Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas in Arizona

As Belize is such a horrible, god-awful place, the State Department provides each employee on a two-year tour a Rest and Relaxation trip.  The general rule for R&R is that you can fly to (a) your R&R point or (b) anywhere in the United States or (c) anywhere on a cost-construct ticket, as long as the place you want to go is relaxing.  The R&R point is usually a first-world city like London, Rome, Sidney, etc.  For the Western Hermisphere, our R&R point is Miami, so I obviously was just going to go home.  The government only pays for the flight, the employee is responsible for the time off, housing, food etc.

As Belize is so close to Belize, I will make multiple journeys to the US, but I wanted to take my R&R at Christmas when tickets are usually the most expensive and when weather problems can cause the most headaches (the government generally buys higher fare tickets that are refundable and also bump you higher on any standby list).  In addition, I wanted to go to both Phoenix and Omaha.  I was able to cost construct and pay the difference in fare to go Belize-Phoenix and then return Omaha-Belize.

When I left Belize on December 23, I ran into five people that I knew at the airport.  Four of us were on the same flight out of town.  Belize really is a small country.  After a quick layover in Houston, my parents picked me up at the airport only ten hours after I left Belmopan.

Christmas is all about traditions and my family has many that I love:

  • Our Christmas tree is covered in unique ornaments that we find whenever we go on a trip, or we made growing up.  Every ornament has a story and putting up the tree is a walk down memory lane.  Now that I have my own tree, this is a tradition that I have continued.
  • On Christmas Eve, we usually eat Italian.  We had my father's delicious lasagne this year.
  • We also open our presents from each other on Christmas Eve.  We pass out all the wrapped gifts and go one-by-one opening a single present from youngest to oldest.  This year, my little sister's boyfriend joined us and for the first time, Katie didn't get to go first.
  • Our family loves to play cards and other games.  The game will change depending on who is there, but this year we've played 'hand and foot', progressive rummy, and scattergories. 
  • On Christmas morning, Santa comes with our stocking gifts.  Every since we moved to Shenandoah when I was in middle school, Santa started using large gift bags instead of actual stockings.  Santa is very practical at our house, he often brings underwear and socks, as well as toiletries or other useful items.  He also brings fun stuff as well.  This year, we decided to draw for Santas.  It was a nice change and I'd guess we'll keep it going next year.
  • We usually go see a movie on Christmas night as well.  This year, we saw "The Fighter" which was quite good.  Christian Bale was phenomenal.  It's nice to be able to go see a movie without having to take my passport.
 My older sister just bought a house and is moving into her house this week.  So, I get to spend a good part of my vacation helping her move a whole bunch of stuff.  Not my idea of a great time, but I'll do what I can.

I am also organizing a second HHE shipment.  Since I did not use all of the allotted weight during my first shipment, I can do a second shipment within the first year of going to post.  Since this was my first tour, they allowed me to amend my travel orders to allow for a shipment from Arizona.  I've purchased a 55" Plasma Multi-system TV.  I've also spent the past four days buying tons of stuff that is either not available in Belmopan or much more expensive there.  The amount of crap I've bought is astounding.  I am also getting a bunch of stuff from my parent's house.  I will hopefully get a photo before the packers come next week.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Quick hits

A few pictures as I count down the last few days before I head back to the U.S. for Christmas.  Besides Christmas and the holidays, I plan on buying some stuff and making another HHE shipment.  I will also head up to Nebraska/Iowa to see my friend Kris's new baby and see extended family and play in a poker tournament.  I also am getting to go to the dentist - YEAH!

I've been attacked by 'no-see 'ums', aka sand flies.  I apparently break out in a bad rash when bitten by these things and they itch like crazy.  The rash actually got worse then this before it went away.

This is the first year I've lived in a house since I was in high school.  I had to decorate and went all out with the six foot inflatable snow globe.  The kids love it.

A couple weeks ago, I took my Dad to the Big 12 Championship in Dallas.  We had a great time together despite the fact that Nebraska lost.

Beth and Kevin's son Max underneath my tree.

Most of the Consular section at the Embassy Christmas party - Mark, Jennifer, Ashley, Karla, Charise, Me, and Sue.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A typical day

Whenever someone tells me what they do for work, my next question is almost always, "What does that mean?"  If someone is "relocation coordinator" in Dubai (I met someone with that title yesterday), it means that they help all of the expats who work for the large corporations settle in and get housing, utilities, licenses, etc.  I still have no idea what a project manager does, despite the fact that I have known several.  They can never adequately explain it.

So, what does a Vice-Consul do?  Every post is unique and Belmopan is smaller than most (or all) posts.  Because of this, I am not just a lowly vice-Consul, I am also the Visas Chief.  This means that I have more things to do than just hundreds of Non-Immigrant Visa interviews.

A typical day starts at 645 when I get up.  I am usually showered and dressed by 715, so I eat breakfast and surf the internet until about 755.  Then, I leave for work.  I arrive at 8.  (Yes, I have a five minute commute).  Generally, I will spend a half-hour to 45 minutes checking e-mail and catching up with anything left over from the afternoon before.

Sometime between 830 and 930 (depending on how busy we are), I will start NIV interviews.  During our slow season (now!), we have between 20-35 interviews.  During the busy season, we will have between 50 and 70 per day.  For each interview, I have to review their application and file, take their fingerprings, ask them some questions, take notes, and then determine whether or not they qualify for the visa.  I try for about 5 minutes per interview.  This is slower than some of the visa mill posts, but still fast enough to keep people moving.  Depending on the volume of cases, I will finish interviewing between 11 and 2. 

