Tuesday, February 10, 2009

You're All On Notice

Linguistic pet peeves that make me cringe*:
  • "could of" when you mean "could have" or "could've"
  • "alot" or "allot" when you mean "a lot" (as in "a whole bunch" or "much")
  • "I could care less" when really you mean that you couldn't care less, and should say that instead, unless your intent is to be sarcastic, but it's clearly not
  • Use of the wrong archaic pronoun
  • Use of archaic pronouns without appropriate accompanying verb conjugation
*This is not anywhere near an exhaustive list.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Belize Mission Trip: The Fire

On Sunday, the final morning that we were in Belize, I went outside the hotel in order to go pick up the laundry from the night before. I had my camera with me, and I snapped a couple of shots of the rising sun. When I turned around to head towards the laundromat, I saw smoke billowing in the distance. Although emissions regulations in Belize aren't quite what they are here in the USA, I was pretty sure that this was not someone burning trash or anything like that. The smoke was heavy and dark, and from the looks of it, whatever was burning hadn't been at it for long, but was already going strong: there was a building on fire. I decided that I should check it out. Who knows what might happen in a fire in a developing country? I was prepared to help if needed, and if not, well, I had my camera. I snapped a few shots as I approached the blaze. There were plenty of others curious to see the fire as well. As I arrived, a smattering of onlookers took up posts at a safe distance. As I was en route, I had heard and seen a fire engine on its way. When I arrived, the firemen were already running hoses, and soon they were spraying the burning house. Nearby, from a power pole there were crackles and pops as a live power line dangled, burning. I decided to reposition myself, so I cut across someone's front yard to avoid danger. I was now between the river and the blaze, and quite a bit closer than before. The residents of the neighboring house were busy dousing their exterior wall with buckets of water. The plastic rain gutters and pipes were melted and deformed, and the wall was steaming. Their house, unlike the one on fire made of wood, looked like it was constructed from cement blocks. The firemen had run a hose out to the river and someone turned it on without checking to see if anyone was holding the other end. I decided to move away from the head of the hose. Others got the same idea, and we shouted and signaled that they should turn the hose off. The burning house collapsed in on itself. By now, the firemen were making headway, and soon they had the blaze under control and the fire was diminishing. I headed back to the hotel, along with Angela and Troy, kids from our group who had followed me.
On my way to check out the fire The burning house Onlookers Bye-bye, Belize

Belize Mission Trip: Tobacco Caye

Saturday was our free day, and Elizabeth and I decided to go snorkeling. The best place to do that (according to Ben, a guy in my Greek class who had randomly been there) is Tobacco Caye. (Caye is pronounced "key", like the Florida Keys.) Tobacco Caye is a very small island on the end of a barrier reef. Elizabeth and I went along with four others from our party. We left Dangriga by boat in the morning. The trip took about 40 minutes. Every so often, we would hit a wave pretty hard, which would make Penny (one of the nurses in our group) squeal. It was quite amusing, but the jolting made Elizabeth uncomfortable because of her pregnancy. The day was a bit overcast, but not as bad as Friday at the construction site, so we were hoping that it would clear up instead of raining. Once we arrived, we explored the island, which was rather small. There were conch shells literally everywhere. Since they're protected they are not allowed to be taken, so the ones in immaculate condition were used to line trees, staircases and cabins, while the chipped or worn ones were simply thrown in piles in the harbor. The sun did come out a little bit, and we ate lunch at a restaurant that sat over the water. They apparently ran out of fish, because half of us got fish, and the other half got chicken. The food was good, though, and we shared a little bit so that everyone could try the fish. There were a group of nursing students at the island as well. They had left Dangriga just before we did, and were staying on the island for a few days. They got to go out snorkeling before we did, and so we had to wait until they got back before we could go. The longer we waited, the more windy and rainy it got, but we didn't want to pass on the snorkeling (and who really cares if it's raining when you're in the water), so as soon as they got back, we hopped in the boat and headed out. The reef was pretty cool. Since it was a cloudy day, it wasn't as bright as it could have been, but hopefully the pictures from my waterproof disposable camera will come out (I haven't gotten them developed yet). It's a bit difficult to frame a shot when all you can do is point the camera in the general direction and hit the button. We didn't see anything spectacular, but there were lots of colorful fish, coral, and a few rays. After snorkeling, the weather was pretty bad. The wind had picked up, kicking the waves up along with it, and it had started to rain. We hurredly got our things together and into the boat. On the way back, we stopped by a wildlife preserve, where several species of birds made their nests. On the way back, we got completely soaked to the bone. Not only was it raining, but every time we hit a wave hard, it would splash water up, which would then be blown by the wind right on top of us. We had pack up and leave the following morning, so we were glad that there was a laundrimat nearby. We took all of our wet and filthy clothes (minus a pair of my jeans that had ripped and were covered with cement), and dropped them off so that we could take them home clean and dry.
Pelicans We're here! Tobacco Caye The restaurant where we ate lunch On the trip back The aviary
Land ho!

