Sunday, December 12, 2010

I *Heart* Turkish Christmas

As a born-and-raised atheist, Christmas is always a tense time for me - I like many of the cultural and social elements of American Christmas, but I am always sensitive to the holiday's religious underpinnings, which I try to avoid.  I like the lights that go up everywhere, and I like the traditional foods and drinks of the season.  I like putting up a Christmas tree, and I love making my own decorations - usually with my own demented twist, like the gingerbread trailer parks I often make with my friends.  (This year: a gingerbread gecekondu!)  However, I don't like the increased pressure to go to church or to get together with family members who are a pain to deal with during the rest of the year, and I can't stand the incessant horror of Christmas music.  Usually I volunteer to work through the month of December so that my colleagues can go home to be with their family in the States, but I don't really want to spend such a holiday by myself in a place without any Christmas spirit.  *cough* like Riyadh! *cough*  So what's a misanthropic atheist to do every December?

Come to Turkey, evidently, where New Year's is celebrated in many the same ways we celebrate Christmas in the US.  People give gifts (albeit on the 31st), put up decorated trees and ornate light displays, and generally make merry with friends throughout the month.  But with no religious overtones to the celebration, I feel very comfortable - it's the perfect Christmas-ish for me!  More and more, I find it's the little things about Turkey that I love.  

Amusing note about New Year's celebrations here - evidently it's traditional to give red underwear to your female friends on New Year's Eve.  A friend told me that she ended up with 8 new pairs of unmentionables last year.  It's a wee bit different from eating black-eyed peas at New Year's, that's for sure...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Call Me Melba

I have become my grandmother...  I just chased my cat around the house trying to wipe eye crusties  off his face, very much against his will.

Up next: finding a small toddler with a bathing suit wedgie that needs removing (since I assume that the Beej won't be wearing a bathing suit over his fur anytime soon).

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Inspiration!

I've been inspired by Four Globetrotters' epic stories of embarrassment from her previous tours.  In a week when it seems all of our professional secrets have been laid bare, why not share some of our less professional moments?

When I was in Riyadh, our applicants would mail us their passports by FedEx when we were ready to issue their visas, as sometimes it took a few weeks to finish all of the processing.  Our local staff opened the envelopes and sorted the passports every day, sometimes getting as many as 200 in one haul.  Because of security considerations, all packages were opened outside the chancery building, so each day our staff would load up the sacks of envelopes onto a wheeled cart, don a mask and gloves, and open everything up in the motor pool garage, where there was a semi-feral pack of stray cats that the motor pool drivers insisted on feeding despite repeated nastygrams from management.  A Sri Lankan man named Farhan and a Filipina woman named Louisa normally handled the daily mail.  One day, Farhan rolled the cart to the back of the consular section, where my desk was hidden in one of the corners of the office.  He called loudly, "Oh my God, I think a cat crawled into the empty bags!  What do I do?"

I and the other Americans rushed out of our cubicles to see Farhan standing back from the cart, afraid, while many of our other local staff crowded around him looking concerned.  From deep inside the piles of envelopes I could hear an angry meowing.  Never one to shy away from danger, I leaped forward, yelling, "We have to get it outside before it escapes!"  I start pulling the cart towards the section entrance (about 50 yards away), warning everyone to stand back.  Farhan tried to stop me, reaching for the bags like he was going to grab the cat by the scruff of its neck and drag it out.  Ever the hero, I swatted his hand away and said, "Careful!  It could be rabid!"  Somehow everyone managed to keep a straight face until after I'd pulled the cart almost to the front door - that is to say, through the entire office, past all 35 local staff, 15 American consular staff, and the DHS office - before Farhan finally reached under the bags and pulled out his cell phone, which was set to a ring tone of a cat's meow.  Whoops.  The Consul General, the NIV chief, the DHS attache, and all of my other American colleagues were standing in their office doors crying with laughter.  The local staff were practically rolling on the floor.  What can you do in such situations but laugh?  I slunk back to my desk, beet red and trying to keep smiling.  That was probably the only day in Riyadh I actually went home before 5 PM, and I was serenaded out the door by a chorus of meows.

The next day, I got to work super-early and hid at my desk all morning.  (Luckily, I was off the line that week, doing administrative stuff instead of interviews.)  My cubicle mate meowed at me when she came in, but luckily we're good enough friends that I could tell her where to shove her meow.  A few hours later, Farhan quietly asked if he could talk to me.  He stood before my desk, shoulders slumped, head down, not daring to look at me.  He said that he'd told his wife about the prank he'd pulled, and she'd yelled at him for hours about it, saying that I could have him fired for that, and without his job and the Embassy's residency sponsorship they'd have to give up all of their jobs and their home and go back to Sri Lanka with a week's notice.  He apologized profusely, said he'd never do something like that again, and begged me to give him another chance to keep working there.  In the severest voice I could muster, I told him, "Farhan, I really only have one thing I can say to you - meeeeoooooowwww."  When he jerked his head up and saw that I was smiling, we both erupted into gales of laughter and meowing.

Granted, it's no flashing of the ambassador, but it was still one of the more mortifying incidents in my professional life.  So what stupid things have you done at post?

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Rough Day, Getting Rougher

Wikileaks.  Urgh.

That's all I've got on that topic now, though if you're a user of Google Reader, you might see more of my opinions in that venue.  I've kept the profanity to a minimum.

I also just got slammed with being the control for four official visits in the next two weeks, three of which have fewer than 12 hours between one visitor's wheels up and the next visitor's arrival.  Getting out and meeting with people on my own?  Totally unnecessary.  I can't do my job because of my job!

Did I mention that I'm up for tenure, rather by surprise?  And that I therefore have to prepare my performance memoranda with about a four-week notice, which included a ten-day stay in the US?  Oh, and that I'm the guinea pig at post for testing our all-online performance evaluation system...  which is to say that no one can figure out how in the hell I'm supposed to have an EER.  I mean, it's to my financial benefit not to get tenured this go-round (hello, six more months of overtime), but still, if I'm not to be tenured, I'd at least like it to be because I was considered and judged to need more time.

Also, it appears that if one spends 10 days at home with one's family doing nothing but eating homemade food and drinking, one might gain some weight.  I'd make a joke about my hips not lying about how much they love my stepdad's cooking, but I'm too tired and grumpy.

Whine, grump, complain.  I'm taking my Beej and going to bed.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Good Things in Life


Whoops, didn't make it in time for the weekly round up.  Oh well - here's my list of things for which I am thankful.