Generally, I will take my lunch break at noon or when I finish interviewing.  I go home for lunch about half the time and eat at our cafeteria the other half.  Occassionally, I will go out for lunch to one of the few restaurants in town.  Lunch is an hour and I am generally back at my desk by 1.  I then spend between a 30 minutes to an hour catching up on all the e-mails that were sent while I was interviewing.

In the afternoon, I will usually either do Immigrant Visas (on Mondays and Wednesdays) or catch up with the backlog of all the other work I have going on.  Immigrant visas are a completely different beast than NIVs because there is a lot more paperwork and the people are obviously moving to the US permanently.  These take a lot longer than NIVs - about 30 minutes per case.  Longer if there are multiple applicants.

I generally finish between 3-4 and spend the rest of the day catching up with cases.  Anyone who does not have all their information at the interview needs to have the case reviewed when everything is available.  I respond to Congressional inquiries.  As I said before, I have to do a lot of other things that are outside the normal junior officer's role.  I have to write performance reports for the local staff.  I have to work on all of the weird visa cases - the ones Post only sees once or twice a year.  I am in charge of the Visa section of the website.  I have been working on establishing DNA testing procedures.  I am one of three board members on the newly created Commissary.  I will be writing the "Post of the Month" report for Belmopan in State Magazine.  I am doing less fraud now that our new Vice-Consul is here.

I work to fit all of these things in to the late afternoons and Fridays.  I leave for work around 5 and am usually home by 505.  I will usually relax for an hour or two and then go to the Pig and Parrot or the Tuesday Tumble or one of my friend's house.  Generally, I head to bead around 11, read for a bit and am asleep by midnight.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Lots of small things today as I get ready to head to Dallas for the Big 12 Championship Game
  • Made my first prison visit today.  We make quarterly visits to the prison to see the long-timers.  They were all friendly enough and were happy with the items we were able to bring (toiletries, some donated clothes, magazines, and a holiday meal donated by people at the Embassy).  I didn't get to see enough of the prison to know how bad it is.  I know I wouldn't to spend time there, but I am pretty sure there are worse places to be in prison.
  • I have been attacked by 'no-see'ums'.  These tiny sand flies have been all over Belmopan recently and I got tore up last week.  The itch is worse, in my opinion, than mosquito bites.  Plus, I apparently have some reaction to them as my leg turns all red and splotchy from the bites.  Quite disgusting.
  • It's Christmas time and I have been trying to do my part in decorating my house.  Unfortunately, things are not working out as well as I'd hoped.  Half the lights my parents sent aren't working and I haven't taken the time to get them working properly.  Palm trees are much more dificult to string lights on than the oaks and elms of my Midwestern youth.  I can't hang any lights on the house, except for icicles on the gutters because I can't get the lights to stay up (guess what?  Duct tape CAN'T do everything).  Now, I have been having electrical issues with one of my extension cords apparently causing the circuits to break.
  • The one big hit has been the inflatable snowglobe I bought.  The neighborhood kids love it.
  • Belizeans use "good night" as a greeting.  It strikes me as odd every time I hear it.  Where an American would say "Good evening", the Belizean will say "Good night".  I constantly feel like people are telling me to leave.
  • Wikileaks sucks, though it has no immediate effect on my personal job.
  • I can't believe the 2022 World Cup was awarded to Qatar (it is actually pronounced "cutter").  I think it would have been great if the US had won, but it probably has been too soon since they last hosted.  Twice in 30 years is a bit much.  What I am surpised, however, is that Qatar got it over Australia.  Qatar is smaller than Rhode Island, it is HALF the size of Belize.  I just can't imagine having 12 World Cup size stadiums in a space the size of Rhode Island.  If Qatar had combined with another Middle Eastern country like Belgium and the Netherlands did in their bid, I could see it.  That being said, I can see myself bidding Rio 2014, Moscow 2018 and Qatar (I don't even know what the capital is) in 2022.  I think following World Cup soccer is as good of a bidding strategy as anything.
  • I started SCUBA training last week with my confined pool dive and will likely continue my certification next weekend with a couple of dives.  More on that later.
  • I have no problem with the proposed pay freeze for federal workers.  I'd like to have the 2-3% raise that government workers get every year, but I can do without.  What I won't be happy with is if it turns into a pay cut.  Federal workers who are in DC get locality pay, which is approximately 22% on top of their base salary.  When you serve overseas, you don't get this.  You do get, however, hardship pay, danger pay, or costs of living adjustments depending on the post.  What has happened, however, is that when people go from DC to somewhere like Nigeria, they actually have a dip in their take-home pay.  This clearly removes the incentive to go to Nigeria.  In order to increase bidding on the hardship posts, Congress approved the overseas comparability pay, which would eliminate the gap between DC pay and overseas pay.  So far, we have received 16%, with another 6% due in August.  It is almost certain we will not get the 6% bump, but there are rumors we will also lose the 16%.  Needless to say, this would suck.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Thanksgiving and 30

For Thanksgiving this year, the Ambassador and Mrs. Thummalapally invited what seemed like every American in Belmopan for dinner at the CMR (Chief of Mission Residence).  They set up a huge tent on their patio and cooked up a wonderful dinner.  We had turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green been caserole, stuffing, and a few other things I can't remember.  It was quite delicious.
The kids' table.  They all insisted on eating together.
Friday was the Nebraska-Colorado game, and I had to watch the game while also preparing for my friend Aaron's surprise 30th birthday that I was hosting that night.  For the party, I was making homemade jalapeno poppers and fresh guacamole.  This was the first time I had tried either recipe and they were a smashing success (despite the fact that my hands were stinging all night from the peppers).

