Friday, July 30, 2010

Corridor Reputation

This is a cautionary tale: Don't be this person.

As most of you know, I am in training. If you are a Facebook friend, you know I am in training with a self-absorbed know-it-all.

This officer is one of those people who has an answer or experience for everything. You'd think she should be teaching the course...except of course she had never had the position she was going into.

When she wasn't busy pontificating, she was asking really simplistic questions that had already been answered.

She either really liked the sound of her own voice or really didn't notice the sighing every time she spoke up. Which was all the time. Even when we had gone over time and it was time to go home.

She is apparently a civil service conversion...she announced she had come in at mid-level and made clear her utter distain for Junior Officers. This annoyed me not only because she had never been one, but because we had several JOs in the class. Besides, I like JOs. They tend to be smart, motivated and energetic. My biggest goal as I go to post is to be a good boss to my JOs, because I think they deserve that. And I think they will be better bosses for it.

Her poor JOs will not get that.

But it goes further. She announced that the military in Iraq had a more positive experience because of her presence there. And she is convinced that the people at her onward post, which she made very clear wasn't one of her top choices, were either "idiot JOs" or idiots who didn't know how to deal with the local government.

She even asked the Ambassador who was speaking at one point how to deal with a Charge' who had screwed up relations with the country she was going to by not dealing with them at all. She was concerned that her new Charge' would prejudice the new Ambassador before she got there. She said she expected, because they had screwed things up so badly, even putting a first tour JO in the position she is to hold rather than letting her come to post early, that there would be a parade at the border for her when she got there.

No, I am not making that up.

So she said those things to the Ambassador, who tried to answer her diplomatically while the rest of the class gasped. And then afterward, I said, "Isn't your Charge' [name redacted]? She said yes, and went on to repeat how he had messed up. And I said, "I served with him in [post redacted]." "Yes, well," she continued, and went on to trash him some more. "I find that surprising since I found him to be an excellent officer. Very smart and nice. I'd serve with him again."

In other words, I know him, I like him, I am trying to help you put down the shovel because you have hit bottom. I am trying to help you realize that when you name your post, people will know who you are talking about. And not all of them will share your distain.

She never put down the shovel. She just kept digging.

Don't be that person. That is what corridor reputation is all about. Do people want to work with you? Are you a nice person? Do you pull your own weight? Or do you spend all your time bad-mouthing others while tooting your own horn.

It does not surprise me that she didn't get a post she wanted. Because to a person in the class, NO ONE wanted to ever serve with her. Her name is now on that list we all carry in our heads of people we would avoid our dream post to avoid serving with.

The Foreign Service is small. And posts are even smaller. You don't want to serve with people who are negative and arrogant.

That is corridor reputation.

Don't be that person.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

I Can See The Light...

At the end of the tunnel. The one that leads to my vacation...and then to another tunnel that is language training.

I am nearly done with the PAO course. Friday is the last day. I have to say I have found the course, for the most part, to be really valuable. Much of what we have learned has been very practical.

Plus, I have met some folks who I plan to keep in contact with and hopefully share ideas (plus one person to avoid serving with like the plague...ALWAYS valuable information). And I have heard some GREAT things about my new Ambassador from folks who have worked with him.

All of this makes me very happy.

Next week, I have grants training. It has been described by many as some of the most painful training FSI offers. Having not been in the course yet, I imagine some of that is not really the instructors' fault. I mean, the topic is by neccessity legalistic and dry. We have to know it to get our warrant so we can give grants at post.

One person described it as about as thrilling as watching paint dry. Another advised me to take the online version. But that, unfortunately, would mean needed to burn another week of leave. And I am already taking four weeks (starting after next week's grants class is done), much of which my wife can not take with me. But this will get me out of "use or lose" leave territory, and we will be spending a week and a half together in Seattle and on an Alaska cruise (that would be the light I am seeing at the end of this tunnel).

