Home Leave

Somehow when I wasn’t looking the last 2 years flew by. Tomorrow is my last day in Consulate Juarez. This time tomorrow we will officially be on home leave. I’m going to miss my amazing co-workers and the friends that I’ve made in the last 2 years, but one of the best parts about the Foreign Service is that it is a small Foreign Service. I know I’ll see most of them again in the next few years. In fact, I’ll see a number of my co-workers back at FSI in a few months. I’m looking forward to being back in DC and excited about learning French and Arabic (I get a few months of French and then 8 months of Arabic) but first there is home leave!

Before I met Shaun I started planning home leave. For some reason I’ve always wanted to get to Monument Valley. And I figured if I was going there I should go to the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde. Then when I met Shaun and told him about my plans for home leave,  he went from saying “cool, that sounds like a neat trip” to “oh and we should stop here and here and here….” That was how I first had an inkling that he was thinking about coming with me. After nearly 2 years of talking about the Epic road trip it has grown to cover a pretty good swath of the US. We’ve added a bunch of Archaeological sites to our itinerary and ended up with quite the trip. If I’m not totally brain dead from all the driving I’ll try to chronicle a bit of it. It will be a nice tour of the US before we depart for Morocco next year.
View Home Leave in a larger map


But first one last day in Juarez and one last trip across the border.

How to draft yourself a Scuba buddy

I felt like since I got a beautiful ring, Shaun deserved some sort of engagement gift. What I settled on may turn out to be a bit of a “from: me, to: me”, kind of gift. I went with scuba certification for Shaun. I got certified in El Paso back when I first arrived at post and have been diving in Puerto Vallarta and Cancun since then. Both were amazing but I didn’t have a dive buddy which has been kind of lonely. I’ve meet some interesting people that way, since you always get paired up someone on the boat but I thought it would be more fun to have someone to dive with. The solution seemed totally obvious to me, I’d just draft my asthmatic fiance! Fortunately he is a very mild asthmatic. So, after doctors clearances and getting him outfitted with equipment and everything else he is now half way to being certified. When I did it we had our pool sessions split over two weeks. They decided to cram all 5 pool dives into one insanely long day. Shaun pretty much rolled in the door and fell asleep. On the bright side he seems to be enjoying it or at least is being a good sport about it. I’ll take it as a good sign that he’s added a few Scuba stops on home leave trip. We’re now going to be detouring to dive at some wreck sites. The grand plan is to take advantage of the fact that Spain is a short cheap flight from Morocco and the Canary Islands are a short cheap flight from Spain. Grand Canary here we come!

And we’re back…

So time flies, when you get insanely busy! I have a little over three months left at post. It’s kind of hard to believe the last two years have gone so quickly. Let’s see in the last few months, I’ve done a lot of traveling including a weekend in Napa/San Francisco, 89 hours in Seoul, South Korea, skiing in Lake Tahoe, a trip to Detroit to see the Red Wings play at Joe Louis, and a weekend in Ruidoso, NM. Considering Ruidoso is close I can’t believe I haven’t gotten there until now. We’ve got a lot planned in the next few months including another trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, a trip to Big Bend and then an epic road trip at home leave as we slowly make our way to upstate New York via the Grand Canyon, Mesa Verde, San Antonio, New Orleans, Kentucky, Michigan… ect.

Hopefully I’ll be a little bit better about blogging it all. It’s been a busy few months at work and personally. I got engaged a few weeks ago! Apparently the whole foreign service life didn’t scare Shaun off at all and he decided to sign up for the long term. So just in case things weren’t busy enough with the moving to DC and then to Morocco, we thought it would be fun to add into the mix the stress of planning a wedding. I think my father is more jazzed about that then I am. He ran out a couple of weeks after and signed a contract with a venue. He also got it into his head that we’re having an Alpine themed wedding. I’m not sure what that is exactly but I’m afraid it involves lederhosen… I’m entirely terrified and hopefully we can fend off the lederhosen before this gets too out of hand. I apologize in advance if this blog gets a little eaten up by wedding planning.

On the Morocco front, we’ve spent the last few months reading pretty much everything we can get our hands on about Morocco. I can’t believe what an amazing post we’ve got for the second tour. It is going to be hard to wait the little over a year plus to finally get there. We started taking French classes in El Paso to start getting familiar with the language. My job is Arabic designated so I’ll be getting a full course of Arabic and because of scheduling issues I’m getting two months of French as well, which is fantastic but we figured since that wasn’t much time, a head start never hurts.


