Why I moved to Belize, Central America

Parama mud bath.JPG

When I left my thatch roof bungalow early this morning for my daily workout, I noticed an enormous snail that had suctioned itself to my front door, lazily plugging along, its delicate fingerlike antennae searching the warm, moist morning for something, a sign, a vibration on the air….

snail-on-doorI noticed him there all day long, as I welcomed my three clients into the “riverside spa” … (“We have a gorgeous view of the river!”) … (“Hey, wow! This is great!”)

And so I rubbed three people and discovered the magic of whatever that snail must have been searching for, his sensitive membranous skin like the moist surface of my drum when it got wet from the rain after this morning’s yoga class, where I chanted the mantra to Ganesha, the elephant God who removes all obstacles.

“This mantra,” I told my two ladies in class, “is from the ancient tradition of using sound vibration to heal the body and mind and to harmonize the energy around and within us.”

I think the snail could hear me and was swaying his antennae to the rhythm.

At the end of class, I suggested, “Feel your connection to the Earth. Then take a moment to consider your connection to the plants and animals in this jungle. It’s a special place… feel the presence of the river, the trees, the insects, the birds… Breathe.”

As the snail breathed through its thin layer of skin….

jaguar-on-trail“What made you move to Belize?” was the resounding question asked by all three of my clients as they first laid down on my massage table today. I notice myself bracing for the answer, not quite sure how I should — or if I even want to respond. I get the question often enough….

These friendly, “getting to know you” kinds of curiosity-motivated questions have become a daily ritual, albeit slightly annoying (only because I feel obligated to answer, and usually my answer is not so simple. It required a thoughtful response….)

After dodging a few of the more superficial niceties so typical of human interaction, I learned that one of the women I massaged today happens to be a schoolteacher with the very school I recently interviewed for a teaching position that would start in September of 2017.

“It’s nice to have options,” I found myself writing to a friend. “Most women down here don’t even have the choice to work anywhere but at home or doing the dishes at some local restaurant for very little pay….”

(I remind myself to be grateful for what I have, for where I come from, for what I am able to do….)

“You should be thankful that you have fully functioning limbs,” one of my too-smart-for-his-own-good friends told me with severity, after I had lamented to him all the ways I feel so sorry for myself. “You don’t have any problems compared to a lot of the people I know.”

I suppose it’s all relative. The teenager living in the garbage dump.

I asked one of my clients, a middle-aged man from Anchorage, Alaska, about his opinion on climate change. “Are the polar bears wandering into the towns and terrorizing people?”

He had the conservative viewpoint that in the grand scheme of things, we really don’t know what is causing climate change (“Is it just natural cycles or is it manmade? How can we really know?”) … rub, rub … I think he was reeeeally relaxed by the time he made that comment. Like, hell, what do we have to worry about? We’ll all be fiiiiiine. 

I know other scientists and researchers who hold a very different opinion on climate change. Like, we’re all gonna die in 10 years. That kind of urgency.

That’s part of the reason why I decided to move to Belize. Maybe my then-husband and I could have a shot at survival while the shit hits the fan and everyone living in industrialized nations are suffering from heat waves, natural disasters, unprecedented chaos and breakdown of society (especially the economy) … Was it a good idea to move down here?

Parama's houseNot a bad idea, it would seem. Food security, self-sufficiency, tiny house movement … These are all buzz words in the alternative media and the fringe communities of weirdos like me who want to take a shot at living an alternative lifestyle — Hey, why not? Before the shit really hits the fan.

The ceiling fan swirled and circulated the air in my thatch roof bungalow riverside spa while my clients received their massage, until a surprisingly pleasant and refreshing wind blew itself through the room, finding its way without obstacle through the screen windows and against the oily limbs, backs and necks of those three people, tourists from other countries, coming to the tropical jungle of southern Belize for vacation, to explore, to discover… to heal….

Just before bed, I looked outside for the snail. He had released his grip on my front door and was meandering across my Welcome mat. Welcome home.

