Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Djibouti!

No, no - that's not where I'm going - that's what I got to jump up from my seat and yell during our Flag Day when I won our Post Bingo game. It's not right to just shout Bingo! in this crowd, so we came up with one of the funnest words to say (it was going to be Ouagadougou but not everyone could remember it) so Djibouti it was, and I'm happy to say that I won.

And yes, it was a little embarassing to stand up and yell it first in front of all those important types attending our big day.

So... I've been thinking about how I'm going to write this posting for a very long time. I don't want to just say where I'm going - what fun is that, right? But the Tabbies kept me up until the wee hours last night (BAD Tabbies!); I had a terribly exciting day, some fun with classmates and family afterwards and then some very, very spicy Vietnamese food for dinner with my family (word of caution: they don't ask how many stars of spiciness you want it out here. They just dump it in. I'm not in Snohomish anymore!).

I'm exhausted. This isn't how I wanted to break the news to everyone, so I'm just going to say it in a flag and then give a better story tomorrow.


Any guesses?

Think really good coffee.
Think of mountainous terrain and average temps between 45-68 degrees.
Think of me taking a Spanish assessment test tomorrow at 0800 to go to......

Bogota, Colombia!!

So that's it. The big reveal.

Wow, we're moving to Colombia.

Pretty cool, eh?

Details to follow.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Flag Day Eve

This could be considered "the night before my life as I know it changes."

So far this FS life has been primarily theoretical: day dreaming, studying, writing, hoping, waiting, more day dreaming, LOTS more waiting. Now we're in our third week of orientation and I feel like I'm just getting my sea legs. I've gotten used to my routine and know most (okay, a lot) of my 69 classmates' names. I know where the Registrar's office is and when the shuttle bus comes. And now it's our last week as a group before we scatter with the wind,  hopefully to grow roots where we land. We have people staying here in the States and people heading to every continent (except Australia and Antarctica - is that considered a continent anyway?).

It seems that much of this life is spent looking to the horizon. Waiting to hear if we pass the FSOT or if we get invited to an oral assessment. Waiting to hear if we get medical clearances, security clearances, invited to an orientation. What will be on our bid list? What flag will we get? What will post be like? What is our NEXT post? Maybe this is why we chose this life, because there is always something to look forward to, some change, some new adventure.

But running through my mind is a line from one of my favorite movies: "I know she can get the job, but can she do the job?" (Anyone name that movie?) Yeah, that's still a bit scary. One of our OMS trainers told us that don't worry if we feel as if we're not even qualified to open the door at this point, they hired us for a good reason and we'll get back to our usual selves sooner or later. It reminds me about what they said about Ginger Rogers: She did everything that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels. We need to awesomely represent THE NATION while we adapt to a new country, a new job, a new language, a new climate, a new time zone, and perhaps while being away from our family and possibly while under the influence of anti-malarials.
Wow.
That's a tall order.

I'd better get some sleep!

Tomorrow: what flag will it be?

Monday, March 28, 2011

So there’s this explosion in the parking lot…

I was working on my homework late this morning when I heard fire engine after fire engine pull past my building and around the corner. I thought they turned up a side street, but apparently they were all converging on a hole that had erupted under the next building’s parking lot. A transformer-thing-a-ma-jigger had blown up underground, starting a not-terribly-small fire that caused an eruption of water, dirt and asphalt. Fortunately it was away from the building; unfortunately it was next to someone’s minivan. Many of my classmates live in that building, and within a split second they lost electricity and then water. The mass of lines that caught fire also supply cable TV for the entire complex, so it was quite the trifecta.


By the time I came by to see what was going on, a few hours later, the water was still bubbling away in the hole like a cauldron, and the electric company guy was digging at the molten parking lot asphalt as if it were soft mud. I offered half of my room to two classmates, but one was allergic to cats and the other is planning on getting a hotel room. The rest are borrowing bathrooms in other buildings to wash up and snuggling deep into their beds, as there is no heat tonight either. My friend who just ran (and completed!) her first marathon now gets to climb five floors to her cold, dark, no-water room in reward. There are too many displaced families to find new rooms for all of them, so the management has said that unless you’re old or disabled – you just get to bunker down in your own room until it can be fixed. Maybe tomorrow, maybe not.


