Friday, January 29, 2010

Non-settler going to Settle in Belize...Part II

Young Adulthood
Well, not surprisingly, I was expected to go to college next. And all I had was wanderlust. I had great parents; but they expected me to get an education.

I went to Medicine Hat College, and took a University Transfer Programme in Journalism. I joined the college paper and then the editor (the only staff member) quit. I became the editor!

Instead of quitting the paper myself, I just slacked off on my classes. I quit the paper (and college) at the end of the college year. My brother urged me to move to Winnipeg. I have fantastic parents, my mother is controlling. And at that time, I didn't know how to cope with that. I moved to Winnipeg, got a job at the Bay and lived with my brother and his girlfriend. Didn’t stick. Didn’t like his girlfriend, his girlfriend didn’t like me and they moved out.

I then went to Calgary to take an LPN programme. I had the intelligence, but not the drive to be an LPN.

Hmm, what after that? Oh yeah I went back to Medicine Hat College and tried to complete the BA University Transfer Programme. Found drama. Ooops!

Whilst in drama, I met lovely British Soldier and fell in lust and love and ended up moving to England after the end of the school year.

The lovely British Soldier (aka LBS from now on) was getting out of the army before we met. After he got out of the army about a year later, and I settled with him in Salford, Greater Manchester. Which you can still see remnants of the Industrial Revolution and WWII.

LBS surprised me and bought a house for me before I moved there. He was thoughtful and thought we would want a home. We got engaged and married in 1994. My brother married his wife (thankfully not the same girlfriend) the same year.

The house unfortunately needed fixing up and we didn’t have the resources. We lived in a building site for whole time that I lived in it. Unfortunately, the area that we lived in went downhill and we had negative equity.

LBS had got a job with Salford City Council. Which paid very little and I got a job in a pub. I had tons of different jobs, all unsatisfying. The local job centre employees knew me by name and helped me out whenever I was looking for a job.

I didn’t realise how upper middle class my parents were until I moved to the U.K. I didn’t realise how tough it can be to make ends meet. I also didn’t realise that I was a spoiled princess.

There were a few hiccups on the way, but I learned how to live with hardly anything (hopefully I can put it back into practice to save my money for Belize).
Those first few years were the hardest. I dealt with clinical depression. I became agoraphobic and slept all the time. LBS had to deal with me. LBS was very supportive throughout. (Aside: One of the funniest lines that my father-in-law had to say about my depression was that ‘It was all in my head.’)

I think depression set in after 18 months of being in Manchester. In all this time, I didn’t make a single friend. I didn’t realise it, but I had ‘DESPERATE FOR FRIENDS’ tattooed on my forehead. And I didn’t have any takers.

The depression turned out to be a blessing. I was on the dole (social assistance). As I was getting normalised on the anti-depressants, I finally ventured out and found some local writing groups.

‘The Monday Night Group’, affectionately called the MiNGe by its members, became my home away from home, and its members became my closest friends and second family. They still are.

About four years after I moved there, I had been a resident long enough to get funded to go back to school by the Local Authority. Bonus! I went to the University of Salford and took a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. Computers didn’t interest me, but hey, there was money in it. And by this time, I wanted MONEY!

Plus, I was a student again! A 26 year old student, but a student nonetheless. Thankfully there was a good mix of mature students and young students on the course. There was a lot of teamwork involved, and I ended up mixing with the younger students more than the older ones. I didn’t have any children, and I was still pretty immature for my age.

Three years later (degrees are 3 years in the U.K.), I had a BSc in IT (Hons). I liked writing, so I thought I would become a Technical Author.

Back home my brother was moving up as a behind-the-scenes guy in the Manitoba provincial government. He and his wife had just had their second son. Things seemed to be going well for them. He loved his job and he loved being a Dad.

I found work as a Tech Author, and things were looking up for us; except for one very important thing. LBS was in the TA (Territorial Army) and to make more money; he, with my approval had decided to take a posting. He was posted to Kosovo when I was in my last year of University. And I unfortunately loved the time and space away from him. Kosovo was in Peace Keeping times. LBS wasn’t in any danger; but unfortunately our marriage was.

Two years after I left university, we separated for six months. We went to marriage counselling; but for some strange reason the marriage counsellor took my side on everything. Which didn’t seem fair, even to me. LBS took it though and we reconciled.

It didn’t stick though. I loved him, but he drove me crazy. I was mean to him and I didn’t like the mean shrewish like thing that I was turning into. You know those old couples that you see and one of them (usually the wife) is a bossy and terribly mean to their other half? I could picture myself becoming that. I didn’t want to become that, and I didn’t want to subject LBS to that as he really IS lovely.

