Saturday, December 31, 2011

A House Full of Happy

My sister Julie's visiting, Eric got home two days ago from the States, and life is, in general, pretty wonderful.  2011 has been good to me!  Happy new year, everyone!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Where Did I Come From?

It's not a metaphysical question - it's one I'm faced with every time I double down in the kitchen to cook dinner for me and a group of friends.  My mother, who it must be said is an excellent cook herself, nonetheless absolutely hates any activity reminiscent of cooking.  When my childhood home was being renovated, she tried to convince my father to turn the kitchen into a library (it had great south-facing windows and got lots of light) and to put a small wet bar at the end of our den.  "What more do we need," she asked.  "Mini-fridge, microwave, and a small freezer.  That's perfect!"  Needless to say, I didn't get a lot of practice cooking when I was growing up.  Moving to a boarding school at age 16 just compounded the matter - four years in a dorm, followed by two years as a broke-ass, stressed-out grad student did not do wonders for my cooking skills.  And in Saudi, I was too tired at the end of the day to make myself dinner - after three months of eating once a day in the embassy cafeteria and consequently losing 30 pounds, I finally paid someone to cook me a week's worth of meals every Monday so that I wouldn't starve (further).  

So my mom and the rest of my family view my recently acquired interest in cooking with confusion and no small amount of suspicion.  I'm not sure what caused it - perhaps the realization that Indian food is nearly impossible to find in Istanbul, perhaps finding plentiful and cheap produce right outside my door.  Maybe it was an attempt to impress Eric, or maybe I was trying to channel my aunt Gail and keep the baking traditions alive.  Whatever the cause, I like being able to make something that people want seconds and thirds of.  I find some small bit of zen satisfaction in slicing up onions and ginger and tomatoes after a stressful day at work.  I've gotten to the point where I don't always feel hidebound by recipes: I add spices that I think will go well with something, or I fiddle with the amounts listed to suit my tastes.  I'm not quite ready to create my own recipes, and I still need a few friends to whom I can direct all cooking questions.  (Aside: one should always have a friend who is willing to look over the recipes you find and tell you how to improve them.  Recipes in magazines can always be improved by someone with a master's touch.)  But last night, I posted my first recipe onto a website affiliated with a community website I use, and having noticed a sad lack of Arab and Turkish dishes on there, I think I can tell what my contribution to the site will be.

At the end of the day, no matter how much I confuse my family, I've noticed that they ask for seconds when I cook dinner for them.  That's a compliment I'll take to heart!

Friday, December 09, 2011

Home Alone

Eric's back in the States for a few weeks visiting his family.  This will be the longest I've gone without seeing him since March, when I went on R&R.  I have a friend staying with me this week, but he's out dancing, and I'm at home because I'm still fighting off strep throat.

So I spent the evening catching up on Google Reader (apparently I've read 1800+ items in the last 24 hours), contemplating Christmas presents for friends (Turkish coffee and spices, I think), and reading (Hunger Games trilogy, again).  It's eerily quiet in this house - even the cats are passed out asleep.

What to do with my three weeks of empty nesting?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From the Halls of Montezuma... the shores of Tripoli, my next assignment!  I'll sing extra loud at the Marine Ball this weekend.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Call You Never Want To Receive

"There's been an earthquake," my Adana colleague told me. We'd just spent a weekend in Diyarbakir celebrating the reconsecration of a large Armenian church in the heart of the old city. Eric and I had said goodbye to our colleagues and friends, and we planned to stay a few hours later to explore the heart of old Diyarbakir, huddled inside massive, grim basalt walls. We were debating which city gate we'd just passed when my phone rang.

Initially reported as 6.6-7.2 in size, the quake struck twenty miles from the Van city center, which I visited a year ago and which I was planning to visit again with Eric in the next few months. My heart froze when I heard the news - not two hours before I'd said goodbye to a large group of tourists who were travelling by bus to Van.

I'd had dinner with them the night before, telling stories over raki and the dry local wines. One person insisted that I learn Kurdish, offering to have his cousin in Istanbul teach me. Another spoke jouyously about visiting his grandparents' village near Van, the first person in his family to come to Turkey in nearly 100 years. We talked about the future, the past, and what those words mean in Turkey. We parted as old friends, promising to share photos from the weekend with each other and to meet up in Istanbul soon. And now this.

Luckily for them, the bus got nowhere near the earthquake zone. However, as I write this, the overnight death toll in Van topped 200, with many more expected. Buildings in the center of town have collapsed, including probably the hotel where I stayed a year ago. I wonder about the hotel owner, a cheerful man who took me and my colleagues on a guided hike of the Van castle, charming the guards into letting us in to the places that were closed to the public.
Tragedy can strike anywhere, and it's a tragedy whenever a life is lost.  I grieve for the city of Van and its neighbors, who lost so many and so much yesterday.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Worst Mother Ever

I just ran my kitten (by accident!!) through the dishwasher for 90 seconds.