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Ablaze: A personal story of igniting my heart aflame

cover-tinted red

My second poetry collection, Ablaze, sheds an honest light on my raging desire and passion to consummate the dream that beckoned me to abandon my home and blaze a new trail here in Central America, amongst rural villagers in isolated tropical jungles, amidst a backdrop of ancient cultures enriched by traditional customs for which I have deep respect. Having been forged in the fire of my heart’s desire, I am now faced with the opportunity to make choices that could determine the course of my life for many years.

Parama sitting on couchThe flames are burning bright, and I cannot escape the heat.

Five years ago, before I first arrived in Belize, Central America (a tiny country just south of Mexico), I was living and working as a schoolteacher in the U.S., when I had a vivid dream in which my Buddhist master teacher, Geshe Michael, appeared to me and told me that it was time for me to leave my home country, that it was okay to go… “The same thing happened to me,” he declared in the dream, while I extended my hand to touch a slow-motion panorama of tropical plants, flowers, and coconuts….

When I woke up, I recalled the dream as if it had really happened, and I was emboldened: I resigned from my job, booked a plane ticket, and packed my bags. Waiting in the airport, I earnestly prayed and (heard God?) tell me, “You will almost die down there. But you will be saved. I am with you.” … While this may seem crazy to my readers, perhaps it is worth mentioning that I seem to be endowed with a gift of clairvoyance, whatever that means. I honestly can’t explain it, at least not scientifically. I don’t know whether to consider it a blessing or a quirky talent that comes from a rare genetic mutation… or both.

bird of paradise flowerForewarned by the somewhat alarming message that my life would be endangered, I forged ahead nonetheless, bolstered by the support of the man who was then my husband, mutually inspired by our shared vision to purchase a small parcel of fertile land in a rural area where we would build a small-scale permaculture farm and develop a vocational education center for the benefit of our local community.

In the U.S., I had established over ten years of a successful career in special education as a consultant in public and private schools; in addition to earning certification and practicing professionally as a Licensed Massage Therapist and yoga teacher. I earned a Master of Arts in Education and gained a wide range of experience working with children and adults who were diagnosed with developmental and learning disabilities. I enjoyed working in the field of education, but I felt deep dissatisfaction with what I deemed to be a restrictive, top-down model that limited my creativity and freedom to design my own curriculum.

Parama w studentsI became disillusioned with the public school system in the U.S. and envisioned an innovative approach that involved outdoor, experiential education on an organic farm. I wrote and published my first two books that became bestsellers in experimental methods in education. When my husband suggested that we move to Central America and purchase land for our own school, I was forced to choose: Do I stay with what is familiar, or do I take the risk of trying something completely new? . . .

I chose to leave behind the security and convenience of my comfortable, middle-class life in the U.S. I took my innovative ideas with me on the road – south of the border. As I was about to expose myself to an entirely new life in a foreign country, I felt a high degree of anxiety mixed with a deep inner conviction that I was doing the right thing, and everything would work out, somehow, eventually….

Parama hugging tree at Palenque copy

We arrived in Punta Gorda, a small agricultural and fishing town in Southern Belize, Central America, surrounded by Mayan villages and ancient cultural ruins. Instead of falling into the typical tourist routes, we … blazed our own trail. We immediately focused on establishing community liaisons and connecting with local people who were living the way we had envisioned: off-grid with minimal resource consumption and growing food on their own land.

Parama harvesting bamboo copyFinanced by our own meager savings, my partner and I knew that we needed to secure an ongoing income to support ourselves. We discovered that we could work locally as English teachers, earning a small but adequate salary. We traveled and found temporary work assignments in Guatemala, where we lived and volunteered on an organic farm while simultaneously purchasing one acre of our own land in Punta Gorda, Belize, beside other neighbors who shared our passion.

At that time, I did not expect that I would soon end up alone, following through on our project, after my partner became too ill to continue living in Central America. After many months of trying the best I could to help him recover, I determined that he required specialized therapy which was unavailable in Central America – impoverished, third-world countries with limited infrastructure and resources. He refused to seek adequate treatment and suddenly left me while we were living in the mountainous region of Chiapas, the southernmost district of Mexico.

sunset at Kiki's copy

Heartbroken, devastated and discouraged, I almost returned to the U.S. and my previous career as a schoolteacher. Instead, I chose to make Central America my new home and community. I resolved that I would continue what we’d started, because I did not want to let anything derail me from realizing my dreams….

