Saturday, March 20, 2010

How Time Flies...

Almost 2 years ago, I arrived in Washington DC to begin my training as a Foreign Service Diplomat. I can't believe it's nearly time for me to depart my first post, Tegucigalpa, Honduras. During my time here, I think I've done more'living' than in the past 20 years! I know I've experienced so much and learned things I would have never had the opportunity to learn and experience if I had stayed in Fort Worth, Texas, making a decent living in healthcare administration. I had a nice house, a really nice car, had some great friends (still do!) and enjoyed living near my elderly father and his wife. But when my daughter suggested I apply to the Foreign Service, the thought of traveling the world, beginning a new career and meeting extrordinary people...I had to give it a shot. It was nearly a year from the time I applied until I received my Congratulations letter. And if I could do it all over again, I would applied years earlier!

So, here I am, 60 days from flying out of one of the most difficult international airports in the world (thank more landings into Toncontin Airport!), reflecting on my 22 months here. Here are some of the thoughts going through my mind:
  • How many people can say they were in the thick of things during the ouster of a President and the 7 months of political crisis that followed? Working at the US Embassy in the Diplomatic Security section, I looked out my window at the numerous demonstrations by the "Reds," (pro-Zelaya supporters), the "Whites," (pro-Micheletti supporters) and the other various groups who gathered outside the embassy to shout their approval and or disapproval of our policy or involvement. I watched for months as Roberto Micheletti, who was the President of Congress and took over as President of Honduras until the elections, did his best to hold things together. He led from his heart and stood his ground when so many around him (outside of the country) tried to force him to allow Zelaya back to power. I'm not here to judge, but right or wrong, he did what he thought was best to preserve what Democracy was left in the government. Outside another window on my floor, I watched as the throngs of supporters cheered the arrival of Zelaya, who took refuge in the Brazilian Embassy after sneaking back in the country, to the surprise of many. There he stayed for 4 months, turning that embassy into his own home base, directing his supporters, La Resistencia, in their demonstrations and destructive ways. The general election in January took place successfully, in spite of threats of death from the Resistencia, and Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo was Democratically elected the new President. He came to the embassy one day to visit the Ambassador. I happened to be working up there and he walked over to me and shook my hand. I was able to wish him luck in his new position. The Ambassador suggested that they walk through the embassy to the cafeteria and get some coffee. Imagine the looks of surprise from those walking down the hall to see the new President approaching them, reaching out to greet them with a handshake. He took the time to say hello to everyone, from section heads all the way to those ladies who were cleaning the floors and those working in the cafeteria. He has a difficult job ahead of him. Honduras is a country on the brink of bankruptcy. The poverty is horrific, crime is unstoppable and narcotrafficking is out of control. Fortunately, the new government is now being recognized and the worldwide help is resuming.

  • I have loved learning about life in an embassy, lessons I will continue to build on when I arrive in Muscat, Oman. Working in the security section has been wonderful. The men I work with are terrific and as a team, we have come to realize that none of us will let the other down. It's teamwork like I've never known before.

  • You would not believe how fast plants grow here! I'm really close to the equator and it's just amazing how soon a seedling will bloom. Until the drought hit a couple of months ago, my garden was a paradise. Well, it's still beautiful but the grass is now greenish-brown and I water my plants sparingly. They are still tropical! There are ficus trees all over the place here. The thing about ficus trees...the Hondurans are compelled to prune them into some shape...round, oblong, basket shaped and even the shape of a birdhouse. One of my posts here is on the ficus tree shapes. My favorite was the birdhouse that was just down the street from me. Every day, as I passed it, it made me smile. Then, one day I drove home and realized when I walked in my house that I didn't see it. It bothered me all night and the next morning, I drove slowly by where it was. I was shocked when all I saw was a sawed off stump! I would have noticed if it had died, so of course, the first thing that came to mind...someone stole the birdhouse ficus!!

