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.