Parama at KikimundoNow a young, single woman in a somewhat dire situation, I had unintentionally become a “woman at risk” and found myself desperately seeking a means to support myself while living in the third world, where job opportunities are limited and rarely offer any benefits beyond a small wage.

My persistence allowed me to support myself by establishing friendships within my local community as well as creating my own work opportunities wherever I traveled, looking for safety and security while still recovering from the loss of my partner’s companionship.

I discovered the importance of resourcefulness in order to survive as a single woman in Central America. Looking back, I realize how much courage and persistence it took for me at the time to continue seeking and finding opportunities, and now I can honestly claim that I am grateful to my beloved former partner for leaving me with no choice but to dig deep within myself to find my inner strength (Thank you!)…. While I wrote and published a series of books, I worked in many different communities as a massage therapist, yoga instructor, English teacher, and house-sitter. I lived for periods of time with host families in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize. This proved to be an extremely challenging opportunity to grow and learn while immersing myself in the various cultural traditions of Central America.

door colorful copyEven though I do have the privilege of a broad educational background and qualifications, I learned first-hand what it must be like for local women who have little or no formal education to become caught in a “cycle of poverty”, to be taken advantage of, and, unfortunately, to be abused. Although I could speak fluent Spanish and interact with the locals in the marketplace and at work, I experienced many incidences in which local men, seeing that I was vulnerable and traveling alone, tried to take advantage of me in different ways.

I gained a deeper understanding for how “at-risk women” find themselves in precarious situations where they are endangered and oppressed. In spite of many dangers and challenges, I persisted and continued to pursue my dreams, relying on my own skills, faith, as well as the help and support of caring friends, near and far.

Parama crouching at pyramid copyYears later, I am proud to have stayed true to my own heart, despite countless moments in which I just wanted to give up. Now, I want to believe that I am “living my dream”…. Yet, something feels incomplete, like there is some surprise waiting right around the corner for me, if I could only muster the courage to be vulnerable and open my heart, even as it still heals from the pain of my past….

Since I arrived in Central America five years ago, I’ve been an intrepid solo traveler, exploring and living alone in many different places in Belize, Mexico, and Guatemala. I’ve learned a lot about myself and discovered my own inner strength….

Like the “locals”, I have worked hard and saved up enough money to recently break ground on the construction of my new home – an off-grid, thatch roof hut (in process!) – on my one acre of land in southern Belize, where I would like to expand my infrastructure and… eventually… open an innovative school and community center for the locals.

Parama's house

For many years I have persistently held the intention for The Farm School project in Central America to help women achieve their dreams and goals, whether they are single, have intact families, or are struggling, single mothers. The Farm School is a vocational, experiential training center that promotes health and wellness within the local community, especially for women, while supporting them to become more self-sufficient by learning practical skills.

Butterflies training copy

My heart burns with raging passion to create something that has never been done before. I hold fast to my vision to help at-risk women in need of support, encouragement, and opportunities to make their own dreams come true. Yet, I perceive that I have arrived at a crossroads. My vision may need to take shape in a different form, for now…. I wait and wonder and marvel at the mystery of the fire.

sunrise in AntiguaFive years later, after countless adventures, meeting new and interesting people along the way, nearly dying at the hands of those who would wish to do me harm, I have survived many dangers, overcome personal challenges, and learned what it means to be a warrior dedicated to a mission that can only come from touching the flames of burning passion within one’s heart, enlivened and inspired every day to keep blazing the trail….

Fire must be fed to stay alive. The strength of the flame is derived from a dynamic interplay of elements. Passion can be recognized and shared between two people who are uncontrollably drawn toward one another in a mutual desire to burn in the conflagration of hearts united and ignited. The flames burn and rage, transforming the landscape of the heart, regenerating the soil, making it fertile ground for new growth.

Please click here to download my second poetry collection, Ablaze