Monday, April 30, 2012

Ugh

My apologies for being no fun this weekend. If you are a close friend you know that I did not ask you to join me for dinner or take you up on your offer to go to the movies. If you are a family member you have probably turned your phone off by now so I would have to stop calling and whining to you.

But I swear it's all for a good cause. I'm sort-of, almost finished with finals and my moving preparations and it's a huge relief. My papers are written and of reasonable-to-good quality. My presentation is prepared. My extra possessions have new owners who I'm sure are treating them better than I ever did. The walls are bare and so are the cupboards.

Just 4 more days now!

And to make up for being lame, here are some pictures of happy things.


Turkish Delight It really was delightful, but sooo much more so when it was fresh, and unfortnately also when it was expensive, the cheap stuff was terrible.
 Up close - this is my favorite kind, pomegranate dusted with powdered sugar and full of pistachios.
 Cherry blossoms (better late than never!)
 Flowers
 Scenery - I managed to hit the Cherry Blossoms on a Monday morning or something and it was just perfect. The tourists were just starting to trickle in and the blossoms were pretty much at their peak. Even the weather was amazing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

7 days

One week from today I will finish grad school. I'll turn in my final two papers, give my final presentation and ride off into the sunset.

The current state of my life is what I like to call 'controlled chaos'. The pictures are off the walls, propped into my newly designated Moving Corner. The pile of give-aways is neatly stacked, awaiting action on my part. The boxes are beginning to pile up and the goodbye coffees are mostly scheduled.

Though this is a goodbye of sorts it isn't as bittersweet as it could be. First of course, I know that I'll be back in DC in the blink of an eye for my A-100 class. So I won't be saying any 'hope I see you again someday' goodbyes. Second, I'm extremely ready to be finished with school and start my career. Not that grad school hasn't been good to me, but it's about time to move on. And finally, I've got a very cool summer ahead of me, a chance to live in a new part of the world, see my South American relatives, work for the first time in an Embassy, practice my Spanish, and not write any more research papers. (That last one is particularly inspiring me right now.)

Two years ago I was in a very different boat, anxious but also very sad to be ending my year in Sri Lanka and a bit nervous at the thought of all the hurdles that lay ahead (ie, the security and medical clearances, the FSOT and FSOA, and the whole grad school deal). Now I'm older, wiser(?), a better writer and a better cook. I've traveled to new places, eaten quite a few new foods, and made friends that I hope will stick with me for life. (Except for the whole 'I'll be moving every two years from now on' bit.)

So here's to grad school, the good and the bad.

Feel free to count down with me.

7 More Days

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Dear dropbox...

Remember that time when it was finals and you deleted every file in my dropbox folder overnight for no reason? Including my 60 page statistical analysis that took weeks? And all of my important documents that I wanted to keep safe by not storing them on my hard drive? Ha! That was a good one!

Lucky for me I didn't trust you for a minute and emailed those finals to myself too, and saved them on a USB, and left one with my attorney in case anything should happen to me...

But still, nice try.

I'm sure we'll laugh about this later.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Next Generation

I had the great privilege on Friday of volunteering at this year's Pickering GFAF (graduate foriegn affairs fellow) finalist interviews.  It was fantastic to meet all  (well, half actually) of the finalists and I can say without reservations that I would be pleased and proud to serve with any one of them. So finalists, if you don't make it this time, keep trying!

It was also very exciting to know that about half of my new friends are about to get some life changing good news this week. It reminds me of the question I asked the examiners, once we were chatting after I passed the OA. I asked how stressful it was to have to turn so many people away.  I thought for sure it would be a difficult and unpleasant job for that reason.  But after the (admittedly limited) experience I had this week I think I agree with the answer they gave. They said that watching one person have their dream come true makes everything else worth it. Hopefully this is a lesson I'll take with me to the visa line...

So good luck to the 40 finalists whose stomachs are all in knots this weekend. Whatever the outcome, you did your best and I'm very proud to have met you.




*One bonus of hanging out all day the selection was re-connecting with the Woodrow Wilson staff, the student programs people from State, and my fellow fellows. Either I've been very lucky in who I've met or this program is surrounded by a lot of great people, because it's always a good time when we all get together. Another bonus was that now I have the lowdown on how the selection process has changed this year, so I owe you all some edits to my Pickering FAQs page.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Food & Drink (Turkey)

Sadly I didn't take many food pictures in Istanbul. The food was great though. One thing that I'm very glad I got a picture of was this. I have absolutely no idea what it was, but it was sticky and insanely sweet.
Below is the saga of the amazing pomegranate juice for sale all over Istanbul. Step 1: take some gorgeous pomegranates
Step 2: squish them - hold the water, hold the preservatives, hold the high fructose corn syrup
Step 3: step back and admire your handiwork

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Pickering update

Hey all!

I've owed you this update for awhile.

Things that have been happening with Pickering:

January.
As you may know I got my internship assignment in January. Once we got the assignments we could get in contact with the posts and ask lots of annoying questions. I took full advantage of that. Also in January we were sent a list of A-100 classes and asked to state our preference. Realistically only one fit my schedule anyway, so it wasn't a tough choice. DoS reserves the right to place us whenever works best for them though. This was also the moment when we officially had to pick a cone. I will be the only one rocking consular and I'm proud of it!

February.
In February I got my A-100 assignment (and immediately mentally checked out of grad school). Along with this we got the paperwork to declare our official residence. This is important because if you pick the wrong place you end up getting a rough deal. For example, new employees who claim their residence in DC don't get per diem or housing when they start A-100. (From what I understand.) New employees who claim residence elsewhere get all of that. Long story short, choose wisely. We also got started organizing our travel to and from the internships. This was the first time I've ever used a travel agent (State set that up) and it was/is both helpful and incredibly frustrating. But that's a story for another day.