Belize Mission Trip: The Construction Site

Aside from fiddling with a few computers, carrying pills back and forth, and interpreting between American doctors and their Spanish-speaking patients, I was also able to get a little bit of actual, honest-to-God work done on this mission trip. A construction team came along with the medical team to pour the foundation of a new church building. The building was to replace the one in which the service was held that we attended on Sunday, which was small and old. I didn't really feel like part of either team when I went down: I was the designated tech guy. Nevertheless, when I found my work at the schools mostly done, and the hospital team not desperately in need of translators, I was glad to be a part of the team that prepared and poured the foundation, and remained so for the latter half of the week. The work was pretty straight-forward. We had to cut rebar, tie it into the proper forms with lengths of wire and suspend it at the right height in the trenches. We didn't have a grinder, so all the cutting was with a hacksaw. The trenches also had to be filled in so the they were all level at the bottom (where they were too deep), and some of them needed to be lined with boards (where they were too wide). On Friday, the cement trucks were supposed to arrive at 1:00. We were ready early, but they didn't arrive until 3:30, so there was a lot of sitting around and waiting. While we waited, the weather kept getting more and more rainy. When the trucks arrived, they would pour, and we would use shovels to spread it around, then afterwords it would would be leveled with boards. After two loads were poured, there was significantly less cement than had been calculated, so we had to order a third load. It arrived just as it was getting dark, so we had to use headlights in order to see.
Making the rebar forms Mounting rebar in the trenches The school provided lunch Pouring cement

Belize Mission Trip: The Hospital

Not being a medical professional, I wasn't quite sure I would be of much help to the doctors and nurses who came down to serve at the hospital. The default role I took during the two half-days that I spent time at the hospital was "runner". Basically, I sat around in the pharmacy, and when a doctor needed some medication he would radio it in, Mae (the one in charge of the pharmacy) would count out the pills, I would bring it to their exam room. I mentioned in a previous post that Belize, as a former British colony, is the only Central American country with English as the official language. This is not the whole story, however. English is rarely the language that Belizians speak to one another in casual conversation. Generally, they speak Belizian Kriol. Kriol speakers can generally understand English (thanks to school and television) and speak it well enough to be understood, but there are also large populations from Guatemala and Mexico's Yucatan penninsula. Most of those in the latter two groups do not speak or understand English at all, and many of them speak Spanish only as a second language from their native tribal dialects (in some cases, I found, heavily accented). And so it came to be, that my Spanish came in handy in my role of helping out at the hospital, and every once in a while there would be a request for a Spanish translator. I don't think I did a stellar job: Elizabeth is much better at me, especially when it comes to talking about medical symptoms and diagnoses, but I did OK. At one point, a little girl giggled at me for misremembering the word for "fingernails"--I used the word for grapes. I don't think I had used the word since learning it in my sophomore year of hich school. It was fine, though, she corrected me, and we moved on with a smile. As the day went on, I got more confident in my Spanish, and a bit more relaxed about getting it exactly correct.
Elizabeth, showing a little A monument to Garifuna culture in Dangriga The triage area outside the clinic at the hospital

