Posted in Belize

Our Last Few Days in Belize

So this is our last weekend in country. I feel like we should be out doing something we haven’t done yet, but we’re just not that motivated. We never did make it to Caye Caulker. We thought of going to the compound pool, but instead we spent the morning watching cat videos on YouTube and chasing our son around the empty living room. Showed him how to do handstands up against the wall last night, which was pretty cool.

We had one jar of caviar that we were going to save for our last evening in country…we ate it with some Triscuits and toaster waffles (in the absence of blinis) during naptime today while watching online episodes of Modern Family.

I was also saving a special bottle of wine indefinitely. It was the wine our Ambassador gave me for my 40th birthday…a nice little South African shiraz…the kind of thing you’d think you’d want to keep as a great souvenir from your first post. Then I thought I might crack it open for a special last night. Instead, I ended up downing half the bottle after a rough day of packing out…and I didn’t even have any wine glasses left. So I sat on the couch and sipped it from one of the small water glasses in the departure kit that the embassy loaned us, which also seemed quite fitting.

I’m definitely not going to miss living here. It wouldn’t have been a bad place to visit. But I am going to miss a few things, like…

Our nanny. She was amazing. Never had a nanny before, and I have no idea if we’ll ever be in a position to have one again. But I’m so happy that our son was able to stay in the comfort of his own home for the first couple years of his life with someone he trusted that took wonderful care of him while we were at work. Now that he’s up and about and so social and energetic, putting him in daycare in the UK will be coming at a perfect time…especially since there really aren’t any boys his age here anymore…and the older ones that used to be nice to him have developed an “I’m too big to play with you” attitude.

The compound. Not that I want to stay trapped on it forever, but we have had a beautiful house here. And the pool is gorgeous, and the playground was fun for the kids when it wasn’t disgustingly hot outside. I’ll miss sitting on the screened-in patio with a cocktail watching the wind in the palm trees and listening to the birds. I talked to a co-worker the other day that had recently left Belize for Afghanistan, and he said instead of birds he now wakes up to the sound of explosions and the live duck-and-cover alarm. Definitely puts things in perspective.

The reef.  We didn’t get a chance to dive nearly as often as I would’ve liked as it was tough to get away regularly with the baby. But my hubby did get certified here, and we did get to dive a few times together. The funny thing about the reef is that it’s billed as the second largest in the world after Australia…which is TECHNICALLY true. But it in no way resembles it. The Great Barrier Reef is over 1,200 miles long. The Belize reef is less than 200 miles…it’s actually more like the Florida Reef Tract, which is 150 miles long (and the third longest in the world, woo hoo!). Considering the safety standards and lack of customer service here, I’d be just as happy to go to Florida from now on. So I guess I’m not gonna miss it that much.

Friends. Ah, that’s always the tough one. The Foreign Service is a small organization. So the chances are good that you might run into people again at future posts or in training at FSI. But there is always a certain level of disappointment…that you didn’t get to spend enough time with the good friends you did make…or that you didn’t get to know someone else who had great friend potential as well as you thought you could’ve, etc. But the best you can do is give them all a hug and wish them well and be open to new friends and new memories at your next post.

Posted in Belize

Just a Little Stressed

I have a few major things going on at the moment. Here’s a conveniently itemized list of the ones that are winding me up as we attempt to depart post, because I’m an OMS and like to organize things.

Packout. It was supposed to take three days. We ended up taking four days off to supervise, and it’s still not done yet. They didn’t bring enough crates, so they’re coming back next week to pick up the air freight (UAB) and crate up all the stuff that’s going to storage. Even though you try to help and pay close attention and make lists and inventory, things still go wrong. Like they packed up the emergency escape ladder for the house and the temporary sheets provided by the embassy. The sheets we found, the ladder we’ll be mailing back from the UK (hopefully). They also wrapped up the king mattress upstairs and then couldn’t fit it down the stairwell, so they threw it off the second-floor balcony. And last, but not least, our son’s fancy crib-to-bed got tagged for storage instead of London, so someone gets to take it to Belize City, make a crate for it, break the seal on the container, and reseal it.

