Interview with (not your ordinary) Expat- Barb Brown
What brought you to Belize?
I came to Belize toward the end of 2018. I came here to pursue the things that interest me the most, live on the beach, strive for a pure life and to heal myself.
I moved because I was tired, fed up and simply done with everything the U.S. had to offer. I had climbed the White-American corporate ladder and had a high pressure, high stakes job with all the benefits and stressors that come along with it. I was also an entrepreneur, leading business deals, brokering investments, managing a franchise at one time, and advising executives or public figures. I worked hard. I did it all while at the same time being told that I wasn’t enough and that I was only in my position by chance. I was constantly told I had to change who I was, how I talked, or the clothes I sported in order to be successful and fit in. Even doing so, no job, no title, no clothing, no makeup, no big house, neighborhood, or material acquisitions could shield me from the constant prejudice, discrimination, microaggressions, inequality and hardships. Every day (not an exaggeration) something happened to remind me of the struggle or make me fear more and for my children’s lives and my own. In America? Yep. In the good-ole U.S. of A. you can’t always be who you are – especially if who you are is not a white man. So, being a black single mom raising boys in White America added to the weight of my day-to-day challenges and was enough reason to want to leave. I was tired.
Tired is really the short version of why I moved. The full story is too big to fit in this blog. At the end of the day, I was fighting the system while working hard and playing hard too, I guess. I was also physically ill because of it and by Jan of 2018 I got too sick to work. All that stress built up into a series of mystery illnesses. The only answer was to stop working. So, I did.
I had worked for someone else in the same career for 25 years and now it was time to simply live for myself – to keep myself alive, to do something or go someplace where the social constructs weren’t so rigid or forced upon you. I wanted to go somewhere where the influence of colonizers didn’t destroy humanness and kill people. I wanted to enjoy all of nature, especially warm weather, the beach and a healthy space where I could be myself and create whatever I wanted without pressure.
So when I found myself free of a job, I couldn’t brush the notion of moving under the rug any longer. I decided to save myself. I left.
I came here on a short trip with a friend looking to see if Belize could be right for me. We stayed at Driftwood cuz it was cheap and clean and close to everything. I didn’t tell my friend that I had already made up my mind to move here, I just let the trip play out as a vacation and then told her on like day-two, “I’m moving!”
After our exploratory trip, I went back to the States and it took me about 4 months to do my research, make plans, pack up my things, say my goodbyes and find a place to live in Belize.
How does your life in Belize today compare to your ‘old’ life in the US? (what does a typical day look like? highs and lows)
Do you know that song by Lil Duval? Yeah, that one. “Smile B’tc! I’m living my best life!”. For real. “I ain’t going back-n-forth with you, n___s!” Seriously. The greatest difference from my old life and new one is that I make my own choices and do only the things I want to do. My typical day starts early when the sun rises and ends when it sets. I’m grateful that I can see the sea from my veranda. So watching that big orange ball coming over the horizon that early in the day is my usual beautiful start. I take morning walks and sometimes sit to hear and smell the sea. I meditate. I roll pot. Sometimes I call my mom or sis. Then I go do other stuff, like send emails, visit friends in the village, talk about business ideas or projects (not really), swim or nothing at all. I eat a lot — cuz the food here is fresh and good. From time to time I take a road trip to Cayo, Belize City. I love the quiet and I enjoy my own company, so I don’t need flashy lights or 1st-world amenities to entertain myself. I have to admit some days are totally lost in surfing the internet. And that’s ok too. Cuz the whole point of living here for me is to do what feels good to me and if it’s Instagram for a day so be it. Which takes me back to my first point again – aint going back and forth with nobody. I’m living my best life.
Another difference in my life is that I don’t work a fulltime job anymore, commute in traffic or spend a lot of time shopping. I’m opting to live for myself first instead. The pace in Belize has allowed me to establish She Retreats – a global retreat curation company, and the wellness brand Belize Balanced Lifestyle. I manage both entities in my free time, not being involved on a daily basis. That freedom is priceless. I also enrolled in medical school to learn Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine. I’m beginning to offer health and wellness coaching for people who wish to get balanced or treat chronic conditions.
