“You are ruining your children’s lives! How dare you! You are robbing them of their future!”
Used to criticism about my life choices from closer friends and family members, I stayed calm. Sipping my morning coffee, I chatted back, “So what makes you say that?”
His reply struck me: “Because the USA is the greatest country in the world!”
“Have you ever been there?” I replied dully.
“Well, no. But I have just been accepted to a college there.” (It was an Ivy League college.)
“You’re telling me that you think I am stupid to accept this great invitation?”
“First of all congratulations on your education. You will gain knowledge and experience. But education in the public grade schools in California is a far cry and a long, long way from the Ivy League Universities on the east coast.”
Education was not much of a problem for my children because they had already been bullied in school, betrayed by their friends and most importantly by their teachers who –with maybe 2 amazing exceptions– did not really do their jobs correctly. My children ended up hating school, teachers and most importantly –the almighty “math”.
I had already been homeschooling them for two years with the help of a free online public school that actually offered electives such as languages, art and music. These classes are unheard of in the average public school system. My kids are bright, thank God. Constantly, I catch them on my Netflix account streaming documentaries about history, science and the ills of society. They’re so well versed on most adult topics that they find most children boring. I overheard my son telling a woman in a Berkeley park a year ago, “I ‘m sorry, but I am just not that fond of children.”
School was the least of my worries, to be honest. My kids tore through the “school test prep” books for two grades each in about three weeks. Money was my biggest issue. I could not work while homeschooling the kids and even if I found a job, the cost of having a professional stay with them would literally mean going into debt further.
As a widow with a temporary Death Benefits retirement income that drastically gets reduced in three years when my daughter turns 16, I felt pushed against the financial wall. Couple this with the fact that my kids are growing rapidly and my 10 year old son started eating enough food daily to feed three full grown construction workers. My clothing bill was growing higher each month for my progeny as my 13 year old daughter decided it would be fun to grow taller than her mom. My car payment was close to $400. Before you get jealous of my rockin’ new Beemer, this payment was actually for a used Scion that was already 6 years old when I bought it. My once perfect credit was ruined by an over-zealous used car dealer who decided to automatically run my credit 30 times simultaneously in an afternoon without my knowledge. The house loan that had been approved for me one month before was now completely vaporized with his gleeful disdain for my financial well-being.
In two years I had managed to get myself into debt to the tune of $20,000. Paying for groceries with a credit card scraped my insides like fingernails on a chalkboard, but I had to feed my children. We tried to make it work. I had managed to negotiate an apartment down by $400 per month, but after the lease was up, they raised the rent to an impossible amount. We ended up homeless in my overpriced car for a couple weeks while trying to find a room in a house in the bay area. Eventually we found a large affordable room in gang territory in Richmond. Who knew it was so hard to find people who liked kids? It appears that everyone agrees with my son!
I had spent years reading about travel, escaping from this crazy rat race that people call the Great American Lifestyle. When my husband first died and we lost my gorgeous 4 bedroom house in the forest (he didn’t leave a will), I started researching Ecuador heavily. This was literally a full time job. I spent eight hours a day for fifteen months learning everything I needed to know about Ecuadorean culture, food, housing, real estate, shamans, holidays, even fun facts about their army! (They have a Peace Division in their army that arises one hour before the Sun daily to pray and meditate for world peace.) It seemed like Heaven on Earth to me and I was really happy about the notion of living in the Andes Mountains.
But reality set in when I realized that I had to buy round trip tickets for 3 months later, in case I was not approved for the 90 day Visa extension. The cost of these tickets was around $3600. My salary definitely did not cover that flight!
One night while talking to my good friend on Skype, she said, “Why don’t you just move to Guatemala? The housing is cheaper and you can cook for yourself. I bet you could live there for about $1000 per month. The kids would love it, it is cheap to fly there and taxis are cheap, you don’t even need a car!” Music to my ears! Not much thought was given to the car I left behind at LAX Airport. I called the credit company and told them where to find it!
Two weeks after this fateful conversation with Sara, we arrived in Antigua, Guatemala. My savings account was only $1000 lighter from this 11 hour airplane experience. No need to pay for a return ticket. The 90 day Visa is easily renewed by visiting nearby English-speaking Belize or the exciting, exotic Honduras for 72 hours. Some people have lived here for 30 years carrying on in this way. Imagine being forced to travel! To the Caribbean!
We learned the hard way that any apartment you find on Craigslist is meant to trap unsuspecting Americans into paying literally double for rent. Oh, and the deposit won’t be returned, another part of the scam. The best advice I can possibly give anyone who wishes to move to another country is to stay one week in a hostel and asking the locals about finding a cheap apartment.
We’ve been settling in to our enormous new 3 bedroom apartment, literally on the side of a mountain. I pay for filtered/purified water, propane for the stove and the rent, that’s all. I have gotten a little bit spoiled in hiring a maid to help two days a week. She cleans, does my laundry and all of my grocery shopping. Her salary sets me back a whopping $34 dollars per week. I feel like a queen! So much more free time!
Our new, easy Guatemalan lifestyle now costs an amazing $805/month, or roughly $6400 Quetzales, the local currency. This includes eating out weekly, entertainment, museum entrance fees and miscellaneous shopping ventures.
We’ve already met great friends here. The Mayan people tend to be warm and friendly. I have also had the great privilege of meeting several world famous people: the archaeologist who discovered jade in Guatemala, old-school Latin musicians and an artist whose work has been seen in galleries around the globe. We’ve tasted locally grown chocolate and world-class coffee.
Antigua is charming, like an old world Disneyland. The tourist police keep everyone safe and there are hundreds of expats and volunteers from the United States and European countries. It’s easy to walk these rough cobblestone streets for 6 or 7 hours without noticing the passage of time. The nearly 400-year-old Spanish Conquistadors Ruins are literally everywhere and capture the eye and the imagination.
The restaurants are varied and you can easily get Italian, Thai, Chinese, Mediterranean, Mexican, Arabian and obviously, Guatemalan food. I pay $100 Quetzales for a perfect steak dinner with fries, soup and a drink. This is $12 American. There are no extra taxes on anything here and the expected tip is 5-10%.
We plan to climb volcanoes, visit enchanted Lake Atitlan, where wishes come true and journey to the north jungle to take in the wonder and glory of the world’s largest pyramid in the ancient Mayan city, El Mirador.
Here in Guatemala my children are learning geography, history, archaeology, cultural studies, geology, world’s religions, nature and Spanish from the locals. When they start Spanish school, they will also learn music and art.
I am not robbing my children of anything. In fact, our lives are richer, fuller here. We are all happier and healthier in our new old town of Antigua, Guatemala.
Alanna Fox Starks, C.Ht., D.D. is a writer and creator, Executive Producer and radio talk show host of the internationally appealing show “Metaphysical Soul Speak”, heard Sundays and Wednesdays at http://SoulSpeakRadio.com, as a part of the greater Amazing Women of Power all positive programming radio network, found at http://AWOPTalk247.com. Her blog can be read at http://MermaidMoney.com and her first book, Memories of Me, is expected to be published later this year.