Sunday, December 30, 2012

The end...

...of 2012

Just a quick update - I'm at a bit of a standstill in my personal and professional life.

Rather than a top 10 of 2012 post (or top 12) I'll just stick with the top 10 things that I've been doing since I blogged last.

1) Over the holidays I ate an average of 5 cookies per day. I completely rediscovered my mom's corn flake wreaths.
2) I moved out of Oakwood and found the one and only hotel in DC that is available for half per-diem, within walking distance of main state, and offers a kitchenette.
3) Last night the police raided the hotel room next to mine. This may or may not explain the amazing deal I got on the room...
4) I ate oysters for the first time yesterday. Thanks to my friends who pointed out that my life wasn't complete without slurping down a few oysters at the raw bar. (You were right, they're delicious.)
5) I finally got to see my cousin - he's recently back from Afghanistan. The last time we saw each other he was in middle school. I guess that shows how often we all get together, doesn't it?
6) We had a Christmas that was almost entirely devoid of 'presents' in the traditional sense, but totally filled with blessings and generosity. I think I could get used to this no presents thing.
7) I spent an entire day doing distance learning at main state. Ugh.
8) I bought my dog a Santa suit and he wore it on Christmas. I am the world's best pet owner.
9) I got to hang out with all the grandparents, my folks, and my brother - the Paraguayan. I appreciated this opportunity even more knowing that I'll be so far from home for the next two years.
10) I realized this morning that when I wake up a week from now I'll be in Lagos.


Okay,and with that, I'll leave you.  Happy (almost) New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

The frozen north

That's right, I'm home for the holidays! Thanks home for being snowy this Christmas and thanks parents for making the never-ending trek to retrieve me from the airport.

Safe travels and happy holidays everybody!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

ConGen - check!

Unbelievably, the list that was stressing me out a month and a half ago is pretty much complete. Since A-100 ended I've gotten a diplomatic passport and Nigerian visa, I purchased a car (and learned about the 1001 ways that a car will cost you more money than you thought it would), I bought a small mountain of consumables, I got all my TMs (travel orders basically), booked flights, wrote my introduction letters, received vaccinations for every disease known to man, and filled out lots and lots of paperwork. And today I finished ConGen with a slice of purple cake (thanks for that A!).

Suddenly things seem to be moving fast. I pack out next week, spend the holidays with family, do some quick online trainings, then I'm out of here!

I realize that my posts must be getting a bit repetitive. Unfortunately, I just don't have much to write about. Work is off-limits, obviously, but so much of my social life revolves around work now that it's hard to draw the line.

So in an effort to entertain my very demanding audience, here are some random pictures that are more interesting than me writing about how I have nothing to write.

#1 Mangosteens!!!!!
True, these are canned and thus not nearly as good as they could be, but still they made my day. In case you've never been to Asia, mangosteen is believed by many - including me - to be the tastiest fruit in the world. Also, I love that my Thai is still stuck somewhere back in the basement of my brain. I saw Aroy-D and immediately smiled. This is how you say 'tasty' in Thai and is an important phrase if you're going to Thailand because basically everything there is aroy-dee. (Just FYI you eat the white part of the mangosteen shown below. It's creamy and sweet and just melts in your mouth.)
#2 Takesi coffee!!!
Remember a million years ago when I was interning in Bolivia and posted about my trip to a coffee plantation? Well, to my delight it turns out that you can buy the coffee grown there - at the highest coffee plantation in the world - right at your neighborhood Whole Foods. It's actually very good, and I'm not just saying that because I got all teary-eyed from nostalgia.
 
#3 Sadly no picture for this one, but I had to give a shout-out to Cosmopolitan Grill in the middle of nowhere Alexandria off Route 1. It is one of two restaurants in the area serving food from the Balkans and after a year in the former Yugoslavia I can attest to its authenticity. They will even speak Serbian to you if you are so inclined. I recommend you try cevapcici or pljeskavica, ajvar and kajmak, and if you have any room left - burek. Thanks to the good friend who found this place so we could keep up the monthly exotic dinner tradition. ;)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Kicking and screaming

What a day.

I've been an ogre lately (or is it ogress?) and it finally got to the point where even I didn't want to be around me. This fact occurred to me sometime after a conversation I had today with the one millionth person that had something negative to say about Lagos (I'm also including those who say it all with just a look and a 'Wow, Nigeria, yeah...' in this group). Usually I love to toss out how excited I am or talk about all the things I'm looking forward to, but I was just done today and let the other person's attitude rub off on me.

But it was more than just a case of contagious bad attitude. I finally realized what I should have known was inevitable from the start. I don't want to go to Lagos. Now hang on a second and let me explain. This is nothing against Lagos. It was a top choice for me and remains a top choice. But moving to Lagos necessarily requires moving away from the States and I have a very love-hate relationship with moving and change generally. The side of me that craves change is reflected in my god-given ability to sign up for things without over-thinking them and my other god-given ability to do a pretty good job adjusting to whatever I face when I get there. It's just that I have a total skills gap when it comes to that awkward waiting period in between.