And actually, I am really excited about studying language. I have always liked learning new languages. Had my parents not divorced and my mom and I moved to another state, I was slated to take four years of French, three of Spanish, and two each of German and Latin by the time I finished high school. I really dig languages. But alas, my new high school did not offer ANY language courses when I got there. They ultimately added French (so I did a second year of that by independent study....shhh, don't tell the State Department...they don't know) and later Spanish. I studied some German in college, building on what my grandfather had started teaching me when I was little. And I have since gotten Hebrew and a bit of Russian and picked up snippets of Arabic and Azeri.

So language is going to be fun. Hard, but fun.

I am sure I will complain some anyway. Because somebody's gotta do it.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Better but Not Perfect

Aaron over at Adventures By Aaron talks this morning about some of the challenges still facing same-sex couples joining the Foreign Service. He says:

"Under Secretary Clinton, the partners of Foreign Service Officers are now counted as Eligible Family Members (EFMs), which impacts the square footage provided to the FSO's in their overseas assignments. I now qualify for emergency evacuation in times of crisis. I am able to get a job in a consulate or embassy and earn a salary in US dollars vs. local currency. I am provided all of the tools necessary to learn the language spoken at our post.

Our biggest concern is the continued inability for me to obtain health care benefits under TJ's plan. It is not enough to be an EFM. We must be in a federally recognized marriage for me to qualify for health care. What this means is that, unlike any other spouse, I must find employment when we leave the country. It means that, when I quit my job in September to start language training, I will either be without medical coverage, or will have to pay higher premiums for private coverage."

It is worth remembering that while we have come a long way, we are still a long way from full equality. Consider if Aaron had been from another country, for example. Then not only would he not get health insurance, he would not even be able to live in the U.S. while his husband is doing a D.C. posting. And at the end of their careers serving this country, they would be unable to retire to the country they loved and had devoted their lives to.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

PD Does Not Stand For Pixie Dust

A quote I heard twice on Friday, attributed to Dan Sreebny, is that PD does not mean "pixie dust." You can't spinkle a little PD on a steaming mess and make it all better.

It seems a lot of non-Public Diplomacy folks tend to leave PD out of the picture until something bad happens, and then they hope PD can fix it. Part of this stems, no doubt, from the time before "integregration," when USIA was folded into the State Department. It seems it has been, and to a degree continues to be, an uncomfortable marriage.

I think this is a shame. I believe in Public Diplomacy as part of our overall diplomatic strategy. It is not just about "poster shows" and making people love us. Because people don't love or hate us because of a lack of exposure to America and Americans. They love or hate us (or both) because of our policies.

Which is why I believe, as does Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale, that Public Diplomacy HAS to have a seat at the policy table. We need to know before the catastrophy how an action we take is going to be received. We need to be able to aim all of our programming and messaging at meeting the strategic needs of the mission and of the Department. We can't do that if we concern ourselves only with culture and cleanup. We have to be pro-active.

Which is why I am glad she is creating DAS (Deputy Assistant Secretary) positions in each of the regional bureaus. So we have a PD voice at the policy table from the get go.

Because I am a diplomat. My job is representing the US and its policy overseas.

And I'd make a lousy pixie.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Embassy Guards Killed in Iraq

You might have heard about the rocket attack on the Green Zone in Iraq yesterday.

Just please don't tell me that you stopped being concerned when you heard no Americans were killed.

Three Embassy guards, two from Uganda and one from Peru, were killed in the attack.

They are heros. They served this country and died protecting people who serve this country.

It always upsets me when the media seem to forget that.

The Foreign Service Nationals we serve along side at post are serving America and they are part of the Foreign Service family.

So please remember them, and their families, in your thoughts and prayers.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Suppose That IS a Danger Post...

I read this in today's Washington Post and it gave me a laugh.

I think I have mentioned before that I served with the soon-to-be Ambassador Connelly in Jersualem and I think she is stellar. Anyone who gets to serve with her in Beirut should count themselves fortunate, and I would work for her again in a heartbeat.

Her first tour was pretty tough, too

Maura Connelly, the president's nominee for ambassador to Lebanon, has taken a long journey in her career as a Foreign Service officer. Her tours have included Algeria, Damascus, Jerusalem, Jordan, London, South Africa, and Washington, where she now serves as deputy assistant secretary in the bureau of Near Eastern affairs.

