Friday, April 29, 2011

From tough day to worse week

In my last post, I specifically did not mention how the guy died.  Even though his death was quite unusual, the manner of death did not matter to why I wrote the post.  But, given what has happened the rest of the week, how he died has become important.  On Monday, he committed suicide by hanging himself in his hotel room.  He was not discovered until Wednesday.  On Thursday, I had to attempt to identify him for the coroner.

While Belize does have some ability to keep bodies refrigerated (some countries don't), the deceased was too far gone by the time he was found.  His body was, in the words of the coroner, "in advance stages of decomposition."  To be perfectly honest, I didn't know this could happen to the human body.  Out of respect for the deceased, I am not going to go into details.  I was not, however, able to make a confirmed identification and we had to take fingerprints to verify his identity.

When I returned to the office on Thursday, I learned that we had two Americans arrested in southern Belize.  One of them was a fugitive from the US.  Belize ranks number two in the entire world for fugitive returns to the U.S.  So, this in itself was not unusual.  What made this case unusual was that they entered Belize on passports from the Conch Republic.  They also entered Belize by boat.  Then, last night, our duty officer got a phone call from the Belize Police Department to inform us that the male arrested had hung himself from the boat when they went there to secure the boat.  That's right - two U.S. fugitives commit suicide by hanging in one week.

In addition to dealing with these two cases, we had the other woman arrested on the boat, the juvenile arrested last weekend, and our normal flow of passports and CRBAs.  Additionally, today was Take Your Kids to Work Day, so we had 20 kids in the section for 45 minutes this morning.  At lunch today, I discovered that my rear passenger window had dropped into the door and wouldn't roll up, so I had to take my car in to the shop (they rigged the window to keep it up, but I have to order the part and they will install it later).

After lunch, we got a call from an American with severe medical issues.  In order for her to receive blood from the blood bank for her surgery, she needed to have friends or family donate an equal amount to the blood bank (this is apparently normal procedure in Belize) and she did not have anyone here to donate.  We worked on her case most of the afternoon, as three emergency passports came in.  One of these was easy, but the other two were adults who had never had U.S. passports (this is very unusual).  They both wanted to leave tomorrow, but we could not confirm their citizenship and won't be able to do anything until we return from our three day weekend on Tuesday.

Finally, half of our consular officers are out of the country and we are short one FSN (out of five total) and this made for a very difficult week.  The rest of the staff has really pitched in and I owe a great deal to them.  FSNs really are the lifeblood of an Embassy and without such a great staff I would not have been able to make it through this week.  Here's hoping next week is quiet so that we can catch up on all the paperwork that this week has generated.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tough Day

Telling someone, even a complete stranger, that their loved one has suddenly and unexpectedly died is one of the hardest things I've had to do.  This was not, obviously, my first death case since I became ACS Chief, but it is the first one where the next of kin had absolutely no idea what I was going to say.  They train us to preface the news of the death by telling them who we are, that we are calling from the Embassy, and that we have bad news about the loved one.  Today, I did all that and it still hit her out of left field.

It was very hard to be on the giving end of such awful news.  The pain in this woman's voice was so palpable that it was animalistic.  I felt guilty for bringing so much pain to another human being.  I couldn't help but think how I would handle such a phone call, especially if it came from a complete stranger.  Or worse, how bad it would be for my parents to get such a phone call.  I tried to be mindful of these thoughts as I listened to her sob and talked her through the next steps.  Perhaps the worst part was when she realized that no one else knew and that she needed to make more phone calls.

After the phone call, I had to really compose myself.  I was really down for about an hour.  I was surprised about much it affected me.  I didn't know this person.  I didn't know his family.  Yet, it undoubtedly had a dramatic effect on my day.

I was really feeling down until I remembered the most important rule about ACS work.  No matter how bad my day is, the person I am helping is having a worse day.  I regularly deal with people who have lost their passport, are in the hospital, have been arrested or had a family member recently die.  No matter how bad things get at work, it is better than what these people are going through.  I haven't decided if this is a positive or a negative way to view it, but it got me out of my funk today.  I know that I am helping people in their time of need.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Where in the world?