  • I am thankful for my mother, and for the chance I got to spend ten days with her last week.  We need hannah-Mumsy time at a minimum of once every six months to maintain our (relative) mental stability.
  • I am thankful for the 25 years I had with my Aunt Gail and for how close we have always been.  I am thankful that her illness was swift and that she didn’t suffer long. 
  • I am also thankful for my coworkers in Istanbul and across the world, who have been so kind and supportive of me during the last few months.  As has been said, one of the hardest parts about this job is being a continent away when family’s in poor health in the States.  Unfortunately, I understand this from personal experience…  but fortunately, everyone else does too, so when someone needs to go home on short notice, the office pulls together.  My coworkers offered to take over official visits and Congressional reports for me, two things that no one ever wants to deal with.  Seriously, I love my post.
  • I am thankful for my email group – six opinionated, strong women who have held together for over two years across 8 countries, 14 time zones, job losses, multiple break-ups, and family deaths, existing on a diet of advice, gossip, TMI, mutual celebration, and lolcat videos.
  • I am thankful for my friends in Turkey, a ragtag group of expats with amazing stories and backgrounds - former professional dog handler, a person who tried to talk his way into Saudi Arabia based solely on his Shell employee ID, a thoughtful anarchist working for a large multinational firm, and a shitton of English teachers.  Call me socially isolationist, but I like my batch of Americans-in-exile.
Hope you're all well!  I'm here...  more updates to follow later in the day.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Back to Normal in Istanbul

After I left a meeting today, I walked back towards the metro station to take the train home.  It's a perfectly normal route for me; meetings are often held in the Taksim area because it's so central to everyone.  Then it struck me - I was walking through the site of the Sunday bombing.  There were no additional police (that is to say, no more than usual), no additional barricades, and people were walking around enjoying the beautiful weather.  It was so normal.

In Turkey's ongoing war with the PKK, perhaps as many as 40,000 people have died in the last thirty years, in terrorist attacks, military operations, and the civilians caught in the crossfire between the PKK and the military.  Sadly, this is a country that is used to constant, "low-level" acts of terror.  By this I mean incidents that kill 2 or 3 or 6 people, not mass casualty events.  Imagine what would have happened if a similar bomb had gone off in DC or any other American city.  The site would be cordoned off for weeks, traffic blocked temporarily or permanently around the area, and no one would want to go near the area, no matter how central it may be to one's daily commute.  Turkey doesn't have that mentality.  For better or worse, Turkish people carry on with their business after these tragic attacks.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

İstanbul'a hoş geldiniz!

So I have epic tales of awesome from my weekend in Helsinki, but it's worthwhile to start with the end of the weekend: the fifteen missed calls and text messages my phone accumulated during my flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul this morning.  While we were still waiting for the cabin doors to open, I found out that there had been a suicide bombing in Taksim Square, the heart of Istanbul, a few hours earlier.  Once I checked in with our security people at work, who wanted to make sure that we were all accounted for, I just continued home normally to watch the news, like everyone else.  No official word yet on who did it; from all accounts it looks like it could have been much, much worse - it appears at least one device didn't detonate.

What can you do.  After I got the message back to the States that I was fine (knowing that someone would wake up, see the news on CNN, and flip out), all I can really do is try not to let this impact my everyday life too much, because that's the point of terrorism - making people change their lives so much that in the end they defeat themselves.  My heart goes out to the injured police officers and civilians, as well as their families, yet I'm so glad this wasn't worse that it already was.

With my morbid sense of humor, I found this guide to appropriate levels of panic for various crises in Turkey to be entirely valid.  This was written a few weeks after our consulate was attacked in 2008.  You'll note that today's event falls under panic level 5...  really, unless the Marmara does split open in a  catastrophic earthquake of Biblical proportions, a moderate level of concern until told otherwise is the best way to go for pretty much any event in Turkey.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Güler Yüzlü

In the past week I've gotten two similar compliments from two very different men - one the chief rabbi of Turkey, the other a cab driver from one of the faceless suburbs of Istanbul.  Both of them called me güler yüzlü, "smiling-faced."  The rabbi mentioned that every time he sees me, I have a huge smile on my face; the cab driver told me that he could tell from a few moments of "empty chatting" during my five-minute trip that I'm a happy person and that I like to laugh.

It's true.  I am happy.  The worry lines on my face have eased a bit, and I'm getting my laugh lines back again.  Trading in one set for another doesn't mean I'm getting older, does it?  It just means I'm staying the same age, right?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FREEDOM!

Oh frabjous day, my car James Brown is finally mine again!!  Only 5.5 months after I left the States, and a mere 4 months after he departed my friend's driveway for the port in Baltimore, JB has come home to his parking space in the basement of my building!  It's been a rough process, fraught with incompetent people in Transportation, shipping delays, customs delays, registration delays, and a few more registration delays, but at 5 PM on Friday, I grabbed my keys and set off into the sunset, with the winds of freedom at my back and a massive, ten-mile-long traffic jam in front of me.  (Istanbul is like DC in this way...  the slightest bit of rain causes everyone and their mom to break down in COMPLETE AND UTTER PANIC on the roadways.)  Luckily, in May I left my CD changer fully loaded with good music, so I had plenty of time to get through all six CDs in the two hours and change it took to get home.

The best part is that our belabored customs expeditor was so anxious to release JB to me that there wasn't time to exchange my original license plate for my diplomatic tags.  So right now, I'm be-bopping around the city with Arkansas tags!  I love it.

I got JB right before I left DC, so I didn't really get to know him all that well.  Friday I had to reacquaint myself with turning his headlights on, adjusting the seat, etc.  I also found sand in his floorboards and cupholders - a pleasant reminder of the trip to the beach at Chincoteague I took the day that I bought him.  (It was amusing, when we got to our hotel that night, I had to register my license plate with the hotel owner, and I had absolutely no idea what it was.  It didn't look suspicious at all.)

I finally feel like I'm fully settled in.  I have my books, my things, my art, and my car.  Road trips await, the American dream!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Things I Heart About Turkey

In no particular order.

