Sunday, December 02, 2007

Ingushetia, Another Place of Which You've Never Heard

Last week i had a number of days where i had no training scheduled, and i was expected to find my own way to fill the time productively. Most people in my situation will meet with various governmental agencies and bureaus within State to get some advice or pointers on their post, but since i'm not leaving for ten months, my desk officer has advised me to wait until the summer, because things will change too rapidly in Saudi to make a meeting now worthwhile. Therefore, i justified to myself that a presentation on a region that interests me and near to which i'd be serving in the future was totally a productive use of my time. Is it a stretch? Of course it is! But it was very interesting, and i came away with some new frames of thought about zones of conflict.

So, this panel discussion was held at the Jamestown Foundation in DC, a think tank filled with graying Cold Warriors who have turned their attentions to the former Soviet republics, China, and the Middle East. (Once again, i was one of the youngest people there, and clearly one of the very few who don't actually remember the Soviet Union. This seems to be a common theme of the discussions i attend.) Wednesday the organization hosted a panel discussion of Ingushetia, a Russian district between Chechnya and North Ossetia (where the Beslan hostage crisis occurred in 2004). Ingushetia, like much of the north Caucasus, isn't the most stable of places, and the general consensus of the panel was that the current situation there has more than a passing resemblance to Chechnya in the late 1990s - ie, right before the second Chechen war started. The panel speakers included a number of human rights activists, researchers, and journalists, one of whom, Fatima Tlisova, was identified as being the next Anna Politkovskaya. (This is high praise, even outside of our little world of people with interest in the Caucasus.)

That's enough specifics; i realize that i'm not playing to a caring crowd on that specific subject. However, there were some general observations made that i think are useful for people to consider when they read or watch the news about violence in some far-away place. There are a few dangers we face in processing these stories, given the habits of our media sources in the US. For one thing, the stories are often told without much of a context, so it's difficult to see in the US media that violence in Ingushetia is intimately connected to violence in Chechnya, and it's very hard to see that this is a conflict with a history that is fully visible to history. By this, i mean that it's not some conflict that's been happening "forever" or "for centuries" that therefore must be a natural part of the world order. (See pretty much all media coverage and popular discussion of Israel/Palestine, ethnic conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa, and other perennial hot spots for more examples.) Moreover, viewing these conflicts as isolated happenings tends to make them exotic: look, honey, it's another country whose name we can't pronounce and whose neighbors we can't find on a map! This exoticism obscures the similarities among many of those un-pronounceable places, therefore obscuring common problems and common steps that could lead towards a reduction in instability and violence.

There's one other point i want to make - the concept of ethnoterritory. Now, it is very easy to make fun of academics who stick ethno- in front of any established field and call it a dissertation topic; i've done plenty of that myself. (Ethnobotany, ethnocartography, ethnocalligraphy, ethnophotovoltaic paleontology, etc. Sometimes i just crack myself up.) With that being said, i think we should all think a little about ethnoterritory - how and why do different groups of people claim a piece of land? Again, Israel/Palestine is only the most famous example, but if any of you ever found an arrowhead in the ground when you were a child, then you should think about who else might claim the land where you grew up. i don't really have any deep insights into this concept, but i do think that if groups want to live peaceably on land that others claim, then either concessions must be negotiated to achieve stability or everyone with a competing claim must be eliminated. i don't really think there's much middle ground, and i think it's obvious which i'd prefer... sadly, rationality doesn't seem to be breaking out in the world, so it seems more people are pushing rhetorically for the latter.

So, that's your weekly dose of dense material about places you can't find on a map. Next week i'll talk a little bit about what, exactly, i will be doing when i'm in Saudi Arabia as a consular officer. Have a good weekend!

Friday, November 23, 2007

Thoughts on the MESA Conference

i survived the one-two punch of MESA in Canada and Thanksgiving this week. A few highlights of the trip:
  • The wonderful experience of being back with academics. i've missed it, really. The talks i got to attend were very useful - ranging from security strategies in the Gulf to sociology of the Saudi ruling family.
  • My first real interaction as a Department of State employee with academics. My name tag had the DoS affiliation on it, and i got dirty looks from some people, and more than a few double-takes from people in conversation, as they realized halfway in that i worked for The Dark Side. It's a good thing to keep in mind, i suppose, but i do think it's a shame that this rift exists. There's a lot DoS could pick up from these conferences if they would send more people to them, and perhaps it would do something to burnish our reputations somewhat.
  • The book fair. Several major publishers were there, offering 20% to 30% discounts on their titles. A lot of those are available online, so if anyone is interested in perusing the Middle East publication lists of Brill, Palgrave, McMillan, and others, let me know. You can use the codes i got (Laura, Joanna, Mark, et al, i'm looking at you).
  • Canadians. Amazing, amazing people. When we got off the bus from the airport to the train station in Ottawa, i didn't realize that my wallet (with driver's license, two credit cards, and all the cash i'd just changed into Canadian dollars) had fallen out of my pocket. The bus actually stopped and waited while one of the passengers got out and chased me down the sidewalk to return it. As the bus left (and my and my colleague Joe's jaws hit the ground), everyone on it cheerily waved at us. Sheerly, utterly amazing.
  • Attempting to get into various US diplomatic missions. We took photos in front of Embassy Ottawa, and our entreaties to get in to Consulate Montreal were quickly rebuffed - evidently our excuse of "we're entry-level officers going to consulates next year, and we'd love to meet with some of our colleagues here to talk to them about their experiences here" didn't fly. (To be fair, our real goal was to use the bathrooms inside the consulate, just to see if our State ID badges would get us in. No dice.)
That's about it for now... my mind is a bit fried from constant travel and to-dos for the past week and a half. Hope everyone enjoyed their holiday!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Quick Update from Canadia

i am in Montreal for the Middle East Studies Association annual meeting - one of my colleagues convinced our training officers that this would be a good use of our time. i am having a great time - seen lots of people i know, attended some very interesting panels that have raised some new issues for me, and (of course) have racked up on academic books at steep discounts. Canada is wonderful, but i will save my love song for Ottowa until i get back.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Call me crazy, but it really bothers me when a number of the people assigned to watch a particularly troublesome country or region can't pronounce the name of the country, its major political figures, or important geographical fixtures properly. Something about this just doesn't inspire confidence.

