Many would agree it takes guts to pick up and move to a foreign country.
But for a single woman to move to a developing country has to be proof of an almost heroic level of fortitude and strength.
Debra didn’t come to Belize as a single woman, but she now lives here as one at least half the year.
Now in her 60s, Debra and her late husband first came as snowbirds in 2013, spending their winters in Belize to escape the Colorado cold.
“I decided I would continue the snowbird life.”
They bought a house in a small village in the Corozal district and had years of what Debra calls “a dream come true.”
But when her husband died in 2016, life changed for Debra, who had to decide her future as a single woman.
“I decided I would continue the snowbird life,” she says.
“My husband was a wonderful partner, fun, happy, with a huge heart. We had talked about the inevitable, and we both decided to continue living abroad no matter who went first. It’s different now, but I will continue enjoying my life.”
Debra said she feels safe in her village. She said she has also traveled all over Belize and uses common sense as she would in any other location.
“I never put myself in unsafe situations,” she says. “I don’t travel after dark, and I try to travel with other people when I can.
“The other single women who live here are happy, strong women, giving me strength. Two are widows also, and three have always been single. There are several expat couples living here full-time and other snowbirds who come for the winter. Everyone brings something wonderful to the table of life. They are all a ton of fun. Belize makes me happy. I get a lot of family and friends visiting as they get sick of the cold weather so I have a great support system on both sides. Life is beautiful!”
Elsbeth, a native of The Netherlands, lives in a small Mayan village in Toledo District.
She agrees life is good as a single woman in Belize although she also first arrived married. The couple moved to Belize in 2004, fulfilling a dream.
When the marriage ended in 2012 and her husband returned home, Elsbeth stayed, running a farm and guesthouse.
“I’ve lived on my own farm in a traditional Mayan village for the past five years,” she says.
“The village is small, so everybody knows each other. I run a little guesthouse, so many locals make money through my guests. This makes me a welcome addition to the village although I’m the only non-Maya person here.”
Elsbeth shares her internet service with her neighbors, and in return, they bring food or other items to her.
She also provides local work and has been “adopted” by a village family who helps her with maintenance.
“It’s hand-washes-hand. My ex-husband and I lived in this village together, and it took a while for us to get accepted. I wonder if they would have initially accepted a woman alone, to be honest. My ex’s disappearance still puzzles them. How can I manage without a man supporting me? But now I have gained enough respect in the village I am often treated as a guest of honor at social functions. It’s lovely, really.”
Elsbeth says the villagers have more concerns about her safety than she does.
She worries more getting a snake bite or having a tree fall on her while she’s out in the field than she does about harm coming from someone else. Because the village is small, she said, everybody knows each other. Neighbors look out for her, and anyone who causes too much disturbance in the village gets told to leave.
As for her social life outside the farm and village, Elsbeth said she spends a lot of weekends in Punta Gorda, the largest town in the Toledo District.
She has friends there, and it’s nice to catch up with them. She also hangs out with local musicians and loves to dance.
But she’s always happy to get back to her farm in her village.
“It’s peaceful here,” she says.
Cheryl is another sixty-something single lady, living in Belize City.
When she moved to Belize in 2013 Cheryl had plans to marry her Belizean boyfriend, who passed away before they could make it to the altar. She remained in Belize and now has family who has joined her although they don’t live with her.
“My daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter live in San Pedro, on Ambergris Caye,” Cheryl says.
“They followed about a year and a half after I moved here. We had all planned to move here together, but I came first and then my daughter had back issues that delayed them. They are only a 15-minute flight to or from the island from me now, so I’m not alone in the country.”
Having friends and a social circle has helped her enjoy life in Belize City.
Cheryl said she has a few friends in “high places”, which makes her feel like someone has her back. She enjoys going dancing, to the symphony, and to poetry readings.
She says she never travels at night alone, and that she takes several measures to ensure her safety.
“I have lived in several major cities in the US, and Bangkok and stupid behavior is what gets you killed. Follow the same safety rules for any major city and you will be okay. Also, I have the two largest dogs in the city, live next to the guard house of a hospital, and have the only known permit ever issued in Belize to carry or own stun guns.”
Cheryl’s social life took a hit when she discovered she had cancer in 2016. She remained in Belize for her chemo although she travels back to the States for radiation treatment.
Each of these women and many more deserve to have more of their stories told.
They are strong women, choosing to do what many others would not and they are happy with their choices.
Elsbeth said she has developed a real “badass” attitude, and that applies to most I have spoken to. They also talk about how they love Belize and have no intention of leaving.
Whatever brought them to Belize, it is now their slice of heaven, and they plan to stay for the long run.
Catherine “Cathi” Bray is a travel agent, freelance writer, and firearms instructor who splits her time between Belize and Texas with her husband, Tom and their Great Dane/Mastiff mix, Allen, and Poo-Hua-Hua puppy, Maya.