Sunday, February 27, 2011

You Should Have Been There!

Many thanks to Lisa and Paul at Paul Benjamin: Writer, Editor and Supermodel for organizing the Foreign Service blogger potluck!

It was awesome!

It was great to put a face with some many of the blogs I really enjoy. Probably about 30 or more folks were there, with spouses and children in tow. I'd list off all the blogs represented there, but I fear I would leave some out and I don't want to offend!

I hope we do another one soon. It was great fun!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Make That Letter Real

The letter that Four Globetrotters wrote to her representatives is amazing. It really brings home some of what we experience, and why we earn every dime and then some of what we earn overseas. I hope her Reps read it all, and I hope you do to. And model yours after it. It is very moving.

And while you are at it, go check out Diplopundit's 10 Ways to Debunk the Myths to Congress and Elsewhere about our "cushy" lives.

I especially like #5 and #6:

5) State has always called its FSOs smart; logic follows, they are smart enough to know what not to blog. Take the gag off FSOs. Allow them to blog about their lives in vivid, true colors, warts and all without a career penalty. Not in DipNote, silly [Action: STATE All hands; FSO]

6) Educate post management that every quietly shuttered blog is one less advocate for the Foreign Service. [Action: STATE/HR, EMB, FSO/EFM]

You should read that whole post too.

And above all, write your Congressmen. And get your family to do it. The lowest paid of the Foreign Service shouldn't be the only ones taking a pay cut, especially a 24% pay cut, especially because we have been guilty of putting too happy a face on what we do.

Yes, Congress, we love our jobs. Those in the military love their jobs too, but you don't cut their pay because of it.

We love our jobs because we love our country. Don't punish the lowest ranks of us for it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Why We Deserve Our Pay Cut

You need to go read this post at Email from the Embassy. Donna is spot on. As usual.

She writes:

So you see, all you Foreign Service Officers out there, it's your fault all of these congresspeople think you deserve a pay cut. They have no idea what work you put into that recent visit. They don't know what you just gave up in order to make sure their visit was a success. They don't understand that your life isn't all cocktail parties interspersed with awesome trips to exotic locations. They don't know that you live in a place where your every move is recorded. Or maybe you live in a place where the locals want you dead. Or you live in a place where your baby has nightmares from the malaria medication. Or your spouse isn't allowed to work because the host government forbids it. Or maybe you're black, and the locals don't like black people. Or maybe you're gay, and that's a punishable offense in your host country. Or you're a woman, so you have to cover up when you walk outside. Or the signs are all in Arabic, so every time you leave the house, you're lost, and you can't ask for directions. Or maybe you went permanently deaf in one ear while you were serving in a country without proper medical care. Important Politician didn't see any of this from the window of the Prime Minister's residence.

She is right, but we are sort of damned if we do and damned if we don't. If we don't cater to their every whim (like demanding a supply of Diet Dr. Pepper in Ickystan), we run the rist of pissing them off and having them retaliate against the Department budget. But if we DO cater to their every need, they think we have such cushy lives that they should cut our pay.

TOMORROW! Blogger Potluck

I have been meaning to post this all week...thank goodness I put the event in my phone because my brain is clearly too addled to remember!!

Anyway, tomorrow is the blogger potluck that was cooked up (pun intended) at our informal blogger lunch. I take absolutely no credit, but I do expect to attend (note to self: RSVP immediately after finishing this post!). You'll get directions as soon as you RSVP to the supermodel himself!

Hope to see you there!

The Foreign Service Blogger Potluck is coming!

FS Blogger Potluck is coming! Come meet up with your fellow Capitol-area FS bloggers for some food and fun!

When: Saturday, February 26, 4-6pm

Where: Directions and info will be sent when you RSVP; the location is kid-friendly

What to bring: Your favorite dish for a crowd and your family

RSVP: RSVP to the Goodjamins (Lisa & Paul) at this address:

Please include:

* Number of guests (adults and kids)
* Dish you plan to bring (drinks and paper goods are also welcome)
* Your blog address

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Write your Senator!

Below is an email from AFSA giving an update on the amendment passed in the House taking away our overseas comparability pay. At the bottom is a sample letter for you to use to write your Senator.

I hope you will take the few minutes it takes to do this. It really is important, and this is a pay cut that ONLY affects the entry and mid-level Foreign Service. No other government employees, including those in the Senior Foreign Service, take a pay cut to serve overseas.