I suppose it’s good training for whichever corner of the globe we’ll all be flung to in the coming weeks, just a bit sooner than expected. In the meanwhile, I’m guiltily making myself a cup of tea before washing my face and slipping off to bed.


Oh wait, before you go, a small group of us had a really great time visiting the Cherry Blossom Festival yesterday! It was crisp out, but very blue-sky sunny. Take a look:

G’night all.

Friday, March 25, 2011

To my EPD friends: Congratulations (and some random thoughts)

I learned today that eight of my former co-workers were promoted today at Everett PD to Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain and Deputy Chief. More than I had expected when I left about a month ago, so it was great to see the list of names of those earning more bling on their uniforms.

Congrats to everyone!

Meanwhile, watching the world news doesn't feel quite the same when you have new classmates who are already slated for some of the headline locations (that I know of: Sana'a, Yemen and Islamabad, Pakistan). And my apartment complex is full of evacuee families from various posts. The way that natural disasters and civil unrest seems to strike randomly - there's no guarantee that we're either safer or more at risk in Bogota or Seattle, Bucharest or Snohomish. So we might as well just go for it.

As my mother says, I have to just follow my star.

Five days and counting.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

What's the price of guilt?

From the Tabbies:
So yesterday we heard a key at the door, two lady voices (one was mom) and then some kinda' loud dragging noises. We weren't going to stick around and see what it was, no way, so we bolted under the bed - I mean c'mon, what would YOU have done? But after the coast was all clear - about an hour - we came into the living room and we see this, this thing:

Mom kept picking us up and putting us on it, she seemed pretty excited about it but this thing didn't smell right, wasn't like anything we'd seen before. Really, did she expect us to be all rolling and scratching on it already? We're not dogs! We see what she's up to; she's trying to bribe us. She'd better be feeling guilty for dragging us out of our kittenhood home to this place with weird noises and smells and NO GARDEN.

Okay, y'know, I guess it's not too bad. Good to get the claws into some sisal rope again. We're not gonna' go sleeping on it or anything, but, you know - we'll give it a try.

So, to answer the question: the price of guilt is about... $129


I can't wait to see what she drags in if we move to Africa!!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weighing the Pros and Cons

So our bid-list is due on Tuesday morning, and I'm still mentally re-arranging my order. Each day that I'm certain I've picked a winner, I learn some game-changing tidbit and the cards get reshuffled. While still maintaining a modicum of discretion, I'll list the places by region and the pros and cons:

1. Massive North American City - (remember there are more than two countries in North America!): Pros - tons to do, probably good job opps for Tim, easy access to come home or for home to come to us, chance for language training. Cons - see title after "1." Massive cities tend to come with their own drawbacks such as traffic, pollution, crime.

2. Tiny Central African City - Pros - close-knit community, chance to really get to know my coworkers instead of just clocking out on Friday evening and returning on Monday morning. Adventure in spades! Nice housing, Tim speaks the language already and would feel comfortable in the environment and no pet quarantine (they have bigger fish to fry than to bother with pampered American pussycats!). Cons - See title after "2." And apparently ants, lots and lots of ants. Oh, and I speak the language very, very poorly. Security concerns (in Central Africa? Really?)
3. Gritty European City - Pros - I've always wanted to see this country and explore the countryside! And we just sold Tim's grand-dad's accordian to a guy who is sending it back to his brother in this country. It's like we have kin there already! Cons - See first adjective in title. Add bad traffic and ZERO experience with the language.

4. Schmancy Eurpean City - Pros - See title. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Zero hardship pay, in fact returning to Snohomish should incur hardship pay after living in this place. Cons - See first adjective in title and remember that schmance doesn't come cheap. Yeah, I speak some of the language, but Tim doesn't and there certainly won't be any development jobs there for him to sink his teeth into.

5. Dangerous South American City - Pros - timing is perfect for language training for me, higher pay rate, big embassy with exposure to many other agencies working there. Cons - The weather sounds as if it will always be early-April in Seattle. I've had enough of that. Also, see adjective after title and realize that we'd be greatly restricted on free movement to visit the countryside (with good reason). Hmmm... why is this one in the top five again?

So there you have it. All will be decided in NINE days.

Anyone care to offer their vote?

Friday, March 18, 2011

I must admit - it's pretty cool!

