Thursday, September 28, 2017

Bi' Çay İçermisiniz?

For my first year in Ankara, I am a Transatlantic Diplomacy Fellow - that is, I am part of a diplomatic exchange program with the Government of Turkey.  I'm working at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a year before I move to the Embassy in 2018.  I just started at the MFA this week, so I'm getting my feet underneath me and trying to learn my way around a new set of acronyms with my rusty Turkish.

(If you're curious about the program, here's a piece written by a Turkish diplomat who served in Washington a few years ago.  We do this type of exchange with several European countries, so it's not just Turkey.)  

With all of three days under my belt, it's hard to generalize about the differences and the similarities between our respective agencies, but there's one thing that I absolutely adore:  the tea service.  It's a well-known fact that Turks are constitutionally incapable of functioning without tea and, to a lesser extent, coffee; it's one of the many reasons I love it here, since the nation is as caffeine-addicted as I am.  At the Ministry, all you have to do is call the floor tea station and put in your request - tea, coffee, water, whatever.  Five to ten minutes later, someone shows up and delivers caffeine to your desk, then comes back a bit later to pick up your empty glass.  At the end of the work day, the tea attendant comes by to settle up with everyone.  Brilliant.  You can order for yourself, for your office, for your guests, whatever.

It's always struck me as strange that the Department of State (in most cases) doesn't pay for coffee, tea, or water to be used in official meetings.  Most people I know spring for refreshments out of their personal pockets instead.  I get that it could seem like a waste of taxpayer money, but I wish I could quantify the returns we get by showing basic politeness and hospitality to our guests to set against the cost of providing coffee.  The system at the MFA here seems just right - yes, we pay for our caffeine, but someone is there to provide the service expeditiously if we need it for official purposes.  And, as far as I'm concerned, keeping my veins humming with strong Turkish tea is crucial to my official duties.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Arrival in Ankara

Didn't have much to say when I was in DC for the last few years.  The TL;DR: version is Eric and I had a kid, Charlie, and we got assigned to Ankara for three years.  Onwards we go!

Charlie, the cats, and I arrived in Ankara a week ago, at the start of ten days of official holidays.  The confluence of several local and U.S. holidays at the end of August/beginning of September means that I've had lots of time to adjust to the new house and time zone.  Eric has some mandatory training to complete for his job, so he won't join us for at least another month.  In the meantime, we've got child care lined up for when I start work on 5 September, and I've borrowed a friend's car while she travels so that I can stock the house at IKEA, the commissary, and the grocery store.  

Charlie has always been a chill little dude, not minding being booped or held by strangers.  That's a good thing, given how Turks love babies.  We had legally been in Turkey for all of thirty seconds after exiting passport control when one of the airport employees practically ran over to jiggle his cheeks and play with his toes.  Even after a twenty-hour journey in which he didn't get much sleep, Charlie was all smiles for the guy.  Everywhere we've gone, he's attracted cuddles, boops, and copious maşallahs from the people around him.  When we were at IKEA, one little girl (maybe seven?) came up to him, got right in his face, and immediately turned to her mother in concern, saying "Mama, he doesn't have any teeth!!  Why doesn't he have any teeth?"  Everyone got a laugh out of that.

This was in many ways the most difficult PCS I've ever done, but it was simultaneously the easiest at times.  It was the first time I had a full house of furniture to sort out, after having lived a single person's life with limited furniture and possessions prior to our purchasing a house in 2013.  I also had to negotiate getting Eric's training on my orders, passports/visas for all three of us, and travel with an infant, which suuuuucked.  On the other hand, I took off the entire month of July and the first half of August to be able to plan this move, since for a number of reasons we weren't sure we would be able to come to Turkey this summer until mid-June.  Since Eric couldn't come yet, we paid for a friend of ours to fly with me and Charlie so that I would have another adult on hand to help negotiate the kid, two cats, and a substantial amount of checked bags.  (I highly recommend doing this at all times, whether or not your spouse can travel with you!)  Also, this is the first time I've ever PCS'd to a post where I knew so many people already here or scheduled to arrive in the coming months - one close friend from college is coincidentally here, plus several close friends from State and DOD are here.  I guess that's the benefit of nearly ten years of service in the Department and in this AOR - now I know a lot more people than I did even five years ago.

I'm looking forward to starting my job next week.  It'll be a new adventure.  Now to keep polishing my Turkish, which has gotten quite rusty since we left Istanbul in 2012...

Friday, August 25, 2017

Testing, Testing

Is this thing still on?

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Three Years Later

Every year is a little less painful.  I've started to figure out my cycle of dealing with anniversaries.

Two days out:  constant, repetitive panic attacks.
One day out:  quiet crying, no panic attacks.
Day of:  some crying, gathering with friends to lay flowers and tell stories about the dead, laughter.
Day after:  back to relative normal.

Laying flowers at the memorial wall with friends is the most cathartic thing I've found.  There's a few moments of silence, some crying, then we split into smaller groups to catch up.  People bring their kids and compare notes on new assignments.  We meet new people who weren't able to make it in previous years.  Promises are made to get beers after work some time, though beers are rarely gotten in the coming months.  Some leave notes and photos of children whose godfather was killed that horrible day.

We took photos to send to friends who couldn't make it that day.  As we posed, someone yelled out, "Oh shit, I'm not supposed to smile, this is a sad event!"  Of course we all laughed and smiled for the next photo, which ended up being the best one of the bunch.  We recounted stories of pranks pulled, jokes told, unbelievable experiences together that are par for the course in our line of work.