At her confirmation hearing Tuesday, we learned that her career in government service began when she was a Senate page during high school; she then worked as an elevator operator in the Capitol building while an undergrad at Georgetown.

But Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) highlighted her childhood experience in the rough-and-tumble suburbs of northern New Jersey as another asset she can bring to bear when she gets to Beirut.

"Anyone who was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, could probably do very well in Lebanon, Menendez said.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I Can Has Mind Meld?

Yesterday was the first of a two-day module in our course on how to handle the budget in our PD section (and how to handle FMOs, Management Officers, DCMs and Ambassadors trying to get their mitts on our PD money for non-PD uses!).

The section is informative and stressful. There is just SO MUCH to remember!

I am comforted though by the knowledge that our presenter is also the budget officer for EUR (the European Affairs office). She is a Foreign Service Officer with about 30 years of experience as a PD officer. She is awesome.

I would like to just mind meld with her. Short of that, I am never ever losing her business card!

And when she said yesterday to be nice to your budget officer, I offered, "We love you, Susan!"

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Keeping Those Links Current

I got an email from a reader alerting me to some bad links on my sidebar. He noted the following problems:

Live, Learn, London (dead)
SuperMario Diplomacy (moved to
Prince Roy's Realm (seems to be down)
Inspired Overseas Living (domain expired)
From an Anthropological Perpective - down

So I have gone in and removed or edited those links.

Now I need a favor.

If you notice any links with issues, please let me know. Some, like Prince Roy's Realm, I had kept because the old content was there. But now that seems to be gone. So if the old content is still there, I'll leave it. But if the blog is completely gone, please give me a head's up so I can keep it current.

And thanks to Miles for letting me know. He also let me know that his specialist class started a blog, that you might want to check out.

Another Day, Another Course

So I haven't written for a few days because I have been stewing about whether to write a particular post. I've decided it needs to be said.

But first, I have started my next course at FSI, this one on managing a Public Affairs Section. I think it has the potential to be a good course. It has already been interesting so far, even the sections I thought would be repeats of similarly titled sections from the CAO course. And even better, several of the folks from the CAO course that I really liked are in this class as well. So it should be a fun two weeks.

But now on to the post I have been stewing over.

So as you know, I missed last Wednesday and Thursday because my ceiling collapsed. Still working on that may take as much as a month. Sigh. At any rate, the course instructors are working with me to make up the sections I missed.

But apparently class was not all I missed. I missed drama as well.

A few posts ago, I wrote about a community theater we had two sessions at. I offered what I thought was constructive criticism and positive feedback. But they were apparently so upset at the critical part that they threatened to sever their ties with FSI. I think that is a bit juvenile...I mean, they had no way to know that there would be anyone in the Department who could contact me about the posts, so they were threatening to sever their contract over something that was not officially connected to the Department. How much money would they be walking away from over something they had no idea that the Department could change?

But fine. I removed the name of the community theater from the posts, because I really thought the training was beneficial. Everyone was happy.

Or so I thought.

Apparently, this theater also submitted a names of 10 of my classmates to the Dean's office complaining about their behavior in the class (no, I wasn't one of them). The offenses included rolling their eyes and sighing. One person was even accused of sexual harrassment. Yes, seriously.

All of this strikes me as really absurd and juvenile. First, because part of the idea of this training, I would think, would be to move beyond your comfort zone, try something new, and benefit from it. I suspect the eye rolling and sighing are a reflection of people doing just that. And for the sexual harrassment just wasn't. I was there and heard the comment, No one in our class said anything about being offended, including the person he made the comment to (she laughed), and if the instructors were offended by it, they could have said something to the commenter privately. He is a good guy, and I suspect would have been mortified if he had thought he offended anyone.

But no, instead, these folks too sensitive for me to offer constructive criticism by name were certainly fine with naming others.

And that is just childish. We are professionals.

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Can Has Normal Bak Nau?

I will finally go back to work today. I say finally, even though I have only been out two days, because it feels like years since the house has been normal. And it is still far from it.

I am exhausted. I haven't slept much since the bigger of the two storms came through Thursday night.

