My First Mug Shot

At last.  I can finally check “have mug shot taken” off my bucket list.  So how did I happen to get in front of a police camera, holding a white board in front of my chest, with my name and date printed on it?  And was I able to smile?

I’ll answer the second question first:  Yes, I did indeed smile.  So, those of you who are mug shot experts will know from THAT answer that I didn’t get there by robbing a bank, committing arson or assaulting a president.  Because, as the officer/photographer explained to me, criminals aren’t allowed to smile.

And no, I wasn’t picked up for protesting (peacefully or otherwise).  Instead, I was there being fingerprinted and photographed because I offered to help out with the upcoming election’s mail in vote.  You see, I figured the very nice people working in the Board of Elections Office are going to be bombarded this November.  Not only that, but they are going to be subjected to all kinds of criticism, and speculation of misdeeds that will appear on Facebook as ‘fact”,  most likely posted by people who wouldn’t know a fact if it bit them on the ass.

Caring deeply about our country, and recognizing how important voting is to our democracy, I figured it would be patriotic to help out.

In our area, at least, you have to be highly motivated to volunteer because after you fill out two forms,  you have to make an appointment for 7:30 PM at the county sheriff’s department to get your glamour shot and fingerprints done.  Of course, when I arrived at what I THOUGHT was the sheriff’s office, the building was locked up, and there was no one in sight.  But I am resourceful–I saw the next building had lights on, so I pressed the button to be admitted.  Once inside, I saw a young male counting out a huge wad of money, which I found to be interesting and slightly unusual, but eventually figured out it he was probably bailing someone out.  Yep, I was standing in the entry to the  county jail.  After further instructions and a phone call, I returned to the main building and eventually was let in to be “processed” by the very friendly and helpful officer.

The best part?  They no longer smear all that black gunk over your fingers to take your prints.  (I hated that) But that’s not all.   I also learned that because I am not (so far) a criminal, a teacher, an officer of the law, or a politician, my finger prints are not kept on file in some database.  Once  a background check is completed, your digits are deleted.  (I know, you’re probably thinking “what an educational and enlightening this post turned out to be”.  You’re welcome.)

Next step was completing the background check, which I imagined in addition to being bone jarringly boring — I was FAR more intriguing during my college days — included a glance at my voting record.  I had been asked whether I was able to be non-partisan, and although I CLEARLY have strong opinions about the current administration, that is probably true of 95% of the American population.  (The other 5% is most likely in a coma.) Still, I can put my feelings aside to do a job professionally and ethically.  Out of curiosity, however, I looked on line at my voting record and was surprised to see that I had registered as a Republican three times, as a Democrat four times and as an independent TWENTY EIGHT times for the last thirty five elections I’ve voted in.

So, after all that, what has my volunteer work entailed?  So far I have completed two days on the job.  The first day I spent detaching the signature “flap” from the sealed envelope containing the ballot.  This protects the confidentiality of the vote.   The next day,  I took ballots (from a different city) out of envelopes and inspected them to make sure they could be processed by machine.  If not, then I put them aside to be hand counted and I completed a tally sheet to ensure that all ballots (and envelopes) are accounted for.  The ballots are kept by voting district to be machine counted, and the flaps and envelopes are retained, in case there are any questions down the road.

I’m glad that New Jersey is able to start the process 10 days before Election Day, because there is a lot of work involved.  I was impressed by the multiple checks and counts to ensure that all ballots are protected.  People are working hard to make this election a successful and fair process.  Plus,  I’m gaining additional respect for those who do repetitive, manual labor. Let me tell you, it takes its toll–at least it has on me!

At Least Ten Reasons to become a Portugal Global Volunteer

Are you considering becoming a Global Volunteer?  Wondering which program is best for you?  I’ve volunteered six times, in five different countries: St Lucia, Vietnam, the Cook Islands & Mexico, where I volunteered twice, and most recently Portugal.  I’ve done blog posts about four of them, describing how each program was wonderful in its own way,  and oh, so very rewarding.
Because I get sucked into all of the “top 10” lists, I decided to do one that will encourage you to consider spending two very worthwhile weeks in that fantastic part of the world known as Portugal.

Highly motivated, interesting students:
My assignment was English conversation at the Polytechnic Institute of Beja,My group, seven of the twenty four members of our class

where I spent evenings chatting with adults who already had an impressive grasp of English, but wanted the opportunity to practice and to improve their pronunciation.
Three of us taught together, breaking the students into smaller groups after the first forty five minutes of the two hour nightly class.
Other volunteers taught at the high school,  middle schools and the prison.  Some tutored restaurant owners and staff.
Interestingly, we each thought that WE had gotten the best assignment, which leads me to the next reason.

An Incredible team Leader:
Joe has been leading teams to Beja, Portugal for many years, and his extensive experience really shows.  He quickly sized up the 10 of us and figured out which volunteer best matched which assignment.  He’d give Match.com a run for their money, if he ever decided to get into the dating business!
Joe knows all Beja’s historical sights, the most fun restaurants, the best excursions for the weekend, the cultural events, where you can get your laundry inexpensively done…everything you need to know to thoroughly enjoy your non-volunteering hours.IMG_6247Our leader, Joe, in the black tee shirt, left front

Interaction with the Community:
When I say that Joe knows everybody in Beja, I’m not exaggerating.  One night, we enjoyed dinner with Beja’s mayor and councilwoman.  And yes, those are gifts the councilwoman is holding.