The party was super hero themed and once again, the residents of Belmopan did not disappoint.  We had tons of great costumes.
The birthday boy is the one with the cape in the middle.

Batman and the Joker - he colored his actual hair for the costume
Despite my late night at the party, I got up this morning to start my certification process for SCUBA diving.  We did our confined dive in the pool.  It was pretty darn awesome, even just as a confined dive in the pool.  When I get back from Dallas (I am going to Dallas next week to watch the Big 12 Championship with my Dad), I will go out and start doing my certification dives.  I will have to do 4 dives, probably over two days.  It will likely take me until after Christmas to finish up certification, but then I will be able to dive almost anywhere.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day Trip

Belize has a great many things.  A gorgeous reef, amazing people, beautiful oceans, fantastic jungles, awesome ruins and even cave tubing!  What it does not have, however, is a first-run movie theater, fast food, and a shopping mall, and a Sam's Club.  With that in mind, a few friends and I piled into my car on Friday and headed to Mexico.
Friday was the Belizean national holiday of Garifuna Settlement Day.  According to Wikipedia, the Garinagu (singular Garifuna) are descendents of Carib, Arawak, and West Africans.  Belize has a significant number of Garinagu, centered around the area of Dangriga.  There are Garinagu in Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala.  They are especially known for their music, particularly their drumming.  The most common form is called punta and its modern form is called "punta rock."  Check out this song by Supa G.  (Be sure to watch the whole thing, it's hilarious).

But, rather than enrich ourselves in a unique Belizean cultural event, we went to Mexico to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I.  We left my house around 730.  It is normally about a 3 hour drive to Chetumal and we were making good time until we hit the border.  Normally, cars with diplomatic plates are waived through after showing the diplomatic passport (note: they don't stop every car and only make some go through immigration, so it is not only a diplomat thing).  This time, we got stopped and had to spend a half hour there.  Fortunately, the guy who stopped us jumped us to the front of the queue, which was about 2 hours long.

We missed the 11 am showing we were hoping to go to, so we bought tickets to the 220 showing.  After buying our tickets, we stopped for lunch at Burger King and then went to Sam' Club.  I bought cheeses and salami and some Christmas gifts and decorations.

The movie was awesome, although the subtitles were a bit distracting.  It was totally worth a 7 hour round-trip drive and international border crossing to see the movie.  The best part?  The ticket cost me 35 pesos, a medium popcorn and drink cost me 67 pesos.  At 12 pesos per dollar that amounts to $9 total.

After the movie, we hit the mall and the grocery store.  I stocked up on a few more things I can't find in Belize.  (I find it hilarious that all my friends in Mexico cross into the States to do their shopping and we have to go to Mexico to do ours).  We hit the Corozal free zone and got some alcohol at super cheap prices on our way home.  We got home about 930, 14 hours later.  A very successful road trip.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My addiction

I am an addict.  They say the first step is admitting that you have a problem.  I have a problem.  I make decisions about my time and about my life based on this addiction.  This addiction has provided me great joy, but also great sorrow.  In order to feed my addiction, I have spent thousands of dollars.  I have avoided the company of others when I need a fix.  My addiction has led me to  miss out on SCUBA diving, snorkeling, hashes, Mayan ruins, caves, and BBQs.  My addiction is Nebraska football.

Honestly, I am really obsessed.  I have managed to watch more games than I ever thought possible this season - all thanks to being in a US time zone and having US television.  Next year, as Nebraska heads to the Big Ten, I am lobbying the local cable company to start carrying the Big Ten Network (I also found that a friend of mine has the network and I will likely be pestering him next year to watch games if I can't get it).

The best news is that I am headed to Dallas to meet my Dad to watch the Big 12 Championship game.  The Huskers (barring a horrible collapse the next two weeks) will be playing in the game for a chance to go to the Fiesta Bowl (unless a miracle happens and they make the National Championship game).  Either way, I actually own tickets to both since the game is in Phoenix where I will spend Christmas and New Years.

So, as much joy and pain the Huskers bring me during the season, nothing will compare to the utter depression that begins every January after they play the last game of the season.

Go Big Red.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Looking in the parental mirror

Like all kids, whenever I was told that I would grow up to be just like my parents, I always laughed it off a bit.  I would be different.  Usually, someone would make this argument when I had an argument with my parents.  During these moments, the last thing I'd want to hear is how I would grow up to be like my father.  I am pretty sure it is every teenager's nightmare to be there parents.

But, here it is - I am my parents.  Clearly, my life is different than my parents.  At 29, I am single, a law school graduate, living in Belize, working for the State Department.  At 29, my parents had two toddlers and worked in their restaurant (my Mom may have been at Ramada by this time, I am not sure).  Neither had ever lived anywhere other than Omaha, Nebraska; they were surrounded by family and life-long friends.  Our lives are clearly different.

