achieve your goal/dreams. How? You tell them what you want to achieve. And this can be anything as random as finding a publisher for your book, getting your foot in the door at a radio station, finding a job in another country, setting up alliances with others in your field of expertise, etc.

You tell Infogatherer what your dream is and in 24 hours you'll be given tons of relevant websites that can help you achieve this dream. Obviously, you still have to take action yourself (like in Life Coaching), but at least you now know which way to turn. And what they come back with is much more than what you could ever Google by yourself.

Pascal from Infogatherer recently offered me the service free of charge & did an amazing job. I didn't quite understand what the service entailed to start with or what I was going to get back. But I am totally impressed. So even the usual fee of $4.95 is incredibly cheap if you consider what you get back for it.

So go ahead, dream! And then go make that dream come true. Have fun!!!!

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Two blogs

My Belize blog has become so random lately that I feel like it is developing a multiple personality disorder. So to make things easier I am starting a second blog, called Simone's Music Blog. I know, not the most imaginative of names. But I believe that my mate Ferdie was right all those years ago; he said that it's best to have a crappy name for anything you do. Better a crap name and a clever pretentious one. His label was called 'Go Beat' (he was always embarrassed to say the name & people often misheard him, thinking he said 'Goby') & his good friend was/is Norman Cook, who of course is known under a rather stupid name himself, namely Fatboy Slim.

So...just for you Ferdie. Two blogs with crappy names: Simone's Belize Blog and Simone's Music Blog.

Simone's Music Blog is not properly set up yet, but my plan is to put all the MTV clips on there (with stories on each clip), republish the Veejay updates & add anything else that's connected to music. And my Belize Blog will feature my every day Belize adventures.

Guess I better get to work....

In the meantime, feel free to check it our already. Just keep in mind that it's still a work in progress:

Friday, October 06, 2006

Backstage at the MTV Europe Music Awards

I had been working for hours at the MTV Europe Music Award, doing the countdown to the Awards, the Red Carpet and backstage interviews and all I wanted was to join my partying friends. But I was told that there was one more thing I had to do, I had to play 'Tabloid Journalist', going around finding gossip and make up some myself as well.

Of course, my gossip had to be rather far-fetched. But do you think anyone helped me come up with some good lines? Not a chance! I had to think of stuff myself. Problem was, I was exhausted at that point & couldn't think of anything.

My best attempt was 'Did you know that Kylie fancies you?'

I thought that that was far-fetched enough. I mean, every guy fancied her, but I assumed that these guys would all understand that she would never fancy them back. Still, I was wrong. It was taken seriously.

So a few weeks later my phone rang and it was Kylie Minogue. She was pretty pissed off with me. Aparently, my stupid gossip had got her into trouble with Jay Kay from Jamiroquai and his girlfriend (who turned out to be a friend of hers)

I apologized to her then, we issued a press-release & I believe (I hope) that I was forgiven.

Here's the clip:

Thursday, October 05, 2006

MTV's Partyzone clips

We've finally got the old Partyzone clips digitized. Here are two short ones. The thing that makes all these 90's MTV interviews even more special is that most of the MTV Europe footage from that time got burned down at a fire at MTV's library. Guess we were the lucky ones...

So on this blog in the near future, expect the following clips:

  1. The only ever Aphex Twin TV interview (with a rather shocking revelation)
  2. The tape that got me in trouble with Kylie Minogue many years ago (I never meant to upset her and did apologize afterwards)
  3. Shaun Rider on poisoning pigeons
  4. Looking like a drag queen with Junior Vasquez
  5. Moby unplugged, plus Moby and I cross-dressing
  6. Our mate Justin getting stung with a stung gun (on his own request no less!)

And much, much more...

So let's get started. Let's go back to the old school!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Richard Branson rocks!

Wow, I can believe what I just heard on BBC Radio's Global Business show. Richard Branson is always full of surprises & this time he's topped it all (for me anyway). This guy really is serious about fighting global warming. In the 'Global Business' interview he explains why he is planning to invest 3 billion dollars (all the profits of the Virgin transport groups of the coming years) to fight climate change and describes his hopes for his newest venture, Virgin Fuels. Are we slowly reaching the tipping point with corporations now taking this problem seriously? (If only the world wasn't being held back by Bush and his buddies...)

Anyway, at the Belize Jungle Dome we've also been wondering what we can do to fight global warming & we are hoping to set up a partnership with a Belizean reforestation project soon. We are planning to offer our future guests Carbon Neutral Travel. What that means is that we will calculate how much carbon dioxide is being produced by our guests flying to Belize, us driving them up & down the country, their AC use, etc. & then to offset these greenhouse gas emissions by purchasing 'carbon offsets', in our case that will be trees planted as part of the reforestation projects and we also might get involved in the production of biofuel. We're having a meeting about it some time in the coming days. I'm so excited! My dream is that Belize will become the world's first Carbon Neutral travel destination.