So the sun came out today, and tomorrow it is predicted to be in the mid-70s. This kind of forecast, particularly coming off a Northwest winter, can brighten any mood and put a spring in even the tiredest step.

Okay, I've gotta' say it - being at the Foreign Service Institute is pretty darn cool. It's like being back at college again, with the campus of brick buildings interconnected with pathways past statues of great Americans (I see ole' Ben Franklin every day). The cafeteria is full of students, often chattering away in every language you can imagine as they practice between classes. We have a super group of Specialists from all walks of life and parts of the country, too. As we're arranged in our daily classroom alphabetically, instead of by specialty, I sit next to people who I wouldn't know otherwise, and being towards the beginning of the alphabet - I have a second-row, center seat.

The amount of information IS overwhelming; I must admit. It feels as if they are lobbing tennis balls at me, dozens of them, each with some vital task written on them, while they say, "Don't drop any! Oh, here's another one, very important! But this one's easy... it's *online*!"
There are so many balls in the air by now that we have to rely on each other for reminders about what's due, where to find which form to fill out, which video to watch etc... Exciting to be in the thick of it all, but utterly draining as well.

We're spending more time researching our bid lists these days. We each have a complex matrix of considerations in making our preferences: Family, pets, schools, weather, the type of unit we'll be working in, danger or security, health concerns, proximity to family and so on. Plus there's an element of strategy as we each try to figure out who will likely get which post, and which one we may have a good shot at. One classmate finally just said, "You know - just surprise me."

We've considered making flashcards of all the flags of the countries up for bid so that when they project the flag up on the screen at Flag Day - we'll at least recognize which country it is when they call our name to "Come on down!" I eat my breakfast on my Flags of the World placemat each day. (The cat bowls are on their Cats of the World placemat; they need to be prepared, too!)

Okay, it's time for more homework. Big Day will be next Tuesday - ready or not, here it comes!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Great Toby's Bid List Predictions:

Some folks look at tea leaves; some throw bones; some use a crystal ball or Tarot cards.

Me? I use cat litter. Courtesy of The Great Toby, I have received a divine prediction that my posting will be in:


Africa!

We received our bid lists today, and sure enough, there were three countries on the African continent listed. There were also two in China, four in Spanish-speaking countries, two islands, one fancy-schmancy Euro city where they like to waltz and a country that usually kicks our butts in women's gymnastics. I'm not totally comfortable with how much we're allowed to say, so I'll leave it at this for now. But I believe that Toby's undeniable prediction may prevail. One classmate looked at the picture and turned it sideways, saying perhaps it was Australia, but then changed his mind when he realized that Toby intentionally put it in portrait perspective. Which then prompted another classmate to add that she believed it would be in Saharan Africa, because after all - he wrote it in sand.

That's all for now; I've got lots of homework and further prognosticating to do.

Feeling better and getting more excited!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Day one is in the bag

Dodger, Toby and I survived the trip back East, it seems. Although I may add "barely" to that. Dodger has adapted quite well although he has become extremely clingy. He's sitting on my little hotel desk with me now. Toby is pretty upset and spends his time behind or under things: the bed, the toilet, the ironing board in the closet. Poor guy. Unfortunately, I've caught a nasty cold, so really the transition from the comforts of home to the unknown world of you-know-what has been a bit rocky for each of us.

So today was the first day. I'm exhausted. Not because of the day, but because of the night and the utter lack of sleep. Toby feels coming out of hiding at night and the two of them jump on the bed, off the bed, on the bed, on my head, under the covers, off the bed etc... ALL NIGHT LONG. I'm trying to be the consumate poised professional during the day, but man, it's tough without any sleep!

I know I promised that this wouldn't be all cat-chatter, but we've been given a vague, yet stern, warning about what we say in the public forum. So many of my classmates are uncertain about what we're allowed to talk about and what will get us blackmarked in our first week. I apologize for the lack of meaty details, but this is the reason.

Today was mostly HR processing, but tomorrow we'll get to hear our bid list. The list I've been day-dreaming about since May 2009! My classmates each have different ideas of what they'd like to see, which is good, because if we all were determined to go to a particular country - a bunch of us would be sorely disappointed. I have one other Washingtonian here with me, and she brought her large dog, so we are each hoping for no-quarantine countries. Some folks have spouses in the FS already, so naturally they're hoping to go to the same place as their significant other, or at least the same country.