The most heartfelt change of all though is that I’m on this part of my journey without my adult children, siblings or other family in tow.
What obstacles have you encountered in your transition?
The word obstacles is relative to me. I’m going to say that I didn’t have any huge challenges. Were there things that I didn’t understand or things that made me uncomfortable? Absolutely. I put them in the weird category that taught me a few lessons.
So yes, I’ve had a lot of weird things happen to me and around me.
It was weird when a brush fire broke out in the empty yard across the street from my house and when I called the fire department they said “Ok, we’ll be there in a few.” Lesson: know what a bucket brigade is and how to do it.
It was weird getting diagnosed with cancer in Belize. The Radiology lab that I went to in Dangriga reminded me of the cheap hospital from The Hangover II when Phil (Bradley Cooper) gets shot in Thailand after leaving a dive bar and has to get the wound stitched up. Except the place in the movie looked better. The ultrasound machine in Dangriga looked older than me. I’m almost 50. The drop ceiling was missing too many panels to be considered a ceiling. And the receptionist who was the technician’s wife was nursing her baby while selling used clothes, shoes and trinkets from the front area. I’m not making this up. Still, I’m grateful that this tech using the most outdated equipment in the most unpleasant set of circumstances, accurately found the cancer. Lesson: A dive radiology center in Belize beats a dive bar in Thailand any day.
It was weird when I got terribly sick (again) here during covid and that wasn’t fun at all. I didn’t have covid but it didn’t matter. Placencia doesn’t have any system of medical care. The poly clinic provides few services and was closed the night I woke up needing urgent care at midnight. My neighbor helped me call the police to get an ambulance that had to travel about an hour to get me and then drive me to the Dangriga poly clinic. That was the first day of an 11-day medical ‘situation’ that had me in three different clinics across the country trying to find a competent doctor, and then on to the notorious Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. Some locals say the initials KHMH stand for Kill Him Murder Her. I don’t disagree. That place was terrible. I don’t wish that place for my worst enemy. I’m still traumatized by the whole experience that ended with me pulling out my own IV, and literally running from a nurse hollering at me. I finally ended up on a plane to the stinky USA for emergency care. Lesson: I don’t know. Don’t get ill in Belize. Be a doctor. Save yourself.
It was weird that it took me a long time to find my tribe — the people that have become my closest friends and those who support me. While I knew Belize was small and the villages were spread out, I underestimated the number of interactions it would take to build trust, open hearts, and make genuine connections. I underestimated the number of people that would see me as their meal ticket or savior. And I also underestimated the amount of gossip that comes from small towns. Lesson: Lasting relationships don’t happen overnight. One true friend is better than a crew of fans. Belize is small.
What advice would you offer to other women considering a transition to Belize?
If you’re considering a transition to Belize, you should follow your heart and then follow your heart some more. Because only you know what you want for yourself. Don’t ever second guess yourself. Your knowledge and experiences are enough to take you farther than you will ever think. Transformation takes time. If you move to Belize and it doesn’t seem like a good fit initially – ask yourself why and then wait it out. Chances are you’ll learn or grow in the process and the thing that rubbed you wrong initially will be the thing that you appreciate on the other side. Do your research – and do it yourself. People will tell you how things are based on their perspective and experiences and here in Belize those ideas and values are very likely to be different from your own.
Do you feel like Belize is your forever home? Would you ever move back or move on?
Belize is my forever home and I may find other countries to visit and stay for short periods. One thing is for certain, and that is I’m not moving back to the U.S.A. – ever.
2 thoughts on “Interview with (not your ordinary) Expat- Barb Brown”
I really enjoyed reading this blog. I’ve been to Belize at least a half a dozen times and loved every visit. It was quite a number of years ago, but every city you mentioned held a memory for me. I’ve been thinking…for a long time. Thinking of the move. Thanks for sharing the pros and cons.
OMG THANK YOU FOR SHARING THIS. I Am 64 and moved to Hawaii 10 years ago. I AM READY TO LEAVE NOW. I HAVE MY SIGHTS ON BELIZE. I AM NOT SURE WHERE TO LIVE OR BUY LAND OR RENT… I WILL VISIT FIRST THEN DECIDE