After LBS and I split, quite amicably (we are Facebook friends), I moved to Whalley Range in Manchester. I was working and everything was going well. I had a male friend (but it was a rebound lust thing), and I had always had a great group of friends.

Then my memory started going and my hair started falling out. I was gaining weight too. But since I was overweight, I thought that it was from overeating. A dodgy memory is not a great thing to have when you are in the computer industry tasked with writing instructional manuals for complex software. Combined with that, my boss was a naturist and unintentionally was pressuring myself and a co-worker into travelling to his house and going for lunch. I don’t think he was being perverse in any way, but it was uncomfortable. My co-worker filed sexual harassment charges. I was interviewed and added onto the complaint. I didn't feel good about being the cause of someone else losing their job. He was a good guy that was just extremely inappropriate. Because of the memory thing combined with the sexual harassment suit, they gave me a severance and I was laid off.

My doctor tried telling me that it was depression, since I did have it in the past. I knew what depression felt like. This didn’t feel like that. Finally about six months later we found out that I was severely hypothyroid (low functioning thyroid). It took me another six months to go back to my normal levels. But thankfully I did.

Added to that, Sept 11, 2001 happened. I am not in any way marginalising the tragedy that occurred there, but the IT market crashed. So getting another job was hard. I did a couple of contracts, but then the market totally waned and finding a job was near impossible.

Since I and LBS had split, my mother had wanted me to come home. I had been unemployed for quite some time and I was having trouble making ends meet. My mother offered to pay for me to come home. After several times saying ‘No’, I finally said ‘Yes’ in a weak moment. Retrospectively, I don’t know if that was the right choice. I’m glad I was in Canada when some events in my family’s life happened. But other than that I wonder if it was the right thing to do….

So at the age of 32, I moved back to MediumSizedTown, Alberta. And I moved in with my parents!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Frugalista Count-up!

Well, I stated that I had $106 and change. I have always known that this saving bit won't be easy. After fixed costs and taking 10% of my paycheque, I will get about $80 per week to live on. That sounds fine, but I use $40+ dollars per week commuting. So it's about $40/week for groceries and such.

At the moment, I am only going to buy a limited amount of groceries as my cupboards are full. So I'm going to eat what's in my cupboards for now, buying a little here and there.

I have to cut out an addiction which is extremely pricey and bad for me, diet sodas. Aspartame is a poison but a very addictive one! I have quit before, but it's not easy.

How, you ask, am I going to lose weight just eating anything in my cupboards. Well, most of the things in my cupboards are healthy, and exercise for me is the best way for me to lose weight. I just have to get off my gloriously big arse and move!

So, I am not a master Frugalista yet. I have the option of going curling tomorrow instead of going to work. Hmmm, it only costs $20 and I get to sleep in, start at 10, curl and then finish around 3.

The Frugalista inside of me is shouting, but I am putting ear plugs on and ignoring her.

I got my commuting cheque in my account today. It was $84.55 for the month. I got an oil change with it (it's what I usually do, I drive 100 kms return a day, sometimes 7 days a week) for $53 from Mr. Lube. That left 31.55. I am using $20 from that to go curling, and I deposited the remaining $11.55 in my savings. I get paid from my bar job tonight, so I have pre-emptively transferred the money out of my chequing account and into my savings as it will be back up to the original amount when I wake in the a.m.. That was $47.39.

So, total savings so far are $165.05. But it's a start :) Remember, there is a reason why this is a 3-5 year plan. I will have some savings and an income from writing by that time. I'm hoping 3 years, but it will probably be 5.

P.S. I did cancel my landline. It is currently paid up until Feb 18th. After that date it will be disconnected. That will be a $40 dollar savings every month.

Non-settler going to Settle in Belize...

I initially revealed how I had a realisation about my life and decided that I would work out a 3-5 year plan to move to Belize (for those who haven't, see my first post).

I have also mentioned that I lived in Jamaica and in the U.K..

I thought that I should supply a bit more biographical information on myself.

Barmy Belle’s Formative Years

I grew up in a small town in Alberta, Canada, population 1200. Unlike everyone else, my brother and I weren’t related to everyone in town, even though my Dad’s family had been from there for years. I guess they had the sense to marry outside of the town’s population. We were a bit more liberal and a walked to a slightly different drummer. Not so much to be noticeable, just enough not to quite fit in.