So my top 10 choices were…

1. Ankara
3. Tel Aviv
4. Rome
5. London
6. Ottawa
7. Casablanca
8. Madrid

I’m heading to:

Casablanca, Morocco

I was hoping to work in an embassy this time around and for a tour that wasn’t straight consular work, but the location is nicer this time around and I get 8 months back in DC to learn Arabic. Let’s hope I do better this time with the Arabic than I did the last time around. After 2 years studying Arabic pretty much all I can do is brag about my cats in the language.

Second Tour Bidding

So I suppose it has become obvious that I have been a little distracted these last few months. I was gently reminded by one of my fellow Juarezidents that my blog is woefully out of date and that maybe I should write about bidding on my second tour. Will do! But first the quick version of where I’ve been. The last few months I’ve done quite a bit of traveling. I went out to Merida to visit a friend who works at the consulate there and we road tripped down the Yucatan to Tulum, Cozumel, Akumal, and Playa del Carmen. I went back home to DC for a brief visit and I’ve done some additional traveling in New Mexico. I went out camping at Quemado Lake and went back to the Gila Cliff Dwellings and to Silver City. This time I did the Silver City trip over the course of a weekend and not just in a day; it is a lot saner that way. This time I also brought my own Archaeologist with me to the Cliff Dwellings. Said Archaeologist (AKA my distraction) is the reason I’ve been so bad about blogging lately.

When you enter the Foreign Service as a single gal you tend to hear “abandon all hope… especially if you have cats.” I heard at one point that the cats in particular repel men. In my case that actually turned out true since the Archaeologist is so insanely allergic to cats I’ve resorted to investing in special chemicals to denature the proteins in the cat dander to get it off my clothes… oh the things we do for love. Somehow though despite the cats and the crazy job which I rapidly discovered last summer and fall during my dating exploits in El Paso tends to make members of the opposite sex go “you do what now? And you move how often? So you are here for how long…” Despite an inauspicious beginning, somehow I manged to find someone adventurous enough or crazy enough to sign up to be my MOH. MOH for those not yet fluent in acronym is Member of Household which in this case refers to an unmarried partner. Though, since he lives in El Paso and I live in Juarez, it isn’t necessary to fill out the paperwork to make him a MOH while I’m here in Juarez.

That brings us to second tour bidding! The last few weeks we’ve spent hours pouring over the bid list trying to decide what to bid and how. It’s actually a bit of a challenge to balance career concerns with the desire to live someplace interesting. After living on the Texas border for the last year I kind of want some place a little more exotic. I’m ready to feel like I’m in the “foreign” service. I also want to branch out and try something outside of the consular cone or try a different type of consular work. Add into that trying to find some place where Shaun (AKA the Archaeologist) can either work remotely or have decent job prospects and bidding becomes an almost herculean endeavor. Somehow though we managed to put together a bid list with a top 10 that excites us both. Actually, our whole top 20 is pretty great. I don’t want to jinx it by sharing out list, but I think we’ll both be pretty thrilled wherever we go. I will say that our Top 10 is pretty EUR and NEA heavy with the exception of one job in Canada. I may have to hang my head in shame if I go from one border to the other but the job was too cool not to bid and it will allow me to embrace my new found love of ice hockey. I did once move to Australia just for the Aussie Rules Football, so this wouldn’t be the least sensible decision I’ve ever made.

So that’s the quick and dirty update. Hopefully I’ll be a bit better about blogging in the future since the Archaeologist is going to be out in the field a lot for the rest of the summer and I will have a little less distraction and some more time. I’ll post an update when I know where I’m going, which hopefully will be very soon!

Highlights from January-February

So I did the disappearing act again by accident. The last few months have been a bit busier and a bit crazier than I expected for a variety of reasons. A few highlights or low-lights from the last few months would be:

Those are all butterflies on that tree!

-On the highlights side was road-tripping through Mexico State with my best friend who came from South Korea to visit me, ruins, and the Monarch Butterfly Migration. That trip definitely deserves its own post but here is a sampling from the trip!