Subject: AFSA Update on OCP and Budget

Dear AFSA Colleagues,

This is a follow up to my message of February 16th to share our take on how the budget process on Capitol Hill may impact the Foreign Service and your compensation and/or work. This process has moved quite rapidly and we wanted to be sure that we had a good feel for various issues before offering our assessment. My previous report focused on President Obama's FY12 Budget Request and the not yet resolved FY11 budget. I would like to focus this message on the FY11 budget process and how you might engage Congress as part of a broad based, grassroots AFSA effort.

HR 1: The House of Representatives did pass a budget proposal for the FY11 budget late last Friday. There was a contentious debate surrounding this legislation in determining where cuts would occur. The process surrounding this proposal was conducted outside the normal channels for appropriations and budget consideration, something that is highly unusual. The bill (HR1) went to the floor of the House with significant proposed cuts from the FY11 request for international affairs, including approximately $1.1b for State, $205m in Operating Expenses for USAID, $83m for the Foreign Agriculture Service, and $93m for the International Trade Administration (part of Commerce). As AFSA understands, nearly six hundred amendments were presented and debated.

The Reed Amendment: Of particular concern is an amendment offered by Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY 28th) designed to roll back the hard won progress we have made on overseas comparability pay. The Reed amendment was designed to restrict funds from being used to close the pay gap. Rep. Reed apparently misunderstood and mischaracterized the facts related to OCP. In the end, the Reed amendment was agreed to (without a recorded vote) and included in the final House bill.

AFSA has been reaching out to State management and our supporters in the Senate to determine the impact of this amendment on closing the pay gap. The media has been calling and we have done several interviews (Government Executive, Federal Times, Washington Post, Fox News, Florida radio). We are working to exclude this amendment in the final version of the FY11 budget and could use your help in pursuit of that goal.

Action with the Senate: Of course, the Senate still needs to develop a counter proposal to the House passed version. There still seem to be some question as to whether the amendment affects the 16% of OCP that has already been given or not. Reliable sources in the Senate say that the House Bill (including the Reed amendment) is dead on arrival and that it is highly unlikely that there will be any backtracking on the 16% we currently have. However, the budget climate on Capitol Hill does lead us to conclude that it will be extremely difficult to secure funding for the final 8%, although we will still try.

Talk of a Shutdown: The larger backdrop on the budget relates to a possible government shutdown. The government has been operating on a Continuing Resolution, which expires on March 4. The parties are quite far apart on the FY11 budget and a shutdown is not unrealistic. AFSA will keep you informed of any developments in this regard. AFSA will be sending AFSA Post Reps information on how the shutdown was handled in the 1990s but it will be up to federal agencies to handle specific procedures, etc. The Department is currently working on those details.

Mobilizing our Collective Voice: We encourage you to write to your representatives in the House and Senate to (1) add your own voices to the overseas comparability pay issue, and (2) promote a better understanding of today’s Foreign Service.

How to contact your elected representatives: Included below is a template that you may use, personalizing it to reflect your Foreign Service experience and agency. Feel free to add any personal stories of financial hardship resulting from overseas service (for example, decrease in family income due to lack of EFM employment opportunities, or increased cost of X due to being overseas). We have provided helpful links below the template letter to help you with finding your representatives in Congress. If you have any follow-up questions, you may contact Susan Johnson on or your agency VPs listed below.

Keeping AFSA Informed: It is important for us to use our collective voice. If you do contact your elected representatives on this issue, please let us know so that we can assess response and impact. Please send an email to AFSA is also seeking FS members in Washington D.C, particularly those with recent AIP service, who might be interested in participating in meetings on the Hill, as needed.

Anti-Lobbying Act: Please note that it is illegal for FS employees to lobby congress while on official time or using government resources (such as a government computer, letter head, telephone, etc). If you meet in person with a congressional representative, you must take annual leave or schedule the meeting during your lunch hour. In addition, make clear that you are writing or speaking in your individual capacity as a constituent and not as a representative of your agency. Please keep your tone respectful and positive.

We will keep you updated with relevant information and possible outcomes. We hope that the Department will issue an ALDAC shortly. As always, please contact us with any questions or suggestions that you may have.


Susan R. Johnson

Daniel M. Hirsh
State Vice President

Francisco Zamora
USAID Vice President

Keith Curtis
Foreign Commercial Service Vice President

Henry Schmick
Foreign Agriculture Service Vice President


AFSA reminds active duty Foreign Service employees that it is illegal to lobby congress using official time or government resources. If you write or call your congressional representative, do not use government time or resources (such as a government computer, letter head, telephone, etc). If you meet in person with a congressional representative, you must take annual leave or schedule the meeting on your lunch hour. In addition, make clear that you are writing or speaking in your individual capacity as a constituent and not as a representative of your agency.