I did rise above my pity-party this morning when we were sworn in at Main State and given our ID badges. The speaker welcomed us into the fold and told us how we've just accepted not a job, but a whole new life. That was pretty darn cool, I've got to say.

Okay, I'll head out for now. Big week ahead of me starting tomorrow.

G'night all,

Friday, March 11, 2011

But what I meant to say was...

Me again,
I'm noticing a bit of stage fright when I find this blank blog screen. I dribble out some stuff and only later do I remember what I wanted to say. Okay, now Toby is sitting on my left hand (he's 16 lbs) and so this is becoming increasingly difficult to type, but I wanted to add some stuff that I thought of while writing to an OMS pal, Laila. Here it is:
Having a nice night of listening to some old tapes (yes, tapes, as we only have a little tiny boombox left for entertainment. Oh, and the $20 TV that Tim broke down and bought at Goodwill tonight after ours was packed up while he boasted, "I don't need no stinkin' TV - think of how much reading I'll get done!") I digress. Anyway, it's the Guess Who and old Doobies tonight to help make me feel all sentimentally 'merican (or Canadian... details, please).
Can you tell I've had a pint of cider already?
My pack out is done. I had only 150 lbs of air baggage and barely the minimum of household effects to go on the slow boat. I may be the first person I know whose stuff is taken by pirates on some unnamed cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden. Anyway,  the mover guy had lots more boxes, packing material and - apparently - time, 'cause when he was all done he said, "Well, is there anything else you want to add?" which prompted me to scurry about the house gathering a paltry armful of random items like Steve Martin leaving home in "The Jerk."  Of course, now that he's gone, I'm finding all sorts of things. Like my tape collection.
Yes, this timeline feels like skiing (okay, you didn't say that, but many of you said that time goes by quickly):  At first it's all slow and you're pushing on your poles to get moving, and then before you know it the slope gets really steep and you're moving far too quickly.  So now it's the second-to-last night in Snohomish. Two more showers in my favorite bathroom. Okay, in my only bathroom. I think I joined the Foreign Service solely in the hope that someday, perhaps if I'm really, really good, I will live in a home with two bathrooms. Maybe. Yes, truth be told -THAT is why I joined the FS, to get a cool free house. In Djibouti.
I learned today that there will be 12 OMSers in my Specialist Class. This means that our bid list will have 12 cities on it. I was hoping for a few more, but it seems that the supply is smaller than the demand. In fact, they just opened the OMS position AGAIN, which makes three times in one year. I'm tellin' ya' - this is a really, really cool opportunity and all you have to be is a US citizen and between 20-60 years old... it's worth a look: http://www.careers.state.gov/   The OMS window is open through the end of the month, I believe. Any of you with office or administrative assistant experience should consider it and maybe you, too, will have two government-supplied bathrooms.
In Chad.
Okay, 'nuff said. Wonderful Tim is waiting on the couch where we can watch our new TV.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's Getting Closer

There is just today (Thursday) and tomorrow and then Saturday morning will find me, three pieces of luggage, a laptop bag and two cats en route to SeaTac. My stuff within the house has been packed, to include the TV and DVD player (sorry Mike!) and my mother and I spent the day yesterday color-coding stuff for Tim's pack-out this summer. I'm living out of my suitcases now which, oddly, is a nice relief. When there are so few choices (what to wear, eat, do for fun), I find I'm relieved of the whole decision-making process. I have two pairs of pants now that aren't business-attire: jeans for today, black cords for tomorrow, jeans Friday, black cords Saturday... repeat. What to watch on TV? Well there's no TV now, better finish that book instead. It's kinda' nice.

On a more sentimental note: I just read my pal Heidi's entry from today (see "Foreign Obsession" in the links to the right) and all I want to say is: ME TOO! 

For those who have heard me talk about this whole Foreign Service idea, then plan, then the details of the exams and essays ad nauseum - I think you all will understand how much this means to me to be where I am now. I don't have to knock on wood anymore when talking about the prospect; it's real. Tim and I confidently say, "We should do this or that when we get to post" and unless I do something really, really stupid -it WILL happen. Heidi noted in her entry today about seeing the roof of the White House while she was in DC for her final oral assessment, and I felt the same way upon seeing the Capitol. I looked at it and said, "I will be back!" (Not like Ah-nold does, though. More like Reese Witherspoon in "Legally Blonde," but not in heels. Anyway...)  I told my examiners that day that I wanted to serve the US in some capacity, and that since I was too old for the military and too slow for the Olympics - the Foreign Service could be my ticket. I love being on the Varsity Team now, the Major Leagues; I am filled with pride to be moving on towards this new challenge.

