Friday, July 29, 2011

Hurricane exercise

We had a hurricane hit Belize today - more accurately, we pretended to have a hurricane hit Belize today in order to prepare for such a crisis.  The exercise was put together by the crisis management team in DC.  They put together a crisis exercise and then simulate phone calls and e-mails from the public, the department, the press and Members of Congress.  We work on inputting the information into the Crisis Task Force software, develop talking points and generally get an idea for how chaotic such a situation can be.

I actually had it a little bit easy this morning.  I was on Congressional and media duty so I got all the phone calls from Congressional staffers and the press.  All my callers were calm and collected.  Other people in the section were getting calls from friends and family, as well as American citizens affected by the hurricane.  The callers really get into their roles and really amp up the stress level when someone is yelling at you or crying or doesn't speak English.

Although the exercise was useful and went pretty well overall, I really don't want a large scale disaster to hit us while I am here.  We'd figure it out, but it'd be messy.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


It is not often you feel rejuvenated the day after staying out to until five in the morning closing down bars in a Mexican (southern) border town.  But after a pretty rough few weeks at work, a trip to Chetumal really soothed the soul.  Highlights of the weekend include:

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part II - Loved it.  It followed the book fairly closely and I didn't mind the changes.  My favorite addition was the line from Prof. McGonagall, "It's good to see you Potter."  The look on her face says everything and sums up the emotional connection we all have with the story.
  • Dr. Pepper - They don't sell it in Belize and they don't sell it in Mexico, but we found a random case on the shelf at the grocery store which I had to buy.  I was so excited that I almost didn't cringe when I realized I paid US$12 for the case.
  • Pirate bar - a bar shaped like a pirate ship.  Enough said.
  • Road beers - we walked the two-mile stretch of bars and restaurants along the sea and soon realized that it was more enjoyable with a can of Sol bought from a drive-thru beer store.
  • Gaudy belt buckles - several outdoor stands were selling belts with jeweled belt buckles.  Common designs included jeweled dollar signs, jeweled marijuana leaves, and jeweled guns.  These things were so awful that I think even Mexican gangsters would only wear them ironically.  Some of the best designs had spinners in the buckle like the rims on cars that were popular 5 years ago (are those still popular now?)  We saw these several times when we were sober, but we couldn't find them after we had been drinking or else purchases would have been made.
  • Closing down the Mexican strip club.  Around 3, we decided that we couldn't go home without trying to improve on my previous experience in a Mexican strip club.  Our first attempt got lost in translation.  We didn't know the word for strip club, so our best Spanish speaker asked the taxi driver to take us to the "bar for women without clothes."  The club was rocking, but we soon realized it wasn't what we were looking for as no one was taking their clothes off and most of the women in the club were really men in drag.  Our next cabby understood us better and took us to a different club.  Absolutely everything was better about this club than the one in April.  After two dancers, the turned on the house lights and closed down the club.
  • Wal-Mart.  I should not get this excited about a store but can't help myself.  Between the internet and what is available in Belize, I can get almost anything I want.  But with internet shopping and small stores, you lose the ability to browse.  Plus, the produce is so much better in Mexico.
  • Tacos

This weekend was just what I needed. 

Friday, July 22, 2011


So, the past couple of weeks have been rough at work.  Starting at the beginning of July, I rotated back to the visa section.  The transition hasn't exactly been smooth.  I am not going to air all my grievances out here because (a) it would be unprofessional, (b) it wouldn't accomplish anything, and (c) I don't know who at the Embassy reads this.

What bothers me the most about this is not the situation itself, but how it has been effecting me.  I have been finding myself increasingly frustrated about issues that don't really matter.  I am becoming petty and complaining about things that would normally roll off my back.  I have honestly prided myself in the past on ignoring office politics and just doing my job, but I can't seem to find that inner peace here.  Moreover, it has nothing to do with the job.  I still really enjoy almost every part of my job.

Going forward, I am striving to just focus on the job and let the other issues resolve themselves.  I need to refrain from continually trying to find solutions for problems when it is not my job to solve it.  Let's call it a mid-year's resolution.

Today, I also found out where several friends are getting posted for their second tour.  I have one good friend going to Kathmandu, Nepal.  In fact, two people from my A-100 class will be there after one person from my class did her first tour there.  Imagine knowing 3 people who are living or will live in Kathmandu!  Others are headed for China, India, Pakistan (followed by The Hague) and Mexico.

The second group of summer bidders got their bid list yesterday.  Glancing through it, I had a bit of bid list envy as several fantastic posts jumped out at me, such as Croatia, Krakow, Poland, Maputo, Mozambique and many repeats from my list.  Two people will be joining me in Franfurt for Consular positions.  Considering that I will likely spend almost 3 years with these people (9 months in training and 2 years in Germany), I am hoping we get along.

Finally, I am headed to see Harry Potter in Mexico tomorrow.  I still can't believe I have to drive 3 hours and cross an international border to see a movie, but such is (my) life.  We're staying the night in Chetumal to get some good food and do some shopping.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Jack

Today was the Deputy Chief of Mission's birthday.  One of the great things about being at such a small post is that I consider Jack and his wife Linda to be friends.  We hang out in the same group.  Jack, aka "Up the Cric" is an avid hasher.  I've been to dinner at their house and they came to my birthday BBQ.  So, this weekend I headed down with a group of friends to celebrate Jack's 65th birthday.