Also, here's a collection of articles about things happening in my soon-to-be-adopted-but-only-for-a-year homeland across the pond. Religion in Saudi Arabia, Saudi due process, and Mr. Abdullah goes to the Vatican (without Jimmy Stewart).

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Perspectives of Veterans' Day

So for the long weekend my friend Mark flew in to see Bruce Springsteen last night in DC. We spent a good portion of Saturday wandering around DC, and we stopped by the Vietnam War Memorial to see the setup for the ceremony the next day honoring the 25th anniversary of the Wall. i've been there several times before, but never around a major commemorative holiday. i'm sure you've seen the photos of what the Wall's like when it's packed with veterans. The entire city, in fact, was swarming with vets, especially my neighborhood, right by the Iwo Jima memorial and Arlington Cemetery. They were easy to pick out, because they all had on jackets with loads of patches, buttons, slogans, and insignia. i'm not used to seeing Vietnam vets like that - most of the ones i've dealt with weren't particularly ostentatious about their service or were schizophrenic. i've met plenty of WWII vets who are always in their neatly creased hats with the appropriate pins, but Vietnam? Not so much.

Anyway, the Wall was crowded with people and memorials. One of the more surreal things we saw was a pair of American vets talking to a pair of Vietnamese vets, comparing notes on the M16. There was also a podium where people were reading out a list of the people killed in Vietnam over a loudspeaker. i've only seen that on Yom HaShoah at Wash U or in New York on 11 September. The names were mostly just a blur, but as one reader worked through her list, she prefaced one of the names with "my brother..." with no noticeable change in her tone. It was jarring.

Last night, we fought the crowds and ridiculously high scalper prices to get pretty good GA spots at the Springsteen show - the equivalent of about thirty rows back, dead center. Now, it's not a Springsteen show without some politickin', and he held true this time. Given the main themes of his latest album, it's not surprising that much of what he mentioned was topical: habeas corpus, renditions, the Iraq war. He also brought in a number of veterans from Walter Reed hospital for the show, since he played in DC on the actual Veterans' Day (Sunday, the eleventh) and the observed holiday (Monday).

The most striking song of the night (other than "Thunder Road" - yay!) was his closing song, "American Land." i've linked the lyrics here, and i'll note that it's the only song on his previous album that he actually wrote; the rest were mostly covers of Pete Seeger songs. i have this comprehension problem where i can't really understand words i hear unless i can see someone speaking them, which means that i frequently don't get song lyrics. For "American Land," however, they scrolled the lyrics on the JumboTron (or whatever the hell it's called), and i finally realized the very pointed references to immigration. Let's hope some of the yuppies there were listening.

i was trying to weave these stories together into some big contrasting view of of the holiday, but i think i'm a bit too tired to pull that off. Instead, i'll just end with one of the best sights of last night: as Mark and i were walking towards a Metro station, the band's motorcade passed us with a full escort of DC cops, and i got to see the Boss hang out the passenger side waving at us, with his fro flying everywhere. Good times!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

i'm pretty famous in Saudi Arabia

A few quick vignettes before i head out on the town with a friend (museums! monuments! bars!). First of all, i'm going to be on al-Arabiyya news network tonight, because at a local mosque i and my friend going to Jeddah next summer were interviewed about King Abdullah's visit to the Vatican. Pretty sweet all around... my first appearance on international television!

Also, earlier this week we got a presentation from the Defense Intelligence Agency about military capacities in the Middle East. Obviously, they didn't give us any unclassified information, and so they had to rely on publicly available figures, which led to interesting phrases like "According to Wikipedia, the al-Qods force has between 3,000 and 50,000 members..." Ahh, if Wikipedia says it's true, it must be, right?

Finally, one of our presenters this week was a professor who immigrated from Lebanon several years ago and still has a slight accent. He was telling us (among many other tangential stories and a supposed presentation on Syria and Lebanon) about how he's always randomly selected for the extra searches at airports. However, he decided to have fun with it rather than be angry. He says that now, when he goes through a metal detector without a single beep, he jumps up and down in exhilaration and glee just to see the uncomfortable looks on the guards' faces. i would love to see this, but i think i'd prefer not to travel with him - i get enough crap at airports as it is!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Political Correctness?

So in many of our scenarios we discuss, fictional countries are usually used to avoid offending any particular country, person, or constituency. The two countries State favors are Ruritania and Anthuria, which pretty much hate each other but are too broke to go to war with each other.

Strangely enough, these don't roll off the tongue very well (especially for me, who has difficulty with back-to-back rs in words... can't say rural to save my life), so a variety of stand-ins have emerged that speakers prefer to use. No one seems to like my usual term Ethniklashistan, with Ickistan, Carjackistan, and Outbackistan being the preferred locations with less-than-stellar governments. There seems to be some sort of a common thread to these names, but i can't quite put my finger on it...

Friday, November 02, 2007

Overheard Today at Main State

"i do solemnly swear
That i will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic,
That i will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,
That i take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion,
And that i will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the Office on which i am about to enter."

So, State has some of the best views of DC. Maybe someday i'll be cool enough to have an office on the top floors!

Until then, this is as close as i can get... a swearing in ceremony that lasted 30 minutes and a quick tour of the parapets.

Some people meet presidents, i meet Undersecretaries of State.

This is our class mentor, Thomas Krajeski, about whom i wrote earlier. Nice guy, speaks Arabic, all qualities that speak to his general wonderfulness.

Frank and i had a little too much fun in the Benjamin Franklin Room at Main State. The reception rooms on the eighth floor are quite ornate, and they are stuffed with antiques, famous paintings, and other pieces of history that are worth far more than i am. We gravitated towards a massive portrait of an Ottoman official, with this description on the frame. "His Highness the Mushir Mohammed Essadek, Bey of Tunis. Portrait presented as a souvenir of his Friendship in November 1865, by his envoy: Gen. Otman Hashem, bearer of letters of condolence for the assassination of President Lincoln and of congratulations for the termination of the Civil War."

File this one under "Facebook profile photos."

More Info on Directed Assignments

Here's a link to a News Hour transcript about the directed assignments to Iraq (text/audio).

Ambassador Krajeski is my class' mentor. He's a great guy, and i've really enjoyed getting to know him over the past few weeks. He actually came back early from his trip to Iraq last week to come to our Flag Day. Today, he spoke to us during our wrap up day at A-100, and he was a wreck. Don't believe the media accounts of Ambassador Thomas and, to a lesser extent, Ambassador Krajeski as heartless apparatchiks. This is a difficult decision for these officers - who are still in the regular Foreign Service - to make about their colleagues and themselves. We'll see how it shakes out. This is an interesting time to have joined up.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Weekly Humor, Several Weeks Late

Trying to return to a normal schedule. i got really bored today during one lecture and wrote poetry instead. Enjoy!