But, in so many ways we are the same.  We are all close with our family and talk to our parents almost daily (my Mom's parents had died by the time she was 29, but she talked to her Mom everyday before she died).  We are spontaneous and like to travel.  My parents love to tell the stories about life BC (before children) where they'd drive to Colorado on a whim when they got off their shift on Saturday night (1 am) and didn't have to be back until Monday evening.

I really resemble my parents in our mannerisms.  When my Mom sits in her Lazy-boy, she always has one leg tucked underneath the other.  She will switch legs every 20 minutes or so.  I do the exact same thing (though I don't have to stand up to switch legs as she does).  When my father is relaxing in his chair, he will often throw one of his arms on top of his head, so that his triceps is next to his ear, the crook of the elbow bent with the forearm resting on top and the hand dangling.  I do this constantly.

I tell the same corny jokes I make fun of my father for.  (Side note - when driving around Belize, there are tons of chickens that roam free.  At least once a month, I will approach a chicken that is crossing the road.  I make a joke about "Why did the chicken cross the road?" and I giggle EVERY time.  This joke does not stop being funny.)  I also tend to tell the same stories repeatedly.  The only difference is that I don't get the story wrong.

When I was growing up, my Mom had to leave for work at 630-645 every morning.  Despite this ungodly hour, she would actually get up around 5-530, so she could have her coffee and read the newspaper in the morning.  She loved this time of her day and hated whenever any of us ruined it by being awake.  I always thought she was crazy for wasting so much potential sleep time.  But, if you substitute "cereal" for "coffee" and "internet" for "newspaper", I do the exact same thing.  

With my (lack of ) commute and the time it takes me to get ready for work, I could conceivably get up at 730-740 everyday and still make it to work on time (one of the many reasons my job rocks).  But, I need that time in the morning to orient myself for the day.  If I wake up late, the rest of the day seems off-kilter.  And I think that having someone else around at that time would ruin it.

If I have to grow up to be like someone, I am glad that it can be my parents.

(I am curious how many people will just read the title of this post and think I got a girl pregnant?)

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Red Dress Run

I've mentioned the Hash several times on this blog.  Today was one of the biggest events of the year - the red dress run.  The story of the Red Dress Run comes from a Hash in California (there are Hashes all over the world).  Some hasher invited a woman to join him for the Hash without explaining it to her.  Not knowing that it was a running club, she arrived to the Hash in a red dress.  Not daunted by the constant ridicule from the other Hashers, she went on the run anyway.  The next Hash a few guys wore red dresses to commemorate her zeal and a tradition was born.  Now, Hashes across the world have an annual Red Dress Run - often to raise money for charities.
"Wrong Way" went for the strapless dress

Do you have your tickers?  To the Gun Show - "One Stroke", "Granny Banger", "Wrong Way" and "Visa Molester"

"Lamb Chop" took a different approach to the dress requirement.

Does this dress make me look fat?  "Cockspur Squaw" and "Visa Molester"

The circle of Red Dresses

Monday, November 1, 2010

Some Halloween Photos

My friend Chris who came from Guatemala for the weekend - and brought his pimp suit

A Mexican wrestler and snake charmer

Aaron went as Dr. Who and I went as Aaron

Pringles, anyone?

The (C^3)/2 = Half the Crystal City Crew

Apparently, I am now a pimp and Chris is a skinny Fred Flintstone

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rock me like a Hurricane part II

I should let you know that I wrote last night's post when I thought the storm was over, but it was really during the eye of the storm.  So, we had to go through everything all over again.  Did you know that the wind blows a different direction on the backside of the hurricane.  Kind of cool.  Well, here are the promised pictures.

Tree hit my house

Tree took out the monkey bars

Tree pulled up by the roots
Trees snapped like twigs

My driveway this morning

Tree on top of my house

The tree came up by the roots.  Good thing we have strong concrete houses as I was sitting right  inside the white door.

Somehow the random circus tent that has no purpose or owner remained standing with minimal damage.

The extent of the damage to my house after the tree was removed.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rock me like a Hurricane

I'll repost this tomorrow with pictures.

I like lists.  They are neat and orderly.  You can compare lists.  They are a good way of measuring things.  One of the lists that I have is that I want to live through (with the obvious emphasis on surviving) every sort of natural disaster.  I already have quite a few checked off -

  • Tornadoes - numerous.  Most notable would be at Hy-Vee or camping with the speech group.
  • Blizzards - hell, I had four last year (Snowmageddon in Dec., then Christmas blizzard in Omaha, then the two storm Snowpocalypse in February)
  • Floods - flood of 1993 in Iowa is most memorable, but also a few other small ones
  • Earthquake - a small tremor woke me up in St. Louis in the spring of 2008
  • Volcanic eruption - Mt. Etna, December 2002.
The biggest natural disaster that I had not yet experienced was a hurricane.  I'll be honest.  I always thought hurricanes were a bit overblown.  It's just a little bit of wind and they give you three days notice.  How bad could it be?  Well, after this storm, I am singing a bit of different tune.

First of all, the warnings are helpful.  You aren't surprised by a hurricane the way you are surprised by a tornado.  You are definitely less likely to be killed by a hurricane IF YOU PREPARE FOR IT.  Here's the problem, there are so many close calls that you tend to ignore the storm until the day before or the day of the storm.  Hurricane Richard is the fourth tropical storm that has been in the vicinity of Belize (Alex, Igor, and Matthew) in the four months that I have been here.  None of the previous storms had any kind of bite.  The build up of these storms is so often overblown that I had a group of friends who were headed out to a private caye this weekend and who actually went on Saturday, figuring the storm would blow over.  (They smartly changed their minds and returned home Saturday night).

