Friday, April 23, 2010

A Return To Paradise...The Island of Utila!

Last weekend I made what is sure to be my last weekend trip in Honduras since I'm wheels up May 20th. I returned to Utila, where I had such a great time last year. There was plenty of snorkeling along the coral reefs, wonderful food, lots of great people watching, fun excursions in the golf cart on dirt roads and the best massage I've ever had! What more could you want in a weekend vacation? If you've never been, put Utila on your list of must see places! There was beauty below the water as well as above. The snorkeling was fantastic, as it was before. I think my next investment will be a new camera with a waterproof case. The underwater pictures here were taken with a disposable camera but I know the pictures would be much better with a nice camera. I went out on the boat with the divers and after observing the preperation to dive and all the equipment, I think I've decided I'm very content to float and bob on top of the water! That said, I won't say I won't go out on the dive boat again since the scenery was just as nice on the boat as it was below the boat!

On a small island like Utila, you rent golf carts to get around, which is what we did. We had more fun finding roads and following them to wherever they led. We came across ant hills, trees with funny roots and animals...egrets, cows, cattle (is there a difference?) and some really pretty scenery.

You just never know what you'll come across when you just follow a dirt road. The ant mounds were really neat. We watched the ants crossing the road with large chunks of green leaves in their mouths and then disappear into the mound. If you like this sort of thing...the driving around and exploring, be sure to use lots of bug spray!
But all fun things must come to an end and our trip was no exception. We dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:00am to get to the little airport by 6:00 to catch our flight back to Tegucigalpa. The plane was one of the smaller planes I've flown in. It had 4 bench seats (for 2) in it and there were 6 of us. I sat right behind the pilot and had a great view of the take off and landing. And he had a GPS mounted on the dash (is that what it is in a plane?) and fortunately for us, he located La Ceiba and locked in the coordinates! I wish I could say I'll be back but I don't see that happening. I'll have to be content with my memories and my photographs.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Chem/Bio Responder Debi!

I must once again describe something that was only made possible for me because I am in the Foreign Service. In 2008 when letters containing a white powder were sent to embassies around the world, the call came out for people to volunteer to be Chem/Bio Emergency Responders. Those are the people in the funny suits and gas masks that risk their lives to go in and test white powders and/or rescue people inside an embassy who have been made ill by contact with a chemical or biological agent (hence the name Chem/Bio). I immediately signed up to be a responder. The training was tough. Think about being in an airtight suit with gas mask, gloves, rubber boots and all seams taped up with duct tape...practicing saving people in 80 degree weather. That's what we went through in 2008 for this 2 day training. I was one of the 4 people chosen to 'rescue' someone who had opened an envelope containing anthrax. The 4 of us raced off with the stretcher. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be one of the instructors, who weighed about 200 lbs! We had to get him on the stretcher (he was dead weight), lift him and navigate through doorways and down stairs to get him out of the building. But...we did it! Then he began the scrub down. As Chem/Bio responders, we have the privilege of saying...STRIP! And they better obey us! Soap, bleach, water, more soap...soon he was decontaminated. It was only a drill but it was intense. We were in those suits for over 2 hours. When we finally took them off, we were soaking wet!

That was in 2008. Recently, more letters have been sent out to several embassies in Africa with a Grand Prairie, Texas return address. Embassies worldwide are on alert. You never know when the idiot will use the real thing so you have to be prepared. So, this week, we had a refresher course. As you can see, it's hard to tell who is who but we did have our names written on duct tape on our chest and back. Here I am with Mireya and Janie...I'm the one in the middle!! I'm sure you recognize those eyes!!

The next picture is of some of the responders getting suited up. There is an order to this...first you put on your gloves. I don't understand that too much because the gloves are XXXL and once on, you can't do anything with your hands! It makes pulling and cutting the duct tape to cover all seams such fun!!

Once you get the gloves on, you struggle to put your suit on, which is also an XXXL so that one size will fit all...with the help of a little duct tape! Pulling that zipper up is a bear! We suit up with the help of a buddy so it helps a little. But once you have your stuff all on, you get to help your buddy. Remember those XXXL gloves?

At the end of the class, we were all sweaty but felt good that we had a chance to have a quick run-through of what we do in case one of those envelopes comes to our embassy. And at the end of the class, I had to sit down,trying to breathe through that mask with sweat dripping down my nose, and thinking that one day, it might save my life and/or the life of someone else.