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables.  A kilo of tomatoes for about 90 cents?  Oh, if you insist...
  • Dessert, although this explains why my Marine Ball dress doesn't fit anymore.
  • Cafe culture.  Sitting at a place for three hours, sipping your tea and reading a book.  Why not?
  • Location.  I hate to refer to the trope of "a bridge between East and West," but if nothing else, Istanbul's close to everything interesting - like a three-hour flight close.
  • People.  Very friendly and open.  There's some element of sketch with some men, but where in the world is that not the case?
  • Diversity.  There's not the range of skin colors that you see in the US, but Turkey is incredibly diverse, and everyone knows from where their forefathers came.  My cab driver the other day told me about how his grandparents fled Macedonia during a war and came to Turkey.  Other of my friends talk casually about their home town in Spain - which their family left 500+ years ago.
  • Visitors.  Any time one of my friends manages to end up within two time zones of me, I can expect a visit.  I love it!
  • Politics.  Turkey is crucial to US foreign policy in a lot of ways, which makes my job interesting.  Moreover, Turkish society energetically discusses its own internal politics, and every issue has at least three sides to it here.  It keeps my mind hopping.
  • Conspiracy theories.  God, I love them.  There ought to be a prize for the craziest one each month.
  • Turkish fashion.  Okay, it's really just broader European fashion, but I am continually amazed at what I see walking by me on the street or in the Metro.  Really, ladies?
  • Makeout Alley - the sidewalk from the Metro to my apartment building, which is always crammed with couples snuggling, smoking, fighting, drinking, making out, and texting.  Usually simultaneously.
  • Turkish drivers.  Okay, traffic is insane here, and traffic laws are more suggestions than diktats, but I kind of enjoy seeing the rules that emerge organically in this barely controlled chaos of taxis, minibusses, and scooters.  
  • Expat get-togethers.  Strange to say, but I do enjoy meeting up with other yabancılar and kvetching.  It's a little bit of home, although home normally isn't quite so chock-full of Aussies and Brits.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Ain't It Funny How Time Slips Away

Found this hiding in my drafts page - it's from 31 August.
---

With apologies to Al Green for expropriating his song titles for completely unrelated topics...

Two years ago today I arrived in Saudi Arabia - hung over, with no sleep and less luggage - for a year's tour that changed me in ways I'm still trying to understand.  I am still a little shocked when I look back at my time there - it seems so long ago.  So many things had gone wrong in my life at about that time, and when I was thrown into a situation like Riyadh, I didn't handle the isolation and the stress well.  I came out of it a much stronger, more confident person, it's true, but I still have moments where I don't recognize the person I've become.

This is a series of thoughts I've tried to write many times.  It's hard to explain what Riyadh was like for me without getting into drama and unnecessary details.  Thirteen months after leaving Saudi, and three months after arriving here, I think I've finally found my new center - the new balance point of my life.  I am happy.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Two Weeks I'd Prefer Not to Repeat

Good Lord, it's busy season in Istanbul.  Because Bayram this year lined up with the end of summer travel season, the start of the school year, and the arrival of our new CG, we went from sleepy August haze to red-lined September insanity with little adjustment.  We have lots of official visits in the next few weeks, and planning for those has kept us jumping - by the time quitting time rolled around Friday, we all looked a little zombie-like.  However, it's not just the alphabet soup of acronyms for offices and high-level visitors that has me cross-eyed; I have something else weighing on my mind.

Two weeks I wrote about the pain of helping grieving Americans who had just lost a loved one in Istanbul.  I can't share any details about the case, due to the Privacy Act, but I think I can say this: I wish I'd known the deceased; we had a lot in common, and I think we would have become fast friends.  Someone with such a loving family could not but be wonderful, and they'd come to Istanbul, a place they'd always wanted to see, for a family vacation together that turned into a nightmare.  The family has become my own due to what happened after I spent hours in the hospital with them.  I got home to find out that my mother's sister, my aunt and one of my dearest loves in the world, has late-stage cancer and may not live for more than a few months.

My family's strange in a very modern way: I have broken off ties with almost all of my blood relatives, and the family I love most are not actually related to me except through the bonds that are formed through hardship and shared experiences.  My mom and my aunt are essentially the only two people in my family tree whom I still talk to and love.  Anyone who knows me realizes how close I am to my mother; she and I talk two or three times a day, no matter in which time zone I live, and we have no secrets from each other.  My aunt is the third pillar in the family - I don't talk about her as much, but for a few decades now the three of us have held together through deaths, divorces, moves, and God knows what else was going on around us.  Laughter, offbeat greeting cards, gossip, inappropriate jokes, cynicism, and love have gotten us through it all relatively unscathed.  The thought of her not being here with us is preposterous, unthinkable.  Who will worry with me about my mom not taking care of herself?  Who will my mom complain with about whatever dumbass thing I do next?  And who will my mom turn to when her older sister is gone?

So I found this out hours after spending an evening with one grieving family.  I wanted to go see them before they flew back home - before they left this beautiful city that had gone so horribly wrong - but I just couldn't get myself out of the floor where I'd spent the day crying.  Luckily, I did get to speak with them over the phone as they boarded their plane to go home a few days later.  It may be a long time until I see them again, but through their sudden pain and my own slow-developing tragedy, we have a tie that can't be broken.  I talk to them now that they are back home, to see how they are recovering physically and mentally.  They check in with me, to tell me that they are praying for me and my family.  We share photos of our loved ones, and we laugh through the tears.  MAS and MRS, I love you both so dearly.  I can't tell you how much it means to know you.

I've always believed, in large part because of my own screwy kinfolk, that your true family are the people you love even though you don't have to love them.  These people can be found in the most surprising of circumstances, and what would we do without these sparks of happiness to keep us going?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Magic of Google Reader

So it is probably apparent that I'm moderately obsessed with new media tools - not necessarily things like Facebook and Twitter, but how people use blogs to communicate, how blogs change the way news is researched and reported, and how our media consumption changes based on the technology we use.  One of my favorite tools is Google Reader, which allows me to keep up with disparate sites that update irregularly - only one place to watch, instead of many.  This dovetails nicely with the tight-knit but geographically scattered FS community... it makes it easier for me to keep track of y'all!

I'm starting to experiment with some of the advanced tools in Reader, and one of the things I've done is create a bundle of all the FS blogs I know about (284 total [stealth update - 285, given Digger's recent post {stealthier stealth edit: not keeping count anymore, as I just found another new one in the comments}]).  Not all are currently active, but I don't want to dump them in the event that they do rise from the dead in the future.  If you're interested in following this, you can subscribe at this link.  (If you're using another RSS feed, I'm not sure I can help you, sorry!)  Enjoy!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Negotiating Rep Events - Pro-Tip

I found this link a few weeks back, and I've been saving in my list of things to read (which gets longer and longer each day).  I might have even gotten this from an FS blog - Diplopundit, perhaps?  I dunno.  At any rate, given my inability to remember names for the first 83 times I hear them, this is something I need to work on!