You know the time I mean.

It's when you know change is coming and you can't stop it. But you can't hurry it along either. You just have to sit there and wait for it to hit you. (Well, and buy consumables. You can do that I guess.)

I'm really bad at that phase. It turns me into the little kid I picture at the dentist's, clinging to the chair in the waiting room yelling "Noooo!!!!!" But instead of being able to vent my feeling of anxiety/anticipation in such a healthy and mature manner I'm left binge eating Mexican food and whining to the travel office about how I don't want X flight and omg why can't I have a window seat and just generally being a pain in the neck. Now I have time for all the over-thinking I didn't do before and nothing good can come from that.

So to everyone who has heard me whine in the past week, I apologize. It's just that I don't want to go to Lagos. I want to BE in Lagos.

Just take comfort (as I do) in the fact that this phase ends the moment I get on the plane - at which point I will be back to normal, ready for adventure and a lot more sane.

One month left!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

5/5

I've been thinking about language a lot lately, as half my A-100 classmates are studying foreign languages at FSI (and the other half have mostly gotten off language probation already). As I may have mentioned, FSI uses the ILR (interagency language roundtable) scale to rate language users. The scale has 5 levels.

It may interest you to know that we mostly only teach languages to a level 3 - professional fluency. (1 is the beginner level and 2 is intermediate.) So that begs the question, what's higher than 3? Well, 4 and 5 obviously, but more specifically, real fluency - the fluency where you can talk about almost anything with comfort, where the grammar makes sense to you and you use it without thinking. That's approximately what level 4 is all about. Level 4 is for native speakers and really, really hardworking language students. And those occasional obnoxious people who just 'pick up' languages easily. Whatever.

Level 5 is more mysterious. Level 5 is the 'educated native speaker'. You don't have to actually be a native speaker to achieve this, but you have to sound like one. So no mistakes, no accent, no 'quaint' ways of phrasing things. You might assume that you are a level 5 English speaker - I've certainly always assumed that I was one. But the instructor that day said something very shocking (at least to me). Apparently only 2-3% of the population speak English at a level 5. So there you go. Unless I am completely misinterpreting here it sounds like I'm not at all guaranteed a seat at the ultra-exclusive level 5 table. Now some of that is just because not everyone is very well educated. And it's true that it's very hard to lose an accent. Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't a level 5 and wouldn't be even if he were an excellent orator - he just doesn't sound like a native speaker. But apparently even those of us born and raised in the US, and educated within an inch of our lives don't necessarily cut it.

And once that little doubt crept in I started noticing tiny little things about the English language that actually do cause me to stumble a bit. Is it 'have drank' or 'have drunk'? Gray or grey? Traveller or traveler? How do you pronounce chaise-lounge? Hell, I didn't even know how to pronounce Lagos until a month ago. (It's LAY-gos, not LAH-gos, or at least that's the word on the street.)

I have the sinking suspicion I might not qualify as an educated native speaker after all.

All I can say is that I blame the Twilight movies.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Playlist for the weekend

Here's a link  to the song Yellow Fever, by Fela Kuti a singer from way back when.*
And here is one called Maajo, by King Sunny Ade. (Also pretty old.)*

I've also been listening to a few more modern singers (P-Square was recommended to me) and a Ghanian singer called ET Mensah. I've been exploring some Nigerian literature too, but obviously that's slower going. Wole Soyinka, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adaobi Nwaubani and several others are on my list so far. I think this is my favorite part of getting ready to move - the part where you dive into something completely unknown and embrace it. A little over a month now - I can't wait!

*My apologies that these aren't just embedded. Having trouble making it happen with the iPad... Hence the nickname I've given it - my imitation computer.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

It's movie season

Doesn't it strike you as strange that for 3/4 of the year there is absolutely nothing to see at the theater, but suddenly they come out with a pile of new movies right at the end of the year? I know it has something to do with holidays and academy awards, but usually somewhere in February or September I'm cursing the person that made that decision.

However, as long as we're in the new-movie-every-five-minutes period I've got to take advantage while I can. It's in that spirit that I went to see the Twilight movie this weekend. I have two words for you. CGI Baby. (Okay, one word and an acronym.) It was seriously the worst decision ever. Listen up Hollywood. CGI characters are an abomination. They are creepy. And worse, they're totally unnecessary. Could they not find a human baby to lie there and babble?

I've actually had a bit of a vendetta going against the misuse of CGI ever since Tom Hanks ruined one of my favorite childhood books (The Polar Express) with creepy and unnecessary CGI. To quote a line from Jurassic Park, they were 'so preoccupied with whether or not they could they didn't stop to think if they should'. So yes, Hollywood. You can make fake people. Now stop it. Seriously.

Twilight has, of course, been a pretty good example of truly atrocious special effects from the get-go (see every scene where someone does things 'super fast' and you'll know what I mean), but this movie took the cake. When the fake baby made its appearance everyone in the theater burst into laughter. (It was not supposed to be a funny scene.) It was all anyone was talking about on the way out of the theater too.

Ugh.