It has been a long and boring Easter weekend.  I wanted to blog about something, but nothing is going on at all.  So, I decided to rank my preferences of all posts worldwide.  I used this website for a list of all the diplomatic posts.  This is a fluid ranking and is done in a relatively short amount of time.  I have ignored the fact that I need to serve in a language post for my next tour.  (I ignored all of the special missions, such as UNESCO or OECD, except the UN).  Overall, Belmopan would fall around the 50s or so for a post.

  1. Rome, Italy
  2. Berlin, Germany
  3. Prague, Czech Republic
  4. The Holy See, Vatican City
  5. Florence, Itlay
  6. Paris, France
  7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  8. Sydney, Australia
  9. Vienna, Austria
  10. London, England
  11. Budapest, Hungary
  12. Athens, Greece
  13. Frankfurt, Germany
  14. Buenos Aires, Argentina
  15. Stockholm, Sweden
  16. San Jose, Costa Rica
  17. Istanbul, Turkey
  18. St. Petersburg, Russia
  19. Wellington, New Zealand
  20. Milan, Italy
  21. Lisbon, Portugal
  22. Barcelona, Spain
  23. Talinn, Estonia
  24. Amsterdam, Netherlands
  25. Oslo, Norway
  26. Munich, Germany
  27. Naples, Italy
  28. Vilnius, Lithuania
  29. Brussels, Belgium
  30. Dublin, Ireland
  31. Zagreb, Croatia
  32. Jerusalem, Israel (although this works mostly with Palestinians)
  33. Bratislava, Slovakia
  34. France, other (not going to separate out all of the different consulates, but southern France sounds better than northern France)
  35. Valetta, Malta
  36. Hong Kong
  37. Sofia, Bulgaria
  38. Tel Aviv, Israel
  39. Frankfurt, Germany
  40. Dusseldorf, Germany
  41. Hamburg, Germany
  42. Leipzig, Germany
  43. The Hague, Netherlands
  44. Nicosia, Cyprus
  45. Copenhagen, Denmark
  46. Helsinki, Finland
  47. Recife, Brazil
  48. Havana, Cuba (US interest section)
  49. Thessaloniki, Greece
  50. Reykjavik, Iceland
  51. Luxembourg
  52. Bangkok, Thailand
  53. Bucharest, Romania
  54. Ljubljana, Slovenia
  55. Bern, Switzerland (all other Switzerland posts would fall into here as well)
  56. Turkey, Ankara
  57. Tokyo, Japan (this would have been higher before the earthquake)
  58. Cairo, Egypt (this would have been much higher before the revolution)
  59. Australia, (Melbourne, Perth, Canberra)
  60. Shanghai, China
  61. Sao Paolo, Brazil
  62. Maputo, Mozambique
  63. Beijing, China
  64. Belgrade, Serbia
  65. Minsk, Belarus
  66. Singapore
  67. Skopje, Macedonia
  68. Russia, Yekaterinburg orVladivostok
  69. Kyiv, Ukraine
  70. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  71. small Pacific island nations - Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Palau, Samoa, Fiji,
  72. Madrid, Spain
  73. Seoul, South Korea (would be higher if not for everyone living on the base)
  74. Sarajevo, Bosnia & Herzegovina
  75. Mumbai, India
  76. Amman, Jordan
  77. Beirut, Lebanon
  78. Windhoek, Namibia
  79. Japan, other (would have been higher before the earthquake)
  80. Maseru, Lesotho
  81. Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
  82. Montevideo, Uruguay
  83. Santiago, Chile
  84. Lusaka, Zambia
  85. Casablanca, Morocco
  86. Rabat, Morocco
  87. Bridgetown, Barbados
  88. Kuala Lampur, Malaysia
  89. Hanoi, Vietnam
  90. UN - NYC
  91. China, other (this includes the rest of the China posts, except Shenyang, which will be lower)
  92. Canada, all (Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver would be at the tops of the list, but at this point in my career, I am just not all that interested in Canada, but it would not be a bad place to go).
  93. Brasilia, Brazil
  94. Panama City, Panama