Dear Rep./Senator XXX

My name is XXXX and I am in the United States Foreign Service. I have served in XXXX and currently in YYYY. I am also your constituent.

I am writing in my individual capacity as a constituent. I support efforts to eliminate wasteful and unnecessary spending across all our federal agencies as part of the effort to reduce our national deficit. However, I am concerned by current legislative proposals that call for reversing a carefully considered bi-partisan plan to modernize the pay system of the Foreign Service that is in the process of being implemented.

The Federal Employees Pay Comparability Act of 1990 was adopted as a way to reduce the government-wide disparity between the public and private sectors and is a basic component of salary for all civilian Federal employees, based on annual survey data collected by the Department of Labor. As a result of this law, every federal government employee working in the United States received “locality pay” as part of their salary. Until 2009, the only United States government civilian employees who did not receive this part of their salary were Foreign Service personnel serving their country overseas.

Locality pay for Foreign Service personnel and other federal employees serving in Washington, D.C. is now approximately 25%. Under the law prior to 2009, Foreign Service personnel serving abroad sacrificed this part of their salaries and took large pay cuts to their base salaries. As a result, because retirement packages are based upon base pay (including “locality pay”), Foreign Service officers representing their country abroad received smaller retirement packages than their colleagues who stayed in Washington. This was not sustainable and in 2009 a bi-partisan solution was found to correct this policy problem. Closing the pay gap is not a pay raise -- it is a correction of a 17- year-old unintended inequity in the worldwide Foreign Service pay schedule—an inequity that grew every year.

Today thousands of Foreign Service employees serve in hardship assignments around the globe, which now constitute nearly 60% of all posts. The number of unaccompanied posts has increased more than fivefold in the last decade. Assignments overseas are increasingly challenging, difficult and in many instances, dangerous. There has been strong bipartisan recognition that it is time to invest in diplomacy and development. Penalizing Foreign Service employees whose mission is to serve overseas to advance and protect our national interests by cutting their base pay undervalues the importance of their work, widens the gap between those serving in the United States and those facing hardships and sacrifices overseas and creates real disincentives to serving on the front lines of American diplomacy and development.

I am proud to be a public servant and honored to be a member of our [State Department, USAID, Foreign Commercial Service, and Foreign Agricultural Service] Foreign Service. I hope that you will support the Foreign Service and help ensure that its members are not penalized for service overseas.


Here are some helpful links to help you contact your Members of Congress:

Contacting the Congress

Contact Your Senator

Contacting the House

Back in the USSR

But I don't feel so lucky.

So we had area studies again this week. This makes week five of the past 6 weeks that we have spent area studies discussing Russia and/or the Soviet Union.

You might remember that NONE of the people in my class are going to Russia.

I say five of the past six weeks, because last week we had a command performance at the "Appeal of Conscience" program.

First, you can't brag about attendence if you make the event manditory.

The first half of that program consisted of diplomats talking to us about religious freedom. The second half started with one of the religious leaders asking for a show of hands of "believers."

I am not sure that has a place in a manditory training class.

Anyway, this week, we had a lecture on how the collapse of the Soviet Union led to 9/11.

And interesting topic, without a doubt, but really, I would like to hear something about where I am going.

It took him one hour and 45 minutes to even MENTION one of the countries we are headed to, and then only in terms of that Russia could take it and Belarus back if they wanted to lessen the percentage of Muslims within the Russian federation. yes really.

Nine minutes later, he mentioned Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but only in terms of saying he asked as the Soviet Union was crumbling if FSI knew how many speakers of those languages we had since they might have embassies soon. He said he was told that they would never be independent (sure he was, because his whole persona is based on being the ONLY one in the government who knows anything but that no one would listen to). Five minutes later, he referred to the imam in Kiev. Two minutes later, class was over. Poor Poland never even got a footnote.

In the course of this class, he spouted lots of stats, like how the average birthrate of Chechen women was 10. When someone asked him his source, he said he wasn't sure and he didn't think the number was right
. But then why would he use it to make his argument (because it was key to the point he was making). Like I have said before, every time he says something I know about, I know the areas he is wrong. And this makes me question everything he said.