This is the third film I've seen this season (Argo, as I mentioned, was great. The Cloud Atlas was watchable.) I have high hopes for the James Bond movie and for Les Miserables. And, best of all, it appears that there are TWO new zombie movies coming out. :) Merry Christmas to me.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Running in place...

My preparations for Nigeria are mostly on hold. By day I'm busy learning absolutely everything I ever wanted to know (and a good deal that I could have done without) about nationality and immigration law. By night - well, I haven't gotten a great deal accomplished outside of class, but you know, I'm catching up on my reading. (I unreservedly recommend Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I can't say the same for The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad. Just to prove my point, I've been working on The Secret Agent for a month now. Never Let Me Go took 3 days.)

ConGen (the consular orientation, just to remind you) is going well. It's crazy to think that in two months I'll be on the ground, doing all this stuff for real. It's also a little crazy to think that in two months I'll be living in AFRICA! Who's up for a rousing game of 'whoever has lived on the most continents wins'? Nobody? Hm...

Not only am I excited to get to live and work somewhere new, but it doesn't hurt that the forecast for Lagos is warm and sunny. And in DC? The high here was 47 today. Ick. Is it time to go yet?

And one more thing. I saw Argo the other day when my parents were in town and I highly recommend it. Well, except if you're one of my grandmothers. For the grandmas I'll just summarize. Argo is all about how going abroad and representing your country is safe, safe, safe. Which is of course why I spent much of the movie gripping the armrest in the theater - even though we all know how the story ends. All kidding aside it's sobering viewing, even with a premise that sounds like comedy.

Next weekend of course I'll be in for even more high-brow viewing when we all go see the Twilight movie together. What can I say? We have to keep up our knowledge of American culture somehow.

Ok, that's it! Happy Thursday!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Leftovers (4)

This edition is just pictures of particularly photogenic Bolivians.The common theme? Bolivians do hats better than anybody.




Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Leftovers (3)

The saga continues. More pictures of Bolivia that I would have posted had I had better internet.
Altiplano.

Altiplano pretending to be the American Southwest.

The shores of Lake Titicaca, where we were forced to go on a representational trip for work. Clearly, we really took one for the team.

Same place, different view. Oh, how I wish I could erase those power lines...

La Paz as viewed from El Alto. I never got sick of this view.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Miscellaneous

First thing:
Here is a link to another video about Lagos - part of a series apparently on the National Geographic Channel. It was pretty good, but it did cover a lot of the same ground as the BBC episode.

Second thing:
So, you may or may not know that it's raining in DC today. Actually, we're having a minor hurricane issue. We got the day off work and they closed down the metro. People emptied the shelves of bottled water. Target was sold out of flashlights. With nowhere to go and little else to do I have productively used my rainy day to purchase a car for Lagos! Figuring out how what to buy and where to get it and negotiating for the best price - especially as someone who hasn't ever purchased a car or driven in Africa before - was probably the most stressful item on my pre-departure to do list so I'm pretty pleased to have found something that matched the criteria and fit my budget. And you know, it's really shiny so that's nice too.

Third thing:
I started ConGen on Friday. As a consular coned officer I was relieved to find that the more I learn about consular work the more interesting it sounds to me. Everything I've heard about Lagos gives me the impression that this is going to be no ordinary consular job. Also, oh my goodness I had no idea the law was so complicated. One day in and my head is swimming in facts and itching to get my feet wet with real cases. I guess that's a good thing since I hope to be at post before the end of the year.

Fourth thing:
Speaking of getting to post, it's a more complex process than I originally thought. As with most things at State it's both heavy on the administrative detail and mostly self-directed. So you spend a lot of time waiting for certain types of orders to arrive, so that you can take them to someone else and have them signed and then submit them elsewhere and wait some more. I'm trying to think of it like a scavenger hunt. Except instead of prizes you get vaccinations and passports and paperwork. Woohoo!

Finally - I did eventually force myself to buy a significant portion of my consumables. Maybe even 50%. And I got lots of shots. So bring it on rabid dogs/cats/miscellaneous wild animals of Lagos! I'm ready for you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A video just for me



Here's the first of a series by the BBC called "Welcome to Lagos". It's three episodes, posted in six parts each. They're great for getting a sense of what the people and the city are like - something that doesn't always come across in the post reports. I'm not sure how much of this I'll be exposed to on the ground, but it's engaging viewing anyway. 

In other news I fought the bureaucracy in an attempt to get my diplomatic passport today. Needless to say, the bureaucracy won. Maybe tomorrow?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Consumables. Ugh.

I tried, I really did. I took the afternoon, gathered all the recommendations from people who've been to post, and set out for the grocery store, with the goal of buying 1,250 pounds of consumables. (That's half of what I'm allowed - the idea is to ship half now and half later.) There are apparently lots of things I'll need too. While almost everything is theoretically available in Lagos I've heard that some of the staples (marshmallows, mac & cheese, pickled beets, you know - the bare essentials) are very, very expensive. So I determined to bite the bullet and stock up now.