Motherhood privileges: revoked.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Updated Reading List

456 FS-y blogs, in various states of update and State membership.

I Am Terrified of Bidding

I'm still months away from the opening of bidding season, but I.  Am.  Terrified.


I've looked through the Middle East bureau's projected vacancies for the next five years and convinced myself that I qualify for none of them, unless I want to do visa work in Dhahran (again) or manage the motor pool in Sanaa.  Not gonna lie, y'all, neither of those positions or countries are any place to which I ever want to return.  The awesome jobs I dreamed about in Beirut, Damascus, and Dubai?  They don't appear to be open until sometime in 2014.  

Let's leave aside even the positions: for my third tour, I have to lobby for assignments.  It was so much easier when I gave some faceless bureaucrats a list of my top twenty choices and they picked for me.  How in the hell am I going to convince a bunch of faceless bureaucrats to love me enough not to send me to Ethniklashistan?  And even if I do get to Ethniklashistan, I will have to get there either 5 months before my tour in Istanbul ends or in three years - there doesn't appear to be anything available in between those arrival times.

I'm not the only one panicking.  This week I've walked up to four colleagues' desks and caught them all looking at FS Bid (the bidding "tool" through which we allegedly are able to find gainful employment) or printouts of available positions.  I've gotten emails from a billion people who evidently think they have enough wasta to get a post in Istanbul...  meanwhile, I'm counting my chits and hoping enough people tolerate me that I can get to Khartoum and not Juba, or Monterrey instead of Juarez.

Oh dear god.  I am so scared - and the bid list doesn't even officially come out for another two months.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Oh Dear God, I Am So Sorry

I have a few things about which I'm quirkily passionate.  Offering advice and information to people considering joining the Foreign Service is one of them.  I correspond with a bunch of current and former students at my university to talk about working at State, and I'm happy to see that a number of them are interning with State now or taking the Foreign Service Officer Test, the computerized exam that replaced the written test I took in 2006.  I also oversee offering the FSOT here in Istanbul - February was the first time it's been offered here since the new test was rolled out, and this month we have 14 people taking the exam here in three separate testing windows.  However, I'm sitting at home biting my nails today, because Eric (the aforementioned MOH) is taking the exam today.  It doesn't really look good for me to proctor the exam that my official, 3 FAM sanctioned partner is taking, y'know?

Evidently there's been a complete technological freakout on the part of the online testing system.  My friends who are proctoring (benevolent, generous souls that they are) have been sending me panicky texts and emails for two hours about the problems that Istanbul and evidently a few other posts have experienced today.  Apparently they just got things going, but I feel so bad for Eric and the other people testing today!  What a nightmare of a start to a rather weighty exam.

Eric mentioned that he wanted to go out for a beer with the test-takers afterwards, because he'd done that with his fellow examinees in Berlin last summer and thought it was a good experience.  I kind of want to buy them all a round or two of drinks after this.

Update, 5 June: I did take them out for a round of beer after the exam, and I ended up bringing a kitten home from the bar in my purse.  One way or the other, we won't forget this FSOT experience!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

How to Be Romantic at State

Hey guys, how's it been?  It's been like a month, yeah?  I could offer lame reasons for why I haven't written, but who cares, right?  Excuses are like noses...  we all have them, and they all smell.  (Do you see how cleverly I made that G-rated?)

So how about some good news, eh?  Throughout the course of recent months, it's become more and more apparent that Eric and I get along well.  So well, in fact, that his roommate Serdar didn't see him for a few weeks at a time.  And this summer, Eric is interning at the Consulate, which is A) far closer to where I live than where he lives and B) easy to reach if he commutes with me every day.  In the interest of full disclosure, Eric applied for this internship before I ever met him, and he was selected as an intern before anyone in that section knew we were dating.  Also, he's not in my section.  Enough caveats?  Probably not, because with the advent of Eric sort of staying here permanently (toothbrush, suits, and all the books for his thesis are in this apartment), I started to feel a little panicky.  Like any good bureaucrat, I realized that I hadn't filed enough paperwork to make his almost-living-with-me status legit.

I'd like to say that I did something really romantic here, but I just emailed Eric from work and asked, "Wanna be my MOH?"  Now, for people in State, that's your cue to say, "Awwwww!"  For the rest of you sane people out there, let me offer you the definition of an MOH as laid out in the Foreign Affairs Manual (exact citation 3 FAM 7121):

Member of household (MOH):  An individual who accompanies a sponsoring employee, i.e., a direct-hire Foreign Service, Civil Service, or uniformed service member who is permanently assigned to or stationed abroad at a U.S. mission, or at an office of the American Institute in Taiwan, and who is under chief of mission authority.  An MOH is: 

(1) Not an EFM; and 
(2) Not on the travel orders or approved Form OF-126, Foreign Service Residence and Dependency Report, of the sponsoring employee; and 
(3) Officially declared by the sponsoring U.S. Government employee to the COM as part of his or her household. 

