Adventures in Belize

Life in the Foreign Service

It’s been a while….

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I don’t know if anyone actually reads any of this drivel that I put up here from time to time, so if anyone does, sorry for the lack of anything for oh, the last year…

So much has happened in my life since my last post. Most importantly and amazingly, I have become a father. Our son Kellan was born January 26, 2010. We had a bit of an adventure with his birth. To make a long story short, it was necessary for him to spend several days in the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). He was there and did not develop any complications; in fact he improved so rapidly that he was discharged ahead of schedule. We brought him home and then promptly whisked him away to our next post in the Foreign Service, Belmopan, Belize. I will leave my thoughts on Belmopan for another post…

I will say this: it is tough to move your newborn son, your recovering-from-pregnancy-and-giving-birth wife, 2 cats, and an entirely over-protective and terrified new father to a new country. It is even tougher to settle into a new place when your newborn demands 1,000% of your time and energy. Not to mention that Belize is as hot as Thailand, but with less A/C. (Does that sound like a spoiled American or what?)

Stay tuned for more to come.

Written by Doug

February 28, 2011 at 21:42

Posted in Foreign Service

Observations – Japan

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Osaka, Japan

1. Cool weather!

2. Changing leaves!

3. People riding bicycles everywhere.

4. Hardly anyone speaks any English.

5. BIG city – at least the same size as NYC.

6. Not much space.

7. Clean.

8. Tiny restaurants.

9. Expensive!

10. Fascinating History.

11. Kyoto is beautiful.

12. Not busy at work.

13. Best public transportation network I’ve ever seen.

14. I like it.

Written by Doug

November 1, 2009 at 14:03

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Word Association – Vientiane, Laos

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  1. Sabai Dee – “Hello!” Close to Thai
  2. Khop Chai – “Thank you” Also close to Thai
  3. More conservative than Bangkok – Then again, it’s not hard to be more conservative than Bangkok..
  4. Cheap! Everything is cheap.  I’m eating for an average of $2 a meal, and eating well.  A large Beerlao is $1.
  5. French – Language, and a ton of French restaurants.
  6. Friendly – much like Thailand.
  7. Quiet – unlike Bangkok.
  8. Cold – I was almost shivering one night.
  9. No Starbucks!  – But plenty of other cool mom and pop coffee shops
  10. No McDonalds, Burger King or any other American fast food chain.   Fast food is a noodle cart.
  11. Beer Gardens on the Mekong – really relaxing to watch the sun go down over the river.

I really like this place.  I think it would be a wonderful place to be posted.  I can’t wait for Mer to get here so we can go check out all the restaurants everywhere.

Written by Doug

January 10, 2009 at 20:58

Posted in Foreign Service, Travel

An Unfortunate Reality of Foreign Service Life.

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My Grandmother died yesterday.  She had been pretty uncomfortable for a while; it sounds like she just said “I’m done!” and called it quits, passing away in her sleep peacefully.  I like to think that she’s in a better place and is now reunited with my Grandfather, who died some 22 odd years ago.  All deaths are tragic, but this wasn’t one that was a total surprise, like a horrible car accident or what happened to Tim Russert recently.  But that doesn’t make it any easier to accept when a member of your family, someone who has the same blood running through their veins, leaves this world at the end of their life.

My slow education about death and mortality took a turn in college, when my best friend’s mom died in her 50’s from heart disease.  She was this tiny Japanese lady, who even though she had lived in the States for 2 decades, still had this thick accent when she spoke English.  She had 2 sons, one a few years older and one almost exactly the same age as me.  Her son Tony asked me to be a pallbearer at the funeral, meaning I would be one of the people carrying the coffin from the hearse to the grave.  I can still smell the whiffs of embalming chemicals as I took each step with the handle of the coffin firmly within my grasp.  That smell had made it so real.

After we had put the coffin in place, I broke down and bawled my eyes out.  Why?  I didn’t really know this woman that well.  I was great friends with her son, and I had been to her house a few times, but I didn’t have any emotional stock invested in her.  Yet I cried like a baby.  I remember even after the funeral that I didn’t understand why I did that.  I’ve never been known for shedding lots of tears in my life.  I think I was watching and trying to sympathize with Tony, who at the age of 20 or so, was burying his mother.  That’s something that no one should have to do when they’re that age.

I won’t be able to make it to my Grandmother’s funeral or memorial service in Connecticut.  The Foreign Service, while wonderful in many ways, also at times makes it very difficult to attend major family events that are happening back home. Thankfully, I have been able to communicate fairly easily with everyone, reminiscing about all the wonderful times we had in Old Lyme with Grandma.  To me that is the most fitting way to grieve someone’s death, picturing in your head those wonderful events of the past, the way that you experienced them with your family.