On top of that, I was slightly overweight, was a klutz, and a bit socially inept. All an amazing combination at the best of times. On top of that, I had a brother 5 years older than me who moved away as soon as his size 12 feet would take him. He moved to Ottawa, and his dress sense changed and his attitude changed. They became ‘Big City’. I idolised him so I tried to be as ‘Big City’ as possible!

Remember the 80’s? Well neon colours, leg warmers, bunsen burner cover earrings (all bought at Le Chateau), and assymmetrical hair did not help me fit in. Especially on a plus-size body!

I lived there until I was 15 and moved to a way bigger town in Alberta population 3500. I was ecstatic! I wasn’t as much of an outsider there. I made some lifelong friends, and then graduated high school 2 years later.

After high school I went to Jamaica for a year as an exchange student. Our family had hosted an exchange student from Belgium. And my brother was an exchange student at their house in Liege, Belgium for a year.

Why become an exchange student? Well my mother thought it was important to learn another language and experience a new culture. I went with AFS, and we had to list 10 countries that we would like to go to. I listed about nine European countries, and sort of ran out. I then asked her (my mother) if I could list Jamaica as my last choice. She said ‘sure’, probably thinking that it was my last choice and they wouldn't ever send me to my last choice.

Well, my application was refused as they had too many applications that year. I was extremely disappointed. But a month after they refused, we got a call to see if I wanted to go to Jamaica. So Jamaica it was!

It turns out that AFS Jamaica had found another host family. In retrospect, my host family should have never been a host family. The Reid family consisted of Mr Reid, a lovely man who unfortunately had a stroke a year previously and had a hard time speaking and very limited movement.

Mrs. Reid, aka Auntie, was his second wife. He was a widower who married his office assistant. I think he married her more for the company; I definitely could be mistaken, I wasn’t there before his stroke.

And the final member of the family was Marlene, Mrs. Reid’s niece from the country who at the time was trying to find a job and a husband in the city. I think we both really tried to be friends with each other; but besides sharing the same room, we had absolutely nothing in common.

It was a strange situation. I found out soon after I arrived that the only reason that I was taken in was because the nun that was the principal of Holy Childhood High School (the school I went to) had told them it was something I should do.

I don’t know about Mr. Reid, but Auntie was a very religious person. Since Mr Reid couldn’t leave the house easily, the principal (I can’t remember her name) came and gave the couple communion at their house every Sunday.

So Auntie did it. Begrudgingly. To please her church.

I was not treated like family or even like a favourite lodger, which were my previous experiences with our exchange student and the experiences of almost all the exchange students in the programme. I wasn’t even given a key to the house.

I was coping with this situation quite well. I had a rich life outside the Reid house. I had Jamaican friends and fellow AFSers. I had lots of cute Jamaican men I interested in me. I was even getting used to going to a Catholic school, since I was basically raised as a non-believing Protestant.

And inside the Reid house, I managed to have a few really nice conversations with Mr. Reid. His family came to visit twice a week and they were really lovely people.

Then Christmas came, and my host father died Christmas day. Auntie wouldn’t let me touch him, even though I knew CPR. But the only person I got along with in the house died.

Auntie ate little and stopped communicating, except to tell me that she didn’t want me to live there. I felt intuitively that it was an act to prove that she was mourning her husband. Maybe she saw that I felt that way.
Perhaps if I was more mature at that time I could have empathised with her.

My parents (in contravention of the programme rules) and my brother came over for a holiday. They were worried about me and my situation. Auntie told me daily that she didn’t want me there, but unfortunately she wouldn’t tell AFS the same thing. They visited the AFS Jamaica home office and told them to move me or I would be going home. I do have great parents. I moved out about 3 months after Mr. Reid’s death.

(Backstory to Auntie: she was a ‘Dallas’ addict. Do you remember that television show? Well in Canada, we were about 2 years ahead. My Mom and I watched it, so I knew what happened in the story. Auntie would always ask me what happened. I would never tell her because it would spoil the story.
My final revenge: My last night before I left I told her EVERYTHING that happened in the next 2 years, thereby spoiling ‘Dallas’ for her! Does that make me a bad person? At the time, that’s all I had in my passive aggressive repertoire. And it felt good!
Also, Auntie truly believed that the actors didn't really kiss. She thought it was a camera trick. No matter how much I tried to convince her over the months I lived there, she would not believe that people who weren't intimately involved in real life could or would kiss. The thought of this was amoral to her. In retrospect, it's sort of endearing!)

