I’m always happy to welcome guests on my blog, especially if there’s an expat, French or writing connection. Today we have all three as Sonia Marsh has spent a lot of time as an expat, including in France, and has recently self-published her account of her eye-opening and life-changing year in Belize with her family. Freeways to Flip-Flops is available as an ebook and in printed form from Amazon. You’ll find links to where you can buy Sonia’s lively, fascinating and beautifully written book at the end of the post.
After spending the first 25 years of my life in Nigeria, France and England, and the next 25 in America, I have no roots. There are advantages and disadvantages to not having roots; the one big advantage is that I can pack my bags, and move to another country in a heartbeat.
I’m not attached to stuff, but I am addicted to adventure.
Fortunately, I married an American who acquired a thirst for adventure, especially when our life in Orange County, California, became overly stressful.
On July 2nd, 2004, Duke and I decided to chuck it all and move to Belize hoping to reconnect our family. We uprooted our three sons— ages sixteen, thirteen and ten—and moved from a materialistic life in Orange County, California, to a hut on stilts in Belize, Central America.
Our life was out of balance. Duke worked long hours, then spent additional hours commuting back and forth to Los Angeles each day. Our oldest son was dating a bipolar, suicidal girlfriend, and started skipping school. Duke was constantly exhausted, and I longed for peace and my paradise.
I didn’t like the entitlement attitude of teens and pre-teens in our neighborhood and disagreed with those parents who catered to their kids and purchased a brand new BMW or shiny truck on their kid’s sixteenth birthday. I wanted my sons to experience life in a less affluent part of the world, just as I had as a child in Nigeria.
So we decided to sell the house, both cars and everything else we owned to start a new, simple life in a third-world country without TV, gadgets or teenage girlfriends. **
In one day, with ten suitcases and our small rat terrier, Cookie, we moved from a comfortable five-bedroom house, to a hut on stilts in the jungle of northern Belize.
We had stinky well-water, no glass in the windows, a palm-fronded ceiling, geckos, and giant ants transporting one-inch twigs around, so our life was turned upside-down.
To say the boys were happy in our hut would be a lie. It took them several weeks to venture out, and explore the surroundings. When they finally did, Alec, my fourteen-year-old, touched a poisonwood tree. His eyes puffed up like crimson sea anemones and his entire body blistered within an hour. We treated him with local remedies such as the bark of a gumbo-limbo tree, then boiled its silky leaves into spinach-like mush and scraped it onto his bare skin. When nothing happened, Duke drove him to a local hospital and left him with a Cuban doctor who only spoke Spanish.
When we purchased the English high school book for ninth grade, Alec threw a fit. The book taught kids how to tell time and how to put, “ing” at the end of a word. How would we educate our sons? Fortunately, we discovered a U.S. internet curriculum for expat children, and enrolled our boys.
After two months, we decided to leave the overly primitive hut, and purchase a small house and boat on the tourist island of Ambergris Caye. The boys were happier on the island and bonded with a young Belizean family, and their four-year-old son, soon became our 4th son. My boys taught Little Juan how to speak English and his father, Juan, taught my boys how to fish, catch iguanas, smoke fish and prepare ceviche.
Gradually our family reconnected when nature and the outdoors became our main form of entertainment. We relied upon one another far more, and Duke had time to spend with his sons.
An old sailboat replaced the girlfriend from Orange County, and Steve worked on fixing his boat and studying hard to get into a mechanical engineering University in the U.S. after our year in Belize.
All of us, my sons included, have learned to take risks in life, to embrace adventure and to accept different ways of thinking about life’s challenges. They have all become well-adjusted young men with a global outlook on life, for which I’m proud.
Do I have roots now that I am back in California? Absolutely not, but one thing I learned is to quit looking for that one paradise, because it’s not a place but a state of being.
Thanks Sonia! Here’s where to buy her book in Kindle or paperback format.
Do follow Sonia on Twitter (@GutsyLiving) and Facebook. She’s fun and full of great publishing advice for all would-be authors, having enthusiastically and successfully tackled the difficult issue of self-marketing. Her Gutsy Living blog is here and you get to hear from all sorts of gutsy people, as well as Sonia, on it. I’ve been a cyber-buggy of Sonia’s for quite a while now and I always enjoy reading her blog and being inspired the content there. And her book is wonderful!
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