How to remember people's names.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Call of Duty

I had my first death case last night.  I never worked American Citizen Services when I was in Riyadh, so the only way I will get this sort of consular case now is if I'm the after-hours duty officer.  I don't know how ACS officers do it full time...  it was heart-wrenching to have to discuss with family the transportation of their love one's remains, when three hours before their lives had just collapsed.  At one point, one family member just broke down crying on my shoulder.  I wanted to cry, too, but the family needed a calm voice more than they needed someone else sobbing.

I'm torn between grieving for this family and being incredibly proud that this is what I do.  At the most basic level, our mission is to help American citizens in need.  When I got the call at 9.30 last night, I was the only person in this huge, strange city the family knew.  I'm so glad that I was able to help them in a small way.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Tis the Season

Another perk about my job: I get US and local holidays!  This means that I didn't have work on Monday, because it was Zafer Bayrami (Victory Day), and next Monday is Labor Day (ours).  Also, from 1 PM on Wednesday through Friday, I have Seker Bayrami (end-of-Ramadan holiday).  The upshot?  I am taking tomorrow off and flying to Malta for four days on the beach with friends I worked with in Riyadh.  I am the duty officer during the long holiday, so I can't leave Istanbul...  getting my holiday travel in while I can!

Macedonia last weekend, Malta tomorrow.  Love it.  I'll be thinking about you as I sit by the pool with drink in hand!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It Takes All Types

We're nearing the halfway point of Ramadan - I've been to my fill of iftars, and I still have more to attend.  Iftars can be a political statement here: anyone who's someone hosts one, which leads to novelties such as the Jewish community's iftar (biggest social/political event in town, I swear).  It's lovely to see the decorations for the holiday and the massive feasts every restaurant, family, and store puts out on display.  Each neighborhood has a tent, sponsored by a charity organization, where the community can come together to break their fasts.  These tents are mostly for the lower social strata, but anyone can go.  Not everyone fasts, of course; many secular people just indulge in massive feasts at sundown as a cultural and communal experience.  Others fast, but only partially: a friend saw a piece on CNN Turkey this weekend about how people fast in varying degrees.  Every other day, only until 3 PM, only if their mom is watching, etc...  with Ramadan moving into the summer months for the next few years, it's too environmentally stressful for some people to make it all day long without a drop of water.  I admire people for admitting it up front; in many places the social pressure to fast is so strong that no one would dream of 'fessing up, despite having a secret stash of cashews and a water bottle in the desk's bottom drawer.

We plan our evening travel plans around sunset, because most people (whether they are fasting or not) are in place at home or a restaurant in time for the meal, so the roads are emptiest in the half-hour after sunset.  I love seeing the city at its stillest right at sundown, when the call to prayer rolls down the hillsides and the traffic has mostly parked on the side of the roads while everyone eats.  It's beautiful, especially since the summer heat and humidity has broken recently - there's no haze over the Bosphorus in the evenings now, and you can clearly see the sunset reflected in the Asian hills.

That stillness is increasingly broken by the tinny cry of the campaign trucks.  Turkish citizens will go to the polls on 12 September to vote on a package of constitutional amendments, and it's gearing up to be a huge political battle.  Political parties are pulling out all the stops to energize their voters to turn the results one way or the other.  (Lucky me, the biggest opposition rallies all seem to occur within 3 blocks of my house.)  Each party has its own fleet of trucks that drive around at slow speeds, blaring canned messages exhorting the masses to vote YES or NO, complete with patriotic or martial or choral music in the background.  It's amusing for the first few times...  I'm just glad I can't hear it from my apartment!  (Yet.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sumela

Last Sunday I went to Trabzon to observe the Orthodox liturgy being held at Sumela, a monastery that was built into the side of a cliff in the sixth century.  Sumela has been abandoned since the population exchanges of the 1920s emptied the Black Sea coast of its Christian populations.  The state has restored the monastery and turned it into a museum, and as a state property, religious ceremonies cannot be held there.  However, this year the Ministry of Tourism and Culture gave permission for an annual service to be held at Sumela and at the church on Akdamar Island, an ancient Armenian Orthodox church that has also been turned into a museum.

Sumela from one end of Altindere valley
The valley, from the entrance to the monastery 
Looking out one of the
monastery's windows
The Ecumenical Patriarch entering the monastery,
with entourage.  Did I mention that this
place is on the side of a cliff?

A few thousand pilgrims came from Greece, Russia, Georgia, and the US, as well as Turkey's own Greek Orthodox population.  Most of the pilgrims were descendants of Pontic Greeks who left in 1923, although for the last ten years they have been returning to Trabzon every summer on holiday, to see their old villages and to find the few remaining speakers of their own dialect of Greek.  A few villages high in the mountains still have Pontic Greek speakers, Muslim Turks who are as valuable for their cultural preservation as for their utility as guides in the tourism sector.  (It's a strange world we live in, in this modern era.)  In my hotel, the night before the liturgy, the Greek tourists all gathered in the rooftop restaurant with musicians and cameras to dance the dances their parents and grandparents had taught them.  My host and guide for the weekend, the hotel owner, told me that the instruments, music, and dance steps are indistinguishable from the traditional dances of the region.  The music was even passingly familiar to me from Azerbaijani folk music, which isn't surprising given that Trabzon is in the foothills of the Caucasus.  Most of the time, an old Greek man played the kemenche and sang the accompaniment, but at one point a young Turkish man played while a young Greek sang.  Many of the older pilgrims wept during this song, and at the end the room was filled with deafening cheers from the visitors as well as the locals, who had called their friends to come see the sight.

The dude on the right has a kemenche.  I have no idea what
role it has in the liturgy, but there you go, visual evidence.
My host and guide, Gokhan, with his son Batuhan

I'm not an expert on Orthodox ceremonies, so if anyone can weigh in and explain the photos I've taken or correct my terminology, by all means, do so.  

The crowd of pilgrims at the heart
of the monastery, with a view of
the mountains outside the walls
Pilgrims lighting candles
outside the monastery
The makeshift altar, framed
by the old frescoes on the walls
of the monastery buildings
The Ecumenical Patriarch holding a
crucifix aloft during the liturgy
Reading aloud at the altar
Clerics watching the ceremony and the
crowd.  No one's immune to technology!
One Russian pilgrim near me
Pilgrims kissed this icon after the ceremony
I'm not sure what the significance of this
cloth is, held over the Patriarch's head 
while he blesses (?) the communion wine.  
However, I saw a museum exhibition 
earlier this week that included a communion 
cloth from the 1600s - one presumes it's 
an important part of the liturgy!
Taking communion
Communion bread is distributed
through the crowd

Sadly, the frescoes have been badly damaged by years of neglect, harsh weather, and vandalism.  The next step in preserving the monastery is to repair the icons, paintings, and mosaics to their original state.