An MOH may be a parent, unmarried partner, or other relative or adult child who falls outside the Department’s current definition of eligible family member.  An MOH may or may not be a U.S. citizen.

The memo's been filed through security, management, and protocol in Istanbul and Ankara, and the Ambassador signed off on it today.  So there you have it: Eric's officially an acronym!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Hey Y'all, It's Round Up Tiiiiime!

I've been a grump this week - snappish at work due to short staffing and lots of visits, one minor crying fit over trying to find work-appropriate clothing in Turkey, and stress from worrying about family in the States.  I started a number of blog posts, but just couldn't finish them - when I'm in a bad mood, it affects my writing, and I try not to bum others out unnecessarily.  (I offer my apologies to the Turkey Desk, who's had to suffer through my doom-and-gloom cables of late.)  So last night, when I came home to find Eric greeting me at the door with a fresh smoothie and several episodes of Arrested Development queued up, happy time took precedence over the Round Up.  My apologies!!

I'm pretty sure all of the Flag Day announcements from 29 April were too late to make it in last week's Round Up, so let me say congratulations to everyone on their posts!  Alex at Travel Orders has an awesome retrospective on Flag Day posts over the last several months, which I think is awesome - I'll mine it for unknown blogs later today.

The biggest news of the last 7 days, of course, is the announcement of Usama bin Laden's death.  I'm considering writing my own "where were you when..." post about it - but then again, I may not.  I have my own experiences to share, but I find Dani's account at Hot Pot to be the most moving of the FS accounts I've read, though TSB's post hits on the mood of a lot of the other responses.

KNG mentions an interesting phenomenon for a certain segment of us: the SXF (single x female) on the dating market.  I remember in my A-100 all of us unmarried women crowding around one of our course coordinators at the Woods who'd told us that she was also single when she joined State.  I think we all lived in fear of not finding The One because of our overseas adventures - though 3.5 years in, we seem to be doing pretty well for ourselves.  What have other people's adventures in overseas relationships been like?  Diplopundit highlights the experience of Ambassador Ranneberger in Kenya - so sweet!

A few sights and experiences from those of us at post - Adrian explains parking in Wellington, Erin finally comes to terms with being pastey white (from one melanin-free person to another, high five!!), and Pryor Adventures celebrates a new-found attitude of relaxation with a Laotian beer.  The Ogles get their Easter on in Recife with massive chocolate eggs and a visit to a beautiful basilica nearby, while Sara and family enjoy a relaxed Easter week in Costa Rica.

Special thanks to my friend Emily, who keeps me up-to-date when new blogs come onto the FS screen.  Check back here later for an updated Google Reader feed.

That's it for this week, folks!  It's a sunny day in Istanbul, for the first time in ten days.  Come to think of it, that might be part of the reason why I've been such a grump of late.  I think I'm going to grab my camera and head out into the springtime sun.  Have a great weekend!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Start of Tourist Season, Plus Other Housekeeping Notes

Happy Paskalya, Pesach, Mevlid, and Armenian Remembrance Day - lucky me, all of them overlap this year, which makes Mission Turkey's religious issues reporting officer a wee bit busy.

My mother and friend Katelyn came to visit me for two weeks earlier in the month (after postponing her planned trip in November), which was amazing. Some members of our extended family have been having health issues for the last few months, so the fact that my mother was able to leave for two weeks of vacation was a minor miracle in and of itself.  I took a week off work and played the role of a tourist with them for a few days - it was a lot of fun to see things that I'd been waiting to visit until she came to town.

Right now Jess, one of my dear friends from Riyadh, is visiting me with some of her friends from high school.  Jess currently works at our embassy in Cyprus, which means that she can't fly directly from Nicosia to Turkey - hence why we haven't seen each other that much in the last year, despite the fact that our posts are geographically very close to each other.

After Jess leaves on Thursday, I've got more guests coming throughout the month of May to stay with me, including (gulp) Eric's parents.  I can definitely tell that high tourism season has begun!  (So much that the person who manages our housing pool at the Consulate sent me a very polite email asking why my apartment's utility usage is so much higher than the building average.   It turns out if you have four to five people staying in an apartment that normally only has one resident you use more electricity and water.  Who knew?)

Thanks to you all who've sent me blog links to be included in the blog bundle - updated here, with a new total of 408.  Theresa at subjectverbobject wins the prize for being the 400th blog to go on the list.  Hurrah for you!  (Even if I do prefer VSO languages.)

