Saturday, June 18, 2011

An address?

By now you probably know that we're moving to a big embassy in an even bigger city, but today that vast unknown got a bit more focused. I received an e-mail from my predecessor saying that she knew who the woman was who was living in "your apartment" currently, and she'd see if that person could take some pictures for me.

"WHAT? You KNOW where we're going to be living? I don't even know that yet!" was pretty much the entirety of my response to her.

Bogota is a BIG embassy. Our Desk Officer told me that depending on how you count the heads (which other agencies one includes or doesn't), it is either the largest or in the top three in the world. Because of this, and also knowing that it's the busiest time of year for transfers as people like to move while the kids are out of school (makes sense), I haven't wanted to tug on the GSO's sleeve with questions about our housing. But it seems that the Housing Board has met, and we've been given an assignment (subject to last-minute change). It's a 3-bedroom apartment on the 4th floor with lots of restaurants and two parks nearby. She told me the address, but when I tried to run it through Google maps, I got two different locations, and it was just rooftop views anyway. Really, I don't know any more than that.

Although we can't be guaranteed our choices, when asked, we requested to live in the "planos" area of the city rather than the "altos" area. Basically - in the flats instead of the steep hills. Steep hills sound great, perhaps we'd have a great view and the neighborhoods might be a bit leafier and above the pollution. However, steep hills + grocery shopping on foot + 8600 feet altitude = coronary, so we opted for the planos instead, and this is where that apartment is. Somewhere. 

For my classmates who are already feathering their nests and arranging their offices at their posts, this news my sound rather stale, but I've been here all this time wondering what it'll all be like while they've been realizing it. It's been two months since OMS training already and there are still five weeks to go. I'm comfortable and well-adjusted here in Falls Church and FSI, and stepping off the board into the deep end still feels pretty scary. I'm not sure if it's better or worse to go last? I've been able to read the success stories of my friends, but meanwhile it's been FOUR months since I've had a regular day job where I had to actually DO stuff, instead of just learn about it.

So, seeing an address, knowing that there were people meeting with the Housing Board down there in some conference room with a file with my name on it, describing my family size, considering that we have pets and noting my rank and job title and finally deciding that we're going to live at XYZ address - I guess it is just finally coming into sharper focus. It's going to happen. I've also been receiving all sorts of e-mails from my predecessor regarding the stuff I'm going to have to do, have to know, have to be responsible for - frankly, I'm kind of nervous.

I just need to remember that everyone had a first post, right?

Thanks for listening; I feel better already.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Despite the following - I really love my language training!

"It's like they just open up your head and POUR the language in! Really, I was never very good with languages in school, but this is different!"

Famous-last-words from the woman at the State Department recruiting event in Seattle in 2009 regarding the FSI language program. After Tim and I heard the panel of FS Officers and Specialists speak, I was already hooked, but this woman's comments about the ease in which any type of language is imparted to the otherwise linguistically-clumsy, sealed the deal for me. This was the life for me.

Flash-forward two years and I'm in class with three other seemingly intelligent FS employees absolutely murdering BIG numbers in Spanish. Numbers like 34,596,421.

"Three-ty and four of million, five hundredy nine thousand and sixty four two one?"

After going around the table a few times with each of us sounding like the above, our up-until-then-patient instructor writes on the white board in a cartoon bubble at his mouth level:
ALGUIEN MATEME!
(Someone kill me!)

At which point I start laughing so hard that I'm distracting the poor guy who's still trying to figure out how to say 578,432.

And yes, these are numbers I will have to learn because the exchange rate in Colombia is approximately 1800 Colombian Pesos to the dollar. So if I buy anything for, say, $150, I'm going to have to understand the number 273,600.

So that's how it goes in language class some days. Unfortunately the most recent of those days was my mid-course evaluation on Wednesday. I met with my LC (Learning Consultant, Learning Coordinator? Something like that.) She's a very kind and patient woman who has been assigned my case (it's nothing bad - we all have one) and will be my constant handrail as I change from instructor to instructor. She'll also be in charge of evaluating my progress and helping me prepare for The Exam which is currently slated for July 11.