The cat. As far as I’m concerned, she’s going on the plane with us to the UK. But people aren’t exactly making it easy on us. After her horrific blood sampling experience, we succeeded in getting it safely to the lab in the UK. But they said we’d have the results in three weeks, and it’s been over a month. I hate to harass people, but this needs to be resolved before we leave so we can find out if there was some kind of screw up and we need to have it done all over again in the States, at which point she would no longer be able to accompany us because we’d be inside the minimum test-then-wait window. I also tried to make her reservation with United today, but found out that you can’t book any earlier than one month in advance. So now I have to wait until August to get a reservation, which almost stresses me out as much as the fact that US Airways (our home leave to training airline) doesn’t take pet reservations at all…it’s first come, first served at the check-in counter. Are you kidding me?? The agent said we should have a plan B. I think they’re trying to push me over the edge.

The Front Office. And last, but not least, the only Admin for the Front Office is on indefinite leave due to a family illness, so three of us are alternately covering for her…including me, the CLO and the Pol/Econ Admin Assistant. I have no problem whatsoever working in the Front Office and eventually will be working my way up to it full time. We have both a great Ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM), so it’s a pleasure to work with them. But it does come at a really bad time, as it’s right after the week that I spent wrangling packers, and right before the week that we actually depart post. AND it’s also the week of our Fourth of July celebration, which is the biggest event we have all year. So when I should be going through all my checkout procedures, cleaning out my files, transferring any hard copies to paperless electronic files, finishing up last-minute projects, prepping for my replacement and training my co-workers on unfamiliar office procedures so they can cover for ME…instead I’ll be working in a completely different department hoping not to screw up anything important.

So, ya, I’m ready for a little home leave at this point. I’m ready for big clean grocery stores and paved roads, Taco Bell and Dairy Queen. I’m ready for Disney World, nice playgrounds, frozen yogurt, happy meals, and mini-golf.

I’m ready for a little fun!

Posted in Belize

Belizean Humor

We’ve lived in this country for almost two years, and today is the first time I’ve actually heard a good joke about Belize. It goes like this…

A man dies and goes to hell. He discovers that there are different hells for each country.

First he goes to the German Hell and asks what they do there. Well, the German sinners say, first they put you in an electric chair for an hour. Then they lay you on a bed of nails for an hour. Then the German Devil comes in and whips you for the rest of the day.

The man doesn’t like this so he moves on. He goes to the American Hell, the Canadian Hell, and the British Hell, and discovers that they are all the same.

Finally, he comes across a very long line of people waiting to get in and asks, “Which Hell is this?” Someone tells him, “Oh, this is the Belizean Hell.”

“What do they do in here?” he asks.

“Well, first they put you in an electric chair for an hour, then they lay you on a bed of nails for an hour, then the Belizean Devil comes in and whips you for the rest of the day.”

“But that is just like all the other Hells,” the man protests. “Why is the line so long?”

“Cause inna de Belizean Hell, the electricity always lock off, the electric chair naah work, sumbady done tief all di nail dem, and di Belizean Devil is a public servant, so he comes in, gets on the phone for two hours and then go to the Rum Bar or casino or fu play domino fi di rest a di day!”

Posted in Belize, Foreign Service

Packout!

We’re on day three of what looks like it’s going to be a five-day packout. The State Department graciously gives you time off to oversee your packout, make sure your items are being cared for properly, nothing’s going missing, and it’s all going to the right location…storage, air freight, cargo container, handy-carry luggage. But they only give you three days…after that you have to take personal vacation time.