Belize Mission Trip: Christ the King

Tuesday morning I was dropped off at Christ the King Parish School in Dangriga. I had been given three laptop computers to deliver to the school. Apparently last year the team had installed an entire lab full of computers, but a few weeks later, there had been a break-in at the school, and most of them were stolen. The laptops were therefore a better option because the staff could bring them home at night. The school is surrounded by parks, a football field, basketball courts, a market, the Social Security office, and the beach. This means that there isn't likely to be anyone around late at night, and someone can pull up a vehicle, break into a building and load up what they want without being observed. The laptops were easy enough to set up. There was a network switch and plenty of Ethernet cable going to each student station. I also found that a couple of the boxes laying around in the corner actually worked, and so I set them up and got them running. The tech guy asked me to install XP on an old laptop that was running Mandriva Linux. I tried to install it using the XP CD that I had burned myself, as well as the one that Fr. Peter had given me to use at St. Matthew's (since I was bringing down hard drives, I made sure that I was able to install an OS on them). None of the keys on the Windows stickers on any of the computers in the lab worked with my CD (even though they were the right OS: Windows XP Pro), and the CD drive on the laptop kept getting read errors with Fr. Peter's. The laptop was old enough that it had no Ethernet drive, and I needed to get the OS installed before setting up the PCMCIA Ethernet adapter that was in the lab, so I ended up using floppy disks to transport the files that Windows Setup couldn't read from the internal CD-ROM drive from one of the other computers in the lab. In the end, though, I coulnd't get it to work. The principal had asked me to get a couple of the printers working, and I installed the appropriate driver for one of the printers. The other printers were in pretty bad shape. I did get another one installed, but it was out of ink. Along with the computers, the DSL modem had also been taken, so I tried to get it working with a modem that I found packed in a suitcase, but this modem, while it worked just fine as a DHCP server, jammed the phone line. I reported my progress to the principal, and she asked me to take a look at the computer in the office to see if I could get it to shut down properly. She also said it ran slow. I could see why it was slow: it was old, and that was the speed that it was supposed to run, but I didn't see anything in the system error logs from bad shutdowns, so my advice was to keep shutting the power off manually, and possibly to swap that computer with one of the newer laptops that I had brought. We weren't able to get the Internet working while I was there. The phone company provides free Internet access to schools. Once we discovered that the modem was broken, and that the DSL account was still active and should be working, the principal asked the phone company to install a new modem. Their response was that they would need to see a police report showing that the modem was stolen in order to install a replacement. The modem wasn't on the original police report from when the lab was broken in to, so the police report had to be amended, and then that needed to be shown to the phone company. I'm not sure exactly where they were in this process when we left at the, but I did all that I could, and left instructions as to what works, what doesn't, and what needed to be done.

Belize Mission Trip: St. Matthew's

On Monday, I went out to St. Matthew's Anglican School in Pomona (the same site that the service had been the day before) and took the hard drives with me. Brenton, the local tech guy (as well as many other things, I imagine) showed me around the computer lab. Several of the computers weren't working for various reasons: one didn't have the proper drivers installed, one only had a 3GB hard drive, and so you couldn't install anything or even patch the operating system. A few others were misconfigured in various ways. There was Internet access, and so I was able to download the proper drivers and other programs I needed (Firefox, AVG). The access was pretty slow, so it took a while. The one without drivers was the most time-consuming. I had to figure out what exactly the hardware was in order to get the proper driver. It needed drivers for the display, the network, and the sound card (though the latter was less important than the other two). It was also configured with the Egypt localization, so some of the menus were in Arabic until I figured out how to set it to Belize and English. I had been given several hard drives do deliver to this school because that was what Fr. Peter, in communicating with the principal, had determined was what was needed. In actual fact, only one hard drive was put to use (on the computer with the 3GB drive). Apparently there is some confusion as to what constitutes a "hard drive", a "CPU", and (as we computer people call it) a "box" (not to be confused with a "case"). Near as I can figure (and this is conjecture), the principal had told Fr. Peter that some of their "hard drives" weren't working ("hard drive" here meaning "the part of the computer that is not a monitor, keyboard, or mouse"). He had then gone to the local used computer supply store and purchased several hard drives for me to take down and give to the school ("hard drive" here meaning "storage device"). I was able to get a few more PCs up and running, but some had bad motherboards, and there were a couple with broken power supplies. This was not surprising, given the humid climate and iffy power grid. I didn't think to bring a screwdriver, or I might have tried swapping out some of the parts to see if I could piece together a working machine.
The computer lab Some of the kids at the school