And he has this really irritating habit of saying something controversial and then quickly adding "but anyway" and changing the subject so that your only option is to chuckle or grumble and move on.

But no matter. Today was his last day.

Yep, he is quitting. Our former instructor is returning.

So we are losing the instructor who knows, but never actually shared, something about the Balts, and regaining the professor who made our class all Ukraine, all the time. At this point, I am grateful it is at least about ONE of our counties. And on the bright side, should I ever be assigned to Russia, I shouldn't have to take area studies. Really, I'm good.

But of course, because our old instructor has been gone for six weeks, our current instructor set up classes for the next three weeks.

Next week's topic: Russian Foreign Policy. Yes, really.

I am not sure what the week after that is (I think it is a joint session with another area studies), but the third week is an Azeri journalist talking about Azeri NGOs.

Hooray! It isn't Russia.

Except, none of us are going to Azerbaijan either...

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

House bill cuts locality pay for Foreign Service officers overseas

Because it isn't enough that our pay has been frozen AND that we may have to endure a government shutdown, now we have to take a pay CUT in order to serve overseas. Just an example, our folks serving in Libya make 5% LESS than they would in D.C. Yes, really.

And to be clear, this is not a pay raise. It is rectifying a pay CUT. And it is only the mid-level foreign service that takes this pay cut. People serving at our missions overseas with other agencies do not. Neither do members of the Senior Foreign Service.

House bill cuts locality pay for Foreign Service officers overseas

The House on Saturday voted to cut locality pay for Foreign Service officers serving overseas.

The continuing resolution bill, HR 1, contains an amendment sponsored by Rep. Thomas Reed, R-N.Y., stripping the pay measure. For years, Foreign Service did not receive any locality pay when they went abroad, and took significant pay cuts when deployed. Congress in 2009 voted to start phasing in the Washington-area locality pay rate — which is now 24 percent — for Foreign Service officers.

Reed said canceling these payments would save $140 million this year and $427 million by fiscal 2013.

I bet they could save more than that by making the Congressmen and their staffers fly economy class like the rest of us.

You can read the rest of the article here.

Happy 93rd Birthday Estonia!

Okay, really it is tomorrow.

But the reception for area diplomats was today at the Estonian Embassy.

The building is beautiful and the company was great. I had a really good time, despite having to wear a suit and work shoes (FSI really has me spoiled!).

The food was good too, but dangerous. I managed to wear a couple of the things I tried. My wife, who is normally more graceful than I am, did as well.

Thank goodness for dark sweaters!

You might have noticed that I said happy 93rd birthday. Estonian Independence was first declared on February 23, 1918 and published the next day. But that independence only lasted a few days. They were a tromping grounds for the Germans and the Russians and finally signed a peace treaty with Russia February 2, 1920.

But wait! Weren't they part of the former Soviet Union?

Right you are! And they will celebrate their second independence, the one from 1991, in August. But we, the United States, never recognized the Soviet occupation of Estonia as legitimate, and so Estonia maintained an embassy here during the entire period.

So, Estonia, soovin õnne iseseisvuspäevaks!

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Bit of Fretting and A Lot of Annoyance

I love this country. I am honored to be able to serve it.

But I can not serve it for free.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. Getting paid to study language, and then to live in Europe and help spread our message to the world is pretty awesome.

But I am getting really tired of all of the folks out there talking about how we federal employees live high on the hog. How we get paid too much and do too little. How our salaries or even our jobs should be cut. Speaker Boehner said it just last week, that if the cuts they make cost federal jobs, "so be it." He wants to grow America's economy, not Washington's.

Because all federal employees are in D.C. (Except of course those who aren't, like the ones at every airport, every national park, every border crossing...) And we aren't real Americans. And because those aren't real jobs. We don't have real families, real bills, real mortgages. We don't pay real taxes. And cutting those jobs won't add real numbers and human beings to the rolls of the unemployed.

Of course, when it comes to cutting jobs in HIS OWN district, well that is a non-starter. So he'll vote to keep a fighter engine being built that even the Department of Defense doesn't want or need to save those jobs, mainly because those people vote for him.

And now we have some of the fringe on the Hill just jonesing for a government shutdown. Because apparently those newly elected folks don't recall how well that worked out for the Republicans last time. Or the damage it does to people's lives.

When my wife and I bought our home, we picked something that was smaller than what we would like but within our budget. Not the amount the bank said we could afford but the amount we felt we could afford given our income.

And we can still afford our home. But not if they stop paying us.

