Friday, September 29, 2006

Ramadan Kareem

Last night I went to my first Iftar. Observant Muslims are currently celebrating the Holy month of Ramadan, which marks then the Prophet Mohammed received the Koran. During the month, they fast from sunup to sundown, and then eat a huge meal as soon as the sun has set.

Just let me say that I now know why no one loses weight during Ramadan. OMG. There was so much food! And all of it was good. Course after course. I, of couse, having not fasted, ate until I was miserable and still didn't make a dent compared with the folks we were eating with.

The dinner was hosted by the political section and therefore was my first official even as a political officer. It was pretty is nice to be treated like a diplomat instead of like a bureaucrat (which is how consular officers are often treated).

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Holy Crap!

Okay, here is the way Entry Level bidding works if you are trying to go back to DC and are in the first batch of bidders to be assigned (people who are at dangerous or hardship posts with a combination of danger and hardship differentials of greater than 30% get first choice of where to go next). You submit your list of 20 bids, putting your DC bids highest if that is where you want to go. Then your CDO (Career Development Officer) assigns you to one of the non-DC positions on your list, with the caveat that if you get offered a DC position, they will give the other position they assigned you to to someone else.

So I got my assignment today. I may still go back to DC, and I still hope to go back to DC. It is still my top choice. But if I don't get DC, guess where I will be?....


I said I didn't want to go to a hell hole after being here! I think I managed that!! As one of the real post reports said on Tales From A Small Planet, if you can't hack living in Geneva, you really shouldn't be given a passport!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I'm Moving

Not places, jobs. My tour here was supposed to be a two-year consular tour. But one of our officers volunteered to leave and go to Iraq (I never said everyone in the Foreign Service was sane!) before moving over to political. Hers tour was supposed to be a rotation, one year in consular and one year in political. So that left political short-staffed. And while her replacement is here, the department requires folks to do at least 10 months of consular work in their first two tours. So he can't move over to political for a while. While there are two other officers in the visa section, one has only been here a month, needs at least nine more months of consular, and is in a rotational position anyway. And the other doesn't speak Hebrew and the position is Hebrew-designated.

That leaves me. I am the most senior in the section anyway.

I have been here almost 20 months. I have just less than eight months to go because I extended to be on summer cycle (more jobs are available for your next tour if you are on summer cycle). Beginning next week, those months will be spent in political. I am ecstatic! I will miss getting to handle the fraud prevention portfolio here in consular, but in return, I will get to do something new and different. My portfolio there will include religious issues, settler issues and the city of Jerusalem, checkpoints and all. It should be a lot of fun. The new Political chief seems like she is great to work for (M really likes her) and the work sounds interesting. Plus, it means I will have two consular EERs plus an EER with something other than consular work when I come up for tenure next spring, which can't hurt!

So it looks like I will fall just under 4,000 short of my goal of having the most visa adjudications of anyone who has been here in the last 10 years (I have done more than 15,000, and the guy with the most, 19,000, was here three years). But for this, I think I can live with it!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bid List

Okay, so I submitted my final bid list yesterday. I am really really hoping to get a job in DC. Just today, I was thinking how nice it would be to head to Outback for a nice steak, potato and plate of cheese fries. I can't remember them all off the top of my head, but the top five is something like this:

1. DC - Operations Center
2. DC - INR Watch
4. GENEVA - Management Officer
5. OTTAWA - CON (consular)/POL

After that, there are a three London slots, one Dublin, one Vancouver, two Canberra, two Auckland, a Melbourne, two Nassau, one Helsinki, one in Dubai, and one other I can't think of. I don't remember what the slots are, but there is more consular on there than I care to think about. I really need to brush up on my German and study some other languages so I have more options!

Now, we just wait. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Jerusalem? Never Heard of it.

I'm having an existential crisis...I seem to be nowhere.

Jerusalem? Never heard of it

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Something always gets lost in translation, but usually not an entire city.

"Jerusalem. There is no such city!" the Jerusalem municipality said in the English-language version of a sightseeing brochure it had published originally in Hebrew.

