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!