  95. Santiago, Chile
  96. Bogota, Columbia
  97. Taipei, Taiwan
  98. Nassau, Bahamas
  99. Caracas, Venezuela
  100. Lima, Peru
  101. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
  102. Mexico City, Mexico
  103. Kigali, Rwanda
  104. Jakarta, Indonesia
  105. Tirana, Albania
  106. Pristina, Kosovo
  107. Podgorica, Montenegro
  108. Warsaw, Poland (I visited once and really didn't like the city).
  109. Damascus, Syria
  110. Kolkatta, India
  111. Phenom Penh, Cambodia
  112. Vientiane, Laos
  113. Dubai, UAE
  114. Guadalajara, Mexico
  115. Hamilton, Bermuda
  116. Nairobi, Kenya
  117. Chiang Mai, Thailand
  118. Kampala, Uganda
  119. Abu Dhabi, UAE
  120. Manila, Philippines 
  121. Antananarivo, Madagascar
  122. Mbabane, Swaziland
  123. Hyderabad, India
  124. New Delhi, India
  125. Chennai, India
  126. Kuwait City, Kuwait
  127. Tunis, Tunisia
  128. Colombo, Sri Lanka
  129. Doha, Qatar
  130. Kingston, Jamaica
  131. Port Louis, Mauritius
  132. Managua, Nicaragua
  133. Paramiribo, Suriname
  134. La Paz, Bolivia
  135. Tashkent, Uzbekistan
  136. Manama, Bahrain
  137. Yerevan, Armenia
  138. Tblisi, Georgia
  139. Chisinau, Moldova
  140. Hamilton, Bermuda
  141. Quito, Ecuador
  142. Guyaquil, Ecuador
  143. Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
  144. San Salvador, El Salvador
  145. Asuncion, Paraguay
  146. Tegucigalpa, Honduras
  147. Pretoria, South Africa (be higher if it were Cape Town)
  148. Guatemala City, Guatemala
  149. Ougadougou, Burkina Faso
  150. Gabourone, Botswana
  151. Dakar, Senegal
  152. Harare, Zimbabwe
  153. Georgetown, Guyana
  154. Katmandu, Nepal
  155. Cotonou, Benin
  156. Lome, Togo
  157. Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
  158. Asmara, Eritrea
  159. Libreville, Gabon
  160. Baku, Azerbaijan
  161. Addis Abba, Ethiopia
  162. Mexico border posts (some are ranked higher than the other)
  163. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
  164. Djibouti
  165. Muscat, Oman
  166. Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
  167. Dushanbe, Tajikistan
  168. Brunei
  169. Ulaan Baator, Mongolia
  170. Baghdad, Iraq (only for the money)
  171. Accra, Ghana
  172. Kinshasa, DRC
  173. Tripoli, Libya (if the war is over)
  174. Banjul, The Gambia
  175. Bangui, CAR
  176. Luanda, Angola (I could learn Portuguese and go to a better place later)
  177. Dhaka, Bangladesh
  178. Yaounde, Cameroon
  179. Praia, Cape Verde
  180. Free Town, Sierra Leone
  181. Nouakchott, Mauritania
  182. Bujumbura, Burundi
  183. Port Moreseby, PNG
  184. N'Djamena, Chad
  185. Bamako, Mali
  186. Conarky, Guinea
  187. Niamey, Niger
  188. Monrovia, Liberia
  189. Rangoon, Burma
  190. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  191. Saudi Arabia (other)
  192. Malabo, Equitorial Guinea
  193. Pakistan other
  194. Dili, Timor-Leste
  195. Islamabad, Pakistan
  196. Khartoum, Sudan
  197. Kabul, Afghanistan
  198. Juba, Sudan
  199. Sanaa Yemen
  200. Port-au Prince, Haiti
  201. Somalia
  202. Abidjan, Coite D'Ivoire
  203. Abujua, Nigeria
A bit about the list - the bottom ten was about as hard to put together as the top 10.  A few places like Kabul and Baghdad were sent up the list because of the overtime possibilities, as well as the fact that they are usually only one year posts.

The top 60 or so are the places I'd really like to go.  The next cut off is around 100, I'd still be excited to go to these places but not jumping over the moon.  The 'I don't want to go to this place' list starts at 157 and below.  That is not to say these places don't have redeeming values, but they won't be making the top of any list I turn in.