The pets are stressed too...neither they nor I have eaten as much as we normally do. Not a bad thing for me but not a good thing for them, especially our 16 year old cat who is battling lymphoma. We nearly lost her last year when she had a flare up that caused her to quit eating completely. I was much relieved this morning when she finally showed interest in her food. The other cat still seems out of sorts. She stares at the holes in the ceiling and walls and at the big machines. And the dog thinks the machines sound an awful lot like vaccuum cleaners, which she abhores, but vaccuum cleaners on steriods.

I love our little condo. I did the first time I stepped inside. And while this isn't the home I would retire to, it is my refuge, and these days, my refuge is loud. Very loud. We have dehumidifiers and air movers everywhere. And it is hot too. The dehumidifiers put out a lot of heat to help dry things out, and of course, the holes in our ceiling, now enlarged to remove all the wet drywall and insulation, allow lots of the heat from outside to come inside. It has always been hotter upstairs than down, but now it is unbearable.

We are lucky. We have a spare bedroom that was unaffected, and if I keep the door closed, it stays reasonable cool and slightly less loud in there. Of course, we have had to move our parrot in there with us into her tiny travel cage. She isn't pleased. And from her new vantage point, she can see the roofers through the window as they go up and down the ladder. It freaks her out. And then of course, the cats have to be locked out of that room, even at night, because the travel cage offers them easier access to the bird, which also freaks her out. And the cats, who are accustomed to sleeping with/ON us, are freaked out by the noise and by being locked away from us at night.

I feel like this has taken over my life, like I can think of little else. The contractor will be here this afternoon to take a look, and I am hoping that he will be able to get us back to normal in a reasonable time. At least the dehumidifiers are scheduled to go away on Sunday, so it will be quieter.

I am looking forward to training today. I am looking forward to being in a room without holes in the ceiling, that is blissfully quiet and over-adequately air conditioned.

And I am looking forward to getting normal back. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Ugandan Human Rights Activist Focuses on LGBT Advocacy in the U.S., Visits D.C., Louisville, and Salt Lake City

Here is something from that I missed the other day...

Ugandan Human Rights Activist Focuses on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Advocacy in the United States, Visits Washington, D.C., Louisville, and Salt Lake City

Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC

July 9, 2010


One of Uganda’s most outspoken and prominent human rights activists, Ms. Valentine (Val) Kalende, is visiting the United States under the auspices of the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program to focus on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) advocacy. Ms. Kalende will have discussions with members of government agencies, nongovernmental organizations, faith groups, and the media, as well as with local and federal government officials. In turn, she will talk with U.S. interlocutors and broader audiences about the Ugandan human rights situation and challenges faced by members of the LGBT community.

As a human rights-LGBT rights advocate and Programs and Communications Manager of Freedom and Roam Uganda, Ms. Kalende has been deeply involved in opposition to a proposed “anti-homosexuality” law introduced in 2009 in the Ugandan parliament. The controversial law would sentence some LGBT people to life in prison or even death. A former journalist, Ms. Kalende has written a full accounting of the anti-homosexuality movement in her country. She has also raised awareness of how this legislation would impact all of Ugandan society. Ms. Kalende has been harassed, beaten, and arrested because of her advocacy work. She has been featured by U.S. and international news organizations as one of the most courageous human rights activists in Uganda.

Ms. Kalende’s program includes visits in Salt Lake City, Utah (July 7-10) and Louisville, Kentucky (July 10-13) before concluding in Washington, D.C. (July 13 – 15). This exchange experience is designed to provide her with an in-depth understanding of U.S. government systems and political organization at all levels; civil rights protections and equal opportunity laws in the United States; advocacy strategies adopted by organizations to influence policy and effect positive change; organizing strategies across sectors, from building a movement to peaceful protests; challenges and work of the American LGBT movement; faith communities and LGBT issues; media coverage of human rights issues and use of media to advance organization’s message; and, the work of international human rights organizations focused on Uganda and gender issues.

Availability: Ms. Kalende is available to speak with the media.