Things did not bode well from the first day for us. We were told to expect the packers between 8am and 8:30. They arrived at 11:00 after having tire trouble but never called to explain. Whenever you go to a U.S. embassy or housing compound, you have to submit an access request with the names of everyone in your party. They brought someone not on the list who then sat outside the gate for two hours while we tried to track down one of our approving security officers who was in meetings all morning. So we had three packers instead of four, and the first day was basically shot.

The next day they arrived on time and everyone was on the access list…and they even brought two more heavy lifters. But the new guys showed up around 10:00 and spent most of the day leering at our nanny who was inspired to take our son to the compound playground not once, but three times, just to get out of the house. And the whole process was painstakingly slow.

I wasn’t there for our last packout in Colorado and felt I had abandoned my hubby who mentioned it relatively regularly whenever the topic came up. So this time I made sure that I was present, tracking, labeling… whatever I needed to do.

The only problem was that I didn’t need to do that much. We were told not to prepack anything otherwise their insurance wouldn’t cover it. And they were going to do their own general cataloguing at the end when they loaded the crates. So all I could really do was sit and watch them and keep a somewhat-detailed list of everything in each room.

The company owner was a very nice guy, as was his second in command. They were very friendly, hardworking and efficient, and our son liked them, which is always a sign of good character. They showed us pictures of their families on their phones, told jokes, complimented my hubby on the music he played, and gave us a little history of their coworkers.

One of the guys that showed up the second day hadn’t made a good impression because he wore his sunglasses in the house all day. My hubby was raised in a military family and found this very disrespectful. Rather than confront him directly, he politely asked the owner if the glasses were prescription.

We found out in lurid detail that they were…and why. Apparently the man had been caught in the act of cheating on his wife. The woman was so enraged that she threw acid in his eyes. He is now slightly blind and bright light gives him a headache. (In retrospect you’d think he’d have learned his lesson and not be ogling the nanny.) So after that story, we didn’t even ask about the guy missing two fingers from his hand.

To their credit they were incredibly thorough. They made individual cardboard sleeves for all of my grandmother’s china and even put plastic covers on every piece of clothing hanging in the walk-in closet so that it wouldn’t mildew while sitting in a container in the tropics.

Regardless of deadlines, I guess the most important part of a packout is that everything gets from point A to point B in good condition. So we’ll keep our fingers crossed that it won’t get looted in Belize City or washed off the pier in a hurricane while waiting for transport.

Posted in Belize

Antarctic Women Going to Space!

I’d like to take a moment to congratulate Jessica Meir and Christina Hammock, two of the four women that have recently been named as candidates for NASA astronaut training! Congrats to the other women as well, of course, and to the four men who were also named. But these two women are particularly interesting to me because they’ve both been to Antarctica.

I never met either of them, but Jessica earned a doctorate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and spent some time on the ice studying penguin physiology, which she later translated to her work as a support scientist studying the effects of life in space on human physiology for the Human Research Facility at the NASA Johnson Space Center.

Christina studied physics and electrical engineering at North Carolina State University and had been both a research assistant and an Electronics and Instrument Tech for NOAA on the ice. She’s currently the Station Chief for the NOAA station in American Samoa.

According to the NASA press release, “The 2013 astronaut candidate class comes from the second largest number of applications NASA ever has received — more than 6,100. The group will receive a wide array of technical training at space centers around the globe to prepare for missions to low-Earth orbit, an asteroid and Mars.”

So keep an eye out for these awesome and adventurous ladies as they begin their training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston in August and then head off to the International Space Station and other potentially historic destinations!

Posted in Belize

Happy Father’s Day!!

I hope you all had a lovely Father’s Day weekend. We had a pretty nice time. We didn’t do anything too extravagant since my hubby wanted to save our resources and celebrate on home leave in a couple weeks. So on Saturday we went to the San Ignacio Iguana Project and then to lunch at the Ka’ana Resort, then we just chilled at the house on Sunday.