The problem is that in order to do so I had to fight an impulse that has been instilled in me from birth - to never, ever buy anything. Ever. I'm not sure if this is just my family or if it's a midwestern thing, but I can distinctly remember that being allowed to buy one can of spaghettios was a huge deal when I was growing up. So picture me, rather pathetically trying to force myself to purchase 10 boxes of Lucky Charms and a year's supply of cake mix.

If you can believe it this is all I managed to get into the cart - after forcing myself back down the aisles three times to try and fill up a bit more. I think I'm just genetically predisposed to be cheap and indecisive.

Luckily I have 2 months left to try to redeem myself. We'll call this round one, the warm-up for my actual shopping extravaganza. Wish me luck.

Monday, October 22, 2012

It's a done deal.

I finished A-100 on Friday. It was a proud moment, but also a little anticlimatic. We were sworn in (for the second time) and then we all went to happy hour together. And then I bought some groceries and took the metro home and got rained on waiting for the shuttle and may or may not have watched the end of Black Swan while eating leftovers. So glamorous!

Now we've moved on to the section of training I call 'organized chaos'. Everyone has their own training schedule so we don't get to see as much of each other. I have a few days to get my affairs in order before ConGen starts and it's a good thing too because I have a million things to do.

*request copies of my vaccination records from my childhood doctors (because I accidentally put them in
my HHE and now I can't get to them)
*visit the med office for my new set of shots
*figure out what kind of car to take to Lagos - and if I should take one at all (I think I've got this mostly settled)
*buy said car
*buy many, many consumables (food - normally I wouldn't ship food overseas but I've heard that even the basics in Lagos are crazy expensive so it'll save me a lot to just buy things here and ship them)
*schedule another packout for my POV (car), consumables, and supplemental HHE (since I didn't fill up my household effects shipment the first time I can put quite a bit into it in case I wanted to buy more now that I know where I'm going)
*get my diplomatic passport
*get my Nigeria visa
*get travel to approve my flights
*schedule my DHS consultations
*oh yeah, and actually read something about Nigeria if there's time (ha!)

In truth I do have quite a bit of time now because I'm waiting on my travel orders before I can do anything - well I could go shopping, but I don't have a car so that's tough. And I can't go car shopping until I know more, so for now I'm busy obsessively checking my email for the travel orders.

I do hope I get a chance to write more about A-100 because it was quite the experience, but things are moving at a pretty fast clip now and I don't want to fall behind with all the news.

And just one more thing- I wanted to embed a youtube video about Nigeria, but when I did a search this is the first thing that came up. *sigh* What is the saying? Haters gonna hate, right? Well I think Lagos is going to be awesome.

On that note here's something a little more positive. I love that he's singing in another language and I like the thought that maybe a year from now I'll be able to tell which other language it is. ;)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Busy. Lots of busy.

Believe it or not, I'm finding A-100 to be even busier than grad school. I think it has something to do with all the admin stuff we're expected to find time for after class, the social events every other evening, and the fact that I'm shipping out a little sooner than expected. I'm already thinking about consumables and looking at 'rugged' SUVs.

So all this is just my long way of saying sorry for not writing. I promise to start posting interesting things again the moment that my life is under control-ish.

Til then I have two more days of A-100. It will be both sad and exciting to leave this class behind.

Okay, off to work!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Guess what?

I got one of my top 5 bids!

That's right, I'm going to Lagos, Nigeria. And I'm going soon!

In answer to the inevitable questions, here are some of the reasons I bid high on Lagos:

1) I wanted something challenging.
2) I really wanted to be in Africa or the Middle East. Eventually I'll have to pick a 'major' and 'minor' bureau and these are the two regions (at least according to state) that I haven't lived in yet so I want to give them a fair shot before I make any long-term decisions.
3) I wanted a high differential. (For folks back home, differential is the number that indicates how hard and/or dangerous it is to live in a post. Lagos is a 25% hardship and 10% danger post. That makes it the 5th highest on our list.) I didn't care so much about the money, but I really want to have a lot of equity for second tour bidding and I certainly got my wish.
4) I didn't want to spend all winter in DC.
5) It's a consular post, I'm a consular officer.
6) Climate. I really wanted to be somewhere on a coast, preferrably with lots of sunlight and maybe some mangos or papayas.

Okay, time for a quick recap because there really isn't too much left to say.

After a morning field trip, we arrived in the auditorium, greeted friends and family and took our seats. We all started to get a bit nervous at this point. I think some of us were just realizing that we're about to spend two years in who-knows-where. We played flag-bingo, as the tradition demands, though I didn't participate since I was busy making a careful record of where everyone was sent. They started off with the very, very awesome announcement that there were no low bids assigned. Hallelujah! I seriously would have slept better for the past week if they had just announced that from the get-go.  

Anyway, almost everyone was thrilled with their assignment, or at least fine with it. The best part was how exciting it was to see all my friends get the places they had been dreaming of. The CDOs did an amazing job, especially considering how many different priorities they were trying to balance.  There were only a few people who were really upset and I hope they'll be feeling better about their posts soon. It really is amazing how it works out. Everyone wants something different. Even the place I thought was low on everyone's list got cheers and fist-pumps of its own...