More posting to follow this week - lots of photos and stories to share, including seeing dolphins in the Sea of Marmara, diabetes-inducing pictures of me and Eric, and the various Easter ceremonies I've attended in the last few days as part of my job responsibilities.  But right now, Beej and I are enjoying a quiet moment between cable drafting and cooking dinner.  Priorities, people - a snuggly kitty is always more important than the internet!  (Unless he's amusingly captioned.)

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Happy Birthday to Me! (ish)

Last 27 March, I took my blog public for the first time.  And I just noticed, this is my 200th post since I started the blog in 2007, right after I got the call to join the 136th A-100.

Sorry for the radio silence since I've returned - and yes, I did get my bags back from United, finally.  I won't go into the details, but Turkish politics have gotten a bit interesting of late...  which has kept me busy at work.  But the best news...  my mom and my best friend Katelyn are coming to see me next week!!!  Trees and flowers are just starting to bloom now, so I'm hoping it will be pretty for their arrival.  (And, more importantly, not cold and rainy like today.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Back in Turkey

Hey United Airlines - you suck.  Thanks for not knowing where my luggage is AFTER you screwed me out of $200.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

FS Blog Roundup - Hey, It's Almost Spring!

Welcome back to the FS blog roundup!  This week's edition is free-style (no set theme for posting), which is good, because if I had to pick a theme after the fact, I'd say "disaster" would be the overriding sentiment from the field.  It's been a rough week everywhere - so let's start our weekend off with a collective "oy vey" and hope for improvements next week.

First up!  Requests from the peanut gallery.  3rdculturechildren offers us a view of Carnaval in Recife, Brazil.  Stephanie offers us some cute and not-so-cute bugs, and Nomads by Nature has her own set of bug problems.  The Ogles are frankly having too much fun on the beach in Brazil, making me long for the official end of winter this weekend.  Sadie's missing lacrosse in Saudi, Spectrummy Mummy's a daring escape artist, Shannon needs a vacation STAT, Ed describes the growing pains of a village becoming a city, and Connie has a very colorful St. Patty's Day celebration with her family!  (Her Guinness bread recipe is here.)

Now, those are all fine and well...  but having had the first time in months to read through ALL of my accumulated posts, I want to highlight some of the other things I've read while I've been on sweet, glorious, relaxing vacation for the last two weeks.

Heeeyy, we just had a flag day and a new A-100 class starting!  Diplochick is, I suspect, working on her routine for the Follies.  Caitlin's cat has predicted a first assignment in Africa, and the Maguires are going to Lesotho for their first assignment.  Going Global has the bad news that there will be no May A-100 class.  The Career Diplomat has that moment of realization about the mystique of a black passport.  The Traveling Texan has BIG news...  Mrs. Texan just became an American citizen!  Cheers and applause to her, y'all.

A few community notices - State's opened up hiring for OMS positions, and the FLO's unaccompanied tour support blog Foggy Bottom Rambles is having a get-together next Thursday - click through for the full story.  Foreign Obsession would like you to know the appropriate way to wear hose to work.  And Short Term Memory is giving away a gift card for best caption - entries due by the 22nd!  In case you missed the cable, Diplopundit has covered the FSN of the year awards for 2010.  The global winner, no surprise, was a woman who helped keep Port-au-Prince's consular operations going after the earthquake.  Do note, however, that one FSN's name could not be revealed for safety considerations.  Think about that for a minute - this is one of the best employees we have in the world, quite literally, and we can't reveal his or her name for fear of reprisals against the nominee.

There's a lot of stuff going on in Washington involving us, and there's no shortage of posts about it.  The Crab Family notes that we aren't getting enough training, and Dead Men Working and Diplopundit both have good run-downs of PJ Crowley's departure earlier in the week.  Moving overseas, Nomads by Nature summarizes what we do in times of crisis... such as Bahrain, from which Here, There, and Everywhere has just departed.  (And because it's my blog, I'll put in another plug for my own post about Bahrain.)  Life in the Land of the Long White Cloud writes movingly about the memorial service in Christchurch for the victims of the February earthquake, and Diplopundit covers the departure of official Americans in Japan as well as the ongoing nuclear crisis.  While they don't count as crises per se (one hopes), we're also kept busy overseas by VIP visits, such as the Guatemala Holla's recounting of the Ambassador's experience with Mt. Dew in the field, or Elise and Paul's preparations for POTUS!

After the last few weeks we've had, we need a mental break.  We should remind ourselves to have fun, to go to silly concerts like Aaron and TJ did (sorry, guys - I exercise editorial control here!), to revel in the spring air by cavorting over Roman ruins like Donna & Co did, to research grimy younger brothers like the Hawkes Family is doing, and finally, we should never forget to draw out a diagram detailing all of the ways we will NOT become the ambassador, like Diplochick has helpfully done.  I'm posting the tag line from this on my desk: "Face it honey, you'll never be an ambassador."

