Archive for the 'Foreign Service Life' Category

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.

Onward!

So my top 10 choices were…

1. Ankara
2.London
3. Tel Aviv
4. Rome
5. London
6. Ottawa
7. Casablanca
8. Madrid
9.Amman
10.Geneva

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.

Home Sweet Juarez

It’s good to be home after living out of a suitcase for three weeks. To celebrate the end of the week a group of us went out to deep fried Sushi on Friday night, nothing says welcome home like clogging your arteries with deep-fried fish. It was also great to spend time with Juarez buddies, after 3 weeks of being in Guadalajara. Not that the people there weren’t fantastic, but I missed my fellow Juarezidents. Unfortunately I made the mistake of letting the Sushi place staff know where we work. I asked for a factura at the end (receipt to get the tax back) and you have to present your factura card to get it, the card says where we work. Personally I though the jig was already up, I couldn’t imagine any other reason for a group of Americans to be in Juarez other than working at the consulate. Apparently though, they used to think we worked for a maquiladora. Opps, hopefully we won’t start getting a slew of visa questions every time we go in for sushi now. I already get them when I get the red light at the bridge. Sigh, the joys of consular work. Speaking of which, my return to Juarez was also celebrated with my exile from NIV. I got kicked out of the nest and sent over to the immigrant visa unit this morning. Just when I finally figured out what was going on with NIV. Oh well, despite being exiled it is good to be home!

So…

Not even halfway through my duty week, thus far I’ve had calls about a kidnapping, car theft, possible death case, a sick American needing a medevac and done my first jail visit. In fairness the kidnapping and sick American were out of district so those got punted to Mexico City (I apologize to the Mex City duty officer who ever you are!). I thought that since I had gone 14 hours without receiving a call that maybe it would be a quiet Saturday, then the phone starting ringing at 11 (that was my car theft followed by the arrest call an hour later), so much for quiet! I suppose no one ever promised me that Foreign Service life would be quiet! I had hoped that by staring at the phone and being in this constant state of anxious ready that I would avoid major issues but since that seems blown…. I wonder what the next few days will bring me! I can definitely see how satisfying American citizen services work can be. I actually felt like I helped calm down my car theft victims and gave them good solid advice on what they can do before ACS reopens Monday. Of course in all this I am just so, so grateful for the Duty FSN who has just made everything so much easier and has been putting up with my stumbling attempts to weed my way through duty week.  71.222 hours down… 87.778 hours left. Almost halfway there.

Duty week

Pardon the lack of updating, this week is my duty week. For those not familiar with duty week, basically I’m the person on call after hours in case Americans have any emergencies; I’m the point of contact. The nice thing about being at a large post like CJ is that there is a lot of support for the duty officer including an FSN who is on duty with me who is pretty much my lifeline. Still because it is my first time on duty I’ve been sleeping with one eye open. My first night was rough in terms of sleep since I also have to wake up to open the building. I thought since I had to get up at 4:30 I would go to sleep at 9ish. Well my 10:50pm visa call followed by a 3:38am visa call pretty much killed any hope of sleep that night. The line is for emergencies but the visa calls manage to sneak through anyway. I don’t mind those too much… well I was pretty irked at 3:38 am, but it is better than having a call from someone in a real emergency. Anyway, I doubt I will update much until after Wednesday when I am off the hook. I’ve been pretty much staring at the phone, with the theory that a watched pot never boils. So far, I’ve had mixed success with this strategy… worst thing thus far has been a car theft but I’ve only completed 64.857 hours of my duty week,  94.143 left to go. But who’s counting? On the bright side I look at this as a chance to get a taste of ACS work, which as a consular officer I’m sure there will be plenty in my future, and apparently duty week came with duty cereal. So, I have Berry, Berry Kix to keep me company while I stare at the blackberry. 94.072 hours left and counting….

Treking around El Paso

When I lived in Melbourne I never went anywhere without an umbrella, because inevitably every time I left the house without

Yep, that's a cow in the back of that Chevy. Only in Juarez!

one it poured rain. I think I’m going to have to start carrying sunblock everywhere I go, since I seem to be getting burnt every weekend.

On my list of things to do in El Paso has been the Wyler Tram Aerialway and hiking in the Franklin Mountains State park. Sunday I crossed the park off the list. The trek turned out be a little more adventurous than I hoped. I wound up getting a bit lost on my way back. I was following what I thought were ties on random trees and cacti meant to mark a trail. I think in reality it was just trash stuck in the branches. After an hour of hiking through a really “rough path” that was covered with shrubs and boulders it occurred to me that I had perhaps strayed off the path. Lo and behold I was hiking in a little gully next to the actual path which was delightfully flat and free of thorny bushes in my way. Sigh, I blame the sun for crisping my good sense.

Our chariot up the mountain

Today’s trek was little more successful. A friend and I decided to check out the Wyler Tram. On the way there were stopped behind a truck that was transporting a rather bewildered looking cow. The  poor thing was nearly pitched over the side about 3 times. I don’t know how he managed to keep his balance. We weren’t the only ones entertained by the poor cows plight. The street vendors seemed pretty perplexed by the  sight as well.