As for me I was pretty sure I would get Lagos, I think I'm the only one crazy enough to bid it high. But they scared me by waiting and giving me the very last Lagos post, so for a while there I was a little concerned I was getting something completely unexpected. Then two-thirds of the way through was my turn. I am now the proud owner of a mini flag in green, white and more green, and I'm taking the weekend to celebrate before I dive into the chaos of preparing to move again.

All the best!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Charm City

This weekend I visited Baltimore for a little R&R from the rigors of A-100. I really packed my less than 48 hour trip with sights though. I ate fresh Maryland crab, I toured big old ships, I shopped, I saw the aquarium, I familiarized myself with Baltimore's public transportation system, and of course, I took lots of pictures.

I also learned a lot about the limits of taking pictures of moving objects in low light under water through glass. Basically I learned that my camera can't do that. Though I sure did give it the old college try.

Below are the few pictures from this weekend that don't totally stink.


Ok, ok. This one didn't come out perfectly. But I loved the black and white tank. I thought it was just a photograph until I saw them all bobbing around in there.

Technically not a sea creature, but he photographs well. I think this was in the Australia exhibit - otherwise known as '100 Creatures That Could Kill You'.

Inner Harbor, Baltimore - It was actually really nice. But a little bit seedy. I think this is how DC used to be 20 years ago (but since I was pretty young back then I don't remember).

Bridge picture for my dad.

Old ship!

Every year when they got out these ropes I imagine a scene just like ours with the Christmas lights. Only with more cursing. (They were sailors after all.)

The sleeping quarters. Way too much togetherness.

The water. Yes, it was a gray day, but that's how I picture all these maritime places anyway, so it was very fitting.

All in all I highly recommend Baltimore as a nice weekend trip from DC. If you want to catch the MARC train from Union Station it only runs on weekdays so head out Friday night. It'll save you quite a bit though, it costs 6-7 dollars, while the Amtrak costs about 30. They have trains leaving pretty regularly so it's no big deal and the trip itself takes about an hour. From Baltimore's Penn Station catch the free Charm City Circulator to head over to the inner harbor where most of the touristy stuff is.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I got a laugh out of this....

Check out this board game I found at the store and just had to purchase.
That's me with the giant key I suppose.

The best part though is the subtext:
Did you catch that? It's almost like the foreign service, right? Except back then exciting travel apparently meant Europe. And I'm not sure what ratio of skill:strategy:luck is necessary to succeed these days. (Though if the bid list is any indication I think it's about 2 parts luck to 1 part strategy and skill doesn't come into play until you're in the mid-levels.)

Anyway, sorry for not posting. There was an unpleasant language test and then there was the offsite - AKA the Woods (which was awesome and deserves it's own post) and then there was the weekend and then there was a public speaking assignment which made me a little bit unpleasant for a few days. In short, A-100 is surprisingly time consuming.

But I promise to update with something amazing someday soonish. ... Probably.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Leftovers (2)

More Bolivia!
All these are from the Lake Titicaca trip.



Scenery is nice, but hilarious animals are even better. I just want to note that this is not how any other llama's teeth work. This guy just happened to have very unfortunate genes.
And again from the side, just because.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Leftovers

Since I don't have anything but home and work to take pictures of right now I thought I'd post some old Bolivia pictures that I didn't have the time/internet/patience to post this summer. I will attempt to make this a series, but no promises. All these are from Lake Titicaca. Enjoy!





Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dreams (0) - Reality (1)

Fittingly, this week's FS blog round-up is exactly what I was going to write about anyway - my dream post. So here goes!

As you (may) know, I just started A-100. Before the class I was free to speculate and assume all I wanted about the bid list. And I wasn't the only one making assumptions. Once they handed out the lists I think everyone in my class had a least one moment when they thought, 'Gosh, I was really counting on/hoping for X'. (More Turkey, less China, more POL, less CON, you name it.) And I know for a fact that quite a few of us noticed with a bit of anxiety that there's a whole lot of, shall we say, Ickystan, on the list. Suddenly I went from speculating about 'the perfect first post' to swallowing a rather large dose of reality.

It's one thing to promise that you are worldwide available. It is another thing to be staring down the pipe at two long years in one of your 'well as long as they don't send me to X' countries. The orientation staff have worked hard to impress upon us the truism/platitude that there are no bad posts in the Foreign Service, only bad attitudes. That may be true, but it is hard to ignore the suspicion that certain posts are labeled 'hard to fill' for a reason.

Anyway, back to answering the question.

Prior to A-100 I had a very straightforward idea of my dream post(s). I want to go to Morocco, Cairo, Rio, Capetown, Istanbul, Fiji. In short, all the places that everyone probably wants to go. (I don't have any illusions about spending my entire career in these places, but once isn't too much to ask, right?) In fact, a year ago I did a whole list of my preferred posts and it's been very enlightening to compare it with my current bids and see how much has changed. 