So I will be remembering Grandma in my own way, watching her swim in her funny cap like she did in the freezing cold water of Long Island Sound, except that this time she’s in the warm, tropical waters of Fiji, right over there.

Written by Doug

June 17, 2008 at 17:51

Posted in Foreign Service

Words/Phrases describing Fiji so far…

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Bula! (That means hello)
Scary Taxi
Scary Airplane
Nice People
Curly Hair
Men wear sarongs (looks comfortable)
Expensive, restrictive Wireless Internet at hotel
Rain again
Did I mention rain?
Nice temperature
Rugby – would love to go to a match
Small embassy
Lunch delivered to desk
Lots of issues at work to fix
Less than 5 minute walk to work
Didn’t see the sea until 4th day
Didn’t see the sun shine until 4th day
Sun sets early
Great local employees
Small town
Really glad I brought my umbrella (don’t know if I mentioned that it rains a lot ;))

Written by Doug

June 7, 2008 at 12:35

Posted in Foreign Service, Travel

Getting to Fiji

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Well, here I am sitting in the wonderful Holiday Inn in Suva, Fiji (it’s really not that wonderful, just OK).  Let me tell you as briefly as I can about my rather harrowing journey to get here:

I’ll skip over the uninteresting first half of the trip, as the first flight from Bangkok to Sydney was uneventful and just long.  Most of us have been on those kind of flights.  Then I had to kill 7 hours in the Sydney airport, which surprisingly was pretty nasty.  That part was boring too.

Then I get on the Sydney -> Nadi flight aboard Air Pacific.  I can tell when I get on the plane that it’s kind of old, and not that nice, but OK.  I don’t think twice about it and get ready for a rough ride for about 4 hours.  Of course it ended up being the smoothest ride I have had in an airplane for a while!  Take off, the flight itself, and the landing were like butter…  It was a nice surprise.

We land in Nadi, and I get into the line for transfers, because I’m ‘transferring’ to another flight (right?).  This interminably long line forms behind me and a couple other people, and this one poor girl is taking care of everybody and seems a bit overwhelmed.  I wait patiently for about 15 minutes, and am beginning to get a little worried because I had a total of 1 hour after I got off the plane until my next flight departed.  I’m starting to sweat a little.  I get to the desk, and am told that I have to clear customs, get my bag and re-check in at the domestic terminal.  It is now 7:30 pm, and my flight is supposed to depart at 8pm (yikes!).  I hustle over to the customs/passport line, and my heart sinks; the line is even longer than the one i just got out of!  Then I remember one of the great perks of the Foreign Service: diplomatic passport lines!  I look to the left, and sure enough, there it is, with one guy in it.  I run over there and the lady will only give me a visa for 2 weeks, but that’s another story….  Then I get to the baggage claim, which is predictably swamped. 

Positioned at the mouth of the belt, I’ll get my bag faster, which is indeed what happens.  Finally, something went right!  Then I run to the exchange desk and get some Fijian money, which takes approximately 1 minute and 16 seconds (not really, but it was really fast!)  I look at my watch, and it is 7:35 or so.  Now I have to find the domestic terminal, which ends up being at the other end of the airport.  Thankfully, it’s a small airport, and I run there pretty quickly and find the right check in desk.  I get checked in, and wait in this dingy area with a bunch of other people.

They finally make the boarding call for my flight and I walk out onto the tarmac (this isn’t going to be a big plane with a jet engine)  I notice a twin prop commuter size plane and start walking to it.  Then a guy behind me tells me that “it’s not going to be that nice of a plane.”  Ok, I think, and follow him to a plane that I’m thinking must be a cruel joke.  I don’t know if my description will do it justice; it was stark white with two propellers, and looked like it had flown through several war zones in it’s very long life.  My jaw dropped to the asphalt as I climbed up the steps and saw the rickety seats, 2 seat rows on the right side, and 1 seat rows on the other.  There are no overhead bins to put my carry on in, so I pick a seat and hold it in my lap.  Other people start to board, and then not 5 minutes after I got on, we’re lifting off the runway!  The fastest take off ever.  There is no flight attendant, no anyone to tell us to secure our seat belts, nothing.  Oh, and I forgot to mention, it’s starting to rain pretty hard, right when i get on the plane.  I don’t think I need to tell you that I was just a little nervous…

The flight is actually pretty smooth, thank god.  Because it was so cloudy outside, I couldn’t see anything.  It was pretty strange to be able to see the pilot in the cockpit actually flying the plane manually, in this day of autopilots and bullet-proof cockpit doors…

So we land at Nausori airport, in what is quickly becoming a downpour.  We get off the plane really quickly and run the 50 feet to the baggage claim, which is just a single belt like we’ve all seen going around and around.  I failed to see why they had it; it would have been easier to just put everyone’s bags in a few rows on the ground.  I get my bag and walk to the taxi line, which is to be the final (and most frightening) leg of my journey.