The decorated, damaged walls
Even with damages, the
frescoes are beautiful.
The vandalism is equal-opportunity: there are Turkish
names and Greek initials scratched into this fresco.  I
don't know who you people are, but I hope your
mother smacked you for this!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Two Degrees of Expatriate Life

Last night I met up someone (1) to talk about his process of joining the Foreign Service over beer.  He's the brother of a friend/contact (2) I met through work, and as it turns out, he (1) is a grad student in the same US program as one of my friends (3) from undergrad.  Afterwards, I went with him (1) to a friend's (4) apartment nearby for a small dinner get-together.  As it turns out, this friend (4) knows the intern (5) in my office very well, and the hostess' (4) roommate (6) knew my predecessor (7) at the Consulate.  To confuse things even more, one of the other guests (8) at the dinner is on the road to the FS, and his (8) fiancee (9) is a lawyer at one of the major corporations in town.  She (9) does business stuff by day, but pro bono legal work in my particular field of interest at work (minority community rights).

I love my life.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

It's Tenure Season!

Congratulations to my friends and colleagues who just got the magical stamp of approval from DC.  You're good enough, you're smart enough, and gosh darn it, the tenure board likes you!  You can't be fired now!  (Unless you do something really bad, like trade visas for gold bricks or sexual favors.)  Sorry about that no-more-overtime thing, though.  Hope your housing down payment has already been taken care of.

I missed the cutoff window for this season's tenure review by about 6 weeks, which is fine by me.  When the next one rolls around in the spring, I'll have 2 annual reviews (known as EERs) under my belt, which hopefully will be enough fodder for the Gods of Tenure.  Due to the nature of my assignments and training schedules, by the time I hit my three-year mark next month, I'll have spent 20 months in training at FSI, 14 months at post, and 2 months and change on home leave and R&R - not really enough time as an apprentice for DC to decide if I'm likely to cause a major cock-up in international relations.

So, since we are far away from EER season and my own tenure review, it seems appropriate to mention an article my mother sent me from NPR a few weeks ago: "Annual Job Review Is 'Total Baloney,' Expert Says."  While it's mainly geared for the private sector (the comments about bosses determining pay raises, for example, don't really apply to those on the GS or FS scale), the article says all the things we kvetch about during EER season.
  • Annual reviews "do not promote candid discussions about problems in the workplace."
  • Instead, workers under review (the rated employees, if you will) are only "going to talk about all their successes."
  • Most importantly... "Once you set up the metrics, that's the only focus for the employee... The problem with performance reviews is that the metric that counts most for the employee is the boss's opinion. So the employee starts doing what he or she thinks is going to score in the boss's mind, and not even talk about what he or she believes is necessary for the company to get the results that really matter."

Radical, revolutionary talk!  I have only been through one EER process, and let me tell you, it was god-awful.  I got happy-to-gladded to exhaustion, we nearly lost multiple versions of the draft in the archaic computer system we use for submitting the review, and then the final, hard copy got lost in the gaping maw of HR for a few months and didn't get to DC until long after I was into language training.  I can only imagine what the process will be like once I have a unique identity in the office, not just "one of nine entry-level officers* adjudicating visas."

The article helpfully provides a quiz to determine just how much you hate performance reviews.  (There may, perhaps, be a few slight biases in the question phraseology.)  I found the photos included in the test to be an accurate representation of what whelping an EER looks like...  and yet, my score shows that on the issue of annual reviews I am not decisive enough (which probably violates one of the 13 precepts, or the 6 core values, or the 11 tenets of holiness, or the 15 inalienable rights, or something): "You are torn. You want to be a team player, you really do. But the rules just seem so stupid."

Don't get me wrong.  I know the ratings and promotions bureaucracy would be just as frustrating in any other large organization.  And, when my review comes around in May, I'll be just as eager to sip the Flavor Aid and use the same style and key phrases that everyone else does.  Still, there's no reason not to take a humorous look at the entire ordeal when we have the chance.  And, to close on a positive note, here are words of wisdom from someone who just served on a promotion panel.  As my boss would say, read and obey!

*Which brings me to another point: will someone kindly pick an acronym for us novices and stick with it?  When I first came in, we were Junior Officers (JOs), but that was found to be demeaning by a pointy-haired type somewhere, so we then became Entry-Level Officers (ELOs).  I feared being confused with "the English guys with the big fiddles," so I was relieved when we were re-reborn as First- and Second-Tour officers (FAST officers).  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How Not to Unpack Your HHE

So my HHE has been sitting around since its arrival 10 days ago, waiting to be stored in nooks and crannies.  "Love me, unpack me and put me in my own special drawer!" each box seemed to cry.  Realizing that there was just too much to attack in hour-long increments in the evenings after work, I decided that last weekend would be the best time to devote to figuring out where to put all of my stuff.  And it's a lot - some things I never bothered to unpack in Riyadh (winter coats, long-sleeved shirts, extra linens), so many of these boxes I haven't seen since I graduated in 2007 (age alert!!).  On Saturday, I channeled the spirit of General Pickett and attacked the piles of mess head-on, with about as much success as he had.  The piles of crap sustained significant damage, but any semblance of victory on my part is Pyrrhic, as I dropped a shelf from a chest-of-drawers on my left foot and broke a bone.

The plus side: The break isn't serious enough to require a cast or even a boot; just careful handling and icing for a few weeks.  An excuse to wear "business casual" at work for a week or two (khakis and tennis shoes, hellooooo comfort).  An excuse to get out of heavy lifting in the office for a while - this certainly preempts me from organizing the 4th of July event for 2011, right?  Acquiring amusing nicknames, like Gimpy and Peg Leg.

The minus side: I broke a freaking bone!  Not badly, but still.  Being the neurotic planner that I am (as my coworkers can attest) I'm looking three decades in the future and seeing horrific, crippling arthritis in my left foot.

Oh well.  It could have been a lot worse.  Plus, today I got final approval from our budget people to go to this event this weekend, which is totally awesome.  (Scaling the cliff face will be fun with the foot, but I'll burn that bridge when I get to it.)

Friday, August 06, 2010

Kolbi and Shannon Have Their Toe Shoes...

...but I have the power of Google Reader!

I came in from a briefing this morning to find everyone in my office crowded around one computer screen.  As I walked in, they all simultaneously turned around and froze when they saw me.  Clearly, there were shenanigans going on here.  Turns out, everyone was reading this blog.  So, to all my coworkers in the office, stop slacking off on a Friday!