The birthday party was being held at Villa Verano in the resort village of Hopkins.  This Villa was absolutely fantastic.  It was three floors of luxurious living.  Marble and granite every where.  Ornate hardwood tables.  Fancy showers, monogrammed towels, and ornate sinks in the bathrooms.  A fantastic pool on the beach.  I do not say this lightly when I say that Villa Verano is the nicest place I have ever stayed.*  We had a fantastic weekend eating great food and relaxing by the pool.
Beth and Kevin on the rooftop

The pool and the beach

My shower and bathtub - I love the granite on the back

The coolest fan ever.  These blades rotated around as if on a spit
which was controlled by a bicycle chain.

The downstairs great room with view of the pool

The other view of the great room

The downstairs kitchen (about half the size of the upstairs kitchen).
*The villa wasn't all that expensive either.  For ten total rooms, we paid BZ$3,000 or US$1,500.  That broke down to $150 per room.  We had 20 adults and 6 kids and could easily have fit in quite a few more in.

Friday, July 15, 2011

My weekend

I am headed here for the weekend to celebrate the DCM's birthday.  I should have pictures and a post on Sunday.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Things I'm looking forward to in Germany

As you can probably imagine, I have spent quite a bit of time thinking/reading/talking/obsessing about my second  tour.  Several of my good friends and classmates have gotten their assignments as well - they are headed to Rio de Janiero, Managua, Tokyo, Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala City, Jerusalem, Prague, Paris, Bangkok, Albania, and many others.  I found out the officer going to Berlin came from Haiti and the officer going to Prague came from Saudi Arabia.  In all honesty, they deserved those posts more than I did.  Still don't know who got Rome or Budapest, but I can tell you that they earned it.

But I have spent most of the past five days dreaming about my future life in Germany.  I honestly didn't know much about Frankfurt other than it was in Germany and that it had a big airport.  But after a bit more research, here are a list of 10 things I am looking forward to in Frankurt

  1. The food - Sausages, Schnitzel and Sauerkraut.  Plus, Frankfurt will have many more options that Belize lacks.  I will not miss rice and beans (although I don't eat it that often here).
  2. The beer - German beer, enough said.
  3. The traveling - Germany is in the heart of Europe and Frankfurt is in the heart of Germany.  The trains can take you anywhere in Europe and the planes can take you direct to anywhere in the world.  There is also Ryan Air airport near the city.
  4. Family - My family hosted a German exchange student my senior year in high school.  I will definitely get the opportunity to see him and to speak to him in his native German.  Plus, I will be relatively close to my host sister Marta in Torino and my host family in Esenta.
  5. Promptness - Germans are stereotypically on time and do not like tardiness.  I will prefer "German Time" over "Belize Time."
  6. Living in a city again - although I am a small town boy from Iowa, I kind of liked living in the city and welcome the opportunity to having standard big city options again.
  7. Concerts - Every major American band that tours Europe always seems to stop in Frankfurt.  My friend Kevin, who used to work in the music industry, said one of the largest music festivals in the world is in Frankfurt each year.
  8. Octoberfest in Munich - I've always wanted to go and now I will.
  9. The Bundesliga and Champions League - I will happily start following German soccer (football).  I will not root for Bayern Munich, rather I will support whatever is the main local Frankfurt team.
  10. The autobahn - even though I have little to no desire to drive as fast as I can, I will enjoy smooth roads after another year in Belize.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

I finally got my second assignment today... and the winner is....

Frankfurt, Germany in May 2013 to be the political officer at the consulate there.  I am super excited.  Frankfurt was #7 on my bid list.  My completely tentative schedule is leave Belize in July 2012, start training in August and arrive in Germany in May 2013.  I am excited to learn German (but scared to death to take 9 months of full-time German).

And the best part?  You can fly direct from Frankfurt to practically anywhere in the world (plus Germany's awesome train system).  That means I can do lots of traveling and host lots of visitors.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Ultimate Road Trip

Even though I STILL don't have my assignment (it's been a WHOLE WEEK), I did spend some time this past weekend thinking about how I will spend my home leave.  I may have mentioned before that I plan to take an awesome road trip around America.  During this trip, I have several goals:
  • Get from Phoenix (home leave spot) to DC for training.
  • Visit as many of the states I have never been too, specifically Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
    • This will cut in half the remaining states until I hit all 50 (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Mississippi, and Alaska remain).
  • Visit as many family and friends who live on/near the route - including seeing the new kids of two of my cousins.
  • See as much of "Americana" as I can in a month, including Alcatraz and Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, Starbucks and Pike Place in Seattle, the majestic Rockies, Mt. Rushmore, the Mall of America, Lake Michigan, the rust belt in Detroit and/or Cleveland, and even Niagara Falls.  Plus, all the small towns of America in between.
  • Catch as many baseball games as I can in as many ballparks as I can.
As you can see below, the itinerary starts in Phoenix, down to San Diego, up the coast of Cali, and on to Portland and Seattle.  Then, I start across America with a few big driving days to Mt. Rushmore.  The current route skips past North Dakota, but takes me up to Minnesota, down through Wisconsin and into Chicago.  From Chicago to Detroit, then up through Canada (I've never been) and over to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.  Finally, down to DC

If anyone has suggestions for places to see, stay, eat, etc that is on or near the route, leave a comment.  Much of this trip is to places I have never been to.  I currently plan it for about 3 weeks, but may lengthen/shorten it depending on how much home leave I get.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall

99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall...
99 Bottles of Beer...
You take one down...
Pass it around...
98 Bottles of Beer on the Wall...
Almost done