Archive for the 'Foreign Service Life' Category

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Life in Juarez take 2

I’d been told many times before I got to post that eventually almost everyone in the Foreign Service gets a housekeeper. I was sure I wasn’t going to be one of those people. I’m used to living in 450 feet of space, which takes about an hour to clean and I like

This is my dining room, and living room, with a view of the outside patio. Part of the 1400 square feet of doom that has defeated me and my plans of cleaning my own home.

cleaning. Well, after two and a half months of trying to keep 1400 square feet clean, I’m calling uncle. My entire house is tile, which is lovely except that I get cat fur tumbleweeds rolling across the floor. So this morning I met with a lady who works for several people at the consulate. Not only did she put up with my pathetic Spanish and pretend to understand me, she seems really nice and judging by her work at other people’s homes, does a great job. There are a lot of things about foreign service life that take some serious adjustment, but despite my earlier thoughts I think having someone to help out around the house isn’t one of them. I’m so relieved that I don’t have to spend every weekend cleaning anymore. Instead I can refocus my efforts on gardening. The bushes that were in the yard before I got here seem to be thriving… the grass not so much. All the plants I bought at Home Depot died pretty quick, but oddly enough the morning glory seeds I planted are thriving and starting to climb up the columns in my back yard.

Typical Saturday afternoon crossing the border. Behold the glory of the Sentri lane!

One of the other things I hadn’t anticipated was how expensive moving overseas and having a home would be. For the first time I’ve to buy things like extension cords for a lawn mower, a weed whacker, trash cans for 3 bath rooms, a rake, shovels, sheets for all the beds, ect.  There are a lot of things that you need for a home that you don’t need for a tiny little basement apartment. I have been taking advantage of the proximity to El Paso to get a lot of those things, since it is probably cheaper to buy them here then it will be in the future. That means that I’ve wound up crossing the border almost every weekend. One of the things that makes life on the border a lot easier is a SENTRI pass. The trusted traveler program lets me cruise right on through. The funny thing is that I have no problem getting out of Mexico in the U.S. It’s when I try to get back into Mexico that I have a problem. I get stopped every time going back in because of my Maryland plates. I guess that is pretty weird out here, so I get the third degree. Not that I mind, the CBP guys and gals are pretty nice, especially once they realize I work at the consulate and I’m just trying to get home. It also gives me a chance to practice my English one last time before heading back into Mexico.

Catching up!

It’s been a busy few weeks so I’ve sort of slacked off on the blogging. I’ll try to be better in the future! So in the past few weeks I’ve survived my first 4th of July party, obtained an open water dive certification (yes, in the middle of the desert), returned to White Sands for some sledding in 105 degree weather, attended a change of command ceremony at Fort Bliss, and adjudicated a lot of visas. The verdict on the sledding is that it is terribly fun, though it is much easier on the snow and next time we need to check the weather report before we decide to spend an afternoon frolicking in the hot sun. The 4th of July party was better than I expected. The 4th is the major representational event for most embassies and consulates overseas so it’s a working holiday for us.  The result is no one in the Foreign Service really seems to look forward to the 4th.  It is a big deal and we invite a lot of important members of the local community. I don’t have much to compare it to, since I’m in the first year of my first tour but I think like most things in Juarez, our party was a little different than those at other posts. It was held earlier for starters because of the Mexican elections and it had a county fair theme so there were games and cotton candy, which sort of set the mood for what I thought was a more relaxed and enjoyable event. I had the opportunity to talk to a lot of interesting people from the Juarez community and I even managed to get through the night with my limited Spanish ability, or at least the lovely people I inflicted my Spanish on were polite enough to pretend they understood me. We also actually got to have the 4th or in this case the 5th of July off, which was an added bonus.

In other representational related events news I had the opportunity to go with a group to the Change of Command ceremony at

All lined up for the review of the troops.

Fort Bliss. Not having a military background, I found it really interesting. It was also just another example of how different a

Foreign Service post this is. In most places I would guess that a significant chunk of the representational events aren’t us representing to another branch of the government. Fortunately it wasn’t a hot day, which is amazing given that it was southern Texas in the middle of July. I would have felt bad for the troops if it was 100 degrees of blazing heat as usual.