After everyone dispersed, I kept talking to my cubiclemate, who asked how I keep up with so many blogs.  When I started describing Google Reader, her interest grew...  and then I showed her how to set up her own feed.  For the record, this is the fifth person I have converted to using Google Reader, including my own sainted mother.  The Google Reader hegemony grows!  (Though not as fast as the toe shoe invasion.)

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Accents and Insecurities

Recently I've had a number of conversations with coworkers and friends about accents, specifically my perceived lack of a Southern accent.  (Before I continue, let me say to those who took part in the conversations and who may also read this: I'm not mad, and don't feel awkward about this!  I just think it's an interesting issue I want to explore more.)  Maybe it's because I've met more people in the past few months than I do on my normal timeline, but several have said something to the effect of, "Wow, you're from Arkansas, but you don't sound like it!  How'd that happen?"  Now I've never been one to limit my own Arkansas-bashing.  I'm glad I grew up there, I wouldn't change that fact for all the world, but I'm also very glad I no longer live there.  To me, home is people, not a place, and the fact that there's no (relevant and interesting) job I could find in Arkansas or Memphis makes me even less likely to call it home anymore.  Still, I get a little defensive when people make assumptions or judgements I perceive to be class-based, region-based, or accent-based.

I know that, as a white person who grew up in relative wealth compared to the sharecroppers on our farm, I am and have been incredibly privileged in my life.  I went to college mostly for free, and got an advanced degree in the process.  I'm employed, and I support myself.  These are all Good Things, and it's pretty hard to find a way to belittle someone for them.  The most obvious position on which someone could discriminate against me, gender identity, is one I actually welcome: I enjoy verbally and professionally eviscerating anyone who assumes that my particular set of genitalia means I'm inferior.

So maybe regional identity is the only place where I feel my armor is weak, the only thing I'm sensitive about.  And that's true - I do feel that being labelled as a Southerner can be detrimental.  I purposely started trying to drop my accent when I was a teenager, because I was afraid of the impression it could give people.  I have friends from college who were also from the South, and many felt the same way that I did: it's okay for people to assume that our accents mean we're stupid or bigoted.  Not everyone has those assumptions, of course, but enough do that it's better to be safe than labelled a redneck.

And maybe that's just it: even though I want to believe otherwise, I've internalized the concept that your accent indicates your socioeconomic class, your respectability.  Even though many people I love have Southern accents (some quite strong), I still look down on those accents in a certain way, because I don't want to be perceived as being what those accents mean to me.

Next-day post script: At lunch today I had a conversation with coworkers, including the one who'd asked me the question yesterday, about accents and the social codings they carry.  It was really interesting, and no one was upset by my defensiveness.  The conversation meandered into other region-based stereotypes and how we have to deal with the ideas that exist in the world about our homes.  Interesting stuff, all in all, and I feel better for having had the conversation with people.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Best Weekend Ever

So my friend Regan is in town for ten days, on vacation from her stressful job in Doha.  It's only natural that she should crash with me, as I used her couch in Bahrain as my escape from Riyadh on more than one occasion.  This weekend, we had basically the best time ever, under perfect blue skies and weather that wasn't too hot or humid.

My HHE arrived on Friday - 3000 pounds of stuff from Riyadh and DC, including my books, throw pillows, artwork, and all the other stuff that makes me feel at home.  After unpacking it all and deciding to leave the real work for later, we went to a brief happy hour with coworkers, then spent the rest of the evening sitting by the Bosphorus in my favorite neighborhood in the city, smoking and nibbling on cheese plates under the stars. On Saturday, we set out for a day in the Grand Bazaar, where we sipped tea with merchants, negotiated better prices for jewelry, and in the star attraction of the weekend, spent three hours chatting with an antiques dealer I know about history, life, and politics.  We walked out of the store a little poorer but much happier for the experience.  Like any good salesman, he knew how to read his customers, and he found the perfect prizes for us among his piles of copper, brass, and iron wares.  We were worn out afterwards, so nothing would do but a Turkish bath and a massage, followed by dinner on the Hippodrome.

Sunday brought us to Taksim Square and Istiklal Avenue, from which we wandered to Galata Tower by way of a number of small specialty shops on the side streets.  After buying homemade soap and hitting a wine cellar for samples, we hopped on a ferry to Asia for dinner, going to one of my favorite places that does Turkish food simply and very well.  We returned to the old city as the sun set, and we got to the roof of a hotel overlooking Ayasofya just in time to get a bottle of wine to sip as the evening call to prayer sounded.

The perfect weekend, yes?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Day in the Life

When I was in Pol/Econ training, one of the sessions involved us discussing the daily schedules of FSOs who had taken the class previously and who were settling into their routines in their first reporting position.  I found it immensely useful; I had few expectations going into this position, and this exercise gave me a better idea about what my days would likely look like.

Now that I've been in my job about two months, I've developed my own routine.  I'm a reporting officer - that means I collect information and report it.  I get this information from a variety of sources: media reports, asking my contacts questions via phone or email, visiting sites to see with my own eyes what's happening, and meeting one-on-one with people who know what I need to know.  The exact mixture depends on what information I need, where my contacts are, and how much time I have in my schedule - the Consulate is located in the northern suburbs of Istanbul, and it's a hike to get to wherever my contacts are located.  When I do go out for meetings, the best way to get information, I try to schedule two or three meetings back-to-back.  Otherwise, if you figure 45 minutes of transit to the meeting, an hour for one meeting, and an hour back (rush "hour" starts at about 3 PM), I've completely shot my afternoon.  Moreover, it doesn't make sense to return to the Consulate for any meetings that start after 3 PM, unless I'm planning on staying at my desk until sundown.

It's not hard to find people to meet with.  I'm blessed to be in a city and a country where activists, religious leaders, and NGO staff want to meet with US diplomats - that's not always the case.  So when I set up meetings for Thursday afternoon this week, I didn't really think about the logic of the ordering, I just contacted someone I've been meaning to meet for a few weeks and someone else who was only going to be in Istanbul for two days.  It was only after I returned home that I realized the bizarre juxtaposition I'd created.  First I met with an activist affiliated with the Istanbul gay rights group on a balcony in their office, a top-floor apartment at the back of an alley, off another alley in the heart of modern Istanbul.  After that, I dashed off to the Four Seasons next to Ayasofya to have coffee with the lay leadership of the American branch of a Turkish church.  At one meeting we talked about gender reassignment surgeries, legal challenges, pride marches, and hate crimes in the 100-degree heat; at the other I sat by a tinkling fountain and sipped expensive tea with movers and shakers, discussing religious freedom, property disputes, and EU accession.

