Monday, October 30, 2006

They Sure Make it Hard to Vote

I called a while back to my local board of elections to see about getting an absentee ballot. They said I had to request it in writing and they would mail the ballot to me. Then I'd have to mail it back to them. At that point, given how slow APO mail can be, I sort of gave up. I figured there wasn't enough time.

But then last night, I learned of the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act. According to that, you can fill out a form, fax it in, and they will fax back your ballot. You fill out the ballot, fax it back and mail the original. Great! I can vote!

Not so fast. I fax in the form and I get an email this afternoon saying I can't have my ballot by fax because I don't qualify as being temporarily overseas. Say what? So I emailed back and said I was here temporarily serving the country. Then, I called and got the director. He said he'd see what he could do. In the meantime, I get a snippy email back from the first person who emailed me back saying that the problem was I was a "regular" voter and so they would have to see if I could get special permission. AND that I should have requested a ballot earlier.

So I pull up the wording of the act and email it to them. I qualify under a citizen temporarily overseas based on the definition in the act, and as such, can request my ballot up to the day before the election. They are still "seeing" what they can do. They said they would go ahead and fax the ballot and I could fax it back like the act says. It wasn't there when I left this evening, but maybe it will be there in the morning.

What really annoys me is how I am having to convince them to abide by the law in allowing me to vote when I am here serving my country! I wonder how many of us overseas don't end up voting because they make it such a pain.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Halloween Blues!

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, but as you might imagine, Halloween in the Holy Land is, well, not so much. Considering the Christian and pagan overtones to the holiday, I shouldn't be surprised that it isn't really celebrated in a land where Christians are just two percent of the population and pagans pretty much don't exist. But still, I just don't think you have to be a Christian to recognize how much fun Halloween is.

We will have a Halloween party at the consulate, complete with haunted house, but what I really want right now is Halloween candy! And not individually wrapped Israeli candies, which are perfectly good but not Halloween-y. I want some Braches Candy Corn and some Smarties. And can you get those here? No. You can't even find them at netgrocer.

We did have a nice Halloween party at the Marine House last night, and I will say it was a bit disturbing how into the spooky food thing the gunny's wife was. The raspberry jello heart was downright creepy, as was the shrimp dip brain. And there were eyeballs, fingers, bones and other assorted creepy things to eat. All good, but WHERE WAS THE CANDY CORN?! Sigh.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Barack Obama

Barak Obama has been in the news a bit lately. I got to meet him last year. A heck of a nice guy. We don't often get to do "meet and greets" with Senators and Representatives, but he had one with us.

Me and Obama

Eid Mubarek

Just wanted to wish Eid Mubarek (excellent feast) for all my friends finishing their celebration of Ramadan on this Eid Al-Fitr.


Today we took a ride with a couple friends from work up to Acco (also called Akko or Acre), an old Muslim town north of Haifa.

The city is fascinating. It is mentioned in some Egyptian scrolls from around 1800 BCE, and it was an important port for centuries. Julius Caeser, Alexander the Great, Francis of Assissi and Marco Polo visited there. Napoleon laid siege to it but failed. During Crusader times, it had as many as 40,000 residents. When Jerusalem was captured from the Crusaders by the Muslims, Acco became the Crusader capital.

The town has several mosques and the old crusader citadel, complete with Knights Halls, a subterranean city and a crypt. While we were down in the crypt (you get there through a long, narrow, creepy underground tunnel, I went and explored some dark rooms off the beaten path. I heard this squeaking that I assumed was rats or mice, but the area the sound came from was too dark to see anything. So I thought I would snap a picture, and maybe with the flash I could see the rats. It wasn't rats in there, but something that rhymed with rats...BATS. REALLY BIG BATS! Oddly, bats that you disturb like to come flying at you, and these were bigger than any I ever saw in the states (when I was a kid, we'd make this whirring noise with our tongues that the bats thought were insects and it would make them dive at us. Let me tell you, those bats were little bitty compared with the ones in the crypt!). So I made a hasty exit.

The Old City is preserved really well, and is a thriving Arab town that reminds you of Jerusalem's Old City. We had a nice lunch at a restaurant on the harbor, (which has a hilarious statue of a whale with a whole in its belly so you can take pictures of your friends doing Jonah imitations!) and then spent the afternoon touring around.

We had wanted to get up there a while back, but it wasn't safe during the war with Lebanon. The area we were in was getting some serious shelling back then, though we never saw any signs of it. But today it was sunny and peaceful.

The sea from Acco's Old City wall

Jonah's Whale

Acco's Great Hall

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Indian Ringnecks

I guess it shouldn't surprise me that as my job got more interesting, I had less time to say anything here. At any rate, I have just finished my first two weeks in the political section and I am having a blast. The work is interesting and engaging. Plus, I just love the garden as Post 1. The flowers are just beautiful (and we all agree that the gardener seems like the happiest guy on the planet. He seldom talks unless spoken to, but he just seems so content. We call him the zen gardener). Plus, we have two pairs of Indian ringneck parrots that live in one of the trees in the garden. I like to sit out there and watch them play. I keep trying to get a good shot of them. The one below will have to do until I get a better one. Apparently the birds, who seem to have invaded, are considered "public enemy number 1" to Israeli farmers, but I really like them.

