Sunday, April 20, 2008

DC These Days

Sorry for the lack of attention - I've had some (largely resolved) medical problems that have attracted most of my energy of late. Now that I have this issue mostly behind me, I can catch up on communications with everyone. Here's what's shaking in my world.
  • I'm going to Amman, Jordan in June for two and a half weeks for an immersion program. It's an official FSI program, so I won't lose per diem here in DC, I still draw regular salary, and FSI provides the instructor; the catch is that I have to pay for my own airfare and food. It's a pretty sweet deal overall. I'm planning weekend trips to Damascus and some of the historical sites around Jordan while I'm there. Look for more info on this as our plans become a little more settled.
  • Just before that trip, I'm going to an Orthodox Jewish wedding in Boston with a good friend. It's an anthropological field trip. I'm far more excited than I should be.
  • Departure date for Saudi Arabia is starting to get a little firmer. I'll probably be leaving DC around the end of August, ideally the 27th, and arriving in Riyadh on the 30th. If I want to qualify for the student loan repayment program this year (which I very much do, to the tune of around $3700), I have to be at post by the end of August. The downside of this is that I won't have the Labor Day weekend to use as my last hurrah to see family and friends in Arkansas the way I had planned. Look for me to be in the Memphis and Mountain Home hinterlands over the 4th of July holiday; I'll try to make it a four- or five-day weekend so I can see everyone I can (McNeil and Rogers clans, I'm looking at you). I will also try to get in one more weekend in St. Louis this summer. Be advised.
  • In more personal news, my boyfriend Mark will be moving in with me for the last two months or so that I'm in the States. We're planning all sorts of exploits, such as exploring the Chesapeake and various historical sites around here, trying out every available type of ethnic restaurant in DC, adopting a cat (better than the alternative!), and getting me ready to go to Saudi for a year-ish. The photos that emerge from this period and from these trips will be brimming with saccharine goodness - this is your warning, diabetics.
  • Arabic is turning my brain into mush. The program here just isn't all that prepared to deal with students who came in at an advanced level and with different backgrounds in study. In my class, which is the highest level class, we have one person who learned it exclusively as a Peace Corps volunteer in rural Jordan, one who learned from self study and a tutor, one who learned the language with the Peace Corps in Morocco then at FSI ten years ago, when the focus was only on colloquial, and me, who learned it almost exclusively from the standard textbook that almost all colleges use. Yeah... the directors have no idea what to do with us. It's kind of depressing, there's no real textbook or program for us to use. But that's something I can blather on about at length later on.
  • This year, the Foreign Service will be back in the news as the department will have to resort to threatening directed assignments to Iraq again (ie, forcing people to go). Let me reiterate that I am not a primary candidate for these assignments - yet. My colleague Joe (going to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia around when I leave for Riyadh, and a dear friend in the FS) figures that we won't start feeling the pressure until midway through our second tour - that is to say, when we're on the cusp of becoming mid-level officers, the warm bodies most needed to fill positions in Embassy Baghdad. Once we hit that point, however, if the situation hasn't changed greatly in Iraq, we'll probably face a lot of pressure to go there for our third tour. Again, another post for another day.
At any rate, that's the deal. I'm still alive, and posting will pick up once life gets more interesting, but there's not much to say about 5 hours of Arabic class a day without boring you into a stupor.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Springtime in DC

I've been telling people for several months that this is definitely the city where I was meant to live. The concentration of political activity, job opportunity, international culture, green space, and tolerable weather makes it perfect for me. Many of you have seen the hell I go through every year with my allergies, but thus far in DC I've been problem-free, even when wandering around the Mall and the tidal basin taking photos of flowers. It's a blessed relief. Anyway, here are some of my favorites from the Cherry Blossom Fest.