You see, we are real Americans. We work real jobs. And let me tell you, most days, you get more than your nickle's worth out of all of us. Even in language study, I put in my time, because the government needs me to be able to speak this language to effectively serve our country overseas. And in my last two assignments, those eight hours you paid me for each day were much more like 14-16. But I don't get overtime because I am a salaried, not hourly, employee. And I am fine with that.

The truth is that most federal employees are hard workers who are not overpaid. True, those who are in blue collar federal jobs may make more than their private sector counter parts. But those of us who are not blue collar typically earn 25% less than our private sector counterparts. Our reward for that, in addition to the honor of serving, is supposed to be job security.

And now they want to take that away.

Even if they eventually pay us the back pay for the time we are furloughed, I wonder whether it will be soon enough? For me and my wife, probably, because we don't have kids and are fairly frugal. But what about those with kids and more expenses? Are they going to be able to bounce back from that?

And are you going to be happy that your grandmother doesn't get her social security check or that you can't get a passport in the interim? How much of what we do is taken from granted until it isn't there any more?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


I pass by the Pentagon every day. Specifically, I pass by the side the plane hit.

I am proud of the way we handled is exactly how we should deal with the things the terrorists knock down. We should put them back, exactly the same. Because they shouldn't have the right to change us.

Still, that side of the building, with slightly whiter, slighter cleaner, stone, looks like a scar to me. It makes me sad and angry.

I have meant to go to the memorial there since it opened, but have just haven't gotten around to it.

I rectified that today. It is beautiful and touching. If you haven't gone, go.

Those folks died for our country, so we can stay the same.

Today, I also visited here to remember some other folks who died for our country.

It was a good day remembering.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Party Like Its 1918

Today, we had a joint party with the Lithuanian class to celebrate the two country's independence.

We made lots of Estonian and Lithuanian foods. I made devilled eggs, which lucky for me is a traditional Estonian dish for independence day. It is also one of my favorite foods.

The party was a lot of fun. We sang both anthems badly (thank god for youtube!) and gave presentations on the history in our languages.

And I....drumroll please....did NOT say the Estonians put prostitutes everywhere on Independence Day.

Yay me!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Becoming Stupid

This week, we are getting introduced to the "become" case.

Basically, adding a "ks" ending means that something is becoming something.

Like, I wanted to become a teacher. Or something makes me happy (becoming happy).

Except when it means that something if for a specified time period.

Or when it indicates the goal of the action of the verb.

Or the order in which things occur.

Or when it makes something conditional.

Don't you just love things with varied meanings (like the word we have that means either or both, and the other that means always or never)? And I just suck at figuring out which is should be.

In related news, I can now say "Ma olen rumalaks."

Or, I am becoming stupid.

Oh, and here is an embarrassing flub waiting to happen. We are having a party Friday for Estonian Independence Day. I will take part in a presentation in Estonian.

I will be talking about flags: lippud.

And hopefully not prostitutes: lipud.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Welcome to the 159th!

Did you think I forgot?

Cut me some slack...yesterday was Valentine's Day!

And speaking of a nice Valentine's Day present, yesterday marked the beginning of the 159th A-100 class.

Welcome to the Foreign Service y'all!

In my continuing tradition, the links to those bloggers from the Future FS blogroll who are in this A-100 have been moved the the FS blogroll.

So please join me in welcoming to the Foreign Service family:

Mabsuta Bideshi - Happy Foreigner? (female FSO)

Oh The Places I Will Go (FSO)

The Maguire Wire (FSO and EFM w/kids )

Watermarked Walls (female FSO)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Virginia Republican Introduces Bill Attacking LGBT Families

This from HRC...because being inclusive and having Parent 1 and Parent 2 in addition to mother and father (and therefore recognizing REALITY) is such a bad thing.

Virginia Republican Introduces Bill Attacking LGBT Families

On Thursday, Rep. Randy Forbes (R-VA) introduced H.R. 635, the “Parental Title Protection Act,” which would require all federal agencies and contractors to use the words “mother” and “father” when describing parents on all official documents and forms. This bill is a direct attack on actions by the State Department, which we told you about last month, to make passport forms inclusive of all families by adding “parent 1” and “parent 2” alongside “mother” and “father.” In a press release, Forbes argues that “symbolism is important” and that his legislation is necessary to prevent even “subtle” changes that “undermine the traditional American family relationships that have served as the bedrock of our nation since its inception.”