So in general, I am pretty content lately except for the time change (Israel and the West Bank "fall back" at the beginning of October, so until I think the 29th, there are only 6 hours difference between here and the east coast as opposed to the usual 7). Anyway, with the time change, it is dark when I get home. And I end up going to bed early because it has been dark for so long. Of course, that doesn't mean I get up early!

Fall is finally settling in here, complete with a little rain, and like last year, the cooler weather makes me homesick. Maybe I have even said that already. I have certainly thought it. There is no change of leaves here, and I miss all the color. The rainy season starts in the fall here(there is NO rain from about March or April until October), so before long, it will be pretty dreary here. But right now, it is mostly sunny and cool and crist. Fair weather. Man, I miss the fair. (You two who are taunting me about the fair, and you know who you are, are just hateful!)

Indian ringneck in the garden

Saturday, October 14, 2006


Okay, I confess.

I'm part of what is known as the drinking club with a running problem.

That probably comes as a shock to those of you who know I neither drink nor run. Oh well. The Hash here, Jerusalem Hash House Harriers, is lots of fun and has some good folks. I always do the walking trail and take Noostie with me (hence my Hash name of "Walks with Fluffy Dog"). But today's walking trail on the Hash in Ein Kerem (ever been here? LOTS of hills! People forget Jerusalem is in the mountains) kicked my butt! Like 20 minutes of it was straight up this massive hill. I swear it was a 45 degree angle.

I hurt. And you should have seen the runners! At least a couple of them came back bleeding!

Speaking of cats

I think I mentioned before that there are LOTS of street cats here. They are in every alley, every dumpster, and a few figure out that restaurants with outdoor seating are definitely the place to hang out.

So last night a group of us when to the YMCA on the west side of town. When dinner was done and we were all just chatting about work and other non-sense, we all hear a tiny meow. M turns around an announces "It's the world's tiniest cat!" A little black kitten was walking between our table and the table next to us.

I got up and picked up the kitten, a little unusual since most street cats will not let you touch them, even when they are at a restaurant and are as young as this one (she's maybe 4 weeks old). I took her over and handed her to T, one of our best friend's here. We have all been telling T that she needed a pet because she gets so stressed about work. Pets are a great way to keep your life in perspective in a career that can become your whole life if you let it. She agreed, but had never found an animal that she felt bonded with her that didn't already belong to someone else (she coveted out younger cat, Pishik, who is really more dog than cat). We had found a kitten nearly a year ago, but T and that kitten just didn't bond.

Well this kitten clearly picked T. It curled up in T's lap, stretched out and tapped at her with its tiny paw, and went to sleep. Sound asleep. I told T the kitten felt safe, and she said that this was probably the safest the kitten had ever felt. At that moment, I knew T had found her cat.

Sure enough, T took the kitten home, and named it Blanca (did I mention it was black? T liked the irony) in honor of her Jeep that was stolen (also named Blanca). So she lost and gained a Blanca here. I helped get her set up last night with some food and kitty litter. I am going to show her the vet and pet store tomorrow. But already the kitten is using its litter box and following T happily around her apartment. Both of them seem happy.

You can't save them all, but you can save some!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Herding cats

Heard a strange banging lately? That's me, using the wall to flatten my forehead.

Anyone who has done a codel (congressional delegation) or staffdel (staffer delegation) knows it is like herding cats. The situation is even more sensitive here than in many places because you combine the congressional and staffer sense of urgency with our need for security. The result is battles that sound a lot like "I'm not coming if I can't go to the West Bank without your security folks following my every footstep."

Now I am the first to admit that it is a lot safer here than you might think given what you see in the states, but part of that safety comes from having security rules and following them. Sigh.

Other than that, I am LOVING being in political. The work is challenging and interesting and the day just flies by! I am currently getting to work on things that could genuinely make the lives of the Palestinians better in small but really tangible ways. How cool is that? And tonight I went to my fourth Iftar. So I am getting to do cool stuff AND eat awesome food! How much more could you ask for?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Good News and Bad News

The Good News is that it is looking really positive for me to get offers from both of my top two job choices in DC, the Op Center and INR Watch. The bad news is that I may not find out until November 17. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

But the really bad news is that my Ipod shuffle died. I looked online and apparently lots of people had their ipodlettes die after downloading the latest software updates. So I am profoundly annoyed. And what's worse is that it has a one-year warranty, and I got it for Christmas. But they list the purchase date as March 2005. Now I KNOW M doesn't buy Christmas presents that early. In fact, I got her an Ipod for her birthday in May 2005 and she got mine for me after that because I coveted hers. But we have to find the receipt to prove it so that it will be covered. And in the meantime, no portable music. We even have the tape-deck do-hickey to use it in the car. Granted, I don't use it at work since I moved to political because you can't take electronic devices into the office (unlike in consular, where nothing was classified so it didn't matter). But still. Really annoying!