The other thing I failed to understand was how constant the wind was.  I guess I always heard them talk about "sustained winds of 70 mphs with gusts of up to 100 mph."  But, I guess I always assumed that the wind was similar to wind storms that I have been in.  Those are usually gust followed by calm, followed by gust, etc. etc.  SO, that is what I was expecting with the hurricane.  But, that's not what happens.  Sustained wind means sustained wind.  It was blowing constantly without let-up for a good two hours.  For an hour in the middle, it was just unbelievable.  And this was a category 1 or 2.  I don't think I can imagine one of the really big ones.

There are some trees down around the housing compound.  Specifically, a tree fell on my house.  I can't see any structural damage, but the large tree is definitely leaning on the house.  There are also a ton of branches in my driveway, so I can't get out without moving them.  

Anyway, now I can cross "hurricane off the list.
  • Hurricane (2010 - Hurricane Richard).
  • Forrest fire
  • Mud slide
  • Typhoon
  • Tsunami

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The worst part about my career

"Al, Please call me ASAP.  Shelley."  This was the e-mail I got this afternoon from my sister.  Earlier, I had gotten a voice mail on my magic jack that I hadn't listened to.  I immediately listened to the message and heard my other sister telling me that Nanu, my grandfather, had collapsed in the hospital and was unconscious.  Every worst fear began racing through my head as I went home call Shelley.  Minutes felt like hours as the Magic Jack had to download a software update.  Finally, I got a connection.

"Is he alive?"  I didn't even bother to say hello.

"He's alive." I began to breathe again.  She told me that he had been having trouble breathing and collapsed when they were moving him for some tests.  At one point, they had to shock his heart.  They still don't know what's wrong with him, but he is stable.  He is better now than he was earlier today.  He's conscious and alert.

The scariest part for me today was when my sister told me that Nanu had asked for his girls - my aunts - to come to Phoenix.  My grandparents are absurdly secretive when it comes to medical issues.  They would often not tell their children about major surgery until it was over, so the children wouldn't worry.  When my parents moved to Phoenix a few years ago to be closer to my grandparents, they were allowed to know a bit more, but were often sworn to secrecy.  So, when I hear my grandfather wants to see his girls, I fear that he thinks it's almost over.

5 years ago, my Aunt Kathy was dying in the hospital from cancer.  I was in my first semester in law school.  The last weekend she was alive, my mother and sister flew up to Omaha to be with her.  Aunt Kathy made me promise not to come up to visit - that she would be there for Thanksgiving.  So, I didn't drive up there.  She died that week.  I've always regretted not going.

I know my grandparents will probably die while I am abroad.  It's a fact of my life and career.  But, it is so hard, being here by myself.  There is not a single person in the entire country that I have known for more than 5 months.  Think about that.  I wish I could be with my family right now.

I haven't decided if I will go to Phoenix to see Nanu or not.  It will depend on how he is doing and what my parents recommend.  If you are the praying type, please say one for my grandfather.
The three Al's - me, my dad and Nanu - at my cousin Matt's wedding

Nanu dancing with my Aunt Joan
Nanu showing off the beautiful turkey he cooked.
(When my little sister was a toddler, she and my dad would get into fights arguing over who loved who more.  He would say, "I love you more" followed by her, "No, I love you more."  This would continue back and forth, until at some point, one of them upped it to "I love you the MOST."  Of course, they would then usually argue over who loved who the MOST.  But ever since then, our family always shows our affection by telling the others that we love them the MOST.)

Nanu, I love you the MOST.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why we get 20%

Today, several officers went up to Belize City for a couple of meetings.  As we were about to leave, we got a call from our ACS officer asking us to stop by one of the two hospitals in Belize City to get a Privacy Act Waiver.  (Whenever an American needs our help, we have to get permission from them to talk to anyone outside the Department about their case, including their family).

I wasn't expecting much, but I was still surprised at how bad the facilities were.  The whole hospital was dusty - a slick film over everything.  The walls were painted that hospital green that you see in every part of the world.  The medical ward where the American was being treated was under construction, but still being used.  Walls were half finished, ceiling tiles were broken and missing, wires were dangling all over the place.  The rooms housed six patients with little to no privacy.  There was no A/C so all the windows were open, without screens.

Now, while the facilities were awful, most of the staff was quite helpful.  The nurses were going through a staff change and I could see them communicating the status of the patients.  The doctor seemed capable and took the time to go over the patients condition with him.  From what I saw today, the deplorable conditions were not due to a lack of care.

But, I now understand why we are medevaced out of the country for any procedure.  This hospital was one of the NICE hospitals where we recommend people to go to (if they need to go to a doctor in Belize).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Keeping busy

I am a person who likes routine.  When I do things, I find a way that works and I tend to repeat them.  This is true at work and at home.  That is not to say I am not spontaneous.  I once stood at an airport and looked up at the departures board to decide where I would go for Spring Break (we flew to Nice and then took a train to Barcelona).  But once I find a way of doing something, I tend to stick to it.  My life in Belmopan is no different.