Several decent places, in Central and Latin America, were down graded simply because I will have spent the last two years in Belize.  I really don't want to spend the next two years in another central American post.

Finally, there are a lot of places, especially in Africa, that I know little to nothing about.  I only know that much of Western Africa is crowded and some of the places are bad.  So, there may be gems in Africa and central Asia that I don't recognize at this time.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Drought and Duty Officer

Even though I haven't written much this month it is not because there is nothing going on.  Its been a little quieter since Sam left and some other friends went back to the States for a while, but I've been keeping busy.  We've had some personnel issues at work and one of our long-time local staff is no longer working for the Embassy.  I can't go into the details, but it has made things bit tougher at work.

The big issue in Belmopan this month has been the lack of rain and the smoke.  Like many third world countries, Belize clears land by burning.  With no rain for over three weeks, it was really dry and people were burning a lot.  When this happens, Belmopan gets a LOT of smoke that settles on the city.  During the main part of the day, it is not bad, but each morning and evening there was a fog of smoke covering the town.  Every morning, when I'd go into my living room, I could smell the smoke in the house.  It would sting the eyes and people with asthma would have serious problems with it.  Yesterday, it finally rained and I actually got excited about the rain.  I felt like a dust-bowl era farmer with how excited I got.  Although it didn't rain all that much, it was enough to knock the smoke out of the air and to wet the dirt roads enough so that you weren't constantly kicking up dust.  Apparently, this happens every year around this time, but it is worse this year because there is so much dead foliage from Hurricane Richard last fall.

I've also been duty officer for the last ten days or so.  I had originally hoped to spend Easter in Antigua with my friend Chris in Guatemala, but that would have left no consular officers in Belize.  Since that wouldn't be good, I switched duty weeks with another officer.  I took this week, covering the four day Easter weekend holiday (since I couldn't travel anyway) and he is taking a week for me next month on a three-day weekend.  Since I left work yesterday, I have had an American arrested for attempted murder and a death case (these are not related cases).  It has already been a busy duty weekend, and it is only Friday.

One more story from the past few weeks.  I told a friend this last night and he ordered me to put it on the blog.  One night after the Pig and Parrot on a Wednesday, one of our interns went over to my friend Kevin's house for a beer and some food.  As Kevin was reheating a pizza or something, the intern was petting Kevin's small dog, Pretzel.  The intern wasn't really paying attention, but had his hand by the dog when Pretzel lifted a leg and peed all over the intern's hand.  Kevin responded by giving the dog a treat.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tickets are purchased!

I am headed to Panama in June for a week of beach, jungles and canals.  My sister, Shelley, will meet me down there and then likely come back to Belize for a few days.  Since June is the only month without any holidays, I felt the need to take a week off that month.

Not really sure on an itinerary yet, but I have two A-100 classmates in Panama City, so I hope to see them.  The canal is a must and I want to do some SCUBA, as well. If anyone has any suggestions for places to go or things to do, please leave a comment below.

(Funny story about Panama City.  When I was a freshman in college, I joined a fraternity in the spring.  About a dozen guys were driving to PC for spring break.  I was shocked that anyone would drive that far over spring break and it wasn't until I was a sophomore that I discovered that there is a Panama City in Florida).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Mexican Strip Club

Did the title get your attention? I decided to go for shock value.  I am curious to see if I get more hits than usual with the title.  Yes, the post will include a trip to a Mexican strip club, but it's not really about that.

This past week, one of my good friends has been having a bad week.  His wife is out of country and he had a rough week at work.  I suggested a trip to Chetumal on Saturday and he thought it was a great idea.  By Friday, however, he had to back out due to work-related issues.  So, on Friday afternoon, I headed to Pasquale's for a beer or two with friends.  The few beers turned into many beers (with very little food).  Several of the girls there were planning an overnight girl's trip to Chetumal on Saturday to celebrate someone's birthday.  Bryan, one of the girls' boyfriend asked me if I wanted to crash the girls night with him.  Given the few beers I'd had, I readily agreed.