Probably as a product of sheer exhaustion, I jump into the first taxi I see as I walk out the airport door.  This ends up being a station wagon that looks as if it was with the plane I had just gotten off of in those war zones…  I get in the back seat and immediately the window starts to leak on my leg, and the dashboard, which in most cars is illuminated at least partly at night, is pretty much dark.  My driver is an amiable Fijian-Indian who looks like he weighs as much as my leg; he introduces himself and we take off into the pouring rain.  I can pretty much tell that nothing in this car works properly.  No dashboard lights, the headlights are really dim, and worst of all, the defrost/air conditioning sucks.  This is bad because every single window in the car is completely fogged up.  I cannot see anything.  It feels like we’re driving down the road with blindfolds on.  Did I mention that Fijian roads are not blessed with plentiful lights either?  To top it off, my driver insists on going much faster than the crappy car and crappy conditions warrant.  My knuckles are white holding on to the seat in front of me; I have to endure this for almost 40 minutes.  We whip around tight turns as the driver holds onto the steering wheel with one hand while wiping off the windshield with the other.  Finally he figures out that the easiest thing to do is follow other cars that you know, have functioning defrost/ air conditioning and can drive safely.  For the rest of the drive, we both are constantly locking our eyes onto any 2 red rear brake lights that are going in the same general direction that we are.

To top off the scariest cab ride ever, we get to the hotel and he tries to double the price!  I give him the correct fare and run away from the cab as fast as I can….

My introduction to Fiji has begun.  I sure hope it gets better than the first 2 hours. 

Written by Doug

June 5, 2008 at 03:45

Posted in Foreign Service, Travel

Clubbing in Bangkok

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We have been in Bangkok for 2 weeks now, and what a time it has been!  This city is so alive and reverberating with energy you can feel; it’s quite exciting.  Several thoughts on the embassy: it is huge.  Massive.  At the very least 3 times as large as Ankara was, and Ankara wasn’t small by any stretch of the imagination.  So far we are a little disappointed by the lack of community involvement meaning that people seem to do their own thing here.  I guess that’s a good thing too, because there’s a ton of stuff to do here in Bangkok.  You could never do it all.  Ankara wasn’t exactly a happening place, so people tended to band together and entertain each other.  I guess we just have to get used to it.  Another thing about work: I had told many family and friends that I was probably going to Beijing for a month in July to help out with the Olympics and the move to the new embassy compound there; unfortunately (or fortunately ;)) that’s not going to happen.  The State Department is facing huge budget cuts across the board, and embassies just like ours have to find ways to cut costs.  One of the first things to go was our travel fund.  This is unfortunate because that is built into our staffing patterns.  We have 6 guys like me, which is a lot, but there’s always been a few of us traveling, helping out other embassies/consulates when they need it.  Regional support is one of our main things.  We’ll see what happens with that. On the social front, we went to the Marine Happy Hour on Friday night, and had a ball, just like we always do.  We met a lot of people there, including a couple of Thai girls who invited us out later that night to go to this club.  We were with our friend from our apartment building whose husband I work with, and after much deliberation, we decided to give it a shot.  Truth be told, we had been drinking for a while and were getting a little tired.  But we felt it was an opportunity to get to know some people a little better, so we couldn’t pass it up. We piled into a cab and took a very long ride (Bangkok traffic never sleeps) to this club called Santika.  It was a very nice place; it reminded me of the swank clubs you see on TV and in the movies.  A place like this would never be in Fredericksburg…  We went to the bar and our every need was catered to.  The girls we were with obviously frequented the place and were kind of like VIPs.  Therefore, we got free food and a nice seat in a not-crowded area.  The rest of the club was packed.  There was a stage that sat below most of the main floor of the club.  It looked like a Greek theater or something like that.  At first there was a DJ playing hip-hop who was pretty good.  Then he stopped and this band came on doing covers of what was a very eclectic mish-mash of songs like Linkin Park, Sean Kingston, Thai pop and others.  At least they were pretty good.  The lead singer was this very clearly American guy who looked like he came straight out of Stafford county (sorry for anyone who is from Stafford, but you know what I’m talking about).  He had on a bandana and it could be said he was attempting to emulate Eminem, oversize T-shirt, jeans and everything else.  He rapped, and then these 2 Thai guys would scream at the top of their lungs a-la Chester Bennington of Linkin Park (he’s the guy who screams for them, too).  There was also a nice outside area of the club which was much more relaxed, and on this night, very pleasant as the weather was perfect.  It was a great area to go to when you needed a break from the bass and screaming inside.  By about 1am we had had enough, and took a cab home to complete our first real night out in Bangkok.  It was eye opening and a complete blast.  We recovered the next day by hanging out at the pool.  Did I mention we have a pool? Living in Bangkok (so far) is like a perpetual vacation… 