To Riyadh i go
Veil in hand, flak jacket too.
Oh shit - i chose this?

The Main State building:
Old chairs, bad art, strange floor plans.
1960s chic.

Direct'd assignments...
Speak Arabic? Know Islam?
To Iraq you go!

Make no sense and obfuscate.
Maybe that's State's goal?

Saudi Arabia:
Oil, sand, camels, bedouins...
Entertaining life!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Once the Euphoria's Worn Off

i had some idea that this was coming, but official confirmation came out in today's papers: "State Department to Order 250 to Iraq Posts." (Linked to the NYT so that everyone can read it for free; the Washington Post's version is much longer but might not be free for non-subscribers.) It's not really surprising, given the nature of the job. It's one year of separation from your family in a war zone. There are certainly perks for those going (virtual doubling of salary for the year, first choice of onward assignments, etc), but there are obvious consequences for the officers in Iraq (PTSD, for example) that State is still struggling to deal with.

The first question everyone asks is, "Are you going to be sent to Iraq?" The simplest answer is "not right now." First-tour officers don't go to Iraq unless they have significant experience that qualifies them - a previous career in the military, for example. We entry-level officers simply don't know the ropes well enough to be useful in such a unique situation. Moreover, our first tour or two are considered apprenticeships: much of what is done in Embassy Baghdad simply isn't applicable to other missions.

Of course, there's always a catch. Right now, the major shortage in Baghdad is at the middle levels - people who've been in for eight to fifteen years, roughly, largely due to a service-wide shortage of these officers from hiring freezes in the 1990s. There's a catch-22 here: the young officers are the ones most likely to be singles with no family reasons to prevent them from going to unaccompanied tours, but their skills just aren't up to par for the empty positions. However, mid-level officers are the ones most likely to have a family with younger children that they don't want to leave behind, but they are the people needed in Iraq.

So, where does that leave me? i will be in Saudi Arabia until September 2009, and there is no telling what will happen in Iraq between now and then. i'll be honest, though. If i have the skills needed in Iraq at that point and i am mentally stable, i likely will volunteer for a tour there. It's a while away, so i have time to evaluate the situation better.

i don't particularly have a problem with directed assignments. i took the pledge of worldwide service availability to heart when i joined, and i am prepared to deal with wherever i'm sent. i think everyone in my class knows that we could be sent to Iraq - we came in to this job with that knowledge. It's probably harder for the people who joined in the 1990s, who had no expectation of wars like this when they came in. i'd rather volunteer for a terrible post and know that i'm going willingly than be dragged there by force.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


September 2008 is the big date! i'm here in DC until then, taking more Arabic, getting job-specific training, and taking security courses. i'm so thrilled!!


Morning line odds

3:1 Baku
3:1 Saudi Arabia
6:1 Mexico
6:1 The rest of my list

The ceremony starts at 3 PM Eastern, ending by 4.30. Text messages will go out as soon as i'm able, and high-pitched, eeping phone calls will begin after the ceremony.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

People Who Make My Job Harder

Did you know that this week is Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week? Thanks to David Horowitz and his team of buffoons, we have a week of activism dedicated to exposing the Muslim threat to America/freedom as well as the American leftist movement's attempts to stifle free speech and conservative thought - evidently they're Islamo-Fascists, too. i mean, with posters like this, how can you think otherwise? That guy with the gun is probably the president of your local college's chapter of Young Democrats.

This is ludicrous. Many people still cling to that term like a life preserver saving them from rational thought. Even though we (State) finally got most people in the government to stop using that term, it poisonously lives on in the private sector. Disgusting.

Sorry for the rant. This really infuriates me.

Monday, October 22, 2007


Fewer than three days until i find out The Big News. i am a bundle of nerves! Luckily, i will be very busy until then in a conscious effort to keep my mind occupied.

Continuing last post's theme, today i got a handout that listed every official embassy and consulate evacuation going back to 1988. It was pretty interesting to see what prompted past evacuations and to trace trendlines across twenty years (sorry for the alliteration). Of the countries of interest to me, Pakistan and Yemen top the list, with some posts there being evacuated 6 times since 1988. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other Pakistani posts come in at 5 times.

Some of the more mundane reasons across the board are basic things like hurricanes, flooding, SARS, and volcanoes. (As an aside, you know something's wrong when those are considered mundane reasons to uproot on short notice!) Of course, there are also coups, civil unrest, civil wars, border wars, army mutinies, missile attacks, embassy bombings, and terrorism on the human-caused side of evacuations. Then there are some that just make you scratch your head, such as Y2K (four countries), environment with no other specifications, and the nebulous category Kosovo. Now, i can understand being concerned about safety in the Balkans, but we don't see an evacuation from Baku listed under Karabagh, or Tbilisi as Abkhazia.

i'm not trying to be flip about a very serious subject, or to engage too severely in gallows humor. i really do find it interesting to see how the data play out in what leads to a total evacuation or a mere drawdown of personnel. It's also interesting to see what posts get evacuated for events like the invasion of Iraq and who successfully lobbied to stay at post. i've been thinking about all of this in the context of what is likely to affect me at some point in my career. i will have the opportunity to get involved with the emergency planning group at post, which i find very exciting - i really do work best under a lot of stress, and while i don't wish a bombing or an earthquake on anyone, i want to try my hand at some simulated crises to see how i can handle it. What can i say - my interests draw me to places that aren't high on the lists of stable, secure, and incorruptible nations. Time to come to terms with the fact that i'm likely going to deal with such a drawdown or evacuation in my career.

Stay tuned for further information on Flag Day. i'll release the morning line odds on my posts Thursday.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Terror and You in the Workplace

Every now and then something happens that makes the realities of my immediate future a little clearer. The bombings yesterday in Karachi do exactly that. Were i posted in Karachi, what would i be doing now? Would all of my colleagues at the consulate be okay? i would almost certainly know someone who saw the attacks, even if they were uninjured. If i were in Islamabad (and there is a small but existing chance of going there next summer), i imagine that i would have had a very long night trying to deal with this.

