Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes...sniff sniff.

It happens every year here. Those who farm for a living know only one way to clear the land and that's to burn out the old growth and then plant. Under better conditions, that might work. I'm sure there's some benefits in the ash that remains, perhaps enriching the soil. doesn't work when there is a drought going on and there isn't a Plan B to keep the burn under control. Last Friday, there were 3 such burns close together and all 3 quickly because uncontrollable. I looked out my window and thought the entire north side of town was burning! To give you an idea of what it looked like, I have before and after shots.

Here's a picture I took some time ago on a clear day...really picturesque with the houses (such as they are) covering the sides of the hill. We really have the best view of the entire building! On nice clear days you can see forever.

But when a fire occus, it's not as nice and clear as this. During the burning season, there is usually some smoke in the air but never as bad as the photo on the below. There's a bonus in the second picture. About an hour before we noticed the smoke in the air, the yellow bus in the picture was driving down the street and his brakes failed. He saw the baracade by the building below and decided it would be better to hit that than to crash into the car in front of him. I'm not sure just how fast he was going because the traffic on La Paz is pretty steady. I doubt he was going more than 20-25 miles an hour. Good for the passengers on the bus and good for the small baracade! Fortunately, there were no in injuries. Unfortunately, it wasn't that way where one of the fires was burning. It was on the top of one of the many peaks that surround the city and there is a ginormous statue of Christ. In the nearby vicinity is a small zoo or animal reserve of some kind. Some of the animals died in the fire. I doubt it will send the message that it should...stop burning the fields...on a windy day...with no Plan B!

The air cleared up fairly well by the next day but there were still bits of charred 'stuff' raining down, probably corn stalks. It better rain soon...we're running out of water! Fortunately, my cistern (the water storage for water used in my home) is huge and I haven't run out of water but others are. The trucks that the embassy sends out can only service 4 houses a day, since they have to go and fill up and then go to the house and wait as it fills the cistern. That takes time...lots of time. The advice being handed out...check your cistern every day and call when it gets low, not when it's empty!!

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!