Media Contact: Catherine Stearns, (202) 632-6437 and

The U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs fosters mutual understanding between the United States and other countries through international educational, cultural, and professional exchanges. The Bureau’s International Visitor Leadership Program manages professional visits to the United States for current and emerging foreign leaders, who represent government, politics, business, the media, education, non-governmental organizations, the arts, public health, international security, business, and many other fields. Annually over 4,500 participants around the world are selected by U.S. embassies to meet and confer with their professional counterparts and to gain a firsthand understanding of U.S. society and culture.

U.S. Passport Application Should Reflect All Families

U.S. Passport Application Should Reflect All Families

by Dana Rudolph

I got my seven-year-old son a new passport yesterday. I think I impressed our town clerk by putting down every piece of needed documentation right before she asked for it. Completed form, notarized document from his other mother consenting to the passport (since she was working and couldn’t be present in person), photos, original birth certificate, court order stating that we were both legal parents.

You want people who are on top of their documentation? Look for same-sex parents.

“We have to travel with this all the time, anyway,” I told the clerk, pointing to the birth certificate and court order. She shook her head in sympathy.

The only thing I hadn’t completed in advance was the place on the form where it asked for my son’s “Father’s Name” and “Mother’s Name.” Since he doesn’t have a father — but rather two moms and an anonymous sperm donor — this was a bit of a stumper.

I’m used to such wording, of course. Most forms we get from schools, doctor’s offices, and the like still have it, even here in Massachusetts, although some are starting to adopt the broader “Parent” and “Parent.” Usually I take matters into my own hand when needed, crossing out “Father” and writing in another “Mother.”

Passport agents can be picky, though, and I know crossouts are frowned upon. The town clerk was sympathetic, however, and made a special call to the main Passport Agency in Boston to see what to do. The answer was indeed to cross out “Father” and “Mother” and write in “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.”

No big deal, perhaps — but my son was standing there with me noting how this Very Important Piece of identity documentation did not acknowledge the existence of his type of family.

The fact is, the Department of State under President Obama and Sec. Hillary Clinton has been one of the leading federal departments in terms of supporting LGBT rights. It has said it will provide equal benefits to the same-sex partners and to opposite-sex spouses of foreign-service employees sent abroad, including diplomatic passports. Not only that, but a person in a legal same-sex marriage can now apply for a new passport using his or her married surname, and a transgender person can change the gender listed on his or her passport based on certification from an attending medical physician, without needing gender reassignment surgery.

I therefore urge the State Department to continue this positive trend and revise the passport form to say “Parent 1” and “Parent 2.” It remains accurate, but is more inclusive. Not that it is really arduous to cross out a word and put in a new one — but for our children who watch us do it, it is yet another reminder that our families are often marginalized. Allowing for the possibility of different types of families on a form like this also reminds people that we exist and that our presence is recognized by the State Department.

It may be a small change, not up there with employment nondiscrimination or marriage equality — but because it is small, there seems little reason not to make it happen. It would be another sign of acceptance — and perhaps a reminder to other agencies and businesses to revise their forms in the same way.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Terrible, Horrible No Good, Very Bad Day

I got to work yesterday to an email telling me that since I was no longer a staffer, I was no longer entitled to my shift differential.

This was not news to me.

What was news to me was that they wanted me to pay back $650 from Pay Period 12. No matter that I didn't actually RECEIVE $650 since a big chunk of that went to the tax man. Also never mind apparently that I was actually STILL THE STAFFER during that pay period. So they wanted me to pay back money I received for time I actually worked.

To make it worse, when payroll asked our EX office about it, they replied that I was not entitled to the differential for that pay period because my replacement came on board on June 6. Never mind that I was still there, training her, for the next two weeks.

In the end, it seems to have gotten sorted out. I am cautiously optimitic that they will not take that money out of my pay.

I got home, had a nice run, and a nice dinner with my wife.

Then we had a massive thunderstorm storm was around 8 pm. I called our homeowners' associations' emergency line around 9 or 9:30 to report that I was seeing water on the wall in the upstairs guest bathroom. The on call guy said the drain was probably clogged and that he couldn't get a roofer out until morning.