Written by Doug

March 8, 2008 at 23:58

Back in the States

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So we have completed our tour in Ankara and are now back in Virginia doing the whirlwind month known as home leave.  I say whirlwind because we are about to embark on a 2 week trip that will take us from Fredericksburg to Hilton Head to New York City and back.  Then after that we’ll be getting to the Outer Banks in North Carolina for a few days, not to mention Bedford, VA.  It’s been nuts already, and we’ve only been back for a little over a week.   The flight back was awesome.  Mer and I had our first business class experience, and it is amazing.  So comfortable and the food was actually pretty tasty!  It will be hard to fly economy again.   Good thing we don’t have to when we travel to Bangkok.We were sad to leave Ankara mostly because of the friends we had to leave behind.  We also fell in love with Turkey; we had an amazing, eye opening time while we were there.  We’ll always have fond memories of it, because it was our first home after we were married.  On to new things and making more memories in Bangkok!! 

Written by Doug

January 21, 2008 at 12:06

Too Many Things to Report…..

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Man, where do I start.  Obviously it’s been a really long time since I last put anything up on this blog.  I guess I’ll start by commenting on the previous post, the one about us going to Pretoria.  We’re not going there anymore.  Instead, we’re on our way to Bangkok, Thailand.

 The short story of what happened is that the position I was assigned to in Pretoria was abolished as a cost-cutting measure, but no one informed the people who put the bid list together.  So it was listed as a possibility, but whoever was assigned there wasn’t going to end up going.  Another shining example of bureaucracy at its finest… 

In order to get us an assignment, my Career Development Officer (CDO) told me he was going to give me a list of posts comparable to Pretoria to choose from.  The problem with that is whose definition of comparable is he going to use?  The region?  Differential? 

He ended up giving us 3 posts to choose from: Bangkok Thailand, Sana’a Yemen, and Luanda Angola.  What would you do?  Meredith and I thought we were going to get 5 or so that were similar, which would have required us to do some research to make our selection.  We were wrong.  I got the email with the choices, and not 10 seconds after reading it, we knew we were going to Thailand.  Some people might like the hardship posts, and every Foreign Service person I’ve talked to has said their best tours have been in small hardship posts.  I don’t deny that and would like to do one of those one day.  In fact, I have to if I want to get promoted.  But you don’t pass on Bangkok.  It’s one of those ‘flagship’ postings, one where people compete furiously to get there.  Had we not taken it now, getting it in the future would have been a tall order.

 We are very excited about Bangkok.  It is one of the great cities of the world, and Thailand a very exotic locale to live in for 2 years.

In other news, I was tenured the other day!  This means that the State Department thinks I can serve effectively for my entire career.  Basically, they think I’m good enough to keep me on.  This is a good thing.

 Check out our Flickr site (link on the right hand side) soon, we’ve been on several trips since the last post on this blog.  We’ve had a ball.

The last thing we need to do before we leave Turkey: visit Istanbul one more time.

The title of this blog will soon change to ‘Adventures in Thailand.’  The Foreign Service is pretty cool…

Written by Doug

November 2, 2007 at 07:21

We’re On Our Way to Pretoria

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Two weeks ago I received my next assignment, which is Pretoria, South Africa.  I was blown away when I got the news.  It was number six on my list of ten posts, of which most admittedly were very nice places.  Meredith initially didn’t want to even consider going to Pretoria, as the crime is really bad.  We compromised though, and put Nassau, Bahamas as our number two, which I wasn’t that high on, and put Pretoria at six, which she didn’t really like.  I also thought the odds of us getting Pretoria were pretty low, as it’s a very desirable place to live, if you can get past the crime rate.

I’ve been told that in the African Bureau, Pretoria is the post you get once you’ve paid your dues in less desirable places, such as Chad, the Congo, Sierra Leone, etc.  The reason we got this is that the particular job slot that I’m taking is reserved for entry-level employees, of which I am one.  Had I been tenured when I bid on the job, the odds would have been stacked against us.

When I came home to tell Mer the news, she said “Oh.”, thought about it for a minute, and quickly warmed up to the idea of living there.  Our reservations with the place are the previously mentioned crime problem, and how far away it is.  The good news is there’s a direct flight from Dulles to Johannesburg, which is awesome.  The pluses far outweigh the negatives: safaris, wine tours, beaches, cheap good restaurants, English speakers (yea!), San Diego like weather, excellent housing(which will probably be a house, maybe with a pool), etc.  You can see why it’s been so hard for me to concentrate at work recently!

So we’re very excited, but the work begins shortly to actually move there, which is a painful, slow process.  In the meantime, we are going to enjoy our few months left in Turkey, which has been a great first post.

Written by Doug

June 3, 2007 at 18:47

Posted in Uncategorized