-Skiing in Albuquerque with some of my co-workers over a long weekend in February. There is nothing quite as odd as sitting on a chairlift staring out at dessert just beyond.

-Staring a delicious cupcake war with one of my co-workers. Really this is an evil plot to get him to bake more, if I have to make a few cupcakes in the process it is a sacrifice I am willing to make.

-Finding out where a number of my colleagues are going to be going on their next tour, western Europe is going to be filled with former Juarezidents. Hard to believe in a few short months, I’ll be bidding again.

On the down side was…

-Freezing temperatures in Juarez that caused most of us to lose heat, power, and water for at least a few hours and for some of us a few days. I spent most of that week without water. I particularly enjoyed the ironic messages from friends on the east coast where the temperatures were in the teens, telling me how lucky I was to be in Mexico where it was warm. Little did they realize at one point it was 2 degrees in Juarez… Amusingly at the end of the week I flew up to Michigan where it was actually warmer than in Mexico/Texas. Thank you mother nature. Unfortunately my water pipes still aren’t working quite right since the deep freeze.

So that and a lot of work is what has been keeping me busy. In the next few weeks I’m plotting another road trip with a friend of mine at the consulate in Merida and a trip out to Carlsbad Caverns with some friends. Hopefully I’ll be a bit better about updating this.

Joining the Foreign Service Part II-The FSOA and Beyond

Continuing on with the process of joining the Foreign Service after clearing the FSOT and the QEP, the next hurdle is the FSOA. As always my one bit of actual advice is “be persistent!” The Oral Assessment is a three part test that makes for a pretty long day. The day always starts out with the group exercise and then either moves to the structured interview or the case management. I used the materials available on the FSOA yahoo group to help prepare. The yahoo groups are a great resources but they are also a fountain of an incredible amount of misinformation, so take some of the advice that is dished out there with a grain of salt. If it sounds crazy… it probably is. Most people on there do give pretty good tips and advice but there are some that suggest strategies to game the test, and most of these strategies seem to be for the group exercise. The BEX have done you a big favor, they told you what they want- the 13 dimensions. They aren’t looking for someone who can outwit their group members. Continue reading ‘Joining the Foreign Service Part II-The FSOA and Beyond’

Reader Searches Part II- Joining the Foreign Service

As I promised a few weeks ago, I’m doing a couple of posts inspired by reader searches. As an aside by far the most entertaining key word search someone used to find my blog is “how many trash cans, fort bliss.” I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that one… but I have noticed a reoccurring theme on other search terms. People seem to want to know about studying for the Foreign Service exam and failing the foreign service exam. While there are some incredible people who pass through the FSOT, QEP, and FSOA the first time through I was not one of them. I failed the written exam twice (back when it was the FWSE) before passing the first try through the new FSOT/QEP system. I remember seeing a statistic back when it was the FSWE that only 2% passed all the way through the FSOA to get an offer (I do believe it is slightly higher now). I was lamenting to my sister that there was no way, I wasn’t one of the top 2% smartest people in the world, it just wasn’t going to happen. She gave me what was probably the BEST advice I got in the whole process. “So, be one of the 2% most persistent people.” More than anything this is a process that rewards persistence. Most people don’t pass the first time or they don’t get off the register after passing the first time. So for those intrepid applicants out there still weeding through the process–that is the best actual advice I can give– be persistent. The rest of this is just ramblings about my own experiences and what worked for me all within the confines of the NDA of course! Continue reading ‘Reader Searches Part II- Joining the Foreign Service’

Cancun and Braving Juarez

Since I seem to have caught the plague that has been circulating around the consulate and I’m home sick at the moment, it seems like as good a time as any to get caught up on the blogging. It’s hard to believe I’ve been back from Cancun for a month and haven’t actually gone anywhere since! A whole month in Juarez/El Paso, this is kind of a new record for me.  Last weekend was spent getting out of my 2 square miles of Juarez. A small intrepid group of us trekked down to the main market in Juarez. We had been there before on a CLO tour, but since it is the holiday season the market seems to have expanded and taken over the streets outside the normal market building. I’ve also never been so happy to see a parqueo before, because without a parqueo we seriously might have circled the streets for hours. Bless the parqueos (words I never thought I’d utter)! I’ve been to lots of markets in Mexico by now. Most of them sell things like handicrafts and sculptures, or artisan works. Not the Juarez market. Pretty much what you find there is love potions, vodoo dolls, and herbal medicines. Ah, gotta love Juarez, it has a character all its own.