Funnily enough, I have great memories of Jamaica! I met some wonderful people, and Jamaica has such an amazing culture. Plus I was popular with men for the first time in my life!

I was put in a temporary home with a wonderful lady, Enid Donaldson (now Enid Donaldson-Mignotte). She is a celebrity chef in Jamaica.

Then I lived for my remaining month or two with another family, the Paris family. If given more time, I think we might have established a relationship. Mrs Paris ran the National Children’s Home in Kingston and we lived on the grounds which were inside a massive park. It was beautiful.

I returned home with wanderlust but having to conform to my parent’s expectations. Do you think that I may have unconsciously rebelled?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Frugality, Belly Belly, Don't Book on the Book

Okay, I've discussed my desire to move to Belize. But I haven't yet started on the Belly or the Book. That's next week as I have been coping with a snotty nose and a husky (non-sexy), phlegmy throat.
By the way, check out the Toucan Trail for inexpensive holiday accomodation and Blogs about Belize to read individual's experiences firsthand (I will recommend some useful and engaging ones soon).
The saving has started though!
I have taken 10% of my wages (of my full time job), and vowed to take the rest of my wages (part-time bar work, part-time massage therapy clinic) and save every penny on both of those jobs. Total saved so far? $106 and change. I get paid $40+ from my second job bartending (one shift, plus $40 extra tax taken off to buffer against getting dinged for working 3 jobs). No massages this week. It's been really slow lately, but I do have one next week which will go into the bank. So by the end of next week, I'll have $200 in the bank.
And future paycheques from the bar will be better as I am doing 2 shifts/week at the moment, which will clear about $300 every 2 weeks.
I'm also trying to cut back at home. I'm going to cancel my landline, which is one of the few fixed expenses that I can give up. I'm thinking about cutting back the cable, but if I don't have any money, taking away television probably isn't a good idea. But I am going to become a Frugalista!
More on belly and book soon.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Belize: There is a Plan Being Formulated

Okay, I may be a dreamer, but I'm not a total idiot. I am, at the moment researching moving and living in Belize. I found a wonderful resource. His name is Lan Sluder and he is a journalist living in Belize. He operates a website called BelizeFirst and he has published many books on Belize. One of his books, "Easy Belize", is a comprehensive overview of moving and living in Belize.
I have read most of the book and it is not an ode to Belize. It is a 'warts and all' look at Belize, which I appreciate. I read it and was not scared off. But my eyes were opened.
I have also looked at some other websites, and some of them would scare some people off. Belize North recounts Rick's story of why he left Belize. It is frightening.
I think a lot of North Americans think that a developing nation is a warmer, cheaper version of their home. It's not. There are very poor people. There are other rules of morality. And no matter how long you live in that other country, you will not be a national of that country.
I have a slight advantage in this area. I was an exchange student living in the New Kingston area of Kingston, Jamaica when I was a teenager. Then I lived in inner city Manchester, England (actually Salford) for 10 years.
So, I've had limited experience of living with violence. In Jamaica I got money stolen out of my pocket on the bus, and I was at an intersection with friends when someone pulled a gun out and threatened the driver. These are just a couple of examples. All houses had metal bars on them.
In Salford, our house got broken into twice and there were burning cars in our street quite a few times during the years I lived here. Once it was just vandalised for the hell of it. We had boys knock on our door daily selling things that 'fell off the back of a lorry'. Again, just a few examples.
So probably not the same a Belize but I do have some experience living in other countries and I do not have the same view of fairness and entitlement that some people do.

The Ephiphany

I was on holiday, visiting my parent's winter home in Palm Springs. I was down there visiting for about 10 days. Three days in, I was utterly depressed at the thought of going home.
I didn't realise that I hated my current life as much as I did.
Here's the back story; I am 40 years old, divorced, overweight and I work 3 jobs and never seem to get ahead. I am also a dreamer. I tend to dream and not achieve.
While I was in Palm Springs, I realised I longed to live in a warm place. But I don't have the financial resources to move to the States.
I started to consider where I could afford to live where it is warm. I trawled the web and discovered that Belize only requires that you earn $2000 USD per month to maintain residency.
So I decided to formulate a 3-5 year plan. I have to be frugal, save as much money as possible (at least 20,000).
I have to get published finally so I can earn a monthly income (I'm thinking erotic fiction). And I have to lose weight (I'm a big girl).
So no problem, right?
So if anyone else reads this, you can come with me for this crazy ride.
Belize by 2013? Maybe 13 is my lucky number! :)