Around 12:30 or 1, we had a second serious storm, at which time I noticed leaks in the hall near the roof access and through the dining room light on the first floor and put out pots to collect the water. A few hours later, water came pouring through the ceiling onto the bed (yes, with us in it) in the master bedroom. At this point, fearing a roof collapse, I called the fire department and the emergency call number. The fire department discovered the entire roof was covered in about 6 inches of water. Finally, at about 3:30 am, the on call guy was willing to call the roofing guy to unclog the roof drain.

So now we have serious damages thanks to the on call guy's unwillingness to call the roofer (who said he would have MUCH rather gotten the 9:30 call than one at 3:30). The ceiling in the master bedroom has collapsed and the ceiling in the office is threatening to. My carpets and high quality mattress are soaked, and I will have to have an electrician come look at my wiring as well. And all of this could have been avoided.

So now I am home today, missing class (meaning I will have to make up material of risk not getting credit) while I wait for the ServPro folks to come and dry out the place so the damage isn't even worse.

I am thankful though, that no one was hurt, that we have insurance, and that we have a spare bedroom to sleep in.

Today's gotta be better, right?

And on a happier note, sometime overnight, I passed 100,000 hits on this blog. Not a massive amount compared to some blogs, but I feel pretty good about it.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ready to Go!

Class was a bit less, shall we say, inspiring today.

We did have one segment on fundraising today that was much better than I could have hoped. The speaker was engaging and informed, and her presentation was not death by power point. I felt like I got a lot of useful information out of a section I expected to be painful (because let's face it, if asking for money was my talent, I could make a lot more than I do by going into sales!).

But the other sessions...not so much. One felt like an hour and a half on using netflix (even though I like the idea of using movies for programming) and the other did feel a bit like death by power point.

But one good thing did happen today. I got to meet one of the FSNs from my future post.

She is in town for training, and we had lunch together. I enjoyed talking to her, and I am more excited than ever to get to post. More excited than ever to get to meet new people from new places. More convinced than ever that this job is going to be a lot of fun!

One of my friends, who is currently posted to my future post (but sadly won't be there when I get there next August) said "this place is paradise." He said if he was told today that he had to stay there for the rest of his life, his response would be "Thank you! THANK YOU!"

Now that's an endorsement!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Moment of Clarity, Courtesy of FSI

Fair warning: I am going to talk a bit about spirituality here. If that turns you off, we will resume our normal broadcasting tomorrow.

For background. I was raised Catholic. I am, from my mother's side of the family, American Indian. And when I do participate in any kind of organized religion, it tends to be through the United Church of Christ, the church where my wife and I got married.

I am a fairly spiritual person, and my beliefs are probably an odd mixture of those three influences. I believe now that all religions are true, that they are songs sung to us by the Creator. That much like we are unable to hear every pitch of sound, we hear the song the Creator meant us to hear. The differences are just man trying to shape and understand the Creator's songs.

I also believe we all have a path. My mother died 14 years ago this month, an experience that I consider to be formative for me. Much of what I do, think and feel is through the lens of that loss. I miss her horribly.

When she died, I thought I saw my path clearly. Life was too short to postpone what we were meant to do. I was to go into archaeology, get the credentials to be able to teach, and become a role model and mentor for young Indian kids.

I still think that is true.

But what I no longer believe, and I did think this for a while, was that this whole State Department tangient was me taking myself off of my path, at least temporarily, in order to be with my wife. Because I knew if I stayed stateside while she was a diplomat, we would grow apart.

Now I think my path may lead back to teaching Indian kids, but it will be when I am older, and hopefully, wiser.

I am where I am meant to be right now. I am where the Creator wants me to be.

I have been slowly coming to this conclusion. This blog has played a role in my search. But it was actually an assignment for my Cultural Affairs Officer training this week that really brought this home for me.

We had to pick a piece of art and discuss how we would do programming around that piece of art.

I picked two pieces by Brian Jungen, an Indian artist whose work is currently on exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian. I used his work to talk about how acculturation in America has not been uni-directional, with Indian people acculturating and non-Indians remaining unaffected by contact with my ancestors. I talked about how American Indian culture has affected American culture in profound ways, such as the influence of the Iroqouis Great Law of Peace on our ideas of liberty and democracy and indeed, the U.S. Constitution.