Before any of you lose your lunch due to the sappiness-factor here, please know that it is all you all's fault!  My friends, family and co-workers (and most of you fit into at least two of those categories) who have encouraged my gypsy ramblin' ways and who never told me that I couldn't do something.

You're all coming with me in ways both big and small, and probably ways that you're completely unaware of.

Next stop: Eastern time zone.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Procrastination

The movers are coming tomorrow, and not just for the survey - for the real thing: all my belongings in cardboard; newly empty rooms in the house; final decisions made of what I need now and at my first post; borrowing Tim's toothbrush and wearing the same socks for the next six days (I might need to rethink that last bit). Also, I have to do a dry run on my luggage packing to make sure it all fits in the suitcases that will go on the plane. The rest will go in my UAB (unaccompanied air baggage - NOT, as Tim notes - the University of Alabama - Birmingham!) or my HHE (household effects - the stuff I won't see until post). But you may notice that instead of doing these fun, fun tasks - I'm here at the kitchen table writing this instead.

To back up a bit: the trip to California was great. I got to see four of five siblings, my dad and my step-mother, not to mention my second home-town of Sonoma. Saying goodbye to Pops in the driveway left me a crying mess. My sister Eden took me to the bus-station sized Charles M. Schulz (yes, of Peanuts fame) airport in Santa Rosa, and sent me on my way with a baggie of homemade cookies and a snapshot of the two of us with the larger-than life-sized Lucy statue.  I took one last big breath of warm California air and got into the little plane for Seattle. My flight was ten minutes early in landing and my bag hit the carousel as I walked off the plane - all was moving smoothly.



And then I got to my truck in the off-site parking area and got screwed.
No, really, there was a massive screw stuck into the tread of my left front tire and the tire was flattened down to the rim. Tim, coincidentally, had a flat while I was away, too, but his was discovered while driving on 405. (Could this have something to do with the ongoing feud that has recently heated up with our neighbor over her free-range chicken? Hmmmm....) Fortunately I've kept up with AAA and they had me back on the road in less than an hour.

My new in-cabin cat carrier arrived while I was away. It will be Dodger's little personal RV for our flight on Saturday. It's sized to fit under the seat, and technically, Dodger does fit inside it. And by "fit" I mean as my foot fits in my sock, but with some creative tail placement, I think he'll be okay. I've been putting cat nip and treats inside the carrier and leaving it on the living room floor in an effort to make it seem comforting, familiar and inviting to him for when The Day comes. Yeah, it's not working so well.



I'm also torturing myself with the "last-time" blues: Last time Tim and I watch "Amazing Race" on the couch together on Sunday evening; last time I prune my roses; last time I watch the fog drift in past my kitchen-window; last time I ... oh, knock it off and go pack your stuff!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Saying goodbye in California

Moving away is the gift that just keeps on giving...
Saying goodbye at work.
Saying goodbye at Purrfect Pals.
Now I'm headed to California to say goodbye to five siblings, my 85 year-old father and my stepmother. Is there an RCW on how many tissues one person can go through in a week?

But other things are moving along:
The moving estimator dude came today to figure out the sizes of my two shipments. Fortunately the medium-sized pile which will arrive via plane is underweight which means I can load on more stuff. And the big pile that will take the slow boat to post (and I hope to see before Halloween) is waaaay underweight, so I'm walking through the house sizing things up, "Hmmm.... bulky AND useful - I'll take it!"  Tim had better keep me away from the couch and fridge, 'cause they'd fit juuuuuust right in my shipping container.

Meanwhile, the Federal government is threatening to shut down and nobody knows how that will affect us trainees. Does that mean that we just hang out in our hotel apartments? Wouldn't be too bad, do some collegial bonding and all, but not so cool if our per diem also goes on furlough. Each person I talk to - on the rare occasions that I get a live person on the phone - is honestly puzzled about what will happen.

As with everything else in life - only time will tell.

G'night for now,