Saturday, May 31, 2014

I like the hail part better.

As I mentioned last week, it's the beginning of "hail and farewell" season. Really just the farewell part which always comes first. And I hate that part. You would think that being an experienced Foreign Service Officer that by now I would be good at them. But I'm not. I stink at farewells. My coping method of choice is to pretend that they are not happening. This works pretty well, actually, because so far, I've served twice at one post and went back TDY to the other one, so I've been able to see a lot of people again whom I said farewell to before. Also, there is FSI where all FSOs end up eventually and I always run into someone at the cafeteria. And finally, there is facebook so I can at least see photos of my friends' cats. This is Grumpy Cat, not owned by any of my friends, but you get the idea.

The tradition in the Foreign Service is to have a farewell party and give a eulogy about everyone leaving. Seriously, it is rather funereal and a little horrifying to have to listen to people trying to say nice things about everyone especially when you know that one of the people they are lauding is a despicable human being and everyone is happy she is leaving or that another one cheated on his wife with someone else present at the farewell and caused a huge scandal or that a third is leaving the service bitter after not being promoted for the umpteenth time. No, that last one is not me. But you get the idea. What I hadn't realized so clearly until recently is how undiplomatic this whole process is.

You see, what FSOs forget is that there is a large portion of State Department employees who never move. Local staff, whom we rely on to stay at a post and help us run things, make connections with local officials, and interpret for us when we're giving an important briefing--they stay put. And the same with Civil Servants here in DC. Every year they see new people come in and every year they say good-bye to more and listen to the long horrible speeches which gloss over the truth and act like we FSOs are all some kind of saviors and nothing worked before we parachuted in and how will the office ever survive once we leave? Except that there are very talented people who come and stay and do the same work as we do and don't get gushed over every couple of years. This needs a remedy. I'll start with a pledge to never hold a stupid farewell party with awful speeches. Who's with me?

Farewell parties are not better than a brownie, but then neither is finding a bear in your hammock.


Yep. That is a black bear hanging out in someone's backyard in Florida--literally. Makes me very glad I don't have a hammock. Or woods. It would take a lot of work for a bear to break into our yard, get into the garage, and then drag out the chairs to lounge in. I know this because it is apparently beyond the  capacity of the children to find the chairs, so I'm certain the bear would have a tough time. And also there is The Dog. She would so take on that bear. That's her backyard and there is not a cat or a bird or a baby that is allowed in it. So I'm guessing no bears, either.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

I remember

I was helping Child 1 find photos for a project and I came across this photo.

That is not Child 1 (it's Child 3.) However, that is Patong Beach in Phuket, Thailand. In 2004. It is perhaps one of my favorite baby pictures we've ever taken because she looks ready to take on the world and I loved that pink swimsuit and look how long her legs are even as a baby! But every time I see this photo, my heart stops a little, because I think what if. 

The thing about Foreign Service Officers is that we have to take risks. We are required to leave our home country and travel overseas and live far away from family. Yes, it's awesome and glamorous and there are sometimes giraffes. (OK, only one time so far have there been giraffes.) But there are also houses that aren't built to any code whatsoever and crazy drivers backing up on the freeway during rush hour, and sometimes there are dangers that you can't plan for or protect your children from. And there in lies the what if problem.

In 2004, when I heard about the Tsunami, I didn't sleep for three days straight because of the what if. I could see the beach in my head and the McDonald's where we ate and the woman who sold me the sarong I still have and will never part with and the stall where I bought those cool blue sunglasses. And I imagined what it was like and I couldn't sleep. Not sleeping is a thing when I'm stressed. Some day maybe I will look at this photo and not hold my breath. But until then, I'll just focus on the Winnie the Pooh binkie which went with us everywhere. I miss being able to comfort the girls with a binkie and a hug. The hug still works, but no binkie will take the stress out of final exams.

Speaking of stress, apparently some people hold their breath while going through tunnels. The girls and I used to do this in Asia but only because the tunnels were freakishly long and we wanted to see if we could do it. Husband, who was driving, would sing out we're through! when we made it to the end. I didn't know this was a thing, but it is. And what happened next to this kid in Oregon is not better than a brownie.

Yep. That is his crashed car. He held his breath so long that he passed out and crashed his car into oncoming traffic. Thankfully, no one was hurt. It's a good lesson. Sometimes, when something scares you, give in and scream. It requires oxygen so at least you'll breathe. You'll make your mom crash the car because you startled her, but hey, you'll feel better.

Friday, May 23, 2014

But wait!

So there was a change of plans and I don't have to travel to Asia after all. And thank goodness because I think I am finally over jet lag from Africa. The post that needed help magically didn't need help any more when Washington said they would send someone to help. That scenario of "we're from the government and we're here to help" also scares the living daylights out of other government employees, even if we really do mean to help. I mean, there is a reason this scene in E.T. is so horrible.

I totally get it. My dream assignment is a place that nobody cares about where no one from Washington ever visits. You know those places that you have to Google to find out where they are? Like Yerevan, or Ouagadougou, or Bandar Seri Begawan? That's where I want to go. Listen, if people can't pronounce it, they can't come visit and then they will leave you alone to do your job. Yes, I am a bit of a Grumpy Old Woman tonight. Maybe I'm not over the jet lag as much as I think.

