Syracuse University Magazine

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Rainbow-Colored Days

Relocating from Central New York to Central America, the Tewogbola Family Is Experiencing the Adventure of a Lifetime

By Tasneem Grace-Tewogbola

Last year my husband and I gave it all up: our home, our salaries, and our furniture to drive into our dream. Dubbing it “The Fantastic Voyage,” we loaded our three daughters, one laptop, two maps, eight pieces of luggage, and a potty into our Honda minivan and drove 1,812 miles from Central New York to Central America. We relocated to Belize seeking a new climate (from snow to sun), new culture (from collards to callaloo), and new perspectives (from U.S. pace to Caribbean patience). 

Buoyed by let’s-live-our-vision-now boldness, we spent two years downsizing our lifestyle and debt and boosting our savings and courage. Now we are here, where fantasy meets reality and where daily blessings offer adventure beyond imagination. I’d love to say the past nine months have been all sunshine and sarongs, but I’d be lying. The word “adventure” best explains our mission to accept life as it comes and remember that paradise is truly a state of mind.

Good fortune, a 1995 SU Study Abroad semester in Zimbabwe, a travel-hungry spouse, and journalism gave me the gumption for this life change. I first traveled to Belize nearly eight years ago as a features writer with The Tennessean. My job was to spend three days covering a women’s interfaith retreat organized by a Belizean who resides in Nashville and founded a nonprofit organization called Bridging Belize Network. I took the trip, wrote the story, and kept in touch throughout marriage, motherhood, and a move back north to Syracuse. Three years ago, that same CEO asked me, and my husband, to move to Belize and coordinate their local projects. Disbelief struck us silent for about 10 minutes, then grins cramped our cheeks. We accepted the offer and began to swat every fear with faith. 

It’s easy to feel stuck in chill mode when you move from a cool, gray place to a hot, sunny one. But we are not on vacation—this is typical life near the Caribbean Sea. We live in a rural home made of cement and tile. A rainbow-colored hammock sways on the veranda. Palm, coconut, mango, lime, cashew, banana, soursop, and custard apple trees line the yard. Iguanas slink everywhere. A crocodile swims in the backyard bay. Sandflies and mosquitoes attack at night and at sunrise I run past cyclists, cattle, horses, parrots, and stray dogs.

Three of our daughters—number four was born five months ago here, at home, with a Belizean midwife—attend the local primary school, the lone Americans among Kriol kids. Aged 8, 5, and 3, they lace their speech with Caribbean melody. “Fahtee-one, fahtee-two, fahtee-tree,” counts the 3-year-old. Just as in Syracuse, I juggle homemaking, child care, and writing with a part-time gig that includes hosting medical missionaries and collecting oral histories. As a family, we have a special task to learn the “Belizean way,” and not rely on how we did things “back home.”

Here, patience is our professor. Here, Belizeans work hard but take life easy. Here, the focus is not on consumption, but creation. Hungry for tortillas? Make them! Need a bench? Build it! Need to relax? Crank up the music and move! Of course, Belize is not all beaches and rum, no place is. Crime is on the rise, gas prices are crazy ($6 U.S./per gallon) and unemployment fuels discontent. As everywhere, bliss lives beside burden: There is luxury and lack, scuba and strife, reef and risk.

This is the daily work of creating new comfort zones, and the lasting gift of travel—the truth that despite hardship, goodness is global. Even while huddled in one room listening to the moans of Hurricane Richard, even when electricity—and our fans—die in 90-degree heat, even as sweat streaks our cheeks, we declare the good: We still have a roof, water, towels, and each other. 

Of course, we miss family, friends, Target, Petit Library, apple picking, and autumn. Yet we pray we remember these days—of mangos, lime juice, and reggae—as a time when the Tewogbolas tripped all the way to Belize and found themselves at home.

Tasneem Grace-Tewogbola graduated from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in 1996 with a degree in journalism. Her husband, Zuberi Tewogbola, was a senior research analyst in SU’s Office of Development from 2005 to 2010. He is currently director of development at the University of Belize.

Tasneem and Zuberi