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


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?