To be continued....

Monday, October 02, 2006

Why do we love living in Belize?

“So why did you move to Belize?” It's the question that everybody asks when they come to our jungle lodge. The strange thing is that we haven't got a straight answer to that. We just had enough of living in London. After the worlds of television and football, we wanted a change.

But why we chose Belize I don't honestly know. It could as well had been New Zealand, South Africa, Costa Rica, or any of the other countries that we researched online. Belize just sounded attractive; it's the only English speaking country in Central America, only a 2-hour flight from Miami or Houston, politically stable & part of the Commonwealth as a former British colony (back then known as British Honduras)

By now, we have been living in Belize for 5 years and have moved from loving it, to hating it, to learning to like it, to loving it once again. Only now it's a much deeper and more sincere love.

You can compare it to a long-term relationship/marriage, as this usually goes through these same stages; first you fall in love, then you fall out of love, you learn to like each other again and eventually, if all is well, you end up truly loving each other. It's actually a shame that so many people never get beyond the ‘falling in love/falling out of love' stage. They seem to take it as a sign that this relationship isn't for them after all. What they often lose in the process is experiencing the deeper (if less fiery) type of love that's just beyond that phase.

So why this analogy? Because the same thing happens to so many who immigrate to a (developing) country like Belize. They never get beyond the first falling in love/falling out of love stage. As soon as the honeymoon period is over, they are on the next flight home or off on another exciting adventure. The locals have seen this over and over again, so they take everything newcomers say with a huge grain of salt. Only once you cross the 2-year-mark, do they begin to accept you and will consider to taking you seriously.

Why do we enjoy living in this funny little Central American/Caribbean country? (Belize has a minor identity crisis; it sees itself as a Caribbean nation, when truthfully it's Central American) Well there are many reasons. Mainly the sense of freedom that you feel when you live here, the fact that our children can play outside without us having to breath down their necks at all times, the unending supply of sunshine, the relaxed attitude of the locals, the astounding natural surroundings, the reef, the caves, the Mayan temples, the wildlife, the sweet and juicy fruits that readily drop from the trees, the fact that we can live like kings and queens on a reasonable budget and the simplicity of life that is a constant undercurrent in developing nations.

Once you've experienced life in a country that doesn't rush, you start to see the insanity of this very Western habit. Why do people in Europe and America rush all the time? Generally they are busy making money to buy stuff and to build ever bigger houses to put all their stuff in and then they end up with debts to pay for the upkeep of these houses and their stuff in it, so they have to work harder yet again & round and round it goes.

In Belize we get to enjoy the simple pleasures that don't cost anything or at least not much; like watching the sunrise and listening to the jungle awakening, climbing trees with our 3-year-old, taking him cave tubing & snorkeling, shining flashlights in the garden at night, catching frogs and tadpoles (big hit with young boys), enjoying fruits and vegetables from our own garden, etc. Stuff that many people in Western society just don't have time for anymore.

The funny thing is that we actually have managed to make a decent living for ourselves here whilst doing all this. Simply by sharing this lifestyle with others. We generally eat with the guests of our jungle lodge, their kids (when they have them) run around with ours and with all the local Mayan children, we all walk (on bare feet) to the edge of the garden to admire groups of howler monkeys, we enjoy the fresh produce from our gardens together, play board games, float in the pool at night whilst stargazing, etc.

It's wonderful that people actually pay us to experience this lifestyle with us for whatever period of time they are here, as this enables us to continue living like this. So it's another catch 22, but quite a pleasant one.

Still, as idyllic as this all sounds, life is far from perfect here. After years of trying to find perfect…(fill in the blanc) I have come to see that perfection is nothing but a trick of light, a mirage, like the end of the rainbow. It simply doesn't exist.

See, reality can also be harsh when you surround yourself with as much nature as we have. Mother Nature, in all her beauty, can be a rather fierce lady; you simply don't mess with her. When the river floods, it floods, when lightening decides to hit your house 3 times in as many years you deal with it, when biting insects attack, you get used to it as best you can, when it rains, it pours and when it's hot it can be unbearable.

So will we ever go back to Europe? Who knows? Right now I wouldn't want to give up the great life we have created here, but I know that nothing ever stays the same, so it's possible that one day we may want to. What I do know for sure is that living in Europe will never be like it was before. The world has already changed too much for that in the last 5 years. We emigrated from England to Belize on September 11th 2001, the day the world changed into the mess it seems to have become. I try to keep positive and to see the metaphor in it all. The world can never go back to being like it was before 9/11 and neither can we.