Many of our speakers have emphasized that the Foreign Service of today is not the one that they joined in the 1980s. 700 positions around the world are unaccompanied, meaning that the US government is not willing to accept the liability of an employee's family's safety in such locations. Thus, the families remain in the United States while the employee goes to post for an abbreviated tour. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq are among these places. To put that number in perspective, there are only about 11,000 Foreign Service officers in the service. Never before has our government been so forthright about putting its diplomats so close to harm's way, and this has consequences, both good and bad, in terms of diplomacy and security. The Karachi consulate was bombed in 2002, killing two people. Nine people died when the Jeddah consulate was stormed in 2004. It could happen to my post next.

i can't focus on previous death tolls in places where i might go. What's the point then? i'm just mentally crippling myself. Awareness, however, is a good thing, and the Karachi bombings brought home a little more clearly what i will face, first-hand or indirectly, in my career.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Horrors of Professional Attire

So my initial phase of training requires me to wear a business suit every day. Fine, whatever. i am suffering in quiet in my suits and heels (!). But today, i got official confirmation of the fact that i have to invest in formal dresses. Plural. Because, unlike tuxes, i can't really rewear dresses at one post. Also, i will have to buy cocktail dresses... with gloves, shoes, accessories, etc to go with them. Dear god in heaven, what have i gotten myself into?

i don't even know to what stores one goes for this type of crap. Why did i turn away from academia, again?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Diplomatic Maxims, or Explaining Strange Looks in Class Today

So today we wrapped up our diplomatic history modules. We had to return to our maxims that we wrote a few weeks ago and rethink them. A few people were chosen to explain theirs aloud, and unsurprisingly i was one of those lucky ones. (It appears the history profs noticed that i was among the few who stayed awake the whole time!) So, here's my initial maxim that i explained today in front of about sixty shell-shocked listeners.

Promoting stability for the economic and security benefit of the United States and its citizens at home and abroad.

No idealism, no bright-eyed optimism, not even a token nod to freedom. Yeah, that went over real well, especially given that about two hours beforehand one of my classmates, an immigrant from Armenia, stood up and advocated for the bill that's working its way through Congress now.

After our discussion and reflection on the modules of history we've done, most people modified their statements, toning down some of the earlier, proscriptive elements that didn't really address safety or trade issues. Many of the original ones i heard addressed issues like America's obligation to help impoverished nations, to spread and to support freedom and democracy, and the like. i think most people did choose to keep some element of idealism but tempered it with deference to security, etc.

However, i chose not to modify my maxim. Yes, it is heartless and thoroughly lacking in idealism. But here's my reasoning for it. While i will have the chance to tweak policy in my career, i hold no illusions that i can actually shape or redirect it, or at least not for a very long time. There is simply too much inertia behind most policies for one person to change. i would rather be honest with myself from the start and try to work within the system. The alternative i see is to fight against it for years, thus getting myself edged out of the system. i certainly do have some ideals (many of which drove me to seek federal service), but following them too strictly will only cause disappointment when i have to defend a national policy i don't like. Far better to take those rose glasses off now.

i do find it amusing that i write a goal that's all about working within the system. i have well and truly become a suit, haven't i? Anyway, comment away on this. Feel free to tell me how wrong i am or to offer suggestions. We are encouraged to revisit these periodically in the future, and i probably will.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Preliminary Photo Fun

Last Saturday i wandered around the Mall for a few hours enjoying the sunny weather. i didn't really go inside any of the museums or stay in one place for too long; i just wanted to get the lay of the land in DC. Happily, it's all starting to come together into a logical map in my head.

If you're in DC, it's worth your time to pay a visit to the Mall this week and next to see the entrants to the Solar Decathlon. It's a multi-year competition among engineering schools domestically and abroad to build a house that's solely powered by the sun. For those in the know here, Randall Pope is on the MIT build team (i saw him last night) and Noel Tyler is coming to town this weekend to work with the Georgia Tech team. More proof that Arkies can find other Arkies wherever we go, right? Anyway, the houses are open to the public next week. i'm really excited to go back and to examine some. Company is welcome, of course!

This is a hidden side of the Smithsonian Arts and Industries building, which looks very fun but is sadly closed for renovation. The brickwork and flourishes on the outside are awesome.

In case you Wash U folk thought you could escape The Bunny, you're wrong. This is in the Hirshhorn's sculpture garden. Ahhhh! Will the anorexic bunnies and fat horsemen of St. Louis never stop stalking me?

Finally, i present to you one of the loveliest women that the DC area has to offer. My friend Rachael and i encountered these beauties on the train (thus explaining the slight fuzziness... we were en route) from College Park, MD back into DC, and we had a solid 7 stations of travel during which to mock them. It was so bad that they knew we were making fun of them and we didn't care. Please note the Pepto-tinted stilettos (left) and the conspicuous absence of a skirt in the photo. It was there, but it was so short it was obscured by the seats on the train. Her friend's attire (right) is also entirely hidden, which is just as well since it looked like a bright yellow bathmat that had been run through a shredder then put out to pasture on someone's body. i know i'm no expert in the fashion department, but should you ever be faced with footwear choices like this, please go barefoot!

i do believe that's it for today. Keep sending in photo suggestions (museums, monuments, and model houses to come), and i'm going to unpack my air shipment of stuff that just arrived from Arkansas. Hurray!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Upon Returning from West Virginia

i survived! Normally i don't like team building exercises (smarmy, lame, waste of money, etc), but this one actually went really well. We were grouped based on our MBTI scores (see previous post), and luckily we type A, anal-retentive micromanagers worked well together, learned a lot, and had a lot of fun. One of the highlights of the trip was the Follies (where a handful of classmates performed skits and songs they had written poking fun at our class and our training staff). i was one of the personalities most parodied, which i suppose is a good thing? i choose to think that it means i'm distinctive and good-natured enough to bear sustained satire, not that i'm annoying and clueless. The other highlight of the trip was seeing my colleagues, especially those over 45, get a little overserved at the post-Follies party. Suffice it to say that we all feel a little more camaraderie among the class now!