Superficially, the two meetings have little to do with each other.  Their political and religious positions couldn't be much different.  However, at a deeper level, my interest (and the US government's interest) in these groups is the same: we support the rights of these two groups, others like them, and many more not so like them, to operate in freedom and in peace, without harassment, and with the legal protection to operate freely.  We dedicate a significant amount of resources worldwide to human rights, and for most reporting officers this is the first portfolio they ever cover.  I don't cover the "prestigious" issues - the political heavyweights, the business leaders, the prominent authors and journalists and academics.  What I cover now is actually more interesting to me...  the people fighting at the grassroots level for their rights, the organizations that help the poor, the illiterate, the refugees, and the discriminated against, and the community and religious leaders who stand up to incredible pressure and lead their communities in modern Turkey.  And I love every minute of it.

If It's Friday...

...it must mean that it's time for the Roundup!  And if it's Saturday before anything's posted, it must mean I'm running late on my publishing obligations again!

Fi
rst, the news from here.  When you last heard from me, I was nursing a fabulous new bruise.  It's STILL HERE.  What can I say, I have skills!  Also, I'd like to thank the three State blog community people who've emailed back and forth with me this week.  This is a true community, never mind just how many time zones we live in - which you can help out by signing up to host a Roundup later in the summer.  Also, Digger has put out a call for updated links - if you know of a new blog or an updated address, let her know!  And now, on to the Roundup!  I tallied about 250 posts over the past 8 days - well done, y'all!

Al
l State people do the same thing when they get together outside of working hours...  they talk about work.  Constantly.  To the persistent annoyance of everyone around them.  So hey, why shouldn't we talk about work on our blogs too?  DS talks about the interagency process, MLC also talks about the joys of ACS as well as Ali, who works outside every Embassy and Consulate, Bridget describes the best Consular Leadership Day (as long as you don't fall in), Quirksalight gives a lesson learned for airport runs (which is totally true - I still have scars on my feet from a POTUS visit in 2009), I'll Take Mine to Go! has found the perfect chair for work, and Keith talks about some small decision that may or may not affect other people.  More seriously, MLC and DS talk about the serious threats facing not only diplomatic staff but those who come to our posts as visitors.

Ano
ther favorite topic of Statesians is language training, assignments, and the groundhog day quality of FSI life.  Kitty Non Grata had a click moment in Khmer (and thank all that is holy my language instructors didn't inflict a drill like that on us), Gia was assigned to Abuja, Heather got a new assignment to Damascus, Devon FINALLY got assigned to Brussels, Adam is going to the exotic hardship post of London, BFiles is content with her non-assignment, Denise visited the pincushion clinic at FSI, and Ren offers a list of other job options if State's just not cool enough for you.  It's not an FS blog, but I'd like to offer this poem as an ode to our collective language struggles. 

We also kvetch about moving.  Man, do we hate it.  In fact, I'm fairly certain that if some alien society based its impressions of Earth on our blogs, they'd be convinced we spend our entire lives in boxes, hotels, and planes.  (Which might not be that far from the truth, come to think of it.)  Laila's super-stressed about leaving for her first assignment, Short Term Memory has been driven to poetic insanity after packout, Brooke is enviably free of crap to tote across oceans, Ben has adjustment issues, Dave has single-handedly propped up the economy this month, David has made it to his new digs in Hermosillo, the Richardsons survived packout in Serbia (as did their horde of movers!), Z. Marie shows what post housing looks like in Milan, Digger notes that Beirut is a hardship assignment only if you're not from Jersey, and Elise realizes the hardest part about moving season.

I thin
k we all blog with the secret desire to make everyone at home jealous.  (Or maybe that's just me.) Nonetheless, what's the fun of blogging if you can't brag about the cool things you experience?  Gerald talks about an old-fashioned but functional naval vessal, Emily sees grape-flavored sheep, Al analyzes customer service overseas, Kitty Non Grata highlights Marines who save kittens (I want the Marine in the first picture to come work as a guard at MY consulate!), Helen doesn't so much make us jealous as makes us remember our first faux pas overseas, Kim continues documenting the sights of Istanbul, Jonathan describes the joys of summer in Saudi Arabia, Sarah talks about the perfect FS gift, Larry has basically the best evening EVER, Judie experiences the joy of never-ending strawberry season, Al goes cavetubing, Sass and Sweet teaches us how to speak Canadian in three volumes, and Matt continues his series of Afghan Dudes on Bikes and also shows what one hopes post housing DOESN'T look like.
 
Of 
course, family's the most important thing overseas, which is why Jill's post and the Dinoia family post are so heartbreaking.  Just because it's something many people go through in this career doesn't make it any easier - my thoughts are with you both, and everyone else in your situation.  Linsey just lost her grandmother, who sounds like she lived a full, happy life where she was surrounded by her loved ones.  Sarah gives marriage advice (and note that her blog has moved), Modest Muse has a dancing baby, Stephanie's husband better get home soon, and A Daring Adventure's older son is now an older EAGLE SCOUT son.  However, for one unnamed ambassador, family evidently wasn't that important, may he be forever tormented by screeching trolls who attack his feet with pointy sticks.

And tha
t's it for this week!  Thanks to Melissa for hosting next week, but after that there's NO ONE ON THE CALENDAR!  Not that I'm trying to guilt trip you into hosting...  but you really should consider hosting.  Have a good week, everyone, and write prolifically!  

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Weekly(ish) State Blog Roundup!

So here I am, laying in bed with an ice pack under my ass on a foggy, rainy Saturday in Istanbul.  The reason I'm in bed is the same reason why I didn't write the update last night - humpty hannah took a great fall down some granite stairs in the rain.  I'm fine, other than the chagrined ego and a massive (and apparently still growing) bruise on my hip.  Luckily I have long since lost whatever dignity I once may have had, so no damage there.  So!  Let's get this roundup on the road!

I've got two weeks to cover, going back to around 27 June, and can I just say, y'all are some prolific writers.  By the rough estimates of Google Reader, I accumulated over 500 posts from just over 250 FS blogs on my list.  Well done, guys!  When I first joined in 2007, I only remember maybe 15 people who blogged, but that was because we didn't know who else was doing it.  I'm glad we're coming together here!

First of all, because I can, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Turkish police and our own Turkish employees who protect Consulate General Istanbul.  Yesterday was the 2nd anniversary of the attacks on the Consulate, in which three Turkish policemen were killed defending our facility and the people inside.  I said it before, and I'll say it again - never take your safety overseas for granted.  When you get the opportunity (may I suggest Monday morning?), thank the people who might face danger on the job so you don't have to.  In that vein, TSB posts that there has been an arrest in the case of the Consulate General Ciudad Juarez employee and community members who were murdered in March.  May justice be done.