  • On a trip to Utila, one of the Bay Islands, I had my first experience with a mask, a snorkel and swim fins. Oh my God...the beauty that is just below the surface of the ocean is something you have to see to believe! The fish, the coral, the plants, the activity...just beautiful! I've also been to Roatan, where I did a little snorkeling, but nothing like Utila. A friend of mine and I are going to take the course to get our PADI certification...I'm gonna be a scuba diver! We are going back to Utila next month and we'll be able to take the open water test...something I would have never thought of doing if I hadn't come here. I've been told that the coast of Oman is excellent for snorkeling and diving and I would love to arrive there in July ready to dive!

  • I will miss Gloria, my Home Manager. I call her that because she's so much more than a maid. She's extremely smart and if she lived somewhere else where there were more opportunities for her, she would certainly be holding down a job with much more responsibility and status that what she does now. She has a daughter who is 12 and we've talked for hours about how the teachers strike here and about her concern about her daughter getting a good education. She wants her daughter to be more than she is, as do most moms. I have an older Dell desktop computer and monitor and I decided to give it to her for her daughter. Gloria comes to my house every Wednesday and Saturday, so now, for the first hour every Saturday morning, we have computer class. Last Saturday was the first session and I had her working with the mouse. The double-click is not easy for an adult who has never held a mouse. She'll get it. Tomorrow I'll show her how to write something in Word. She needs to get to know the keyboard. I'm glad I decided to give her that computer. It's a good feeling.

  • While here, I've learned to be a survivalist driver. That's must survive these streets! Between dodging the motorcyclists who drive anywhere they want, including the sidewalk, the cars that come at you in your lane, and the potholes large enough to house a family of take your life in your hands every time you go out! Oh..and the taxi drivers...the worst! The last time I was in the states, I was driving a rent car with my son and daughter and my grandson and both my kids said I was driving like a maniac! Of course, I told them I wasn't but I'm sure they were right! If you can drive in Honduras, you can drive anywhere...but you better debrief your brain before you drive anywhere else or suffer the consequences. I've given it a lot of thought and come to the conclusion that driving is just another way that the Hondurans are taking care of #1. It's their culture to do what they can, no matter who is in their way, to survive. I'm not being critical, but how far do you think I'd get if I leaned out the window and said "Sir, you do NOT have the right of way!" There are no police to enforce traffic laws. You just have to believe that 90% of the people on the road, behind the wheel, probably have been behind the wheel for 10 minutes, with no prior driving instruction. If you do get pulled over by 2 police on a mini-bike (don't laugh), you probably broke no law other than smoking or talking on your cell phone while driving and for 600 lempiras (about $35) they will forgive your indescretion. They are not supposed to shake down diplomats but they do, especially the wives. It's sad...corruption is everywhere.

Believe it or not, there is so much more, but I'm stopping here. I think I'll save the rest for another first Zip line, Copan ruins, quaint villages. I hope to write one more time from Honduras before I'm wheels up May 20. From here, I fly to Kauai to visit my son, his wife and my 3 grandsons. After that, I head to Fort Worth to see Dad and my friends...and to shop for stuff to ship to Oman. Then it's off to Washington DC for some training. And on July 18, I'm off to Oman, with stops in Zurich, Switzerland and Dubai. Imagine the landing in those 2 places! I'll share some photos of that the first chance I get! I can't wait to begin the next chapter of my adventures in Oman!


Ray Clifton said...

I really enjoyed reading about your experiences. I'm sure you have many more stories to tell. Looking forward to reading them in another post.

Thanks for your service to our country. I hope everything goes smoothly as you prepare for your next assignment.

Debi said...

Ray, it has been my pleasure. Living abroad is always an adventure but I got so much more than I bargained for, and in a good way. The hardest part of this job is that every 2-3 years you move on, leaving behind friends but taking with you all the memories. Oman should be very intersting.

Ray Clifton said...

Just curious, why do they move you every two or three years?

Debi said...

I've never had it explained to me but my guess is that they wouldn't get many people to join if they knew they might be in Islamabad or Chad or Somalia for their entire career. The beauty of this job is that you get to experience so many cultures and you are have the opportunity to learn new languages, customs, meet fantastic people and be a representative of th United States. Two years is just about right for Honduras and I imagine that at the end of 2 years in Oman, I'll be ready for someplace cold!

Anonymous said...