And now, it is time for a new project here at the Slow Move East. As you all know, i'm thrilled to be living in DC, but i haven't gotten much opportunity to get out and to explore my new home. i have acquired a local expert or two, a few guidebooks to the city, and a three-day weekend fit for exploring the city. So, is there anything in DC of which you want to see a photo? Perhaps it's a crazy sculpture at the National Gallery of Art. There's also any number of festivals coming up Maybe you want me to infiltrate a demonstration on the Mall? Or maybe you want me to find a friend or loved one on the Vietnam Wall. Whatever it is, leave it in a comment or an email, and i'll go photograph it. i think that exploring with a camera is one of the best ways to find the quirkiness in any city, and DC is more saturated with photo opportunities than most places. i'll be exploring a lot this weekend, and i'll post requested photos as well as some fun ones i found on my own in the next few days.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Weekly Humor, slightly early

So i'll be in West Virginia for two days doing some leadership retreat thingie, so the Weekly Humor is coming in tonight (although it's more of a statement on what a heartless bitch i am). i should be asleep, yes... but ah well, these things happen.

So yes. State is big on using the Myers-Briggs test to determine how to focus its training programs (i'm an ISTJ, in the interest of full disclosure). Today, we were given a lecture explaining the various bits and pieces of the test and the dichotomies, but we were also given examples. A few people who scored particularly strongly on either side of a dichotomy were sent out of the room while the coordinator explained to the rest of the class what her demonstration would show and what behaviors to look for. Now, i was sent out of the room on the Thinking/Feeling axis, and perhaps it's not difficult to guess where i fell. So i and the two guys in my group come in, and we were given the question, "You are the coach of a Little League team invited to play in the regional finals in San Francisco. There are 22 people on the team but only enough money for 15 people to go. What do you do?" All three of us responded in unison, "Take the best players." No thought needed, right? The next group (all women, not coincidentally) actually recoils in horror at the need for reduction of numbers, and they all come to the conclusion that a fund raiser must be held. The really sad part is that the possibility a fund raiser didn't even cross my mind. Let this be a lesson to you: never let me care for your children if you want to prevent them from getting permanent damage to their egos.

Oh, and since i forgot a Bilking of America post a few weeks ago, i'll quickly link to this. Thanks, Uncle Sam! May i say that i won't be in a position to do this for quite some time? Let's be clear about that. For all that we're touted as the cream of the crop, i am fully aware that i will be little more than bureaucratic cannon fodder for my first few tours. Paying dues, etc.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Final Bid List!

It's submitted, and now my life is in someone else's hands. Oh god... The day of reckoning is 25 October. i have to stay distracted until then!

HIGH (8 countries, 9 cities, 10 spots)
Baku, Bogota, Colombo, Ho Chi Minh City, Islamabad, Istanbul, Jeddah, Riyadh, Santo Domingo

MEDIUM (25 countries, 40 cities, 54 spots)
Abuja, Asmara, Beijing, Brasilia, Buenos Aires, Cairo, Chengdu, Ciudad Juarez, Dubai, Geneva, Guadalajara, Guangzhou, Guatamala City, Guayaquil, Hermosillo, Hong Kong, Johannesburg, Kingston, Kuala Lumpur, Lagos, Lima, Manila, Matamoros, Mexico City, Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Paris, Port au Prince, Port Moresby, Port of Spain, Pretoria, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, San Salvador, Seoul, Shanghai, Tegucigalpa, Taipei, Tel Aviv, Warsaw

LOW (2 countries, 3 cities, 3 spots)
Baghdad, Iraq (provincial position outside Baghdad), Jerusalem

History, Bilking, Other Fun

Whew, i'm back. It's been a busy week. i had a house guest from Monday to yesterday, which was actually quite nice but interrupted a lot of my normal routines. We've done some very interesting things in class in dealing with diplomatic history, but i won't bore you with the details. Instead, i'll turn to the discussion of themes. We discussed the conflict between idealism and realism in early foreign policy - the difference between wanting to create a new economic system that wasn't dependent on the British and working within the mercantile system, between supporting democratic revolutions around the world and dealing with monarchies in Europe. While the exact issues have changed, we still face this choice. Do we more overtly support the protesters in Burma in what appears to be another fizzled uprising, or do we save our influence for something with more direct impact on us and not piss off India and China?

We were asked to write a maxim that describes our personal take on diplomacy, its goals and rationales. Some examples given were things like Roosevelt's paraphrased "Speak softly and carry a big stick," as well as some from previous A-100 classes. Before i share mine, i'd like to ask you what you would write. We were directed to keep the maxims to one sentence, although it could be a rather long sentence. What do you think should guide our policy?

In other news, it's time for another story of government waste. This isn't so much wasteful as just really cool for me and unfortunate for everyone else. So there's a library in the main State building in DC. At the back, tucked into a corner, is a small room that is literally full to bursting with stacks of wall maps - political, resource, topographical, economic, regional, national, global, you name it. The best part? i get them for free! i have found a very cheap way to get rid of the terrible artwork my landlord provided (Paul Klee, etc) and coat my walls with something i love much more. i currently have a 4'X3' map of oil resources and pipelines in the Caspian basin and a 4'X4' map of the Middle East (Egypt to Iran, Yemen to Turkey). Holy crap, i am excited. If you're very lucky, i will obtain maps and a flag for you of wherever i go for my first tour. Thanks, Uncle Sam!

Okay, time to return to my experiment on the stove... some Egyptian meaty stew that i think i have horribly interpreted. We'll see. Be thinking about places in DC of which you'd want to see crazy photos... it's time i got to know our capitol better!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Return to AP US History?

This will be a brief post, as i'm trying to be quiet so as not to wake my house guest on the couch ten feet away. (The Arabic student network comes through yet again - a friend from my program in Wisconsin is staying with me until her apartment lease starts Saturday.)

We've finally moved out of most of the bureaucratic phase of orientation, thank any and every passing deity. We've started two new modules, or thematic units, that won't be concluded for another few weeks. One is Foreign Service writing, which the former copy editor in me finds amusing and entertaining. The other is Diplomatic History, designed to give us a grounding in the history of US foreign policy since the inception of the nation. i'm finding it fascinating, not the least because it's been six years since i studied this in a course. There's an added impetus for me to understand these issues now, courtesy of my job title. For example, the election of 1800 is more now than just two dead white guys facing off (not that i thought it that simplistic, but stick with me here), it's the first peaceful, regularly scheduled transfer of power from one party to another. It's also relevant because the winner (Jefferson), one of the nation's more eloquent founders, was also an ardent supporter of slavery. How we view this mixed legacy and how i can apply and convey those lessons once overseas is very relevant to me.

i have a couple of post ideas in the works but not produced yet. For the next few days, you'll probably be seeing a lot of historical stuff, so feel free to tune that out if you so desire. Here's a thought piece for you as i go get ready for work that will be especially familiar (maybe?) to people from ASMS. Think about Washington's farewell address to Congress. Is it relevant to consider his concerns when thinking about our own foreign policy now?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Weekly Humor, Round 1

i would like to say that i have a newfound appreciation for academia - you know, when you only have to be in one place for two to four hours a day, and the rest of the time is spent doing whatever the hell you want and can disguise as work.