The iguana project was pretty cool. Our CLO had taken the local international school kids there on a field trip a while ago, but our son isn’t in school yet, so he missed out. Since then, it had been on my bucket list to take him before we left.

We were the only ones there on Saturday morning so we got a personal tour. First we were met by the guide and given a short briefing about how iguanas are hunted in Belize for food, so the iguana project’s goal is to breed them in captivity, raise them until they’re about two years old, and then release them back into the wild.

They’re all kept inside a fairly spacious screened enclosure, and we were (carefully) given sprigs of stinging nettles to feed them and entice them out of their little corners. At one point we had at least 20 juveniles snacking on our branches.

We were also introduced to Gomez, the oldest resident at 17 years. He could live to about twice that age if he remains in captivity. They usually only make it to about 15 if they’re on their own and haven’t already been killed for food.

But the experience was great and informative. Daddy and I got to hold Gomez, and our son got to hold one of the five-day-old hatchlings. And we all got to sport a juvenile on our head for photos. After that we were given a tour of their little garden where they grow the nettles, along with a dozen kinds of ginger flower, water hyacinth and Dutchman’s pipe.

Iguana enclosure.
Iguana enclosure.
Juvenile iguana.
Juvenile iguana.
17-year-old Gomez.
17-year-old Gomez.
5-day-old hatchling.
5-day-old hatchling.

 

It was ridiculously hot as usual, and after an hour my vision was getting a little blurry. So we thanked our guide and continued on to the air-conditioned loveliness of the Ka’ana Resort’s indoor restaurant where I snacked on the shrimp and aioli salad followed by tiramisu, our son had a few bites of the fantastic smoke pork empanadas with pickled onion relish and the alcohol-free top layer of my tiramisu, and my hubby had the gourmet pizza.

Not a bad Father’s Day weekend at all!! And the visit to the Ka’ana restaurant was also kind of ceremonial for us. It was the first restaurant that we visited outside of Belmopan after our arrival at post in 2011, and it will probably be the last one before our official departure from Belize.

Posted in Belize

Christchurch and Google Maps

I discovered a few new things today. Like all great moments of learning, it started off as someone’s post on Facebook that led to an article that prompted a Google search for further information that ended in the mental download of new facts to my brain. I’m sure Einstein would be proud.

The first item had to do with a very creative and innovative solution to one of the many devastated areas of Christchurch, New Zealand, the Cashel Mall. Once a lovely little pedestrian mall that I, and many other people in the Antarctic program, was intimately familiar with, most of it had been utterly reduced to rubble during the earthquakes in 2011.

But Christchurch is slowly fighting its way back. Even though the Christchurch Cathedral is still spire-less, a good portion of the Cashel Mall has been rebuilt with shipping containers! That’s right, shipping containers. And apparently they’ve done a pretty impressive job. You can even see them on Google maps. If you want to read more about it, visit the Re:START Christchurch website, which brings me to my second point..

If you were to actually look up Christchurch on Google maps and had been there before the earthquakes, you would see an entirely different city. It had never occurred to me do this because I had no idea how often Google updated their maps. Stories and photos had conveyed the tragedy itself, but I had never been able to sit down and crawl over the city inch by inch to see what was left.

Winnie Bagoes, our favorite pizza place. Now an empty lot. The Thai restaurant across from Victoria park. Gone. Drexel’s, the American-style breakfast restaurant on Hereford Street is still a pile of rubble on the satellite view. Café Valentino, the Italian restaurant where my husband and I had our first date. Niente. I couldn’t even find where it used to be on the map. But then I did find it using “street view” because all the previously loaded images are still there even though the building is not, which is rather surreal. All the lovely little outdoor restaurants along Oxford Terrace with views of the Avon River. All gone. It really does look like a war zone.

I was going to continue on and tell you about the 11 Fascinating Facts that I learned about Google maps. But I’m kind of depressed now. So I think I’ll end this post. But if you are curious, check out the article. Supposedly Google updates their satellite views every two weeks.