The tram was pretty cool too.  When we reached the top we were able to see New Mexico, Texas, and Juarez. It’s pretty neat to beable to look down and see the border between two countries.  Since I spend so much time in one small corner of Juarez I tend not to appreciate justhow big the city is. I have to say though, as cool as the view from the top of the tram was, that  the most impressive sight of the day was probably the cow in the Chevy.

Adventures in Juarez Dining

I’d like to say I used the unexpected day off to something wildly interesting but the honest truth is I ran errands and did housework. I think I entertained my community guard though. I have a tiny patch of grass in front of my house that is too tiny to use the lawn mower on. So I hauled out the weed whacker to deal with it. The day guard never sees me so I swear he hoped on his bicycle and started circling the street (which takes 30 seconds since it is a tiny street) just for the sheer entertainment of watching me trying to cut the grass without chopping down my bouganvilla shrub.  I lost a good solid branch in the struggle but now I can get into my garage without driving through branches and the grass is no longer taking over my driveway, so I declare win.

After my early morning gardening, this being Juarez and being so close to the border, we wound up trekking across the border to the U.S. for shopping. So there you have it, probably the most adventurous part of the day was when we went out for Sushi in Juarez. It was certainly like no sushi I had ever seen. I had a banana roll which was actually pretty delicious and a “Texano roll.” You could tell it was Mexican sushi because like most things in Mexico they chucked the whole thing in the deep fryer before serving it. I suppose I should be pleased since it probably isn’t a good idea to eat raw fish this far from the ocean… but really? Deep fried and breaded sushi? Don’t get me wrong it was actually pretty good if you adjust your idea of what sushi is, I just cringe to think what anyone from Japan would say if they saw this bastardized version of one of their signature dishes.

Hiking in Gila

Yesterday I decided to get out of Juarez. I planned on going to Franklin Mountain State Park in El Paso to do a little hiking but

The opera house in Pinos Altos, which was my first "ghost town" experience!

the weather was cool, in the 80’s which practically frigid here, and my GPS said Gila Forest National Park was only 2 and a half hours away, so I kept going. 4 hours later I rolled into the park. The GPS neglected to calculate that although the speed limit for the last 35 miles is 55mph, that it is impossible to go any faster than 15 mph without flinging yourself over the edge of a cliff. So deciding that I was in favor of not dying a horrid albeit pine-scented death, I took the trek at a leisurely pace. The drive was absolutely gorgeous though! There were pine trees! There were trees! It was green! So my joy at seeing green things probably sounds a bit insane I’ve been in the middle of the desert for nearly 3 months, so seeing green trees and a light drizzling rain was an actual treat.   It was also in the 60’s up in the forest, so it was totally worth the  long drive.

On the long meandering drive up the mountain to the park, I stopped at a “Semi-Ghost Town.” I call it Semi-Ghost because there are still people living there and a lot of motels and cabin rental places, so it wasn’t really an abandoned town.  Adding a little to the authenticity was the fact that it was a Sunday afternoon so pretty much everything was closed.

After checking out the little town, I and my honda civic continued our trek up the mountain. I’m pretty pleased that my little hybrid has managed to tackle mountains, deserts, and monsoons over the last 3 months. If only it could handle the Himalaya

Misty mountains in the desert.

sized speed bumps Juarez has constructed at random intervals (aka the middle of the freeway), life would be perfect. The forest was stunningly beautiful. It was drizzling a little bit up in the mountains but rain is another thing I’ve started to miss out the in the desert. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed rain so much before, when we get 2 drops in Juarez I practically do a happy dance.

There were a couple of scenic overlooks on the road up to the cliff dwellings, so I pulled over and took a few shots. It is pretty amazing to be able to peer over a cliff and see and smell pine forests but also see the desert just beyond. There were also various cacti growing between the stands of pine trees. Having lived most of my life in Maryland, I’m not used all these cacti yet!

The real reason of course I have been dying to go to Gila is the cliff dwellings. They were definitely worth the trek. There were probably only about 10 people on the trail so it felt like I had the park to myself.

The Gila Cliff Dwellings

Apparently the people that lived in the dwellings spent 15 years building them, and then only lived there for 10 years before taking off for greener pastures, though where those greener pastures were no one is exactly sure. Because the park was pretty empty I had plenty of time to talk to the guide at the park, who apparently once wanted to join the Foreign Service as well. So despite the fact that my GPS lied to me about the total travel time, it was definitely worth the trek. I think next time though I will stay overnight, because apparently there is another ghost town out in them thar hills that I missed.

I’ve also reached another important milestone. Clearly I cross the border too much. I get stopped every time coming back into Mexico by CBP for my out of state plates. Yesterday when I crossed back in one of the guys glanced at me and said “she’s good, she’s with the consulate.” Yep, when CBP starts to know who you are, I think it is a clear sign your crossing to often. Perhaps Juarez costco and I will have to bond… I’ve stopped going to my local supermarket because I think I’ve denied visas to every cashier in the place. I do believe that costco is still safe though…