I'm finding that my highs, mediums and lows don't mesh very well with what I expected. To the extent that my dream posts are on the list (barely) I'm bidding them high, even if I can't actually have them due to timing. Otherwise it's all over the map. All of my top 3 posts came from my original 'neutral' (read YUCK) list. Several 'posts I would survive' are now medium bids, and the whole list in general has turned on it's head. This is not so much because my lifestyle preferences have changed - I still enjoy driving and religious freedom for example - just that I found that bidding is a lot more about career goals than vacation plans. I'd still like to end up in some of those awesome places, but I've toned down my expectations about the path it will take to get there. 

In short, the dream stayed the same, but the plan has changed

So there it is folks. The likelihood of a dream post this time around is hovering somewhere around 0%, BUT the likelihood of a really challenging post that gives me lots of equity that maybe helps me get a dream post next time? It's looking pretty good. Either way I don't have to wait much longer. October 12th is Flag Day and the dream, for better or worse, becomes reality. Until then, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to color coding my list. 


Monday, September 17, 2012

Speechless

I tried and tried to come up with something profound to say about the recent attack in Benghazi that killed four American diplomats. At the end of the day it all just felt wrong. I'm just a week into my own FS journey and I can't talk about the men who were killed as if I understand their sacrifice, at least not yet.

Instead I'll just say that the example of these officers - of generous and courageous service - and the example of those who knew them well here in Washington, has made me very proud to join their ranks.

I promise a lengthy update soon about my weekend trip to Arkansas, the bid-list, and anything else that comes to mind. Until then, all the best.

Monday, September 10, 2012

One day down...

Well, I survived the first day of A-100 and I'd like to think I didn't do anything career-ending.

I did, however, learn about all the things I'm not supposed to post on my blog. So before I get too much further along in my career, there are some things I need to get off my chest.

You may have been wondering where they keep all those super secret documents at. Well let me tell you, you just take a right at XXXXXXX and then XXXXXX and it's about XXXXXXX to the secret lockbox of doom!

Or maybe you're wondering where the secretary is going to be tomorrow. I'm pretty sure I overheard in the hall XXXXXXX.

Do you know the secret to all US Foreign Policy? (It's XXXXXXXX! Explains a lot, doesn't it?)

And don't even get me started on the names, photos, and social security numbers of my fellow FSOs.


Ok, so obviously security is a serious topic, and I don't want to joke about it (too much). But luckily the rather long list of prohibited topics doesn't include the stuff I like to post. My favorite youtube videos? Still fair game. My vacation photos of questionable quality? Absolutely. Whining? All the way!!!

It's a good thing too, because I plan on sticking around. (Speaking of - I'm a little late in celebrating my 200th post and 10,000th page view. Thanks for reading!) So here's to many more mildly informative and hopefully entertaining stories from my journey. I'm glad you're along for the ride.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Home, Sweet (temporary) Home

Well, here I am in Sunny Oakwood! It wasn't quite so sunny while I was moving in yesterday - in fact I got soaked moving my stuff in and hiking to and from the grocery store - but today it's gorgeous out.

Travel day was pretty easy. Thanks Mom and Dad for driving me to the airport and carting my extremely heavy suitcases around. I got here in the afternoon and so far I've unpacked, purchased a ton of groceries - hopefully enough to last two weeks - and explored the area just a bit. I can't wait to start exploring the Eden Center a bit more, but that will have to wait for a day when I'm a bit more settled.

r After hearing a lot about Oakwood over the years I was pretty curious, and a little nervous, but I think I'm going to enjoy it here. I got upgraded on arrival to a one-bedroom and it's pretty awesome. It's sort of a cross between an apartment and a hotel. They provide a few toiletries and cleaning products and things to tide you over until you can buy your own - like a hotel. But, just like an apartment you have a full kitchen, laundry machine (either in the room or down the hall) and lots of space to spread out. I could get used to this!

I had heard that Oakwood Falls Church wasn't very walkable, but the local Safeway and the metro are both about 20 minutes walking-distance. For someone who is used to a 30 minute walk to work all of last year the distances seem totally fine. And for the faint of heart - or those with children or disabilities - there are pretty frequent shuttles.

It's also kind of weird to be somewhere so full of Foreign Service people. I don't know what percent of the complex is FS, but it must be a lot. Everywhere I go I'm meeting new friends and mentors.

I'm off to a reception and then a concert tonight and then class starts tomorrow morning. Wish me luck!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Corn Maze

It was awesome. I have almost never felt more midwestern.

Also, my first packout was yesterday. I'm having two packouts since they couldn't do the HHE this week. So the UAB was packed - I was 50 pounds underweight, even after packing all of the 'gee I wish this could go in the UAB shipment' pile. In the end I stuffed a few extras in the pile and just sent it in underweight. The movers are coming back Monday for everything else and my longsuffering parents are dealing with that shipment on their own because I will already be in DC having my first day of A-100. Woohoo! The only hiccup in the packing process came when I found out that they won't take my liquids if they're in plastic bottles. I was a bit disappointed because I carted all my cooking stuff home specifically so I wouldn't have to repurchase one of everything in DC.If I'm only in DC for a couple of months it would be annoying to have to purchase and then toss a bunch of cooking supplies, but just as annoying to live for two months without basic ingredients. What's a girl to do? Hopefully it was just a quirk of the moving company, but we'll see.

