Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring In!

Warning: If you have found this blog looking for lots of Foreign Service how-tos, you may be better off reading earlier entries. If you like gardening, pets, and general career musings? Read on.

Spring has returned to the borderlands, our second time through. We're no longer surprised to feel the hot, strong winds in their hyper-allergenic glory, carrying bits of the northern Chihuahua desert to the sneezing, sniffling residents of Juarez and El Paso.  Not so much fun for those of us with any type of allergy, but great if you're a cat who likes to bask in the not-yet-too-hot sunshine and feel the breeze in your fur as you prowl the garden.  Sometimes the wind can get downright ridiculous, whistling and howling through window and door cracks to keep us awake at night, taking down tree limbs throughout the neighborhood.  Other times it just rustles the palm fronds around our house and dries our laundry on the line in about ten minutes. 

But spring also means longer days and more sunshine for the garden.  Our dormant plants have burst back to life, naive of the scorching that their delicate leaves will have to endure in just two months.  For now, however, my garden looks lovely.  Yeah, the lawn is still a bit patchy 'round the edges because the sun doesn't quite reach all the corners yet, but with the rains of June - it'll be lush again.  I'm so excited to see the rose bushes are flourishing and loaded with buds. Even the jasmine vine has gone wonkers setting new buds.  Just take a look at it all:

Star Jasmine vine with tons of little buds

Happy geranium that was inherited from friends leaving  post

Cream rose edged in bright, dark pink

Count 'em seven white rose buds!
We also have five large pots of bougainvillea, three of which were inherited from some friends leaving post for Vienna, where they're now ensconced in a metropolitan flat, no space for the literal carloads of gardening goodies they left with us.  That's another thing that's fun about this lifestyle if one is gardening-inclined: the chance to play with bringing things to life in tropical, urban, desert or mountainous climates for two years each.  I've never had jasmine this happy before, and since the 1990s, I've cursed the black spot that plagued my favorite rose bushes in the Pacific Northwest - but not here! (Something to do with the 24% humidity, perhaps?)

Besides flora, we're also happy with the fauna this little yard has attracted.  Hummingbirds last summer, doves year-round, and a darling bachelor cardinal all winter. Toby has taken umbrage with the doves who land in HIS yard, even when HE'S on patrol! He gets in the low, pounce-and-destroy position, ears flattened and tail twitching and, and... well, that's all.  But trust me - he LOOKS really scary. Except to the doves who know better and are truly in no danger. 

"The menace, the silly fool! Who does this dove think she is? This is MY yard!"
Dodger and Daphne, on the other hand, gave up such charades years ago and are satisfied resting under the rose bushes, or rolling in the dusty patches of the lawn.  That's the best way they've found to carry the dirt, grass clippings and dried leaves into the house to spread the lovely outside all over the couches, beds and tile floor.  

Cat Napping: A still life
Meanwhile, in the world outside the stone wall, the work life is still equal parts challenging and interesting.  Since my arrival, I've hoped to move through the three consular sections of the Consulate: non-immigrant visas (NIV), immigrant visas (IV) and American Citizen Services (ACS).  I've hit two of the three, but have yet to be assigned to one of the few ACS spots we have.  I wanted the consular trifecta so that when I get to my next post, which has a consular section that is just the fraction the size of the Juarez operation, I want to be as well-rounded and prepared as possible.  But it appears that this hope will not come to fruition as just recently I was offered one of two positions to train the incoming IV officers for my remaining time here (nearly a year).  I'm of the mind that an unexpected opportunity will lead to an unexpected result, and therefore I'm excited to take on this challenge and I trust that it will lead to a greater depth of understanding of the complexities of IV work, along with the satisfaction of being able to train a new generation of fresh officers. 

We have a tradition of putting a toro pinata on the desk of the newest officer, and lately he's been quite actively bouncing from desk to desk. The new generation is starting to trickle in, and in the past two weeks we've welcomed four new officers already.  But newcomers means that the veterans are moving out, and it's also the sad despedida (going away party) season, too.  We send off our friends and colleagues, most likely to see them again at FSI or years down the road in some other post where we'll have to pause to remember exactly from where we knew them. It's nothing personal, more like a professionally-induced tic. When the new officers arrive, besides the typical getting-to-know-ya' questions, I generally ask them "Whose house did you get?", a little mnemonic for helping me keep straight who lives where. "Ahhh... you're in THAT house? Wow, you're going to have to live up to a long tradition of garden parties living there!" I warn them. 