That's it for this week!  Connie's hosting next week, and you can sign up for your own hosting shift here.  Have a good weekend, everyone!

PS:  Ack, how could I forget!  First, here's an updated RSS feed for you all - 398 blogs so far, with a prize of some pocket lint and a hug to whoever is the 400th blog I find.  And more importantly, my girl Rebecca just passed the FS oral exams!  If you heard someone shrieking in Chinatown, DC last week...  yeah that was me.  What can I say...  I'm proud for her!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

In the Full Light of History

To borrow a phrase - this post is certified 100% free of Matters of Official Concern.  All impressions are my own, and all information is from publicly available sources of information - namely Twitter.

I'd intended to write a piece about immersing myself in the still-relevant history of World War I and how the book I'm reading has changed the way I look at my job and the world where I work.  I'm sure I'll write about that soon, but tonight, as the late night shows come to a close in Arkansas (local time: 0045), the sun is rising in the Gulf, and something is happening in Bahrain.  I am watching the updates flow through my Twitter feed, and as the morning advances in Manama, the rhetoric is ramping up.

A typical tweet -  URGENT:  is being confronted with army. Shots fired. Phone lines disrupted. Or another -  Fire in the pearl     .

Of course I have no way to evaluate the accuracy of these URGENT messages requesting #HELP in Lulu (Pearl) Roundabout, but this shakes me in a way that the unrest in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and the many other restive countries in the region haven't.  I know this roundabout, and I know the neighborhoods and districts in Manama that are reportedly the sites of conflict now.

 Bahrain forces in drive against protesters: Tear gas fired as security forces attempt to disperse protesters fro... 

For a year, Bahrain was my monthly moment of sanity, the place to which I could escape for a breath of normalcy with friends.  I know the expat bars, the hotels, the quiet restaurants in leafy neighborhoods beside royal compounds.  I also know the poorer villages with unpaved streets and spotty electricity outside of Manama, only twenty kilometers and a world away from the flashy financial district.  Like everyone else in Manama, I dodged the packs of weekending Saudi and Kuwaiti youth who'd come to let their hair down for a weekend of relative freedom on Exhibitions Avenue (take the name to mean what you will).  And like every other expat in the Gulf, I watched the Bahraini Parliament's repeated attempts to ban alcohol sales with trepidation, not wanting my nearest draft beer to be somewhere in southern Turkey.

Did I contribute to the building social problems in Bahrain?  Did I just enjoy the respite while I could get it, and not ask uncomfortable questions about the source of this relaxing atmosphere?  One anecdote sticks with me: I spent one weekend with a friend from grad school who was living in Bahrain at the time - we'd moved to the Gulf at the same time.  We took a taxi to dinner on the other side of town, and while we were riding, we were talking about the demographics of Bahrain - total population of citizens and expatriates, nationalities of expats, sectarian/ethnic breakdown of the citizen population.  When we got to our restaurant, our taxi driver refused to take payment, because he said in shaky but clear English that he'd never heard any of his fares show an interest in or knowledge of the people of his country, and he thanked us for caring.
 @ is on-air live reporting from Manama , on @ , at least two dead when troops fired on protesters...

I watched the flight of ben Ali with surprise, and the downfall of Mubarak with absolute shock.  The recent events in Libya have broken my heart.  But I've never been to those countries - I only learned the names of the key squares and streets of conflict from the al Jazeera English coverage, just like everyone else.  But for me, Bahrain is different.  I don't pretend to know it perfectly, but it has a special place in my heart: so many of my good memories of happiness with friends and loved ones are there.  With every Twitpic I open up, I see another street scene I recognize, another neighborhood I passed through, but now with armored personnel carriers or riot police.

 According to Alwasat: two confirmed dead, Jaffar Abdali, 41 year from Karana village & Abdullah Hasan, 23 years, Hamad Town 

Whatever is happening in the Arab world, it's happening in the full light of history. I never thought I'd see the day when this sort of mass response would take hold from the Gulf to the Maghreb. I have no idea where this will end up, and I suspect few on the ground do, either. But something big is happening. I can only hope that the price of this change isn't too painful to prevent healing afterwards.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

FS Blog Roundup - 18 March

So it appears I'm hosting next week.  I'm overdue for it, as I haven't hosted in ohhhhh about eight months.  That means that I haven't hosted with this newfangled blog "theme" system yet - so in the spirit of obstinacy, this week is a free-for-all: if you want your blog featured, send me a comment or an email and let me know.  (If you don't know my email address already, you can find a link to it here.)

In the spirit of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, there will be arbitrary points awarded to some posts, and the winner gets to record a duet with me, singing our new national anthem as penned by Gene Weingarten.  Warning: I can't sing.  At all.  It may be to your benefit to lose this battle of arbitrary points.

