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.