Tonight was the Tuesday Tumble - a walk/run around Belmopan's ring road followed by dinner at my friend's pizzeria.  Tomorrow is the Pig and Parrot - the bar at the British High.  Thursday is for La Cabana which is the club in town and is usually hopping on Thursday nights.  On Friday and Saturday nights, there is usually a party at someone's house - either someone from the Embassy or Belmopan Party Central.  Every other Saturday is the Hash House Harriers.  (Saturday and Sunday are also for football).  Finally, Monday nights are game night at Kevin and Beth's.

The ironic part is that these are all just variations of a theme.  Each night is usually the same people in some combination at a different location.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Post Card Time

Dear Family and Friends -

I have postcards to send out, but I don't really have anyone's physical address.  So, if you would like to get a post card, send me an e-mail or facebook message with your address.


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Video Killed the Radio Star

I mentioned last week that I am working on promoting the Diversity Visa Lottery.  Today was the day that I was going to talk to the press on Love FM.  Love FM is both a radio and TV station.  By far, it has the largest audience in Belize.  This morning, I was going to appear on their morning show from 830 to 900.

When I arrived in Belize City, I met two of our staff at the radio station.  As we waited for my turn to go on the air, I read a quote they had on the wall that I really enjoyed.  "Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."  - Calvin Coolidge.

Who knew that Calvin Coolidge could be so inspiring?  I love that quote.  I think that I have always worked hard and given my all to everything I do.  Nonetheless, I had been a bit nervous before going on TV until I read that.  At that point, I knew the interview would go well.

We got started a bit late because the earlier segments had run long.  As soon as we got on the air, they asked me a few quick questions and allowed me to talk about the Diversity Visa Lottery.  I think I got the message across about what the visa is and how people can apply.  One of the announcers asked me about the border fence and whether Americans disliked the greencard lottery.  I think I answered both of those questions well.  Because of the late start, we didn't have time to open it up to callers - I didn't mind.

This is also my week as duty officer.  After locking up the Embassy this evening, I had to hurry home to watch the Nebraska game.  Unfortunately, just as the 3rd quarter started, I got a call from the guards at the Embassy that an American had been robbed and needed some help.  I was able to find him a place to stay for the night and we will work on the case tomorrow, but I missed most of the 3rd quarter and the start of the 4th quarter.  Fortunately, the American is okay and Nebraska rolled over Kansas State. 

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Diversity Visa Lottery

One of the advantages of the slow down in visa applications is that it has allowed me time to work on some larger special projects.  One of those projects was the Fraud Summary.  Apparently, I have been the acting Fraud Prevention Manager, so I got to write my first cable.  Fortunately, we do this report every six months and not much has changed from last time.  So, two days ago I got to see my first cable go out to the State Dept.  I even had one of my A-100 friends in Guatemala notice my name on the cable.

(Speaking of Guatemala, I am not sure why I have so many readers from Guatemala.  It is my second highest country.  So, if you are reading this from Guatemala, please leave a comment telling me how you found this site).

The other project that I have been working on is promotion for the Diversity Visa (DV) Lottery.  The DV Lottery - aka Greencard Lottery - allows people to apply for immigrant visas even if they don't have family members to petition for them in the United States.  It's a great program that allows people to go to the United States legally.  The main restriction is that people from high immigration countries (such as Mexico, Canada, China, Vietnam, Haiti, Jamaica, Guatemala, Brazil, India, etc) are not eligible.

Despite the fact that Belize is eligible and that many Belizeans want to immigrate to the US, very few Belizeans have applied for this program.  I'm not sure of the exact numbers, but rumor has it that only two Belizeans applied last year - they both received visas.  I discovered how poor the participation is in this program when I got here and decided that I wanted to promote the program.  A month ago, they announced when the registration would be open, so I began to formulate our plans for promotion.

The first thing I did was to create this website.  I've been working on this for several weeks and we launched it last week.  I also put together a couple of flyers - one flyer on the DV Lottery and one with general information for non-immigrant visas.  Today, we sponsored a booth at the Annual General Meeting of the National Association of Village Councils.  This is an organization that brings together all the small town councils for the small villages in Belize (two favorite names of villages in Belize are "Lucky Strike" and "Double Head Cabbage").  We got a pretty decent response from people about the DV Lottery.

The biggest promotion will be next week when I go on national radio and television.  One of the main local radio/TV stations (LOVE FM) broadcasts on both radio and TV.  I will be on the air for a half hour promoting the DV Lottery and answering questions about visas.  I'm a bit nervous about going live on TV and radio, but it should help reach a large audience.  I am also drafting a press release for the local newspapers and plan to distribute some of the flyers in strategic locations around Belize and Belmopan.

For more information about the DV Lottery, see the official website.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Old School - From Behind the Iron Curtain

In our second installment of my blog before I had a blog, I travel to Budapest.  Though I only spent a weekend there, Budapest will rank quite high on my bid list should it be available.  I definitely want to go back.

Hello all,

Its been a little over a week since I last wrote. I
meant to write this one earlier, but I have been busy
working since I got back.

Budapest was a great time. I got into Budapest last
Tuesday. I found my hostel, dropped off my stuff and
went looking aroubnd. For those of you who don't
know, Budapest is really two cities in one. Buda and
Pest seperated by the Danube. The two sides really
could not be more different. Buda is very hilly, with
a castle and some other "old" stuff around it. Pest
is completely flat - literally no inclines whatsoever.
Most of Pest's buildup comes from during the Hapsburg
era of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. The whole part
of the city is covered with cool architectural styles
that just seem to say to me European in the very
stereotypical sense.