Despite the fact that the best laid plans while drunk rarely come to fruition in the sober light of day, I picked up Bryan and Janet the next morning at 9 am.  We made great time to Mexico with almost no border traffic and ate lunch at our hotel.  After lunch, we headed to the mall to see Unknown.  The movie was okay, but nothing special.  The ending was a bit too cute, but considering there are no theaters in Belize and the movie costs $4, it was worthwhile.

The big new addition in Chetumal is the Wal-Mart.  Now, you may ask yourself the question if you would really drive three hours to go to a Wal-Mart.  For me, the answer was a resounding "yes."  I bought some DVDs (first three seasons of 24, first season of Prison Break and a few other items you can't find in Belize.  It is amazing how strange it feels to be in such an American store.  I feel like I am on sensory-overload.  I see things that I've forgotten I miss.  

For dinner, we went to this Tex-Mex place where all the waiters were dressed up as cowboys.  Bryan, Janet and I got there 'early' around 930 pm - the rest of the group came about an hour later.  The place was packed and featured this really cute woman singing songs in Spanish.  The food was delicious - we had 'queso fondito fundido' as an appetizer.  It is melted manchego cheese served piping hot with some flour tortillas.  For the main course, I had arrachera (steak) tacos which were spectacular and quite filling.

After the cute singer left the stage, they brought on another group.  We were pretty certain that the woman singing was actually a man.  They sang happy birthday to the birthday girl and all the waiters came and danced around her in a circle.  This place is fairly well known for this as there were probably about a half dozen birthdays or anniversaries being celebrated that night.  We left there around midnight, but the restaurant was still busy and a family with two little kids had just arrived for dinner.  Given that everything in Belmopan closes by 9, it was another slight shock to my senses.

The bar area in Chetumal is located along the sea and was packed with young Mexicans celebrating a Saturday night.  We squeezed our way into a packed bar that featured four liter taps on the tables.  While we were there, the birthday girl decided she wanted to go to a strip club.  She convinced the rest of the girls in our group to go and Bryan and I were not going to say no.

I am not a huge fan of strip clubs and I have only been to 3 or 4 clubs in the past.  My total experience consisted of Glitter Gulch in Vegas, a club in central Missouri, the Hustler club in East St. Louis, and the Crystal City Restaurant in Arlington.  Each of these was completely different in the lay out of the club, the type of clientele, and the attractiveness of the women.  So, I shouldn't have had any expectations, but given the number of Americans who regularly go to Tijuana to see naked women, I was expecting more than what we got at this club.  (Note - I was not expecting nor did I want to see a donkey show or anything more than naked girls).

The only real upside to the club was that we didn't have to pay a cover and the beer was cheap (around $2 a beer).  The club featured a stage in the middle and tables around the stage and along the walls.  We got a table along the walls and began to look around.  The lighting was horrible - very dark with laser effects and an occasional strobe light.  Not even the stage was well lit.  When we got in there, there was no dancer on the stage and we were there close to 15 minutes before a dancer came out.  She was mildly attractive, but we had seen much prettier girls at the bar earlier in the night.  She danced around fully clothed for two or three songs, then during her last song she danced around topless for less than a minute.  Then she left the stage.  That was it.

There were several other dancers around the room dressed in bikinis and offering lap dances to drunk Mexicans.  But there still wasn't much, if any, nudity.  About ten minutes after the first dancer left, another dancer came out.  She was not attractive at all and not very good at the dancing part either.  When it became clear after the first song that she would follow the same pattern as the first dancer, we decided to leave.  We had spent forty minutes in a strip club and had seen one topless girl for all of thirty seconds or so.  A complete disappointment.  (Oddly, I think the girls were more disappointed than Bryan or me.  Most of them had never been to a strip club before and were clearly expecting something different).

After we left the club around 230, we went back to our hotel to sleep.  This morning, we got up and went shopping at Sam's Club and the large grocery store.  I stocked up on steak, pork chops, Italian sausage, and good cheese (all things sorely lacking in Belize).  We drove back to Belmopan and I spent the rest of the day relaxing and talking to my parents (yes, I told them I went to a Mexican strip club).

Friday, April 1, 2011

Post of the Month

Each month, State Magazine features one post or office in the department.  This month, they are featuring Belmopan and yours truly wrote the article.  The hard copy has not been released yet, but you can read the online version at