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.