Good luck, godspeed, and write well!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Ahhhh.  Sweet, sweet vacation.

I spent a week in DC, and despite the highest of hopes, I actually saw very few people there - much of my time was spent vegging out with two of my closest friends or sleeping.  (I think I've finally restored my sleep account after a few weeks of hell at the office before I left.)  My apologies to those I wanted to see while I was there (if you're at FSI, you're on that list!) - next time, I'll make Arkansas the first leg of my journey, so I'll be rested and restless when I get to Washington!

I got in to Memphis yesterday afternoon after far too much time spent in O'Hare (next time, I should look at my schedule and realize that a five-hour layover is in store), and my parents took me for a late lunch at one of my favorite Memphis restaurants.  Traditionally, we've always gone there to eat right after I fly in, so it was good to get my regular BBQ pizza and a Shiner Bock.  After we came home, my mom and I spent the evening snuggling with our weenie dogs and watching Laugh-In reruns.

I have made zero plans for my time in Arkansas.  My mom and I may go to the horse races, and then again we may not.  I brought home a bunch of reading to do for work, and I may ignore it.  I do have several things I want to write about for the blog, but then again, it may prove to be too taxing to think about complex things!  I am on vacation, after all.

Ahhhhh.  Sweet relaxation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Moments to Remember

Tomorrow I start eight full days of control officering on two separate visits, both of which have more moving parts and complications than a bureaucracy designed by Rube Goldberg.  When I leave for R&R in two weeks, I'll be running right at mental and physical empty.  So for the moment, I'm holding on to the best moment of the last few weeks, to keep me going through several long nights at the airport or hours in tour busses.

Last Sunday, on a whim Eric and I packed up a few beers, a bag of chips, and a jar of salsa, and off we went to a park on the sea near his house.  We got there just before sunset, and we found a rock by the seawall, right on the edge of the water.  We spread out a picnic blanket, huddled in our coats, and watched the sun set over the Princes' Islands, the Sea of Marmara, and the busy ferryboat traffic of Istanbul.  As the sun dipped below the water, and the tide started to come in around our feet, we bundled up, picked up our trash (two bottles, two bottle caps, and one cigarette butt), and headed back home.

Best.  Date.  Ever.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Thanks for the Encouragement, Y'all

Periodically I like to stroke my ego and look at the audience data Blogger provides for each blog.  You know, what posts are read the most, what sites refer the most to this one, and the countries with most readers.  (Whoever's in the Northern Mariana Islands must LOVE me, judging by the hit count.)  The best, though, is the list of search terms that lead to your site.  Most of mine are variants of my name and the title - ["slow move" hannah], [hannah slow move east], ["hannah draper" "move east"], and the like.

Whoever found me by searching ["foreign service" slow career progression] wins a beer from me for your chutzpah.  I prefer to think that my career is progressing at exactly the right speed for it, and I'll thank you very much to keep your nose out of how I choose to raise my career!  That's a very personal decision.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

I Am Not Meant to Live Alone

In the past three days, I have...
  • Washed dishes with what I thought was dishwashing detergent but appears to be some sort of industrial sink cleaner (it said "cleaner" in Turkish...)
  • Shattered a pyrex measuring cup in my kitchen, spraying glass shards across three rooms in the process
  • Subsequently ground tiny glass pieces into my feet, because there's no way I could sweep up every single one
  • Burned out the motor on my vacuum cleaner 
  • Managed to create a few new species of bacteria in my fridge (Well, to be fair, I just noticed them in the past few days.  Such magnificent creatures as this probably took months to evolve.)
  • Obtained a nasty bruise or three on my hips/legs, which I have no recollection of obtaining
Damnit.  I need a minder.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


It's been a busy few weeks for me - a lot of stress at work and at home.  The countdown is definitely on for my March R&R, which will be the first significant vacation (>3 days) I've taken since I arrived in Turkey.  In my mind, going home for a memorial service doesn't count as vacation.

That's been part of my stress recently, thinking about my aunt.  I have my mom's home and cell numbers at the top of my Skype phone list, so I rarely need to search through the list to find anyone else.  With Eric back in the States for a month, I added another number to my Skype list, and then when I went to find it the first time, the number right below it was "Gail home."  It was a hard blow, and I stared at it in shock for a few seconds before I could do anything else.  I can't delete it - it's also my uncle's home, after all, and for the first time in my life I've called that line to talk to him.  Before I've always talked to him in the process of calling my aunt.  Still, I can't bring myself to change the name under which the number is saved.  The same goes for her numbers saved in my Turkish and US cell phones - I'm not to the point where I can remove them.  