I thought we could use a discussion of that to talk in Estonia, where we have a mission goal of strengthening their peace and security, especially in light of the 30% Russian-speaking minority that causes Estonia concerns. They fear Russian uses that population to influence Estonian politics. Talking about our shared history of occupied vs occupiers and that we have gotten where we are not in spite of that history but precisely because of it might open up dialogues between the Estonians and the Russians living there.

I presented my idea and my classmates seemed to like it.

And I thought that it might be a hard thing for a non-Indian to present. So easy for a non-Indian to say that good has come of colonization/occupation but hard for an audience to believe. I think it is a different discussion when facilitated by the descendant of the occupied rather than the occupier.

It was then that I realized I am on my path. That this is the thing I can contribute. That I am not just a tag-a-log to my wife, who is so clearly meant to be a political officer. That my background has prepared me for precisely this, and that the Creator wants me here, or I wouldn't have gotten into the Service so easily when so many other with much better preparation than I (and probably lots more brains too) have failed.

I think I will end up teaching. Whether in college or in our communities, I don't know. But this path is the same path. It didn't divert me from there. It is leading me there.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Cautiously Optimistic

I am not sure how I missed this, and of course it could be an imposter (though it certainly sounds like her), but it appears that Madam Le Consul has rejoined our ranks!


I Take It Back...Sort Of

So we had our second day off campus yesterday, and I must admit I found some of it useful.

I do think the class could have been shortened to a day (though splitting the class in half was the right call). And I do still find some of the exercises felt really silly. For the record, I am also not yelling "WEE WOO WEE WOO" before I do a talk, no matter how much is loosens up my facial muscles.

I thought giving the speech though, after learning about how the ways you can present yourself affect the ways you are received, was really would have been helpful to know before going there that we were going to give a speech though, since I know my biggest issue with public speaking is preparation.

But what also struck me about these exercises is how much they can play on body issues that people have. As a kid, I was very shy (go ahead, get it out...I'll wait). My response to that was to become the smart ass, the class clown. Better to control when people are laughing at you. It is kind of like owning the word "dyke": it doesn't hurt me anymore when people call me that because I have made it my word. But it used to sting like hell.

Likewise, some of these exercises brought back an old pain. Running under the parachute when certain things are called out may sound like fun to you, but for me, it was hard not to feel like the fat kid people tried to trap under the parachute when we played similar games in school. And what I didn't sense from the instructors was any understanding that this could happen, or how it could affect people. Perhaps as actors, they forget what it is like to have or have had body issues.

But like I said, in all, I found the exercise useful. Speaking publically makes me nervous every single time, even though I sort of enjoy it. Yeah, I suppose that does make me a masochist. But regardless, I felt I left with a few tools that allow me to make that nervousness less obvious to the audience.

And since I will likely being doing lots of public speaking in my career, this is a good thing.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Two Days Off Campus

I have found that a lot of training at FSI is longer than it needs to be.

This week, I am not sure I would have invested the time we have in going off campus to a local performance facility [Name Redacted].

I am not saying the workshop isn't useful. It does have its moments, and the instructors are really nice (and occassionally funny, which I appreciate). But parts of it pinged my inanity meter so hard, I had to leave the room.

For example, relaxation techniques are good. I have used them before. And while I am pretty comfortable speaking publically (and have done it A LOT), even I get nervous before doing it. Every time. For those less comfortable speaking publically, I can imagine these relaxation techniques are even more vital.

But vocal warmups, while great for actors, are not so useful for diplomats, in my humble opinion. No way am I ever going to stand backstage before going on to give a talk yelling "HA HA MAMA MA!" from my diaphragm. Not going to happen. Ever.

And teaching us how to constructively critique artists...also not so useful. "I have an opinion, would you like to hear it?" We are diplomats, after all. I would like to think we can do better than that. Okay, I know a lot of us can't, but they are also the ones I wonder how they passed the group exercise of the oral assessment.