Also, I just found out that several family members actually read my blog. I always assumed it was just my folks.So thanks family! I'll try to limit the boring Foreign Service details for you.

One more note - I have really been impressed with how much work the 167th class has put in to help my class (the 169th) feel welcome and make a smooth transition. Thanks 167th, I definitely appreciate it!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Test

picture 1

Ugh...packout

I am sure there is a right way to do packout.

I am equally sure that I haven't discovered that way yet.


Two days from now movers are coming for my stuff and I just don't quite know what to do about that. My parents' house is in a state of utter chaos. Renovations have taken over the basement and flooded the rest of the house with 'refugee' furniture. Now there is the addition of all my displaced belongings and furniture and it's hard to climb over the piles of stuff, much less sort and inventory everything. So far my strategy has been to half-heartedly look through some stuff for an hour or so, get overwhelmed, and then decide to take a break that ends up lasting all day.

I swear I am an organized person, but something about being in someone else's home, and the whole renovation-induced claustrophobia, makes it very difficult for me to start tackling this problem.

Ugh.


In other news, I am busy wrapping up my summer. I got my hair chopped off for charity the other day.  I also fulfilled a goal I've had for years - to sell something at the farmers' market in town. I made the apple pie my grandma taught me, with apples picked fresh that morning. I am proud to say it sold in less than an hour and I made a whopping $12.50 for a lazy morning of baking and chatting with my mom. I'm hoping to cross one more item off my bucket list this week when we (hopefully) visit a corn maze nearby.   Oh, and did I mention that I got to ride along in my friend's semi?

(this deserves a paragraph of its own)

So, the story is that my friend - a totally normal, 20-something, liberal arts major and California girl, needed a job and was feeling adventurous. Next thing I know she's updating her facebook page from her 18-wheeler. (It's 18 wheels, right?) So, lucky me, I got to fulfill another dream that I didn't even know I had. I sat behind the wheel -while it was parked, naturally - and 'drove' a semi. I also got to see just what exactly a truck looks like on the inside. It was super awesome.  And of course I got to see my dear friend and catch up with her, which was even more awesome.

So yes, it has been a big summer. I'm getting increasingly nervous about A100 and the whole flag day  thing looming on the horizon.  The first day is only a week from today!

And with that I think I need to go bake some more pie and finish 'packing'.


Monday, August 27, 2012

The Amazing Paraguay!

Okay,
Sorry for the long break. We went on vacation to the lake. (Which is ironic, because we live on a lake...but it's always nice to see other lakes I suppose.) I went fishing, and boating, and shopping and generally ate my way one step closer to an early grave, but it was a blast and a huge blessing to get to hang out with my family and just enjoy their company for a few days.

Anyway, back to my travel diary!

The last thing I posted about was Machu Picchu, right? Well, from there I took the train back to Cusco, and three flights from Cusco to Lima to Sao Paolo to Asuncion.

My impressions of the airports of...
Peru - they have the slowest airports in the world with the worst customer service. Lima's international airport is where hope goes to die. Otherwise the country seemed really great.

Brazil - they like cheesy bread (which is unfortunate because I don't). Also, the Sao Paolo airport was well organized. Way to go Brazil. Everything seemed so much shinier and newer in Brazil, and it was beautiful and hot - even for the few hours of my layover - so I liked it a lot.

Paraguay - their airport is exactly the right size and they have free wifi. Why don't richer countries have free wifi? Brazil, for instance, or the US? Go figure.

So, the official guide:

Food
We mostly ate at Brazilian steakhouses and food courts. They have good hamburgers and the steakhouses were always nice, but this is not a vegetarian friendly place. Meat is a very important part of the diet. I would recommend the Lido Bar downtown as a great place to hang out with regular Paraguayans (rather than tourists) and their fish soup was amazing.

Sights
We saw a museum of religious artifacts, a history museum -in the old congress building I think- and a museum about the city itself. They were all well put together. The only problem is that the sights in Asuncion take about 2 days to see in their entirety. After that? I guess it's time to take up a hobby.

Money
I have two comments about money. First - even though Bolivia is officially the poorest country in South America, Paraguay seems like the poorest. At almost every intersection there are people (often kids) wanting to wash your windows, sell you trinkets, or just beg. I saw about 5 beggars in my 10 weeks in La Paz. I saw more than that on the ride home from the airport in Asuncion.
Second - Paraguayan currency is good for your ego. I was a millionaire in Asuncion for a week. (Actually, a multi-millionaire come to think of it!) Have you ever held a bill for 100,000 anything? The exchange rate is about 4000 guaranies to the dollar, so it takes a little getting used to.

The elusive 100,000 dollar guarani bill

Iguazu Falls
The view of the falls from Ciudad del Este airport. Can you see them? Yeah, neither could I.