Last week I baked cupcakes for my coworkers, a first for me.  (Both baking cupcakes and making something for my office - I'm more the type to buy something pre-made rather than risk a mass poisoning incident.)  I ran out of cupcake tins, so I decided to put the rest of the batter into one of the pans I use to bake bread.  I haven't used the pans since 2008, when I moved to Riyadh and had to leave my sourdough bread colony behind, although I've dutifully packed and unpacked them in every place I've lived since.  When I pulled out the pan to use it, I stared at it for a few moments before collapsing, boo-hooing in the floor.  

I had gotten my bread colony from my aunt, who baked two loaves every week for as long as I can remember.  When I was in high school and college, living away from my family during my parents' divorce, she would mail me freshly baked loaves so I would have something comforting to munch on while I was crashing on whatever assignment was keeping me up late.  Towards the end of college, as things got better, she'd call my roommates and give them a head's up the day that bread was going to arrive, so they could open the box and eat half of it before I got home, knowing that I would never share.  (Actually, my mother always did the same thing with her famous oatmeal raisin cookies.  I need to reexamine their loyalties.)  When I graduated and moved to Washington, my mother spent about $100 to send me a starter jar of my aunt's sourdough bread colony, overnighting it so that it would stay cold and wouldn't go dead in the time it took to arrive.  That entire year I was there, I baked my aunt's bread - not every week, but often enough that I had more than enough to share with coworkers, friends, and neighbors.  Favorite moment - sharing with Mohammad, the man who takes parking fees at FSI, on a cold December morning.

It never really occurred to me, reaching past my bread pans in my cabinet every day to get a soup pot or my food processor or a skillet, that the pans mean only one thing to me, my aunt Gail.  Sitting there in the floor, holding them, brought back all of the memories of opening up a box and finding two oversized loaves of bread and a dirty card - my aunt always had an appropriate (rather, inappropriate) card for every situation.  I am so glad I saved all those cards, going back years, through nearly a dozen moves.  

We've never been a particularly domestic family - my mother hates cooking, and my aunt wasn't a fan of it either, although both are quite good cooks.  We don't have any "family" dishes that we always eat at holidays together, largely because we hate family get togethers.  (If it could just be the three of us, it'd be perfect - but there's those pesky others to consider!)  My aunt's bread is the only taste I can think of that reminds me of my family.  I fixate on the tupperware container in the back of her refrigerator - has anyone thought to feed it since she fell ill?  Did it get thrown away?  I have her instructions, carefully tucked into my cookbook between my mother's beef stew and mushroom soup recipes, on how to maintain the colony once you have it.  I don't know how to start the colony, though.  What if I can't find those instructions in her cookbooks when I go home in six weeks?  Worse, what if they never existed, if she got a colony from a friend years ago, and I can't recreate it?  

Over the past few years I've become a bit more inventive in the kitchen, willing to try new things without a recipe, or to alter a recipe radically to match what I have in the pantry or what strange foreign substitutes I'm able to find.  Until now, I've stuck to soups and rice dishes, things that are forgiving with changes in ingredients, spices, ratios.  I think that I'm going to start baking, which seems to require a higher level of precision than I'm accustomed to maintaining.  It will be hard - both leveling off the measuring cup each time and keeping my tears in check while I think about all the love my aunt sent me with every loaf of bread.  In time, though, I hope I'll be able to pull it off with minimal emotional turmoil.  Gail would be amused at grief driving me to cook, and tonight, when I was cooking homemade pancakes, I could hear her laughing - good grief, pancakes for dinner?  Still, I think she'd approve.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Joys and Perils of International Birthdays

Every now and then I'm reminded of just how surreal and wonderful my overseas life is.  Eric is currently in the States, so he tried to send flowers to my home for my birthday yesterday.  For some reason, no flower site here would take his credit card, so he called his roommate Serder here to place the order himself.  No luck - his card wouldn't work, either; apparently the Turkey network was down temporarily.  Luckily, Serder has a friend who works somewhere near my apartment building, so the friend was dispatched to find flowers somewhere and deliver them to my building.  Did I mention that street addresses aren't really used so much as "big apartment building next to Landmark X," which meant that the friend, apparently, could find neither flowers nor my building yesterday.  So as I was getting ready for bed, Eric called to apologize for the fact that, despite a collective effort on three continents, no flowers could be obtained.  As far as I was concerned, the story's awesomeness made the day - who cares if they actually arrived after such an amazing endeavor?

The flowers arrived this evening and are currently gracing my dining room table, hiding the ever-present Istanbul winter smell of coal.  I am a happy hannah.