That night I walked a little around Pest, going down
to the river and walking along it, crossing the Danube
on the Chain Bridge - the city-s most famous bridge.
After eating at some place (odd thing, the menu had
Hungarian, German, and Italian, but no English - good
thing I know Italian), I went back to the hostel and
found some people to go out with for a drink or two.

On Wednesday, I was going to walk all around Pest. I
went to the synagogue - the largest in Europe and
second largest in the world. I think its the first
time I ever went into a synagogue, because they made
me put on one of those round hats. Also, this
synagogue is known for looking more like a roman
catholic church rather than a synagogue, so it was
really difficult to force myself NOT to make the sign
of the cross. I walked around more of the city and
then made my way to City PArk. Its a neat little park
in town that has a lake, a castle, a few museums, and
hero-s square. Hero's square is one of the few things
I had seen before on tv-quite a nice square.

I also went to the art museum there, which features a
nice collection of Italian, Spanish, and French art.
Now some of these pieces were quite good, but I have
become way to jaded about art. I kept looking at the
artists and wondering who these guys were. Even when
they had a Raphael there - quite an acomplishment- I
felt it wasn-t raphaels best day with a brush. Going
daily to the vatican museums can really take away
one's perspective on art.

After I left the art museum, I decided to go to Statue
Park. Statue park houses all of the old communist
staues that were in budapest, but were taken down
after the fall of communism. My directions said to
take the bus to the end of the line, then catch this
other bus to staue park. So I get on the bus and I am
soon into the suburbs of Pest. Finally the line ends,
I get off and I am next to a huge shopping mall called
the "outdoor Asian center" Oops, I took the bus the
wrong way. So I never made it to statue park. Iwnt
to the hostel for a bit and then that night I went on
a pub crawl.

On Thursday, I was headed to Pest. My first stop was
up to castle hill, I took the funicular (one of my
favorite words). The views from castle hill were
astounding... absolutely unbelievable to look down on
the Danube and over at flat Pest. Included in the
view are St. Stephens's basilica and the parliment
building which is modeled after Britains. I also went
to Mathias Church and Fisherman's market.

Then I walked down the hill headed to the thermal
baths. After lunch I went to the thermal baths.
Budapest has natural warms spring waters under the
city, which certain places have brought into warm
baths. It is said to be great for several different
diseases, and soreness from walking around hills all

The bath house I went to, had both the thermal baths
and a swimming pool. I would have done both, but it
cost more so I went just to the baths. (note: i never
really understood the hungarian money which basicvally
equaled 200:1. So i didn-t realize until later that I
could have gotten a 30 minute massage for $15). the
baths were split from male and female and I soon
understood why. Now I had planned on doing this
before I left Rome so I brought my swimtrunks, however
not many people did. if you didn-t bring a duit they
gave you a little white apron. In the front it
covered about the size of a sheet of paper, in the
back - nothing. I had another American guy offer me
20 bucks for my suit as I went to change.

The baths were nice. There were two main pools - not
huge, about the size of someone's pool at home. Big
enough to not have to be right next to someone. One
bath was the temperature of warm pool water. The
other was the temperature of a hot bath when you first
get in and it didn't cool off. There was also a steam
sauna and a cold pool - which was absolutely freezing.

Now I went to the baths by myself and it would have
been fine, except people watching is not something you
want to do when its all guys in little aprons that
don-t cover much. For those in the pools its fine,
but those in walking around, puts everything you don-t
want to see basically at eye level. Lets put it this
way... never in my life have I been glad to see men
wearing speedos.

The baths were quite relaxing though and I did spend a
few hours there. then I went back to the hostel and
laid around a while. that night, I ended up going and
seeing a movie. I saw hitchhiker's guide to the
galaxy, which was hilarious. Much better than I
expected. "So Long and thanks for all the fish"
better at least get nominated for best song next year.

On Friday, I walked around alittle bit before I caught
my plane home. Since I've gotten home on Friday, I
have been working pretty much every day, so thats
basically what i've done since then.

I'd like to hear what's going on with everyone back
home, so please send me an email.


A view of Budapest

Hanging out in Hero's Square

This was a statue outside the synagogue.  It represented some aspect of the Holocaust.
I think each branch was for a person from Budapest who died in the camps.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Old School - I got a toilet seat

Back in the day before blogs existed, I sent out mass e-mails to friends and family with all my doings when I was living abroad.  I saw some of these in my e-mail account and thought I'd share some every once in a while.  If I edit anything, I will bold that.  The following is an e-mail from March 2005, when I was working in Rome.

That may seem like an unusual title, but its true, I
just got a toilet seat. If you've ever been to
Europe, you know its fairly common to not have a
toilet seat on public restrooms. it is however
unusual to not have one in private homes. For the
first few weeks I lived in my apartment, we didn't
have a toilet seat but now we got one.

On other apartment situations, I believe my roommates
hate me. This is mainly due to the fact that i had my
three loud dirty friends stay here about 4 days after
I moved in. I specifically asked my landlord if I
could have people visit and he said yes, but the day
he was installing my toilet seat, he told me that my
roomates were complaining. Since we made it through
those few days, everything should be okay now. the
rest of my guests should not be nearly as loud as my
fraternity brothers.