I made my brother very solemnly swear to take me to the falls, only to discover once I got to the border that my Paraguayan visa was a single entry only - meaning that if I left I couldn't come back without trekking to the nearest consulate, waiting for Monday morning to roll around, applying (and paying) for a second visa to Paraguay, changing my flights and hotels and missing out on 3 of the 7 days I was planning to see the family. So, tail between my legs, I got all the way to Ciudad del Este and then turned around without seeing the falls. Major fail. It's a testament to how tired of traveling I was that I was not even slightly disappointed. There's always next time, right?

The Embassy
Yes, I arranged to tour the embassy while visiting my brother. I am that much of a nerd. But I figured, future job research, right? I found the embassy really laid back and comfortable. I probably shouldn't say too much, but the people were friendly, the amenities at the embassy itself seemed great, and they have peacocks and deer that live there. Need I say more? It's like working at the zoo!



So thanks big brother (and inlaws) for hosting me! You have a beautiful country, full of beautiful and kind people. My only regret is that Paraguay is so far from home.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Home Sweet Home

My life since I've returned to the midwest is everything it hasn't been in ages - quiet, relaxed, healthy, slow. I look forward to summer at my parents' house every year and it hasn't been disappointing. Especially now that I know I won't be around to enjoy this as much in the future I'm savoring it while I can. And, because I'm just that kind of person, I put all this happiness into list form.

*Picking fresh raspberries from our garden
*Buying sweetcorn right from the farmer's front porch
*Boating on the lake
*Loading our bags full of goodies at the farmers' market (shout out to the best apple cider donuts ever!)
*Drying clothes outside in the sun so they smell all warm and fresh
*Building a bonfire in our backyard and roasting our dinner over it
*Watching zombie movies (wait, how did that get on the list?)
*Watching for shooting stars and spotting all the constellations
*Sharing lunch with my grandmother
*Visiting the same hair cutter that I've been to since I was in Kindergarten
*Reading in the sun
*Staying an extra 45 minutes at church because we keep finding friends to catch up with

It's been a much needed, and very awesome break from my 'real life'.  Speaking of that real life, there's a parallel list I've been working on for the past week or so as well. It goes a little more like this:

*Buy another suit
*Buy new shoes to go with suit
*Buy business-y bag to go with suit
*Get travel orders
*Get housing for DC
*Get flights to DC
*Set a date for the Great Packout
*Sort, organize, and inventory everything
*Pick a health insurance policy (ugh)
* ' ' ' dental policy
* ' ' ' thrift savings plan
* ' ' ' life insurance policy
*Write a will
*Fill out all the paperwork
*Scan and email the paperwork
*Photocopy and mail the paperwork
*Wait, there's more paperwork?
*Send in the last of my Pickering documents
*Find a phone and plan that will work overseas
*File for all those frequent flyer miles from this summer (I'm up to 28 flights so far this year, I'm expecting 5-6 more. I have the carbon footprint of a small country at this point.)
*Change my mailing address with the post office


Think I'm missing anything? (Yeah, me too.)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Machu Picchu

I'm back! (in the States that is)

I'm busy lying around all day and watching tv, but I thought I could spare a few minutes to finally post my pictures from the last two weeks of my South American adventure.

First, naturally, is Machu Picchu. One of the new seven wonders of the world, and with good reason. It's only a few hours by train from Cusco but it still feels like a hidden city.  Despite the fact that the travel agent made some questionable decisions while organizing this trip it was absolutely amazing. So amazing in fact that I think I'd like to go back and see it again someday (and maybe even hike a few days of the Inca trail). But first things first.

My impression of M.P.
1) There were tons of people. But strangely it didn't feel too crowded.

Most of my pictures look a lot like this.

...but only because I cropped out all of this.

2) It's really easy to get a good picture ... even if you aren't a particularly careful or skilled photographer. It's just that photogenic.





3) Finally, for the Inca it's clear that awesomeness came first, and safety a very distant second. I get the feeling the Inca would not have made me take off my shoes before boarding an airplane. Nor would they have labels on dishwasher soap to tell me it isn't edible. The Inca were just a little bit too cool for that.

Tips from me if you're planning a visit:
*Bring - Sunscreen, sunglasses, water, and obviously, your camera
*Wear layers. It's one of those places that is maddeningly hot and cold all in the space of a few minutes.
*Stay overnight in the town of Aguas Calientes, don't do the day trip from Cusco. If you're in Aguas Calientes (at the base of the mountain) you'll get several extra hours at the site when the lighting is interesting and the crowds are thinner (and the sun isn't so hot). Plus it's a super cute little town. See?

Sort of Peru meets old Colorado mining town.

*Skip the tour guides. You'll have more fun on your own and you'll have the freedom to see what you want.
*Know what kind of traveler you are and embrace it. If you really like hiking and camping the Inca trail (or one of the many smaller trails) is a must, but don't do it just because everyone else says you should. If you want a comfortable trip or just don't have as much time the train is a perfectly legit option and there's a luxury one if you want to pretend you're back in the golden age of travel.

Okay, that's it for now! I'd post more pictures but I have an awful lot of tv to watch today and don't want to fall behind.