Anyway, we spent over two hours the other day doing an exam run-through. First was the casual conversation where we do the "gettin' to know ya'" stuff. Where I'm from; where I used to work; what my husband does; do I have any kids etc... Fairly easy stuff. But then the tempo changes and it's time for the "presentation." This is where things start to get ugly. She offers me a list of five general topics and instructs me to select one and then compose a presentation on the topic of about 7-10 minutes in length. She'll leave the room while I prepare my thoughts. Oh, and I should use the imperfect tense. And the preterit. And of course the present, and future if I know it.

In five minutes. That should be plenty enough time, right?

WHAT? I can't choose my meal from a menu in five minutes!

She leaves the room as I diligently start to write my thesis statement. I then scramble to write two more sentences before the inevitable knock comes at the door.

"Are you ready?"

I'm fairly sure that my saying "NO!" at this point will only make her chuckle and pick up her pen and score sheet. Yeah, I'm right. Damn. I start with my opening sentence, and then the other two. And then I freeze. I'm standing beside a torrential river of thoughts with a tiny cup in my hand. They're whirling by so quickly that I can't grab even one. I stare out the window instead. I clear my throat. Please know that I am not one to be comfortable in silence, any bit of silence, and long, awkward gaps in conversation where one party is panicking and the other has the optimistic, "Yes? Do go on..." look on their face - well, it was the worst kind of silence.

"Yo no puedo construir mis pensamientos con claridad; disculpe me."
(I'm not able to construct my thoughts clearly; excuse me)

Then I just babble. I mean really babble. I use an example that is somewhat related. I use really strong, descriptive phrases like "...y otras cosas..." (and other things). I feel like that poor Miss Teen America who we all skewered on YouTube ("...like such as the South Africa...").

And then somehow it's over. We then do the reading part, where I miss some/all the key words in the article which take the slant of the article 180 degrees the other way.
Ah well.

So, what was the final outcome? Well, oddly, she felt that I was nearly a 2/2, which happens to be my target score. Nearly. She fills out a page that affirms that I'm making sufficient progress and should reach my 2/2 in my remaining five weeks of class. I'm rather shocked at the good news and chalk it up to a magical bribing fairy sneaking into the room with a fist full of bills while I was trying to get my heart rate out of the ceiling. We make plans to practice this stuff some more before I get to do it before the firing squad, errr, the examiners "for realsies." She politely suggests that I find a way to "control my nerves."

I'm still waiting for the "pouring" to begin.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

I'm an orphan

So today the last of my 119th Specialist Class OMS friends left for their posts. Already we're getting word back from those who left before the long weekend about their first days. It seems nobody was forgotten at the airport with all their belongings; nobody has received a security violation for leaving the safe open; and everyone is starting to settle into their new homes - albeit mostly their temporary homes. Some are wondering what the heck they're supposed to be doing, and some have already attended high-level receptions and translated Dip Notes into Spanish. 

Meanwhile, I came home after FSI today to find a box of extras from one friend's kitchen sitting outside my front door. She shipped out to Jakarta and left me with all sorts of bottles, cans and boxes of things that she couldn't take with her. It seems like just last week we were on the phone in our respective home states, griping about whether or not we'd received our job offers via FedEx, and now I come home to find just a box of her left-over peanut butter, hand cream, microwave popcorn and US coins she won't be needing for quite some time. I have friends in two different airports as we speak: one who was derailed last-minute from a post experiencing major civil unrest to a more stable temporary one; and one hoping to get her dog on the same flight to South America tonight. Another friend left for Jamaica while I was simply conjugating "Ayer, yo tuve que trabajar; tu tuviste que trabajar..." in class this morning.

I'm the only OMS left, and there are two months to go. So far my career has been purely in the theoretical. By the time I get to post as a newly-minted OMS, I will have been out of OMS training for over three months. I'm not sure I'll remember a thing about what to do. I recall something about cables and passwords and safes and, and, good thing I have a huge binder full of materials to refer to.

And eleven amazing friends with two months more experience than I to rely on.

I miss you guys already.

Thanks to my FM and GSO buddies for befriending this orphan!