Because of security considerations (and a healthy departmental disapproval of blogging), there's not a lot of specifics i can share about my job and the people i meet. This is your regularly scheduled reminder that you are reading this as a close colleague, friend, or family member. Even though i will not be divulging many specifics and will probably change a lot of details, please keep in mind that this isn't a public blog for a reason! (The Security Guy came and lectured/barked at us today. Can you tell?)

With that out of the way, it's time to move on to Weekly Humor. Yesterday we got to mingle with a group of outgoing ambassadors who wanted to meet the newbies for some unholy reason. Before we met them, the question was raised in our class of how many were career Foreign Service people and how many were political appointees. (The United States is, if i am not mistaken, virtually alone in the world in continuing to appoint large quantities of political ambassadors without a career in diplomacy; they make up around 30% of our ambassadorial work force.) We were told that there were indeed some political appointees among the group, but we were not told at first who they were. When i saw the pack, i noted that some of them wore an American flag lapel pin while others did not. i had trouble keeping a straight face when, during introductions, i discovered the perfect correlation between lapel-wearers and the list of political appointees. It was a small sample size, to be sure, so i'm hoping i can meet a large pool of ambassadors to test my theory further. Now i'm trying to see if i can find some interesting common behavior displayed by those classmates who wear a patterned shirt (green gridded lines on cream, shall we say) with a differently patterned and colored tie (pink paisley). Then again, color-blindness might be the problem. Let's hope so.

Also, today i discovered that crying can be an effective negotiating tactic, or perhaps it only works when you're dealing with an insurance company that is already predisposed to offer good customer service. Surprisingly, i haven't used the tears-on-command tactic much in the past, to my family's great happiness, i'm sure!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One day down!

Well, i survived my first day. It is again brutally apparent that i am the youngest in the class, but hey, what can you do? There are three other people from Memphis, which in a group of 61 is demographically freakish. i've met a lot more people, which is nice... only one other Arabic specialist, which makes my bidding process more interesting.

Speaking of! Here's my list of places to which i might go. i have sorted them into strong possibilities and places in which i am not particularly interested. That's not to say that i would dislike any particular place... it's more of a comment on my prior knowledge of languages and cultures!

Baku, Azerbaijan - My first choice, a political/economic tour leaving in June.
Cairo, Egypt - Not high on my list, surprisingly, because it's consular (blah) and leaves in August. i don't need that much Arabic!
Dubai, UAE - Not particularly high because serving here wouldn't qualify me for partial student loan forgiveness, and because it's consular and i wouldn't use much Arabic (which isn't even required for the position).
Islamabad, Pakistan - An interesting one-year consular tour, although it would require learning Urdu and leaving in August. Not a high choice, but not a bad tour.
Istanbul, Turkey - This is a political tour, which would be amazing, although the drawback is that i would need to leave ASAP and i'm not comfortable in modern Turkish yet (Azeri is very similar but still a separate language). One bonus is that there don't seem to be any Turkish speakers in my class - low competition since i have a leg up on Turkic stuff!
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia - It's a political and economic one-year rotation, which sounds really nice, but it leaves in August. That's a lot of time to kill. Upon reflection, this is probably my best bet.
Jerusalem, Israel - Requires Hebrew but can be converted to an Arabic position with some hard lobbying. i won't be lobbying for this one; i intend to avoid anything dealing with Israel and Palestine in an attempt not to sink my academic career before it even starts.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia - A consular, one-year tour leaving next September. Not high on my list.

And now, the rest. i won't add anything else on this post... just savor the possibilities!

Abuja, Nigeria
Asmara, Eritrea
Baghdad, Iraq
Beijing, China
Bogota, Colombia
Brasilia, Brazil
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Chengdu, China
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
Colombo, Sri Lanka
Geneva, Switzerland
Guadalajara, Mexico
Guangzhou, China
Guatemala City, Guatemala
Guayaquil, Ecuador
Hermosillo, Mexico
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Hong Kong, China
Johannesburg, South Africa
Kingston, Jamaica
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Lagos, Nigeria
Lima, Peru
Manila, Philippines
Matamoros, Mexico
Mexico City, Mexico
Monterrey, Mexico
Nuevo Laredo, Mexico
Paris, France
Port au Prince, Haiti
Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea
Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago
Recife, Brazil
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
San Salvador, El Salvador
Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic
Seoul, South Korea
Shanghai, China
Taipei, Taiwan
Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Warsaw, Poland

Monday, September 17, 2007

Welcome home!

While i still have a few household goods i need to acquire (as well as edible things, since i haven't made it to a grocery store yet), i am largely settled in. i have learned a few important lessons since i've arrived, most stemming from our hair-raising trip to Ikea and Target yesterday.
  • People in DC make the soccer moms of St. Louis look like wonderful, patient drivers. The drivers here appear to think that honking will solve everything, up to and including traffic jams, stupidity, and global warming. Also, speed limits seem to be fiction, or perhaps randomly generated numbers.
  • Maryland evidently sees no need to label its roads with trivialities like street signs, exit numbers, signs describing to what each exit leads, official highway numbers, or how to reach major highways from access roads.
  • Virginia and DC, while better than Maryland, aren't exactly star-quality players in the road sign department. Signs describing each exit generally are only seen once you've taken the exit. Additionally, the various highways have all of the coherence of a bowl of spaghetti. My directions for returning home yesterday from Ikea had me take a right fork, a left fork, and a right fork - all within a single half-mile. Clarity? Logic? So overrated.
  • Living near National airport is very loud and nerve-wracking, but hopefully i'll get used to it quickly. There's just something a bit unsettling about seeing all of these planes flying in so close overhead that i can see their reflection in the local ABC affiliate's business tower next door.
  • MapQuest and Google Maps directions don't necessarily correspond to reality. Neither do the addresses given by stores' websites.
In other news, today i had my first meeting with a number of my classmates and the people in classes immediately before me. i think that, on the whole, things will be fine. It's intimidating to walk into a party without knowing anyone, but i managed. i found several people i had corresponded with via email, as well as lots of Arabic specialists, so that made things easier. The hardest thing is that i'm easily five to ten years younger than most of my classmates. It helps that i can say i have an MA... i just don't mention that i'm a tender 22! With any luck, by the time everyone finds out that fact, i'll already know them fairly well. The meet-and-greet was held at an ambassador's house, and i really wanted to meet him, because he used to head up State's Central Asia and Caucasus desks. Sadly, he was off in Sarajevo doing ambassadorial things. Maybe i'll meet him later... his son was there tonight and is learning Arabic in preparation to go to Riyadh. Maybe i can finagle an introduction.