I've really enjoyed your dispatches from Honduras, and can't wait to hear about your adventures in Oman. Enjoy the rest of your time in Honduras (LOVE that you are giving the computer to your domestic help-great way to ensure that the next generation of Honduran women have more opportunities). Safe travels "home," to DC and Oman!

Laurie said...

I loved your writings from Honduras. And one of the first that I recall was the post about ficus trees. If only you had time to write more frequently.... I would be an avid reader. Best of wishes on your next adventure.

A Daring Adventure said...

It's Friday, and that means that the Sixth Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

Here is the link:

(If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


Debi said...

Laurie, I promise to try to do better with my writing! I think once I'm in Oman it will be too hot to do much else besides sit here and type. I will be writing this weekend with stay tuned!

Debi said...

A DaringAdventure...very appropriate! Good luck with your application to the FS...I've become a follower and will watch your progress. I was a healthcare administrator for many years and my biggest regret is that I didn't make the move to the FS sooner!

Shannon said...

I am so glad that Kolbi put you on the FS roundup! I "lost" your blog when my computer crashed. I can't wait to see what you think of Oman. Someone told me that the moving every 2-3 was one way to discourage graft since it takes time to build the connections necessary for that kind of illegal activity I am sure it is more complicated than that.

Debi said...

Shannon, good to see you again! I need to subscribe to your blog too. As far as the moving around, I've never asked why, but my thought is that who would join the FS if they thought they would be in one place their entire career? Sure, the locally employed staff at each embassy has to adjust to new bosses and coworkers every 23 years but they do very well. The locally employed staff (LES) are the glue at the embassy. They are, for the most part, employees of many years and are dedicated to their jobs. It very well could be to discourage what you mentioned. I'm going to ask when I'm in DC in July. Welcome back!!

Bfiles said...

Debi, I've read your blog on and off but since Kolbi at A Daring Adventure pointed me in your direction, I am back to check it out. I am the healthcare administrator and really excited about my FS prospects. I don't think I'll mind leaving it behind though my passion will always be public health.
I loved your summary post- Teguc is a post I'd love to experience, I was there many years ago after Hurricane Mitch.
I am excited to read about your experiences in Oman! I was recently told that Gulf posts are great for families, so my eyes are on them. We'd love to learn Arabic.
all the best as your wrap up your first post. Bfiles
PS I linked to your blog, let me know if you mind.

Debi said...

Bfiles, welcome back! I also subscribed to your blog. You really should try to come to Tegucigalpa. There's never a dull moment and our locally employed staff is terrific. Lots of places to go (I'm going back to Utila next month for more snorkeling) and it's so close to the states that trips home don't cost an arm and a leg. Bid on it!

A Daring Adventure said...

Hi Debi!

Oops! Don't think I was very clear in my Roundup - I'm not applying to the Foreign Service - my husband already works for State and I'm not applying.

It was the B Files blog that I meant to say was applying and had a background in hospital administration like you!

But I loved your uplifting post and I love how positive you are!

Take care and enjoy your travels in the area!

Bfiles said...

I definitely will if it's an option! I have a love for Latin America...pretty much anywhere in the continent. Now on to reading your newest post!

Debi said...

Daring, I understand. You cleared things up beautifully! I'm pretty much the eternal optomist...the pizza is always only half eaten!

Bfiles, good luck!! And thank you both for following my adventure!! This weekend I begin the quest to cross another thing off my bucket list...I begin the trek to get my certification in scuba! Life is so much fun if you just allow yourself to take every opportunity that comes your way!

callienme said...

Debi, Thank you for your blog. I have been reading it since I first found out about the Foreign Service (a little over a year ago). I applied to the OMS announcement, having no idea that there were so many people out there trying to get into the Foreign Service. Your blog, and your stories, have been very entertaining and informative. I've learned and I've laughed. Thank you! I will be attending the June 21st orientation/training and am looking so forward to living this life. You sound so positive and happy about it - can't wait to join the "party". :-)


Debi said...

Callie, I'm so glad you've enjoyed my journey. I hope to have many more great experiences to share here. And congratulations on being accepted in the Foreign Service. It's a decision you will never regret...except maybe that you didn't do it sooner!