Saturday, August 02, 2014

TDY: Lessons Learned

Last summer I was selected to come to US Consulate General Monterrey for an entire month with three coworkers to help them in their busy season, and it was a great experience.  So this year I raised my hand again when the call for volunteers went out for more TDYers (Temporary Duty-ers) to go to Monterrey to help them segue into their brand new Consulate.  This time it was only for one week, but perhaps that was the right amount of time given that I only have six months left in Juarez and a husband and three Tabbies to miss.  

Ten of us from Mission Mexico were selected, along with numerous  local staff (two from Juarez, including one who always makes me laugh, like the time that she said that her horrible handwriting was only because she "had her own font").  We descended on Monterrey to Adjudicate In Their Time Of Need!  Well.... fate had something else in store for us.  Perhaps you heard it on the news that the CCD was "down."  In English, that means that the Consular Consolidated Database was, basically, broken leaving all posts worldwide unable to fully adjudicate visas.  We could interview folks, but we couldn't complete the process to send the visas to the printing queue.  This system snafu included American citizens who were trying to renew their passports and a bunch of high-profile celebrities and world leaders who were awaiting their US visas for legitimate travel.  Bottom line - a headache on a world scale.  (My favorite appropriate quote: to err is human, but to really screw things up takes a computer.) 

So here we are, over a dozen of us in our hotels in Monterrey, excited to be out on assignment with suitcases packed with appropriate clothing and our brains locked and loaded to work hard and work fast to help out this busy season and Monterrey in their new facility.

And the CCD was down and we couldn't do 85% of what we came to do. 

The powers that be decided that there was no point in sending us home because we still couldn't do there what we couldn't do here.  Especially considering all the airline change fees and additional administrative hassle that comes with changing airline and hotel reservations.  Therefore we interviewed as many folks as we could (Thursday appointments were completely cancelled) and finally by Friday afternoon were able to actually issue about 15% of the cases we had adjudicated.  

Being a TDYer is relaxing in a way because one can focus simply on doing the Consular work we came to help with: interviewing.  There isn't the additional pressure of taking care of all the outside portfolio work (whatever projects, teams, visits you've been assigned to) that your home post demands.  Plus, you have a new environment to explore.

In the case of Monterrey, I had already checked off a good bit of the tourist list last summer and felt comfortable in familiar environs.  Same hotel, same shuttle van, same restaurants for dinner, same hotel breakfast buffet, same pool of applicants - it all came back even after one year of absence.  But what was the cherry on top was the incredible new Consulate facility that opened just a week prior to our arrival. The post went from an outdated, cramped, stinky, sitting-on-each-others'-laps Consulate that did not have enough windows for everyone to adjudicate at the same time, to a building that looks and feels more like a modern art museum - all I can say is Wow!  

This time my Juarez colleagues and I were mixed in with officers from Matamoros, Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana, giving us a great opportunity to share "how do you do it? here's how we do it" best practices (and war stories, of which Consular officers have many).  We got to meet and work with new folks and learn more about posts we may/may not want to work in in the future.  It's great, to be honest, even if for a week.

Going on two TDYs isn't uncommon when assigned to Juarez, and a bunch of officers have even had three assignments.  We're used as a "donor" post to Mission Mexico because we are well-staffed and generally not over-stressed as some posts are. Therefore we have the luxury of being able to send a few warm bodies hither and yon to help out as needed.  

It's Friday night and we've done all we could and tomorrow we'll scatter back to our home posts.  The CCD is still not functioning 100% and the case load at home is not going away nor is the tide of incoming applicants receding - but for now we can enjoy a bit of ignorant bliss. And enjoy the views.

Please enjoy a few snapshots taken from the new US Consulate General in Monterrey.  If anyone reading this is considering bidding on Mexico - take these pictures into consideration:

View from the terrace where you can eat your lunch everyday

Now that's a backdrop!

Nearby American School - families with kids can now return to Monterrey

Yeah, this could be the view from your desk

On my final evening here, I took advantage of the free drink coupon we got upon check-in to have a glass of white wine by myself in the hotel atrium lounge. The view was only slightly different from this one above, different mountain peaks mostly.  Sitting alone, I tipped my head back against the overstuffed lounge chair and gazed out over the hotel's lush landscaping and fountains to the rocky peaks of the Eastern Sierra Madre.  Birds flitted by the atrium windows, doing their birdy business, and in this absence of modern world distractions, I digested all I'd seen and learned in the past week.  The cases I'd heard and decisions I'd made; the personalities and management styles and what I could learn from them; the stresses of the CCD crashing and how we all worked around it.  It all pales in comparison to the sight of these volcanic peaks, making me and my preoccupations seem silly and minute.  Life moves on, CCDs crash and then work again, applicants come and then go, puzzles are solved and either learned from or forgotten. Yes, this is what goes on behind my eyes while I sit mesmerized watching water coursing around rocks in a stream, a campfire or a 12,000 foot peak.

Being surrounded by the beauty of nature helps me put things in perspective and not let myself get wound up in the drama de jour, which is so easy to do wherever one is. Tomorrow brings the return trip home and the excitement of seeing husband and Tabbies again.  Then Monday morning when I slip my badge over my neck and head back to the window, I'll have all that I absorbed here still in mind: both the calmness gained from being in beautiful surroundings and the collective wisdom of working with dozens of new people in a challenging situation.  Who knows if the Data Engineers will find that one loose plug that started this all, or fire the guy who spilled his coffee on the server and everything will be dandy again, but either way, there's no use getting too wound up about it.  Just look out the window and enjoy the view and remember that this too will pass. 
Thanks TDY.

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