(I also brought home several boxes of birthday presents that arrived in today's mail, and almost every box contained salsa, among other delightful things.  I am loved!)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Updated Reading List

I've just added several new sites to my FS blogs bundle for Google Reader.  With these additions, that should bring us up to 372 blogs, not all of which are active.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Sad Things That Expats Will Do Overseas

I don't live a life as "difficult" as most expats in Istanbul.  I get my boxes from Amazon in 6-10 days without having to deal with Turkish customs, someone else handles my visa processing for me, and my car was shipped to me with what I suppose is a relatively minor amount of hassle.  I live in an awesome country, where fresh fruit and vegetables are cheap and something is always in season.  This city is beautiful, and I find something new to love about it every day, it seems.  So why in the hell is it so tragic that I can't find any salsa or tortilla chips in this country??

Theoretically I can get chips and regular salsa through the commissary shipment we get every two weeks from Ankara, but the Tostitos supply get bought up within hours, and this girl rolls at a slightly higher class than Pace picante sauce.  I've resorted to importing massive quantities of Trader Joe's double-roasted salsa (lovingly shipped one or two bottles a month by my mother, who knows I'd eat them all up in a day if I had them all available - donations accepted!) by APO, and while I've tried the various forms of potato chips on the market here, none of them really make the cut.  (Seriously, the flavors are weird.  There are entire rows of Ruffles that I don't want to identify.)

I've tried making my own salsa, with tomatoes and peppers and onions and garlic and a few spices.  While the result is tasty, it's more like a Lebanese take on pico de gallo than the salsa we all know and love.  I've also tried making my own tortilla chips by broiling lavash that I've brushed with olive oil and salt, with mixed results.  1/3 of the time I use too much oil, 1/3 of the time too much salt.  Sometimes I use too much of both, and one time in five I forgot the bread's in the oven until it sets off a smoke alarm.  When it works, though, it's magical - almost like a taste of home to scoop up my delicious, contraband salsa.

It's a hard life I lead, you know.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Adventures To Be Had If You Visit

My dear friend and adopted sibling Jon came to Turkey for ten days, spending Christmas and New Year's with me.  Jon lives in Finland working on a PhD in physical anthropology, and since direct flights from Helsinki to Istanbul are a hell of a lot cheaper than the circuitous route needed to get back to Arkansas, we decided that we could have more fun here than stranded in the airports of Europe and the Northeast.  (Fun fact: Jon flew out on the worst day of travel paralysis in Europe.  Two meters of snow in Helsinki, however, is just a brisk breeze, so there were no delays at all.  Go Finns!)

We spent Christmas weekend in Antakya and Gaziantep, assisted by Eric's able planning and guidance.  We flew in to Antep early on the morning of the 24th and drove a rental car to Antakya, following the backroads that hug the Syrian border.  Once we got to Antakya, we explored the Arab-style old city, found its hidden churches, and marvelled at the French colonial buildings.  Due to a particularly late night before we flew, we didn't make it to Christmas Eve mass at St. Peter's church, instead sleeping for about 13 hours.  Whoops!  When we woke up well-rested on Christmas Day, we moved on to the Mediterranean coast about 40 kilometers away, where we visited the only remaining Armenian village in Turkey and hiked through a Roman tunnel at sunset by iPhone light - perhaps not the smartest thing we've ever done, but hey, we're resourceful!

I won't lie, one of the primary reasons we went to Antep was to visit Imam Cagdas, a famous restaurant that may be Eric's favorite place in Turkey.  I can't say that I blame him, either; we picked our hotel based on its proximity to the restaurant, and we ate every meal there.  Many of the city's attractions were closed on our Sunday in town, but we did get to visit the castle in the center of town, which houses a museum of the city's resistance to British and French forces during Turkey's war of independence.  We happened to be in town over the anniversary of the city's liberation in 1922, which meant the museum had an extra-special dose of local hagiography, we'll call it.  Still, it was a lot of fun - and Eric and I enjoyed using the museum's exhibits and panels as a lens for explaining modern Turkish history to Jon.  (Yes, we're nerds.  Leave us alone.)

There are too many stories from Jon's visit and our trip to list here, but let me give you a few ideas.
  • A tasting menu at one of the city's top restaurants, when we were the only ones there
  • Wine tastings in the cellar of a Greek restaurant
  • Initiating hostilities against Syria
  • Getting thrown out of an Orthodox church - twice
  • Discussing the geology of terrorism
  • Explaining the finer points of Turkish fashion
  • Discussing ruminant molar morphology while other tourists looked on in horror
  • Dipping our toes in the Mediterranean
  • Hatay's Anal Market
  • Getting powerfully confused (not getting lost)
  • Ridiculous photos (selection here)
  • Squat toilets
  • Confusing the hell out of small-town shopkeepers when three obvious foreigners walk in speaking Turkish (Jon faked it well)
  • The food.  Oh my God, the food in this country is inescapably delicious.
Do you need more reasons to visit me?  I've updated my reservations calendar to account for known visitors - but 2011 is looking mighty empty.  Come to Chez Nous for a sojourn in the world's most dynamic city, the city that people want to visit most!