Yesterday, we were back at FSI getting talks about how art can influence people and about new and social media. I was/am alarmed that I seemed to be the most comfortable with social media of all the folks in the room except the instructor. Really, no one else tweets. (By the way, our social media instructor, Suzanne Hall, mentioned that the new FAM guidelines are out and the verdict on New and Social Media is essentially that the Department encourages us to use it but be smart about it! Hooray! For more on this, I encourage you to check out DiploPundit's piece on the guidelines.)

We will be back at this facility again today. Say a little prayer that the air conditioner holds out this time. And that I can get my little speech out before somebody makes me yell "HA HA MAMA MA!"

Monday, July 05, 2010

Fireworks on the Fourth

I love fireworks. I think most everyone does (well except my dog...and almost every other dog on the planet).

And I am as sappy a patriotic person as you will find. I tear up at the National Anthem. Every time. Yes, really.

But I avoid D.C. like the plague on July 4th.

We did it once. Braved the masses and went down early and scoped out a spot to watch a Capital Fourth. Everyone should do it once.

No one should do it more than once. It is nuts. Just nuts.

But last night my wife had a great idea...let's go watch the fireworks from this side of the insanity.

So we drove down Columbia Pike and parked near my favorite dog park, then walked about 15 minutes to the Air Force Memorial. We figured with the hill it is on, we could get a decent view of the fireworks without having to brave the masses in D.C.

What a great idea! There were lots of people there, but we found a seat and were entertained by the Air Force band while we waited for the show.

Best of all, we got there about 8:15 and were back home by about 9:45. And we got to see all of the fireworks show and listen to a great concert (and from that vantage point, we also got to see all the mini-fireworks shows going on around the city. There were.....lots.).

We also got to see a pretty decent DC sunset.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Happy Birthday, America!

For the second year in a row, I have the Fourth of July off.

Believe me, for a Foreign Service Officer, this is a big deal.

Most of my friends overseas will spend today in business suits, eating nasty finger foods, listening to some speeches, and entertaining their foreign contacts.

I don't miss that part.

They will also be given a thousand congratulations on our independence from those same contacts.

I DO miss that part.

So for this Fourth, hats off to all my friends and colleagues working in the service of this great country.

And to you, here is my vow:

If I am ever the Chief of Mission, while I know that we must have a reception on the Fourth, I promise you this.

There will be hamburgers and hot dogs. There will be ice cream. And if we can get it, there will be watermelon.

If we can manage, there will be some fireworks. And you will be able, if at all possible, to come in a little late the next day, so that you can spend some of the Fourth in your shorts and t-shirts, grilling with your family and friends, enjoying the freedoms we have as Americans.

And there will NOT/NOT be egg wrapped salmon as a finger food.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

It is all about the people

I had a great day yesterday, and it had almost nothing to do with training.

Class was okay. Parts were interesting, parts were dull. That is sort of the way it goes with training.

But one of the junior officers in the class had earlier in the week asked people to bring their lunches for a picnic.

I bring my lunch every day (because the food at FSI is too damned expensive for the (lack of) quality. I will grant you that the food is a bit better than it was, but it is still not as good as the food at Main State and it costs more. So I eat my sandwiches instead). So I figured I would probably join them.

We ended up in two groups, which we referred to as the full sun ( or skin cancer) group and the partial shade group. I opted for partial shade, mainly because I wanted to sit on a bench instead of the ground.

The weather was perfect...low 80s and low humidity. There were six of us in our little group, three first tour officers and three of us with a few more trips around the block. And we just had a nice discussion...about posts, about movies, about life. It was nice to sit around with a bunch of nice, smart people. It reminded me that the people I serve with are the best part of serving.

And then, for some icing on the cake, I had dinner with some more foreign service friends. Six of us met at the Quarterdeck and shared a couple dozen crabs (they were awesome!). Two were a couple we served with in Jerusalem. I don't get to see them often enough. They are great guys and were great to serve with...we only see each other every year or two (thank god for Facebook!), but each time, I remember just how much I care about them.

I have been convinced many times, especially when I was not enjoying my career as much as I am now, that the people in the Foreign Service are the best part of it, and that the friends I have made are a big part of why I stay.