So that's the seasonal update.  Soon we're off to our first vacation together since 2012 that involves an airplane.  The Tabbies will be left in the care of our housekeeper's daily visits.  But that's a story for another day, and it will be entitled, "Spanish 201: How to teach someone to pill a cat." 

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Cresting One Year in Juarez and Three Years in the Foreign Service

I think the title says it all: we've recently hit our one-year mark here in the northern Chihuahua desert and are now, as my friend called it, on the back nine.  For me it was an important moment because even though I've been in the Foreign Service for three years now (this month!), I haven't been at any post for more than one year.  We curtailed from Bogota just weeks before hitting the exact one year mark to join A-100, so in a way I feel I haven't been able to see an assignment all the way through to completion.  

Time has so many ways of passing, depending on what's going on in one's life.  This is one of the reasons why my husband and I decided to take on a life of continual change, actually.  I find that when someone is in a routine, any routine, time truly flies.  Each Wednesday begins to feel like the last, each weekend blurs into the next one until you realize that one, three, seven years have gone by.  But when placed into new environments, where our senses must be active to adapt and survive, time passes far more slowly.  Each day brings a new sight, smell, taste, fear, joy - something, anything - that makes us feel more alive instead of simply living on muscle memory.  

In some ways it feels as though the next year will take forever to pass. We still have one heck of a summer to get through, which in early March is already teasing us with days as warm as Seattle in late July.  We'll have another rainy, road-flooding season, another Christmas, another tiresome annual employee evaluation to write (just turned mine in yesterday, thank you) etc...  However, given the theory I proposed in the paragraph above, I believe the year will pass quickly as we have definitely settled into a comfortable routine.  I'm really enjoying my work and have reached a level of confidence that each day doesn't feel like I'm a fish on the carpet anymore.  The Tabbies certainly have their days mapped out: breakfast, quick tour of the garden to "read" who shinnied down the tree to invade their turf the night before, grab a few winks on the couch, then up to the bedroom to catch the mid-day sunny spots, then we're home for dinner and some more time in the garden before bed.  It's a nice way to pass a life when you're 15.5 years old (or about 80 in human years). 

But for those of us who are not 80 in human years, I feel that this is my young life and I don't want it to pass so quickly!  My husband and I have started making lists of places we need to see and things we need to do before the buzzer goes off and we have to leave Mexico.  I've recently applied (again) for a rotation into the American Citizen Services section at the Consulate which would mean learning a whole new set of consular skills.  If I'm not selected for that spot, I'll raise my hand for a TDY to another other post in Mission Mexico this summer, like I did last June in Monterrey. Anything to make the most of our time here, both personally and professionally, and milk every drop out of life.  Otherwise it's just too easy to let the years march on and before I know it, I'm 80 and just looking for a sunny spot to rest in.  

To add some color to this contemplative entry, I'm going to close with some photos of our most recent weekend escapes. First to Guadalupe National Park in Texas for a day hike. Later we visited Silver City, NM and finally we had a great camping trip to Aguirre Spring National Recreation Area near Las Cruces, NM.  These little trips are all ways of trying to brighten up our otherwise regular, suburban existence.  (Speaking of which, please notice that I've started to add a list of blogs from and about Juarez, in case any of you are reading this due to being assigned here in the near future.  I understand that there was a recent A-100 flag day wherein NINE new Juarez-bound Consular Officers received their tiny Mexican flags.  Bienvenidos todos!)

Homestead in Guadalupe Mountains National Park, TX

Canyon view from Devil's Hall Trail in Guadalupe Nat'l Park

Is that standing water? View from the highway towards Guadalupe Nat'l Park and the highest peak in Texas

Lovely campsite in Aguirre Spring Nat'l Recreation Area, NM
Bad moon on the rise - looking east from Aguirre Spring

New day dawning with a huge horizon, Aguirre Spring

Organ Mountains, eastside view from Aguirre Spring

Gila Cliff Dwellings Nat'l Monument, near Silver City, NM

Living room view for Gila Cliff dwellers

Some little friends near our kitchen window in Silver City, NM. I saw 16 different bird species here!

Funky downtown Silver City, NM

How the Tabbies pass the day

An older gentleman loves his basket