Also - while i will find out on 2 November where i will be going, i am guaranteed to be in the US for at least another two weeks after that and possibly quite a bit more, solely on account of passport processing. After i'm done with that (one week of training plus one to eight weeks of processing), then i will move on to whatever training - language, functional, security - that i will receive in the States before moving abroad. The upshot is that it looks like i'm guaranteed to be here through Thanksgiving at least.

i think i should include another weekly feature - the Bilking of America (with apologies to Brian Williams and NBC News). Look for future installments (maybe on Sundays?) under the tag "bilking." First up - the deal i've worked out with my landlord!

Now, i'm in DC on temporary training duty, which means i cannot stay here any longer than twelve months. The upside is that my housing in DC is completely paid for on a declining per diem schedule - i get the most money for the first two months, somewhat less for months three and four, and even less for the remainder of my time here. However, through the wonders of creative accounting, i am allowed to "front-load" a lease - i pay more up front for the first two months, when i'm allowed more money, and my lease becomes a lot cheaper as time goes on. This A) enables me to get an apartment that i normally couldn't afford under my per diem schedule for more than two months and B) allows my landlord to receive $5850 this month, instead of the normal rent of $1950. The best part? If i were staying in DC for the full twelve months of the lease, then it would average out to $1950/month overall, but the chances are that i will be here no longer than four months. Thanks, Uncle Sam!

And now, on to a few photos of my new home and the surrounding neighborhood - you can click to see larger versions of the photos. i've included a map here that i have been constructing today with important locations and stores marked on it. Clicking the blue "pushpins" will give information about what is at that location. As i slowly figure out my way around, i'll add photos to the map. Will anyone actually use these features? i doubt it, but hey, i'm finding it quite fun!

This is the view towards the south from my balcony, overlooking a line of trees that largely obscure the Iwo Jima memorial. It's there, i promise!
i'm not really clear what these statues, located across the street from the entrance to my apartment complex, represent. Any ideas?
This statue is right by the nearest Safeway. Walking to a grocery store is a novel concept - carrying back what i buy is novel and a pain. Hopefully i'll adjust, and if there's some weight loss in the deal, well, so much the better.
i think that's it for tonight - i have to be at the shuttle stop to the training center by 7 tomorrow morning. If you made it to the bottom of this very long post, congratulations. Be sure to check in tomorrow evening (after six-ish Eastern time) for the list of places where i could be sent. At that point, you can start offering advice, your personal preferences for future vacations, and questions about the first day!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Greetings from Rosslyn!

Short post tonight - i am in Rosslyn and settled in to my apartment. Relevant photos will go up soon, as will a more in-depth exploration of DC. i'm too brain-dead right now!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Countdown to Moving

Whew. In seven days, i will be on the road somewhere in east Tennessee, working my way towards DC. All sorts of stuff is piled up creatively around my house; my mother appears to be nearing a nervous breakdown every time she looks at the mounds for more than ten seconds. But it'll be over soon, right? Right?

i have little new to report, other than the resolution of a few dates. 24 September is when all of my possessions will be packed up and shipped out, and 2 November i will find out when and where i am going.

On the suggestion of one friend, i think i will institute a weekly feature or two. Every Wednesday evening (chosen because it will coincide with the end of her worst class each week, when she'll need a laugh), i will try to post some amusing anecdote about either the morass of bureaucracy i encounter or entertaining cross-cultural misunderstandings. i could easily be convinced to add another weekly feature, if suggestions for theme are good enough.

By this point, i think i have my readership list fairly well set. Everyone, shake hands with the reader sitting next to you. Play nice in the comment sections, don't run with scissors, and enjoy the ride! i think i will - once i'm in DC, not now!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alphabet soup

If you've talked to me any time in the past few weeks, you may not have understood a lot of what i said, due to the obscure terms and acronyms i was tossing about. You were probably too polite/lethargic to ask me to clarify, or you sought clarification and were only confused even more. Not to worry! Here is a handy reference guide to the terms and letters i'll be throwing around like pork on Capitol Hill. i'll even alphabetize it. After that, i will include a very brief and somewhat vague timeline of the big events and moves in this process. Hopefully this can answer many of your questions about my transition.