What was in the bag?  Lots of local goodies, including my favorite–chocolate from the shop down the street.

Lasting friendships:
Laurie, Jeanne and I met when we volunteered in St. Lucia in 2012.   
Although Jeanne and I volunteered together in Mexico in 2017, this was the first time since that first meeting that I had had the pleasure of spending time with Laurie.  Having her as my “partner” at the University made it even more fun!
The best part?  I now have SEVEN new volunteers who I would be thrilled to see on a future assignment.

Shared Experiences:
It almost felt like I was back in college.  Because we pretty much took over the first floor of the Hotel Bejense, I knew just about everyone in every room on that floor.  There was always someone to play with, just like back in the dorm.  IMG_5699Want to have a chat over a cup of tea?  No problem.  Just walk down the hall, to the breakfast room and along the way, you are sure to bump into a buddy or two.
The hotel also had a cozy lounge, in which we gathered every night to share our experiences, before heading off to dinner.  As you can see, experiences weren’t the ONLY things we were sharing!  Our fee for Global Volunteers covers our housing, food, transportation to the work site but not wine.  Again, no problem.  We took turns purchasing wine, cheese and other snacks to make our evening meetings more enjoyable.

Serpa Cheese Festival:
Okay, so there is no guarantee that a future program will take place during the Cheese Festival.  We just happened to luck out.  (That cheese in the photo above was purchased at the festival by one of the volunteers.)
There were LOTS of free samples of cheese AND wine AND chocolate!
IMG_5757Not only that, but we got to experience “Cante Alentejano”.  Okay, so I will never make my fortune as a videographer, but this 33 second clip will give you an idea of this very stylized art form.

Evora:
Global Volunteers are free to travel during the weekends.  Because public transportation is reliable, comfortable and inexpensive, we took the bus on Sunday to the beautiful city of Evora, spending the day enjoying all that it had to offer, like the Roman Temple,
P1190290
the Chapel of Bones.
IMG_2184
and even more music!
P1190314Beja:
P1190277

There is so much to say about this lovely place that I devoted an entire blog post just to Beja.  Click here if you want a closer look at this delightful town.   It is so worth visiting.

Lisbon
It is also impossible to list all that Lisbon has to offer as one entry in a 10 item list.  So, Lisbon ALSO has its own post.   But here’s the best part:  It is SO easy to get from Beja to Lisbon by bus.  The bus station is just a short walk from the hotel.  I was surprised that it was so inexpensive–just 14 Euros to ride in comfort with access to free wifi.   Notice the stop in Evora.  
IMG_5725Venture Outside of Your Comfort Zone:
Why not stretch your limits?  Try something new and exciting?  You may make new friends, accumulate lots of memories and experience another culture in a way that is not possible when you are just passing through, visiting the usual tourist sites.

Beja, Week One

Our first week in Beja has concluded, and what a wonderful week it was!

I’ve been asked many times about the kind of person who does a Global Volunteer project, so here’s a brief description of the 10 fantastic people with whom I’ve had the pleasure of working, complete with a visual.

Cisco (front row) is the first Australian Global Volunteer I’ve ever encountered. (He could possibly be the first Australian in Global Volunteer’s history). We all LOVE this extremely creative and talented guy. A graphic art designer by training, he has done so many other things, it is hard to believe he is only 31 years old. I suspect his Beja students are most impressed by his disc jockey experience, but I love hearing about the awards he won while working on a Disney cruise ship. He is “bloody ripper”. (Yes, Cisco is teaching me to speak Aussie).

Also in the front row is our fearless leader, Joe. It feels like EVERYBODY in Beja knows Joe. Coming here for ten years, leading two teams per year (February and September), Joe knows all of the assignments, and has done an amazing job matching us up so everyone is happy.

Joe has sampled just about every eating establishment in the area, so we are enjoying a wide variety of delicious cuisines.

Weekends are usually free time, however Joe very graciously organized a guided tour of Beja on Saturday morning, followed by an excursion to the Serpa cheese festival in the afternoon. Sunday we spent the day visiting the historic town of Evora.

My dear friend Jeanne is in row 2. Jeanne has decades of middle school experience, so she was paired with Heidi ( back row), who is a first time volunteer. Any trip with Jeanne is guaranteed to be fun. Her positive outlook on life is the gift that keeps on giving.

Next to Jeanne is Cindy, from Connecticut. She is a retired Spanish teacher, who has spent last week working in a variety of schools with Dale (last row, Heidi’s husband). Cindy has done a number of GV trips, and is returning to Queretaro, Mexico this October. For those of you who wonder if you could volunteer as a single woman, Cindy is your role model.

Laurie is between Cindy and me. Jeanne, Laurie and I all met Continue reading Beja, Week One