Every tragedy creates a brotherhood of survivors.  Like any group of people, there's some friction and a few people we all wish would disassociate themselves from the rest of us.  There are subgroups of those who never served in Libya but knew the dead, those who knew Chris or Sean better, those who served in Libya and were not allowed to return after the attacks.  But mostly it's a group of people united by good memories of those we've lost and a shared sense of grief.  It's nice to have those safety nets around the world.  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


Yesterday I spoke at a panel for young professionals interested in Middle East policy.  It was an off-the-record, TED-talk style panel that really was a lot of fun.  I told a story about escorting Sen. John McCain through the 2012 Libyan election day and how that day really exercised some of the most important skills to have in the Foreign Service: flexibility, cross-cultural communication, and a sense of humor.  I came away in a good mood, feeling like I could turn my experiences into something useful and even funny for a general audience.

Last night, something incredible happened.  Clearly my dream was prompted by my discussion of Libya - but it was the first dream I've had about Libya since 2012 that wasn't a soul-crushing, sweat-soaked nightmare.  I dreamed that I went back to Tripoli, to our old compound in 2016 for a visit.  I met the new crop of embassy staff who had reopened the embassy a few miles away.  While they were concerned at first to see me wandering around the destroyed remnants of the old mission, once they realized who I was I was welcomed into the new community as a friend.  They even showed me where my old house - destroyed and cleared away in this dream-world, but with a garden planted on the site - was and told me, "This must be really good for you to come back and be welcomed here and to get closure."

It really was.  My heart feels a little lighter today.  

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Up, Down

Two weeks ago, at a coworker's farewell party, I found myself standing in the corner of the room, sharing stories about Ambassador Stevens with a colleague who had served with him in other posts, before he was an ambassador, when he was just Chris.  We traded stories about what a prankster he was - how he set my colleague up to end up face-to-face with a known hellraiser in the host country that we all were trying to avoid (to prevent a verbal altercation that would have ended up on the front pages of national papers), how he set me up to be stuck in a cave with 30-odd tribal leaders for lunch.  How the only thing (outside of work) that wasn't a joke was tennis.  For a brief moment, I had nothing but happy memories of Libya.

The last two weeks have been really difficult for me.  The news from Libya has been horrific - friends and acquaintances assassinated in their homes or on the street, the airport in Tripoli under sustained attack and finally destroyed, and today, the Embassy was temporarily closed since we withdrew all of our staff overland to Tunisia for their safety.  The militia clashes in Tripoli were too close to the Embassy, which had taken indirect fire a few times while armed factions fought it out for control of Libya's most valuable assets - or at least fought to deny those same assets to their enemies.

I don't know when we'll go back in to Libya.  I don't know when it will be safe to go back.  I'm thrilled that my American colleagues are safe, but I'm equally terrified for our local hires, Libyans and other nationalities, who are still there in a dangerous city.  I worry about my Libyan friends, and the future of a country that I feel irrevocably tied to.  I have hope - maybe faint, maybe misplaced - that the new council of representatives that will take office on 4 August (to replace the body that was elected in July 2012) may be able to turn things around.  I have hope that a new constitution, when it's finished, will provide a legal framework that will enable Libya's many factions to come to the table, unarmed, to rebuild their shattered country.

I don't want the sacrifices that so many Libyans have made - and, in a tiny way, those that Americans and others have made - to be forgotten or to go to waste.  I don't want Libyans to look around and say, well, it wasn't worth it.  In ten years' time, I want us all to look back and say, the price was too high to get where we are today - but aren't we glad we have made it this far?

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Gender at State

There are times when I look around my office and the Department and marvel at how female our workforce is.  My office skews more female than male, and our office leadership reflects that balance.  I see lots of women my age (more or less) in the workplace, and we're all at roughly the same point in our careers.  The upper levels of management are a little more skewed towards males, but it's clear that the rising ranks don't look like that at all.  Now that my closest friends are all of breeding age (seriously, four are popping out kids this year), I am more aware of how many women are pregnant at the office.  I can't speak authoritatively to how pregnancy-friendly the federal government is (though it sure would be nice to have maternity leave that doesn't count as FMLA time), but based on my nonscientific observations, the higher-ups had better start thinking about it.  There's a new generation rising through the ranks, and judging by the baby bumps they're going to want more child care options and more acknowledgement that we will not work 13-hour days every day, because we can't count on a wife being at home to make dinner and feed the kids.

The point was really driven home a few weeks back, when I was at a two-day interagency conference.  In some of my meetings, literally the only women in the room were from State, and it was clear how the tone of conversation changed as soon as we walked in.  It became less bro-y, less colloquial and derisive, and more - I hate to say it - professional.  Anyone who's ever met me knows that I have a great love of blue words and that I have no problem being saucy in my casual speech, but professionally I don't do it, and I don't appreciate it when others do it.  The stark change in the tone of the conversation really drove home to me the importance of having decision makers who represent American society - people actually stop to think about what they say before they say it.  It perhaps inhibits free-flowing speech, but only for those who were comfortable in the homogeneity of the environment that allowed them to perpetuate (even unknowingly) the stereotypical behavior that so many people are fighting to overcome.

(Reminds me of a joke: How does every racist joke start?  With a look over your shoulder to make sure the subject of your joke isn't nearby.)

State's not perfect.  The people I see at work are still overwhelmingly white, and our highest levels of management still reflect the palette that formed the bulk of the federal government for too many decades.  However, all it takes is a look at the lower levels of the bureaucracy - the people who will take over when the current management retires - to get excited about the future.