On the downside, anyone who has followed the news lately knows the violence in Juarez continues and has been getting worse. Most days it is really easy to ignore. I spend most of my time at home, in El Paso, or at the Consulate, with the occasional lunch, happy hour, or dinner outings thrown in. There was an incident at the mall across the consulate which is one of the places I do go quite a bit. It starts to become a little more real when it encroaches on my little corner of Juarez. Last week was the first time I felt unsafe, it didn’t last long but there are moments when it sneaks up on you. Despite the situation here, I can’t imagine a better group of people to be at post with and we do have a lot of fun.

Outside of work I’ve spent the last three weekends doing class room, pool, and open water sessions for an open water certification. About 8 years ago I went diving on the great barrier reef and had a blast. I meant to come back and get certified then but being a broke college student it wasn’t in the cards. I was hoping to get posted somewhere near water so I could finally

Near Balmorhea- this is the slightly greener part of the desert.

get certified… but well, here I am in Juarez with all of the sand and none of the beach. But lo and behold, there is scuba in the middle of the Chihuahua Desert! Last weekend I went up to Balmorhea State Park in Texas for the open water sessions. It’s a spring feed lake and there were some interesting puffer-like fish there, not quite as spectacular as the great barrier reef but I think I was a little spoiled by my first dive. I’m completely hooked though now and I love the irony of having obtained my cert in the desert. The idea was to get certified before my trip to Cancun in November, though in order good news it looks like I may have the opportunity to hit the water a little sooner. I found out today that I’m going to get to go to Guadalajara for a 3 week TDY in late September. Guadalajara was actually one of the higher ranked posts on my bid list, so I’m incredibly excited to go. It also has the added bonus of being a 40 minute flight from Puerto Vallarta, so hopefully there is some more diving in my near future!


Flooding seems to be a recurring theme in my life lately. Last week I was buried under a flood of boxes. I’d say that they are fully unpacked… but well, that would be a complete lie. I still have about 8 boxes left to be unpacked. I’m amazed at how much junk I brought. I forgot that I had about 3 junk drawers which were basically dumped straight into boxes and I think the time to deal with them has finally come. I’ve been attempting to sort and throw away as I go through them so it has been a slow process.

The second flood was of the more typical kind. Saturday morning I was awoken at 4am by my community’s guard telling me that there was massive quantities of water leaking out of my garage. It’s amazing how much Spanish I don’t speak at 4am, so it took me a few minutes to figure out what the heck was going on when he rang my bell. Sure enough though, massive quantities of water were flooding out of my garage on to the street. With the help of the guard I managed to get the top off water tank and turn off the water to the house so it would stop flooding. Apparently one of the pipes broke. Thankfully the consulate facilities maintenance people rigged it so I had a little water for Sunday and had the system fixed by Monday night. Which is when the next flood came! After weeks of seeing some terrific “thunderstorms” where the wind blows and two drops fall, it was kind of a surprise to see a massive deluge of rain fall last night. This morning the streets were so flooded I wasn’t sure I was going to make it in my little honda civic. I hear that this is normal during the rainy season, which means I might need to get an inflatable raft to make it work.

The Cathedral of Guadalupe in downtown Juarez

The weekend after my HHE arrived I also finally got out into Juarez. The CLO arranged a city tour, so we were able to get out and see the center of the city and one of the markets. The city itself isn’t that bad actually. My biggest complaint about El Paso is that it is a very flat city. Being used to cities like Baltimore and New York, I don’t feel like I’m in a city until I see tall buildings and dirty, gritty streets. Juarez feels more like a real city to me. Work itself has also been interesting. I’m actually enjoying working on the visa line, which is a good thing since I’m consular coned and there will be a lot of visas in my future.

Adventures in unpacking

The mountain of boxes waiting to be unpacked in my office.

So unpacking started off with me ripping open a box labeled “kitchen” unwrapping the first item, hoping to see some long forgotten treasure…. I was greeted with an empty, used milk carton. It’s like finding a lump of coal in your stocking. Other delightful adventures include unwrapping a carton labeled “cat pole” to find my didgeridoo. I’m relieved on that one, I wasn’t sure what a “cat pole” was and I was a little frightened. I’ve also discovered that I own 4 cork screws. 11 boxes down…. 43 more to go!

Those three magic words

Today I received an e-mail with those magic words that fill every overseas FSO’s heart with joy, “your HHE arrived.” My happiness knows no bounds. I’m not sure which makes me happier, the thought of being reunited again with my treadmill or my corkscrew. Okay, well that’s a lie, I do know which brings me more joy, but both excite me just the same. Now I just have to wait until Friday.