The correct translation: "Jerusalem. There is no city like it!"
Carrying a photograph of the brochure, Israel's Ma'ariv newspaper said on Wednesday tens of thousands of flyers had been distributed before city hall realised its mistake.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

False Alarm

It is never a good sign when you hear lots of sirens, lots of cars honking or helicopters. Today, we had all three.

I decided to go to Post 1 today for lunch and got a co-worker to tag along. Once we got out into the traffic, she remembered: "Oh yeah. I got an email that the IDF thinks a suicide bomber got into Jerusalem in a white van. That explains all the cops checking all the cars."

There was a vehicle in front of us at that moment that was sort of a small white van. A soldier was checking it. I remarked that it would be bad if that was the white van they referred to.

It had all calmed down by the time we finished lunch, and none of the news outlets have any word of arrests. So I imagine it was a false alarm. It did mean it took me an hour and a half to get to lunch and back, so I wasn't able to do as many visa interviews. Darn!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

A Pet Peeve

Terrorists attacked the U.S. Embassy in Damascus earlier today. They apparently detonated a car bomb and had a shootout with local guards. All but one of the terrorists were killed in the attack.

Warning: here comes a soapbox. I am not sure if I have jumped on this soapbox here before or if I only leap up around other folks at the consulate and in my head. But what annoys me is the way the media refers to non-Americans at embassies and consulates. They make a big deal about no American diplomats being killed. And for that, I am really grateful. But they refer to one or two Syrian guards being killed. I have seen this repeatedly, and they never make it clear whether those folks are our guards or not. This matters. These are folks who probably put more at risk than we do to serve America. They run the risk of being targeted for "collaborating" with us and they have to stay here long after we leave. In fact, we can't always evacuate them in an emergency. These are colleagues and friends, and I can tell you that there are an awful lot of our FSNs who I am far closer to than some of the other Americans here.

They serve our country too. And I wish the media would make that clear. Which is not to diminish the loss of those folks in the armies of those countries in which we serve. But they are serving their country, and our local staff is serving ours. I wish the media would acknowledge that. We depend on these folks literally with our lives.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Moment of Silence

We all stopped today at 3:46 pm (8:46 am DC time) for a moment of silence to remember the victims of 9/11. The flag at the Consulate flew at half mast.

Saturday, September 09, 2006


This morning I woke up to what I thought was the cats being naughty. I heard a noise that sounded like something large had fallen. I got up, looked around, and found the cats, looking innocent. I figured I would find the disaster zone later, and went back to bed.

Later, I called a friend from work, who asked if I had felt the earthquake. She and two other co-workers who live in her apartment building (which is just up the street from our place) felt it. That's when I realized that the cats weren't just looking innocent. For a change, they had, in fact, really been innocent. Apparently an earthquake measuring 4.4 on the richter scale hit the northern Jordan valley. We live in the hills above the central Jordan valley. Apparently it was felt as far away as Tel Aviv.

Such earthquakes are not unusual here and in fact, several measuring 3.2 have hit recently. This is the first one I have felt. M, of course, slept through it!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bidding Makes Me Cranky

I got a response from my CDO (Career Development or Destruction Officer, depending on your point of view) telling me I would not be allowed to bid on the Russian OR German language positions. This despite the fact that the head of the German department told me my score in German qualified me for a top off. But my CDO says no, meaning I now have to go put only English-language positions on my list becuase you can't bid on the country you are currently serving in. And Hebrew doesn't get you very far in terms of posts other than Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. So I have to replace 10 of my 20 bids with English-language positions, including 5 of my top 10.

Now SOME English-language posts are okay, but she also tells me those will be gone by the time they get to my name. She says "maybe" the straight consular position in London, but even that is iffy (and I don't want another straight consular position anyway).

As I look over the bid list, there are some pretty crappy places I am now going to have to bid on. I *can* bid on Auckland, Sydney and Canberra, but the quarantine period for pets there is about 6 months. I can put Doha or Dubai on there, but if I do, that is where I will go. And of course, there is always Baghdad or Islamabad. Basically there are no good choices that I have a chance of getting except the DC positions. Which are highly bid and highly competative.