A-100: The official name of the seven-week training class, named after the room in which was originally held. Classes are numbered sequentially, dating back to... some time in the not-too-distant past? There are usually 4 or 5 classes per year, and i'm in the 136th. Each class functions something like a freshman floor at college: the people in each one tend to bond quite closely and stay in close contact throughout their careers.
Baghdad: Not where i'm likely to go on my first tour. To date, Baghdad is not a directed assignment - that is, the department hasn't started forcing people to go there. There may be extreme pressure to do so, coupled with pay bonuses and promotion incentives, but i almost certainly will not be compelled to go to Baghdad right out of the gates. Calm down!
Bid list: The list of positions - indicating starting date, location, language requirements, and job descriptions - that the people in my class may bid on for their first tour. The list is given to us in our first week of A-100, and we return it after a few days to the powers that be for processing. Everyone must bid every option on the list as high, medium, or low, and on Flag Day we find out where we go. Recently, nearly everyone in each class has gotten a post they bid high, with a few people getting mediums.
CNL: Critical Needs Language, such as Arabic, Chinese, or Uzbek, that the government has great interest in being able to understand but that has only a low supply of speakers. Generally, CNLs are harder to learn (and thus have fewer people attempting them in college, let alone high school), and there are hiring bonuses and incentives across the government designed to attract people to these posts. i entered the Foreign Service courtesy of knowing Arabic, which catapulted me (almost) to the top of the hiring list. Consequently, 2 of my first 4 posts must be served in an Arabic-speaking country.
DOS: Department of State. The official acronym.
Embassy: For most countries, the central and main diplomatic presence, which is located in the capital. In a few places, we do not have embassies per se because of political considerations. For example, we have a US Interests Section in Cuba, and the American Institute in Taiwan. Embassies are supported by consulates, which perform regional tasks, especially visa services, in areas outside capital cities. Notably, there are numerous consulates in Mexico on the border with the US. Work is shifting away from embassies toward posts further afield under the policy of transformational diplomacy.
Ethniklashistan: The generic name i use to denote where i'll be posted; used until i actually find out where i'll be going. The name is blatantly stolen from this Onion article from 2001.
Flag Day: The day in the sixth week of A-100 when we find out where we will be posted. This is a big event, with family members usually flying in for the celebration and some high-ranking official presiding. Each person in the class is presented with a small flag indicating the nation of their first post, and great rejoicing follows. There seems to be a subtle competition among FS people to see who can show the most joy at their assignment: the current record is doing backflips down the aisle and up to the podium to receive the flag.
FS: The Foreign Service. It gets really, really annoying to type that out each time.
FSO: Foreign Service Officer. i won't be one for about four to five years.
Hardship post: A post in a generally unappealing location, such as Ethiopia or Libya. There may be restrictions on which family members may accompany the FSO to post. Conversely, there is generally a significant pay bonus for serving in such a position. Under current plans for the FS, an FSO must serve a certain number of tours in hardship posts to be considered for promotion beyond a certain point. Luckily, pretty much everywhere that requires Arabic is considered a hardship post - my career path appears safe for now.
Packout: The day/event of having all of my belongings boxed up and shipped to my next location. This happens every time i am directed to move somewhere by the FS. i will have a packout in Arkansas on 24 September, as well as a much smaller one in DC in a few months, that you will be hearing quite a bit about.
Tenure: After my first two tours (2-4 years), i will be considered for receiving tenure, or being made a full officer. My time as a JFSO is considered to be training.
: The place at which i will be serving, as well as the length of time that i will be there. The average tour is two years long; in really terrible places, tours last 1 year, and in really nice places (Western Europe) they can last up to three or four years.
Unaccompanied post: Posts in really dangerous places, where the family members of FSOs cannot go along to live. Notable examples: Baghdad, Kabul.
USAA: The institution that provides banking, insurance, and financial services to military members and their dependents. Happily, FSOs are invited to partake of this organization's largesse, which means i get significant savings on insurance and banking issues. Color me excited!

Here's a basic timeline for the next few months. i will add stuff to this as needed, and in the future i will provide links back to this page so i don't have to keep retyping this over and over again.

13 September: Leave Arkansas.
14 September: Reach apartment in Rosslyn.
17 September: Start A-100.
Week of 17 September: Receive from and return to orientation staff my bid list. Keep an eye open that week - there will be lots of information here for you to consider, and i will be fielding advice/questions.
24 September: Packout. All of my possessions that don't ride to DC with me in my car will be packed up and shipped to storage in Maryland. i'm only moderately stressing this!
2 November: Flag Day!
5 November - 31 December(?): Additional training, such as language, security, job-specific, etc. The length of training in previous classes has ranged from 3 to 10 months, so i'm just guessing with that closing date.
2008(?): Going to my new home abroad!

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The positive side of the Foreign Service?

Yesterday i was talking to a good friend who has considered taking the FS exam in the past. i asked her if she had registered for the new test this fall, and she surprised me somewhat with her response. She told me that after hearing the bureaucratic hell that i'm going through right now in figuring out insurance, moving, and the like, she wasn't so sure that she wanted to go through with it. Basically, she was waiting on me to give some positive reviews of the Foreign Service before she tried to walk the same path.

It was an interesting perspective, and it made me think. i'm reminded of a passage at the end of Pride and Prejudice, where Elizabeth, "agitated and confused, rather knew that she was happy, than felt herself to be so; for, besides the immediate embarrassment, there were other evils before her." Of course, i'm not engaged to a rich man i previously hated, merely about to embark on what is a dream job by all accounts, but the immediate evils of paperwork and wading through piles of insurance policies and financial plans are weighing heavily on my mind. Everyone i know who is currently in the FS loved the training that takes place in DC, and almost everyone seems to get a first post that enthralls them. At the same time, job descriptions vary so widely by embassy that, unless i'm issuing visas in my first post (a distinct possibility), i really have no clue what i will be doing once i start my actual job.

As much of a long-term planner as i am, this prospect terrifies me a little. The Foreign Service is all about frequent moves and unplanned-for events, things that are somewhat anathema to me. However, it's also about travel, flexibility, intellectual and cultural interaction, and politics - all things i love. i think i'm going to get a rapid upgrade in my skills at adaptation.

Right now, i'm surrounded by most of my books (438 according the spreadsheet i have open) and the three sets of china that are waiting for the appraiser's visit on Monday. In the next few days, i will post a loose timetable for what will happen to me once i move to DC, as well as a guide to some of the terms i'll be throwing around in the future. In the meantime, it's time to move on to sorting through the inherited quilts.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Preparations abound

Welcome, all. i hope you enjoy reading about my process of becoming a Foreign Service junior officer. Later on, you'll be able to read about my life abroad, although i probably won't be able to say anything but generalities about my job at the embassy or my training. For now, enjoy the fact that you don't have 18 different forms to fill out in triplicate.

i'd like for this to be more than a simple blog where i write and you read. i'll try to raise questions that invite discussion in the comments section, and i will probably seek your advice and input. (i'm in the process of planning a DIY photo expedition - you tell me what to seek out in my new home city, i find it [within reason] and photo it for posting here!) More than anything, i'd like for this to be one of the primary ways i keep in touch with people while i'm abroad. Time zone considerations will make the phone difficult, and i'd rather not answer 20 individual how's-it-going emails a week!

i'm in the early stages of preparation for the move to DC. i can only do the most basic things right now, like fill out paperwork and research health insurance options. Once i get my travel orders, things will kick into high gear. The orders will be issued 30 days before my assignment in DC starts, so around 17 or 18 August i have to arrange to get all of my possessions shipped to DC, switch my bank account to a military account (better amenities, it seems), find COBRA insurance, get my vaccinations up to date... i also need to find insurance that will cover me renting in DC, my stuff being shipped via boat and plane abroad, anything in my home abroad, and probably other circumstances i haven't considered. i like that one of the brochures included in my packet of forms and information from State included information about kidnap, ransom, and extortion insurance. At least they don't sugarcoat things!