March.
March was business as usual. Which was good because I was going crazy with the whole Uganda/Istanbul trip.

April.
April isn't over yet, but so far I've gotten my visa squared away for Bolivia and started the process to get myself officially cleared to travel to post. Also, especially of interest to those of you who are finalists, I'll be helping out at the finalist interviews for the 2012 fellows, which happen this week. So good luck finalists!

Just one last note, throughout the semester (and throughout the entire program really) we get lots of emails about fulfilling all the requirements (clearances, FSOT/FSOA, paperwork, school), getting our funding, and just general housekeeping. It's really important to stay on top of that or you will be off to a bad start in the service. Still, if you are a new fellow, don't be afraid to reach out and ask questions. I had lots of questions early on and I'm sure everyone else does too. The way I see it, you're better off asking now than looking silly later.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Blue Mosque (Sultanahmet Mosque)

Day 2 in Istanbul was a whirlwind. We saw the blue mosque first.
It's actually in use as a mosque so you have time time your visit right and you get to wear a headscarf. I really wish I could show you the pictures of me and my friends in scarves. We looked totally awesome.

Another dome. (Told you it was an obsession.)

Stained glass. I didn't know this was a feature of mosques too. Maybe it's the western influence?

Three domes in one shot!

Those tourists totally ruined my shot.

Doors.

I loved the minarets. I have about a half dozen versions of this shot because I just kept thinking, 'oh that's so great, I should get a picture...'

Friday, April 13, 2012

BIG PICTURES!!!

Ha, I finally found it!

(And what I mean by that is, I finally bothered to look it up.)

Now I know how to make my pictures big and it is super awesome. (See previous post from five minutes ago if you want an example of how I'm already abusing the privilege.)

To give credit to the amazing person that posted this info and made it so easy that even I could do it, click here.

Of course I also had to stretch out the blog itself to make room for all those pictures, but that was easy. (Go to design, edit template, adjust width or something.)

Clearly I have final papers to write...

Topkapi Palace

Topkapi Palace is directly behind the Hagia Sophia, just walk around the corner and bam, there you are.

I didn't get that many pictures here for two reasons. #1 I think it's just less photogenic. Mostly I remember a lot of empty courtyards, scraggly trees, and blank walls. #3 It was kind of expensive to see the good parts (the Harem) so we just saw the main areas of the palace.

Honestly, I know it's one of the big 'must sees' but I think if you have extremely limited time like we did it's fine to skip this. And if you do go, just be prepared to pay for all the extra stuff, like the Harem and a tour or whatever they offer. No sense wandering the empty courtyard by yourself.

Anyway, pictures:
A little building out front. No idea what it is for.

A nice porch next to an empty room. This is where I decided that they need to get some reenactment going.

I don't know why, but when I used to picture Turkey (before traveling there) this is how I would picture it. Well, I also pictured it warmer...

Ceiling dome!

Also notable was the view from the back of the palace, and the fact that they had an entire room for circumcisions. (It is just the once, right?)

Stay tuned for more Turkey tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pet Peeve

When I call you and say, "Hi ____, I have so-and-so on the line from XYZ, wanting to ask a question about _____," and then you ask, "On the phone?"

*sigh*

Monday, April 9, 2012

Hagia Sofia


It's big.
Also, it's surrounded by scruffy trees, so I found that the best pictures came when I tried to take pictures of it from rooftop restaurants.


It couldn't have been more than 40 degrees in the mosque(?)/church(?)/other(?). (I'm still confused about what it is now.) Anyway, the interior was beautiful. It was an interesting mix, with a mihrab on one wall and a madonna with child on another.


Giant chandelier! (Really, I was very impressed by that for some reason.)


Also inexplicable is my deep and abiding love of photographing ceiling domes. I must have dome pictures from a dozen countries by now.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Moving on

Hope you enjoyed the Africa pictures, because now it's time for a very small taste of Turkey. (We scheduled a two-day layover in Istanbul on our way home from Uganda.)

Istanbul was colder than I anticipated, but 100% amazing anyway. First of all, it was beautiful. The city was an interesting mix of European (reminded me a lot of Serbia actually - except wealthier) and Eastern styles. The architecture, the call to prayer, the Bosporus filled with boats, the hills - just beautiful.

Second, it was extremely accessible, even without knowing a word of Turkish (though I do now know hello and thank you). The pictures below are from the heavily touristy part of the old city where all the student hostels are. It's really a fantastic location. I think we paid 12 euros a night and had our own room two blocks from the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. It was also walking distance to the Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar and the Topkapi Palace. For the things that were further away there were ferries or the tram and both were really cheap.

Finally, even if we had been timid travelers Istanbul would have been an easy place to visit. Unlike Uganda there were plenty of ATMs everywhere, we didn't have to worry about the water making us ill, the showers were hot - they even had sidewalks(!) Not to say that I didn't like Uganda, just that Istanbul also had it's perks.

In short, it's another place I'd love to visit again. (Or bid on, of course.)





Saturday, April 7, 2012

What do all of these pictures have in common?

(Hint: It's not the fact that they highlight my terrible photography skills.)


The thing they have in common is that they're the last photos I'm posting from Uganda!


Homes, with a giant roof in the foreground (see - it's all very civilized in Kampala)


Shop in town (still in the up-and-coming phase)


Bridge - and guardrail


Giant birds in tree - seriously, these things were huge


Green


Tree (I should really stop labeling the pictures...)


Uganda

So there it is. Hopefully you now have a vague sense of what Uganda looked like to me. All the rest of my decent shots have me and my friends in them and I feel like that's probably a bad idea to post.

Next time...Istanbul!