So a word of warning if you have a shuffle...don't download the new software unless you want to buy a new Ipod. And if you don't have an Ipod yet (all two of you), get the regular one instead of the shuffle (they apparently break, but not as often) or get a different MP3 player altogether.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

A job offer and a visit

First, on the job front. I have received an offer, sort of, from INR Watch, one of the two jobs I bid for in DC. I have the interview with the other, the Operations Center, tonight. The Ops Center is my first choice, but at least I know now that I can be in DC next tour. Now here's the I play the odds on the Ops Center or go ahead and tell INR Watch yes? Ops Center is better for my career, but figuring out whether to accept now, hold off a little while or just say no and go for Ops feels a little like "Deal or No Deal." I should know more tomorrow.

Anyway, if you've been watching the news, you know why I haven't posted in the past few days. The Secretary came for a visit yesterday, and because we are a small post, the Secretary has been here 6 times in a year and a half, and the only visit folks here didn't work on was the one where she had no meetings with Palestinians because she was working on the issue of the war with Lebanon (The Embassy deals with her meetings with the Government of Israel. We are the mission to the Palestinian Authority).

The visit was the most complex of any I have done here, but it all went off fine in the end. She even went to an Iftar with the President, which means we all got fed well as well.

Tomorrow is my last day in the consular section...I was supposed to do half days in consular all this week, but today was the only day I was able to manage it because of the visit.

Monday, October 02, 2006

"Let's Go This Way!"

If you have ever been out with M, you know those are the words that lead to exhaustion!

We decided this morning to take advantage of Yom Kippur's lack of cars to walk to the Old City. Of course, you walk in the middle of the street, not because it is easier than the sidewalks but because you can. We opted to head up the hill and around to the back side of the city and entered by the gate that takes you to the Western (Wailing) Wall and Al Aqsa Mosque. We didn't take any pictures there though since the use of cameras is prohibited on Jewish holy days, and Jewish days run sundown to sundown, so Yom Kippur doesn't end for another few hours.

Once we entered the Old City, we just explored. I don't know why we don't go in there more often, but today was particularly nice because there were fewer people in there than usual. There were comparatively few Israelis and even fewer tourists (though that made us the only target for the merchants who were open), so most of the people in there were Palestinians who likely lived there.

We made our way through the maze of streets, stopping by the photography shop of the father of one of our co-workers. His father, our co-worker's grandfather, was a photographer in Jerusalem in the 1920s, and the pictures in the shop are prints of the pictures his father took. They are amazing. He has even put a bunch of them together in a book that I keep planning to buy before we leave here.

We did see more cars ignoring the law this year than last. Last year, we saw only two, an ambulance and a car full of Palestinian youths blasting Arabic music. There are certainly far worse forms of protest, so I didn't complain. This year, we saw a fair number of cars (maybe 10 or so), all driven by Palestinians and only a few in close enough proximity to an ambulance that they could have been following them. We saw our first two violators of the law at one intersection last night on the walk home from our friend's house. One was Israeli and was allowed to pass. The other, a truck full of Palestinians, was surrounded by at least four police cars with police screaming at the driver that driving on Yom Kippur was against the law. Given that the other driver was allowed to pass (and in fact got out and moved a barricade to do down the street he wanted to), I suspect part of the Palestinian's crime was DWA - Driving While Arab.

By the time we got home from our walk this afternoon, we had walked for well over two hours straight, and let's just say my feet are still protesting. Did I mention Jerusalem is built on several mountains, so walks here are more like hikes?

M taking pictures near the Old City on Yom Kippur

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Yom Kippur

Today at sundown is the beginning of Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement (and to my observant friends, "Tsom cal"). Everything, and I do mean everything, will be shut down. Driving is prohibited. Last year, the quiet of no traffic was like the quiet of the first snowfall, except of course it was hot. And the city sort of looked like the aftermath of nuclear winter...the survivors out walking around through the once car-filled streets.

I had planned to get out of the country this year, but the plans fell through. Luckily, we have friends within walking distance, so we will walk over and spend some time with them.

Last night, we went to my second Iftar. The food, again, was fabulous. It was hosted by the head of our PD section here, and most of the 50 or so guests were PD contacts. It was good to get to meet some new folks and hopefully I will be talking with them soon in my work in political.

Oh, and just in case any of you heard about the car bomb the other day in Rishon LeTzion, it wasn't a terrorist act. About 20% of the population here is Russian, and as I think I mentioned before, that means we also have Russian mafia here. So the car bomb was *just* a hit on a member of one of the crime families.

I'm not sure that makes much difference.