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Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family's Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island Paperback – August 1, 2012
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"Sonia Marsh and her family give new meaning to the term "flipping out!" Sombreros off to them for showing us the roads less traveled can often be the most rewarding -- even when our trips don't go as planned."
- Franz Wisner, New York Times bestselling author of Honeymoon with My Brother and How the World Makes Love
"In her revealing memoir, Sonia Marsh invites us along as she and her family leave the Southern California rat race for what they hope will be a more satisfying existence in Belize. Sonia and her family bounce between disillusionment and joy as they learn that island life is more complicated than anticipated. In the end, Sonia realizes that paradise isn't a place - it's a state of mind. I loved the story and Sonia's courage in telling it."
-Susan Pohlman, author of Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought our Family Home
"A book that reads like a breath of fresh air-a tale of love, courage, and laughter and the strength of family bonds despite enormous pressures."
-Lynnete Brasfield, author of Nature Lessons
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Marsh writes, often humorously, about the way that cultural differences affect day-to-day life. Housing styles and standards. The education system. The food that is (or is not) available in the local market. The bugs. Trying to establish a bank account.
But what I found most compelling about Marsh's story was her description of their interactions with their neighbors in Belize, be they local, permanent ex-pats or transitional folks like themselves. What seemed, in the early days, to be an idyllic and supportive if somewhat chaotic community proved to be anything but idyllic. Once Sonia and her husband Duke tried to structure a life for themselves based on "the American paradigm," the community seemed to rise up in protest, occasionally in a way that was frightening.
It is to Marsh's credit that she looks back on this as a learning experience, one that caused her to recognize that there is no universal "right answer." In the final analysis, Marsh chose a life style that is more California than Belize -- but it is a life style that has benefited from incorporating the best of what she found in Belize.
Some of my fellow PCVs would take their vacation time to visit the cayes...mostly Caye Caulker, which catered more to the backpacking crowd. Few of us, if any, could really afford more than a night in one of the pricy resort hotels on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, let alone imagine actually living there as residents. The island had a reputation on the mainland for being overpriced, snobbish, and so upscale it could hardly qualify as belonging to one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean. So, no, I never got there. I've never been to Cancun, either...but I've been all over the rest of Central and South America, so I've had some experience with seeing how locals in those countries deal with tourists and ex pats.
Reading this book took me back to the days of living in that stilted rickety old two-story house on Regent Street. Sonia's battles with bugs and varmints reminded me of how I had to move my bed around from one corner to the other when I'd come home from my work at the Belize Council of Churches to find my pillow covered with a pile of termite sawdust. She brought back my memories of the mice who ate themselves to death when they burrowed into my imported box of artificial sweetener. I laughed aloud at her scorpion stories, remembering how I shook out my tennies every morning to make certain nothing was huddled inside waiting to nip my toe.
Sonia bravely reveals her shifting feelings about the members of her family, how she struggled with three sons in different stages of childhood and early adolescence, and how her feelings for her husband changed from time to time. Glad that they had evacuated themselves from the Orange County rat race, she began to fear that he'd permanently morphed from workaholic to beach bum. He hadn't, of course, as we learn as we read along.
Though I may have prepared for such a move differently, I've learned that individuals and families have their own style when it comes from moving from one place to the next. I've a friend who took nearly a year to move fewer than 20 miles away. So that this family didn't adequately research job opportunities, local attitudes and prospects for schooling for their boys, didn't surprise me. They did what they had to do...which was to get the boys out of Orange County...and fast. When you'll read the book, you'll find out why. It will suffice to say that the eldest son began to act is if he were possessed by a subtle demon.
Kudos to Sonia for telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I write memoir, and I read a great deal of it. It's so easy to choose to leave out the events that might reflect badly on you and your motives. That Sonia opted for inclusion rather than exclusion is to her credit...and it's these details that she exposes that another writer might have conveniently censored that makes this book such a wonder!
If you've considered moving to a developing country, read this book first. It's a handbook on what not to do...and will leave you with some guidelines for avoiding this family's mistakes.
I lived overseas for ten years in four developing countries: Belize, Guatemala, Dominican Republic and Seychelles. What did I miss about the States? The usual, the creature comforts. For me they included hot bubble baths, frozen yogurt, the Sunday newspapers and the Lakers on TV. All those years I lived without hot running water, television, telephones, and washing machines. Most of the time, as Sonia points out,crisp fresh vegetables rarely were available. But I found we're resilient creatures, and we can adjust. When I lived in Belize, I learned to love the daily rice, beans and plantain. Even now, when it comes time for midday "dinner" I remember how delicious that meal used to be.
In 1998 I returned to the States, and have lived and worked in a variety of locales. And now, in my old age, I'm thinking of returning to Southern California. Born in Los Angeles, I'm a 3rd generation native Californian. I think if you grew up in that area, you'll never rid yourself of the longing to return. There's not a day that goes by that I don't pine for a glimpse of the Pacific. I can well understand this family's decision, after a year abroad, to return to Orange County...but not to the rat race. Good for them!