Belize Mission Trip: Saturday & Sunday

I didn't sleep very well on the plane. This was partially due to the fact that I was uncomfortable and restless, and partially due to the fact that I had a good book to read, and preferred reading it to sleeping. I dozed a little bit, on the flights and at the airport, but not nearly enough to resemble a good night's sleep. Consequently, after the van ride to Dangriga and checking in to the hotel, I decided to skip dinner and sleep straight through the night. The next morning, I woke refreshed after a 12-hour sleep. Elizabeth told me about dinner the night before, and what the day's options were. We decided to go to a church service in Pomona, which is a town about 11 miles from Dangriga where the construction team from the group was going to pour a foundation for a new church building. The group that we went with is organized by the Episcopal diocese here in Seattle, so the churches (and the schools that they were associated and co-located with) were all Anglican. Belize, interestingly, is the only Central American country where English is the official language. As a former British colony, they have a lot of British influence. They even use imperial units (e.g., miles, feet, and inches), though they also use metric units to a greater degree than we do here in the US. I don't think I've been to an Episcopal/Anglican church service before (I know my grandparents go to a liturgical church, but I'm not sure if it's Anglican). In any case, I enjoyed the service very much. The liturgical format is somewhat scripted and ceremonial, but otherwise not drastically different from some of what I'm used to, and (more importantly) those who were there were there to worship the Lord, to hear from His word, remember His life and death, and to sing His praises. After the service there was a meal served consisting of sandwiches and punch, and then we climbed in the van and headed back to Dangriga. We were given a tour by the trip organizer of the Souther Regional Hospital of Belize. The organizer is Fr. Peter, whose wife Kathy, a nurse who works with Elizabeth, was in charge of the medical operations. At this point, I wasn't sure exactly what I would be doing. I had been flagged as a "computer person" before the trip, and so I was put in charge of some laptops to deliver to one school, and a bunch of hard drives to deliver to another. I was also told I would be doing some tech support on some computers that didn't work. Being a "computer guy" is interesting. You see, most people don't really have the slightest clue what it is that I actually do for a living, and usually assume that I 'fix computers,' like the geek squad or the cable guy. In actual fact, software engineering has almost nothing to do with these skills, but it turns out that in the process of working (and playing) with computers, (not to mention people referring their configuration and hardware issues to you for remedy) you sort of pick up the skills and know-how along the way. This of course only serves to re-enforce the cultural misunderstanding. It's a bit like thinking that architects install carpet. It's rather quaint and amusing at times.
Dangriga shoreline. Note the brown water: this was not what I was expecting from the Caribbean, but there are rivers that flow into the sea here. If you look closely you can see a strip of blue on the horizon. The Chaleanor hotel where many of our group was staying, and where we had our group meetings and dinners on the roof. Fr. Peter giving the tour One thing I did on Sunday: help sort drugs and medications, and then man the pharmacy for a little bit. One of the rivers flowing into the sea.

Belize Mission Trip: Introduction

Since I'm sick today, I finally have no excuse not to take the time and write about our trip to Belize. Elizabeth started coming down with something the day before we left, and when we got home, it turned out to be the flu, from which, after about a week, she is almost finished recovering, and with which I have come down. But I digress. We had never been on an organized medical missions trip before. Elizabeth has spent some time working as a nurse in a clinic in the Yucatan, but that was just by herself. My mission trip experience, organized and otherwise, is rather limited, so I came not knowing what to expect. When Elizabeth heard about the trip through a co-worker, she was very excited, and after prayer and consideration, we decided that we would go. Learning that Elizabeth was pregnant threw a bit of a wrench in the works, because one of the recommendations for this trip was anti-malarial medications, and we didn't want Elizabeth to be taking any of those while pregnant. After considering our options and gathering more information, we decided to go ahead with the trip, but not travel inland (to see the ruins) on our free day, as the coastal areas have a significantly reduced risk of malaria. Besides, both of us wanted to go snorkeling. The trip lasted from Friday night, January 16th to Sunday evening, January 25th. We caught a red-eye flight on Friday night from Seattle to Houston, and then in the morning took a flight from there to Belize City. In writing about the trip, I realized that there is a lot to say, so I decided that I'm going to break it up into topical/temporal sections, with the hope that it will be more easily digestible to the reader in smaller portions. Enjoy, and please, be encouraged to leave comments and/or questions.
My photos from the trip | Other people's photos from the trip
Fr. Peter performs the stick dance