I think I need to look at USAJOBS again. Cranky cranky.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Submitted my Bid List

This morning I submitted my bid list. Clicking the submit button was a bit nerve-wracking, especially since I am doing it so early (it isn't due until September 22). But I was advised to send it in early because I am bidding on the DC positions. So here is the top 10 as submitted:

1. DC - Operations Center
2. DC - INR Watch
3. LUXEMBOURG- Public Diplomacy (PD)
4. BERLIN - Political (POL)
6. KIEV - PD
8. GENEVA - Management Officer
9. MOSCOW - Staff Asst./POL
10. OTTAWA - CON (consular)/POL

Ottawa moving up to 10 is the only change. I have misgivings about it given that the Ambassador there is someone folks from SC would be very familiar with. but I decided that it would be worth the risk, given Ottawa's proximity to DC. And I am hoping it is a moot point and that I will get the Op Center.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I Scuba'd

We went back to Taba, Egypt this past weekend for the long Labor Day weekend. In fact, we took Friday off and went with a friend from work for four days. It was fabulous!

The weekend was almost cancelled because of a rumor that the Israeli government had issued a warning for all Israelis to get out of the Sinai because of an impending terrorist attack. What we ultimately learned was that the Israeli government had said there was the possibility of suitcase bombers attacking VIPs in Sharm Al-Shaiq (which was not where we were headed) and of Israeli tourists being kidnapped at Red Sea resorts (we aren't Israelis, but note to self, don't speak Hebrew when on vacation at Red Sea resorts!). An Israeli NGO then reissued a warning from May for all Israelis to get out. So the warning was NOT a new warning from the government of Israel, but the rumor of the warning to get out of the Sinai spread like wildfire through the consulate. About half of the consulate was supposed to go down for the weekend, but almost all cancelled because of these rumors. We weighed the danger, took into consideration that the Embassy in Cairo did not think there was a new threat, and went anyway. And it was perfectly safe there (like I said before, they have a massive hill they have built around the hotel we stay in, so it would be hard to get to our hotel anyway), and fortunately for us but not for the resort, not crowded at all. And ironically, the only incident over the weekend happened when a gunman opened fire on some tourists in Amman, Jordan (nowhere near the Sinai or the Red Sea, and not aimed at Israelis). Like M says, living here is a crap shoot.

Anyway, on the way down to Taba, we stopped at the sign for "Lot's Wife," the 200 ft pillar at Mt. Sodom that is supposed to be the pillar of salt she turned into when she turned around an looked back at the destruction of Sodom an Gomorrah. Now if that is her, that was a BIG WOMAN!

At the resort, M and I snorkled some more, and this time we saw lion fish and an octopus! They are really cool creatures, and I watched for a while as a sea urchin battled the octopus for a crevice under a rock that both wanted. Ultimately they shared.

Yesterday I attempted unsuccessfully to kayak in a one-person sit-atop. Let's just say I don't have the center of gravity for it! Regular kayaks, yes. One-person sit-atops, apparently no. I did manage the two-person sit-atop with M. After a bit, I gave up and M and our friend took a paddle-boat out about half-way to Saudi Arabia while I went to do my discovery dive. Basically, a discovery dive is where you have a scuba instructor putting you into all the gear and taking you into relatively shallow water to see how you would like Scuba diving. It was amazing! The instructor said he "starves" for a student like me because I was comfortable, curious and unafraid. We even went deeper than we were supposed to (9m when we were supposed to only go to 6 or 7 meters) because I saw an eel I wanted to check out in a small crevice on the sea floor. Some friends were getting certified while I was down there, and one snapped a picture of me. I'll upload it as soon as she sends it to me. And I definitely plan to go back and get certified.

Me, M and Lot's wife at Mt. Sodom. Lot's wife is the narrowest pillar formation on top of the mountain, almost directly above my head.

Me on my discovery dive...really, it's me.