My last letter was quick and that is because I was in
a hurry as we were leaving that day to go to the
Almafi coast. If you've never heard of the Almafi
coast it is the famous two lane highway (that is a
generous description) between Sorrento and Salerno,
south of Naples. We rented a car from a place near
Villa borghese, about 20 minutes by public transit
from my apartment. Just Lukin and I went to pick up
the car. It then took us 45 minutes to drive back. 
The streets of Rome are crazy, very difficult to drive
and very difficult to navigate. We picked the others
up and there were five of us in the car. Lukin was
driving, i was navigating and Aaron, Kyle and Julie
were in the back seat. (Julie is a Danish girl we met
on Sat night. Lukin asked her if she wanted to come,
she said yes, and surprisingly did come with us.) We
drove a Renault Scenic, which cost us about 35 Euro
each, including the extra insurance.

We loaded the car with our stuf and a case of peroni
(cheap, but delicious Italian beer) and tried to get
out of Rome. There is a big loop around the city that
connects you to the Autostrada. Since I had no idea
of how to get out of the city, we just tried to drive
in a straight line until we hit the loop. It took us
a little while, but we made it there and had a fairly
uneventful drive to Sorrento. The only problem was
the Autostrada just stopped and we had to get off, but
this led us to Sorrento without problem.

When we got into Sorrento, i had looked up a few names
of hostels and addresses, but we really had no way of
finding it. We had no map and no street name is valid
for more than 10 blocks. As we were driving around,
we drove right past the hostel, stopped and got beds. 
We stayed up for a little while, but basically went to
bed as we didn't get there until 1130.

The next day we got up around 9 and left the hostel by
1030. We headed for the coast road, but the traffic
was horrendus. There turned out to be an accident in
front of us. Once we passed the accident, the only
problem was the narrow roads. This presented a huge
problem as we found ourselves between hitting an
oncoming car or a parked car. Lukin chose the parked
car and broke our side mirror. Oops, good thing we
got the extra insurance.

The Almafi coast was absolutely beautiful and was
absolutely terrifying. The roads were so narrow and
so curvy. I wasn't driving, but just riding in the
car was scary. I have never felt car sick before, but
I did here. We stopped in Positano, home of the
famous Lemoncello. then we drove to Minori, where we
sat on a decripit old pier. We eventually made our
way to Salerno, the end of the coast road and our stop
for the night. 

In Salerno, we found a place to park our car and went
in search of our hostel..We miracuosly found the
hostel in just a few minutes, without using the
directions. We then went to the beach. The beach was
disgusting and dirty, but there was a nice little
boardwalk, where we sat and drank and people watched. 
After a few hours there, we went to eat dinner. We
all had some type of seafood pasta and it was
delicious. All the fresh seafood and stuff - yummy.

After dinner we went back to the beach and just talked
and watched people. Kyle and Aaron were a little
drunk (read alot drunk) so they went back around 930. 
Julie, Lukin and I stayed out late until about 12. 

The next morning we left Salerno anddrove back to
Rome. We returned the car without a problem (except i
think I gave myself an ulcer from Aaron's driving). 
We took a little nap and the guys went out exploring
Rome for the last time. We met up at the Spanish
steps and then went to dinnner. After dinner, we went
to my firend Joe's house where they were having a
little party. When we left there, we decided to walk
back home.

As we were headed up the great road of the
reconcilliation (built by Mussolini as a great
entrance to the Vatican) it was approaching midnight. 
Literally, as we stepped into St. Peter's square, the
bells of the Church began to ring in the new day and
my birthday. the others sang me happy birthday in
front of the great church. it was a very surreal

The next day we all got up early, the guys to catch
their flight and me to go to work. I gave a tour on
my birthday and right after it was over my parents
called me. After the tour, i went out to lunch with
one of the other guides. That evening, I decided not
to go out (mostly as all my friends either were
working, hungover, or left the country that day). 
Instead I went to a movie. I saw Hitch, which was
okay, but nothing spectacular. Then I went home. Not
the best birthday ever, but fairly enjoyable.

Yesterday, i gave another tour and then went shopping
at the bookstore. I bought two books - An Italian in
America and Deception Point by Dan Brown. Then I
spent most of the evening at home relaxing and went to
BellaRoma for dinner. bellaroma is the other hostel
owned by the same people as sandys and Ottaviano.

Today the Vatican was closed for St. Joseph's day. 
Sincwe I couldn't give a tour, i went to the Colloseum
to follow one of our other tours. I followed that
twice (I get to follow it again tomorrow). I decided
to walk a little way back rather than take the metro,
which gave me a little entertainemnt.

If you didn't know, today is the second anniversary of
the Iraq war, so there were major demonstartions
across Europe. Here in Rome was no exception. I ran
into the rally and followed to Piazza venezia, past
Largo Argentina, towards Piazza navona. All the
traffic throughout centro Storico was shut down. 
There were no cars anywhere. it was really
interesting to watch the whole thing.

I'm against the war (I have been from the beginning),
but I am not against the United States. Watching these
people lump all Americans with the warhawks in DC
really annoys me. Pollitcal discussions aside,
watching a massive demonstartion and march is
amazingly interesting.

Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and I am planning on going to
see the papal blessing and Shelley comes tomorrow.


Me, Aaron, Lukin, and Kyle on the Almalfi Coast (2005)

Drinking beer along the sea in Salerno (2005)