Cancun was beautiful though. It doesn’t quite feel like Mexico since I think I heard more English spoken there than I do in El

Chichen Itza

Paso, but the beaches are gorgeous. The highlight of the trip was heading to Chichen Itza to check out the ruins. I’d never been to a ruin when this year started, but in the last 9 months I’ve been to Tikal, Teotihuacan, Monte Alban, and Chichen Itza. Not bad, now if I can just get out to visit my friend in Peru and check out Machu Picchu, I’ll be set. The main temple at Chichen Izta, is pretty amazing. If you stand in the right spot and clap it sounds like a bird call echoing out of the building. Also on the solstice the sunlight forms a serpent on the side of the building, tragically we were not there at the solstice. I was also able to meet up with my friend from the Merida consulate, and spend a night out experiencing Cancun nightlife, which is insane. I thought Oaxaca was wild at Day of the Dead time, Cancun is just crazy all the time.

Since then I’ve spent most of my weekends around El Paso battling border traffic. I’ve never seen anything as insane as the shops and the bridge crossing in El Paso around Christmas time. I’d also thought until recently that the scariest thing I’d seen in El Paso/Juarez was the cow I saw tied in the back of a chevy a few months back, until I started seeing all these cars with reindeer antlers and Rudolph noses tied on them. It is a strange, strange world down here sometimes.

Reader Searches- Part I- Life in Juarez

So, I have been a very bad blogger lately for a variety of reasons mostly stemming from a lack of time and time spent at home with my computer.  I still have more to write up from the trip to Oaxaca and also my trip to Cancun but to atone for my blog inattention I thought I would try to address some of burning questions out there. I also promised a shout-out to the co-worker who keeps gently reminding me that I need to update this thing. Hope you’re enjoying the vacation and the TDY- Juarez misses you!

So  I enjoy checking my google analytics from time to time to see how people are finding the blog. Based on the top search terms (ignoring the ones that were people looking for a bakery called diplomat– which sounds like it has a tasty menu) it looks like what people are most interested in is the process of joining the Foreign Service (specifically failing a test and trying again) and life in Juarez. Life in Juarez searches broke down in to two general categories–what is it like here on the ground and “the joys of working in Juarez” (and there are joys to working in Juarez, really!)

I’ll tackle the Juarez question first tonight and write up my not so pithy advice navigating the entry process in a not-to-distant post (really, I promise!). So what is life like in Juarez? Well I do honestly feel safe most of the time. I haven’t seen anything other than a few car accidents since I have been here. You do see a lot of federal police armed to the teeth rolling around the streets, but you get used to them after a while.

Yes, I have heard gun shots but none of them very close to my community. The violence here is very random and some people have seen more than I have or heard shots closer to their community. There are people who have driven by crime scenes, I’m just not one of them.  I do go out to dinners in Juarez and to bars with friends at least a couple of times a week. It involves a lot of common sense, things like knowing where the exit is… just in case and not staying out late in Juarez. I have come back over the bridge late at night from El Paso, and honestly sometimes I feel safer at 1 am crossing than I do at 1pm just because there is no one around and I can easily see if anyone is coming towards me. I also don’t go deep into Juarez. There is about 2 square miles around the consulate that I mostly stick to. I do almost all of my shopping in El Paso. There are plenty of people who do most of their shopping in Juarez without a problem. I did more when I first got here. For me it isn’t so much the violence as the fact that I can speak English in El Paso, and well sometimes that is just easier after a day of speaking Spanish in the window. Yes it would be nice to be in a city where I felt comfortable going out and exploring every inch of it and I will probably finish my 2 years here in Juarez without ever having seen much of well, Juarez but I don’t feel like I am going to die at every minute. I don’t feel like I am living in terror. I miss things like running outside but I got a treadmill so you learn to make do. I’m mostly not tempting the fates and taking advantage of being in Mexico to get down into southern Mexico where I feel completely safe and getting out and seeing the American Southwest. Despite all the drawbacks of living in Juarez (not running outside, not getting out into the city, ect.) there is a great community at the consulate and I am having a great tour. It’s hard to believe that I’ve finished nearly 7 months already. Time is kind of flying by.