It's the beginning of Hail and Farewell season and we went to our first farewell tonight. These are people we have known for years and keep running into but now it's much less likely because like Artemis, they are deserting me and moving across the country. It's very sad. Thank goodness for facebook. I mean, I am not a Mark Zuckerberg fan, but his invention has revolutionized the Foreign Service because now it's not so foreign. Wherever we go, we can still chat with our friends and look at their photos of cats.

You know what is better than a brownie? Meteor showers.

So goodnight. I'm going outside to look at the sky and wonder. I hope you do, too.

Monday, May 19, 2014

And then over there

So Africa was awesome. This time, I had more time at each post--a whole week! And I had awesome traveling companions. I have never ever laughed so much on a TDY and I've never had so much fun working so hard. The posts were great, the people there were lovely. And also there was this.

Yep. That is an actual giraffe that I actually saw in Africa. I finally got to see animals! There were also crocs and ostriches, zebra, gazelles, and a rhino. It was like playing SimSafari, only for real! And I only got sick at the end. So yay!

And I think the children missed me. Child 1 looked absolutely stunning at prom and even FaceTimed me while taking pictures and made me cry. For Mother's Day, which yes, I made them celebrate a week late yesterday because it's my day! Yes, for Mother's Day, she showed me her English assignment. I know you are thinking that having completed the assignment was gift enough and you are right! But also, it was in large part about her relationship with me and how much she loves me. Child 1 actually loves me! Yes, I know she is contractually obligated to because I am her mother, but still. It's nice to know every once in a while that it can be voluntary.

Child 3 only missed the bus once and Child 2 is her regular cheerful self, especially now that I have signed her up for the summer camp that she wants. Husband is not so excited to drive her down to this camp because it is over 4 hours away, but I told him fine I will do it since now that I have earned about a billion hours of travel comp time, I actually have leave to burn! This is like a whole new life for me because if you remember from my previous blog, I used up all of my leave when Husband was in Afghanistan. So now I am the one traveling and he is holding down the fort and it is a little confusing and exciting at the same time.

But I am tired and I have been telling people that I am all traveled out which is so true except that I am leaving this weekend for Central Asia. Yep. Seriously. Traveling again only a week after I got home. Because I am a glutton for punishment and also my office asked me today to go help out a post in need, so off I go! No giraffes this time, but I might see a yak or two. This is life in the State Department. They weren't kidding when they say we are supposed to be worldwide available. I just didn't know they meant the whole entire world in the same week. If I survive all this travel, I'm going to really deserve an award. Or since no one ever nominates me for one of those, at least some new shoes.

I'm not sure if traveling to two different continents in two weeks is better than a brownie, but I know that having a leatherback sea turtle crash your wedding definitely is.

Not only did she photobomb the bride, she also laid eggs, which is a rare and beautiful event. That has to be good luck and an incredibly auspicious beginning to their married life. We did not have turtles at our wedding, but if some had crashed, we would definitely have let them in. And for the record, Child 2, that turtle is brown. Not green. Just saying.

Friday, May 2, 2014

There and back again

So I am leaving tomorrow for Africa. I know you are thinking that I just got back from Africa and you are so right! I'm kind of tired of traveling so much and I just want to stay home. But I work for the State Department and when they say you must be "worldwide available" apparently for me it means available to travel to Africa at a moments' notice any time they say. So off I go. This time I will be gone during Child 1's birthday and prom and Mother's Day so you can see why I'm not so excited. The birthday and Mother's Day can be celebrated when I come home in two weeks, but there is only one Senior Prom and it won't happen again. Not that she would let me come and see her at the dance anyway. And I missed my own, so I suppose I'm just doing my thing. You'll never guess why I missed my own prom! No. Seriously. Guess! Yep. I was sick. With a stomach thing. Which they never really diagnosed. That one came with a fever as well as severe pain, so I suppose it wasn't just gluten.

I'm still a little sad that I missed my prom because I had an awesome dress. It was awesome and didn't even look remotely like this.

Seriously, why did they ruin that awesome 60s prom dress and turn it into a bag? And didn't anyone in the costume department ever hear of strapless bras? I know they had them in the 80s. Anyway, my dress was very fashion forward and there was no crinoline or huge sleeves and there was not a single bow to be found. Nor was it satin. I still have it. It fits Child 3 whom you may remember is 11. She may have worn it to be Queen Elizabeth a couple of years ago. And it might be used for dress-up. At least it got used since it never got worn to the prom.

Child 1's dress is very fashion forward and also has lace and got a thumbs up from the Vietnamese lady who is hemming it who I think speaks no English at all. But you don't need to speak the same language to show that a dress is too long and I'm sure it will be just fine when she hems it.

You know what is not better than a brownie? Losing your car to a sinkhole, that's what. This is a picture of Baltimore after the most recent rainstorm.

If you know American geography, then you will know that Baltimore is basically just up the street from DC. The Potomac River is very full. We don't need any more rain this year, thank you. And also, it would be nice now that it's May if I could put away my wool sweaters. But apparently, this is the Year of Never-ending Winter. But it will probably be really warm in Africa, so I won't complain. Well, not much anyway. Or at least not on my blog. Maybe.