Moving on to more lighthearted topics, it appears that it was the 4th of July this week.  And as always Independence Day, the Holiday that Wasn't for FS folks, brought another fun night of networking, huge crowds, finger food of questionable quality, and speechifying.  Here's the SitRep from Michele times two, A Daring Adventure, DS, Jodi, Worldwide Available, Sara, Ryan, Stephanie, Digger, Matt, me, modestmuse times two, Jill, Melissa, Daniela, Elise, Kitty Non Grata, Chris, Esac, Al, Katie, and Matt.  Whew!

As for more general holiday enjoyment...  it's summer, which means people are on R&R or home leave or are just enjoying their posts in the lovely weather, which means we have lots and lots of photo spreads and vacation tales.  Dave appears to be convinced that America's Hat has its own holiday too, the Dinoias go to my favorite vacation spot in the country (yay ponies!), Abbey calls a beagle summit (more successful than Copenhagen!) but the beagle flotilla plans don't appear to be successful, Bridget visits the tourist sites of Shenyang, Micah has THE CUTEST PHOTOS EVER of his kids with his grandmother, the Richardsons tour South Serbia, Connie and family revel in their geekiness, Kim visits two of my favorite neighborhoods in Istanbul and takes way better photos than I could [Note to my family - read her blog for photos, it will be much more useful to you than this one!], A Daring Adventure went to Great Falls and presumably had on her special hiking shoes (which Kitty Non Grata saw!), the Monestels carried out the coolest volunteer work I've ever heard of, Al was a great adventurer in West Belize, Sara's Addie has the best summertime outfit ever, and Barry & Jess have the most awesome little girl ever.  The Schutz family offers to us one of the best, cheerful videos you'll ever watch about travel overseas.  Unfortunately, as I live in Turkey and YouTube is blocked, I'll just have to remember how much I like it.

Often bizarre things happen at post - it's just part of FS life that you don't have to go far away to see something exotic.  For example, Bryn has documented the roads in her neighborhood slowly washing away, Fawda Munathama explains why Sam Waterston or Aaron Sorkin won't be making stories about us anytime soon, Jeff has a question for trailing male spouses out there, AKB has one hell of a first day at work, TSB talks about Mexighanistan and offers a soundtrack, At Post has a photo of plumbing in Malaysia (and a plea for Facebook likes here), The Uncommon Life talks about the good and the less good of Seoul, and Emily writes the most amazingly cute/sad story about her son's first birthday (I would have eaten the cake, Emily!).  The strange food subsection: Sara's not brave enough to eat off this cart, and AKB has some awesome photos of delicious, tasty roasted meat.

Of course, our community isn't just people who are already at post - it's people waiting to join and people in training at FSI, too.  Mr. Crab reminds everyone that they can't talk about what's on the FS entrance exams, Devon is currently vacationing in Assignments Hell, FSO Hopeful is more than welcome to join my office as a reporting officer or as a bodyguard, Destinaish Unknown passed the FSOT, Andy discovers the joys of buying a car in DC, Yellow Flower got her first assignment in to New Zealand, Bfiles passed her Spanish exam for the points bump-up but is now in a new and improved bureaucratic limbo hell, Andy is taking the oral exam on 2 September, Valdysses got added to the PD register, Chris talks about the new batch of rosy-cheeked, dewy-eyed Facilities Managers, FSO Wannabe is brushing up her Japanese again so she can try for the points bump in the register, Kitty Non Grata hasn't a clue when she'll leave for post, the Letvins are back online again, Eve is a little stressed about the idea of taking Portuguese, Brian has some pointers for things to include in the FSI language curricula, and Melissa has finally internalized that she's about to join State.  In the complete opposite of Melissa, Masha talks about why she decided to leave State.  Definitely worth the click through.

And on the ever-popular theme of moving...  Kendra's family's passports will travel in style, David might STILL be packing out, the Noble Glomads have tips on finding out details about your house's furniture, and best of all, Jamie came home!!

Things we deal with at work:  NP Worldview talks about the overuse of antibiotics, Bill at Diplomatic Incidents DOESN'T talk about work, Ren has an idea for all of you PAS folk out there and also questions the received wisdom on who can be a PD officer, Phebevenus talks about a day in the life of a desk officer as well as the amusing quirks of HST, DS wonders what happened to the AFSA elections and describes the joys of being a diplomat in London (hint: you're scolded in papers),  FSO Wannabe is so not thrilled with our new budget, Alex learns that no one listens to him (he may have had more to say, but I only read the first paragraph!), AKB explains Murphy's Law of Illness and its corollary, the Visa Interview and Section Staffing Lemma of Sickness, Daniel describes working the G8 conference in another one of his awesome descriptions of working big events, Mark visits a Yazidi temple and northern Ninewa as part of his job, Matt goes to Herat, and Valdysses points out that perhaps life at State is a little different than it used to be.  [Morning update: upon rereading the document, I'm not so sure that much has changed...]

Consular specific stuff (because let's face it, it's way interesting): MLC talks about the sensitivities of international adoption, I talked about how your visa decisions can come back to haunt you (prompted by this fantastic MLC grab-bag post), learning about conducting IV interviews makes Hoyzhou reminisce about being on the other side of the window, Broadnax doesn't specifically allude to consular work, but this post about how we make decisions seemed nonetheless very applicable to the issue, Abbie and Matt get encouragement from a conversation with a former visa applicant, DS wonders why a first-tour officer would go to Gambia and is all over the new social media regs, Gerald sees a lost passport case and wonders what will become of the person, Broadnax discusses immigration and the US labor market, and AKB talks about how visas mean way more to non-Americans than they do to us.

State advice column - your requests for help and suggestions that will make someone's life easier.  Super Mario Diplomacy tells you how to watch Hulu overseas (but no instructions for the Mac version of Chrome, I see...  you're on notice, SMD!), Donna explains the difference between vacation and R&R, Ryan explains where Mexico stops and the US begins, Al is looking for help from those who are good at Facebook, and Emily offers instructions on how to use Google for those who haven't quite caught on yet.

Whew!  We made it through another Roundup.  You can leave any corrections, suggestions, rants, additions, or creepy messages in the comments, and I'll get to them when I wake up in the morning - it's now 2.30 AM in Istanbul, and I need to sleep.

Next week doesn't have an editor yet - I promise that you do not want to saddle poor Melissa with editing two weeks of posts, right before her A-100 starts!  So get yourself over to the calendar and sign up!  Thanks for stopping by!