Forbes’ bill ignores the reality of millions of children being raised by same-sex couples in this country. Those children deserve the same recognition and protection from the federal government that other American families enjoy. Rep. Forbes is right that symbolism is important – his bill is emblematic of a brand of Republicans callously willing, time after time, to attack LGBT people and their children in order to score cheap political points.

Not in Kansas Anymore


We spend the weekend in Kansas visiting my wife's sister and our niece.

Egads, kids are exhausting!

We had a hysterical flight attendant on the trip back. You know how they do the safety announcement that everyone except my wife tunes out for? Well, I was suitably tuned out when I hear her say, in a very slight British accent, "Those fabulously comfortable seats you are sitting on also double as flotation devices."

Wait, did she say fabulously comfortable? That's not in the script!

Then she points out the call button for the flight attendants, and warns us they do not get a quicker response the more times they are hit, especially after the fifth time. And while they were about to turn off the cabin lights, "those passengers who are afraid of the dark can switch on the overhead lights."

Okay, if you really want me to pay attention to something, anything, make me laugh.

When she came through with the drink cart, she said:

"I will be coming through with a beverage cart. It is very heavy, and if it hits you, it will hurt. So if you have valuables, such as body parts, in the aisle, you should remove them now."

Too funny!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Meet SUNDAY Feb 13, 2 pm EST re Pet Evacuation - DC or Conference Call


We are planning our second meeting this Sunday, Feb. 13 at 2 pm to discuss both what support may still be needed in relation to Cairo pet evacuation, and to begin a discussion of advocacy for an SOP that gives more attention to the needs of foreign service pets and pet owners during evacuations and other emergencies.

We will meet at the AFSA office, 2101 E Street NW, and also have a conference call-in number available for those who wish to participate by phone.

We are especially interested in hearing from Cairo evacuees who may need support for repatriating pets.

Let us know if you would like to participate in person or by phone.

Susan and Alysoun

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Shout Out to the Folks in Addis

My wife and I are spending the weekend visiting her sister and our niece.

At the airport, we saw a family with a young boy they had clearly just adopted. They were showering him with adoration, and he was clearly very happy with them.

I asked them about it, and they said they were on their return trip from Ethiopia, where they had adopted him.

I said I hoped the folks in Addis has treated him well. As he changed his son into a Kansas City Jayhawks t-shirt, he said it had been a really long process, but the embassy folks had been great. I told him that many consular officers found adoptions one of the most rewarding things they did, bringing children to families who would love them.

And folks, you did a good job on this one. This family clearly adores this boy (who already knows how to shout KU!). To ease his transition into life as an American, they hired a tutor for the time while they were working their way through the process, to teach him some English. So he isn't as lost here as a child his age with no english at all.

So here's to the folks in Addis. Great job! You have played a part in making one happy, well-loved boy and a happy family.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Maybe I am in the wrong area studies

I think I must be in the wrong area studies.

Because for the last four classes, we have talked about Russia.

NONE of us are going to Russia. NOT ONE.

Remember I told you about how our instructor ridiculed State for "forcing all the countries of the former Soviet Union to report through the Russia desk"? And how I told you that this actually isn't true, and that some of the countries aren't even in EUR anymore because we recognize that it makes more sense for them to be in SCA?

And how this same instructor persists in examining all of our countries through a Russian lens?

It continues. Today, he brought in an instructor to talk about organized crime and corruption.

RUSSIAN organized crime and corruption.

And he left, saying he had two other places FSI needed him to be today (really? He is a replacement for the instructor who retired. He teaches ONLY our class. And FSI has double-booked him? Really?)

So we are left with this guy who didn't seem to know where we were going. He talked about Russia, and to a degree, AFRICA. And offered to talk about Central America.

How about central Europe? That'd be fun.

And when we did try to get him to talk about our countries, he knew very little, told us to ask our regular instructor, and got defensive.

At our break, most of the class bailed. I stayed (Catholic guilt). One friend said he would start taking area studies seriously when FSI started taking it seriously. I get it.

Yes, Russia is a HUGE current and historic influence on our countries. Yes, we need to know about Russia. But this is NOT Russia's area studies. We would like to know some about the countries we are going to. It matters.

But it seems to be too much to ask.

TODAY!: Egypt Evacuation Town Hall Mtg Feb 10 at 10am Dean Acheson auditorium Main State

Subject: Egypt Evacuation Town Hall Mtg Feb 10 at 10am Dean Acheson auditorium Main State

Friends of Animals: If you are an Egypt evacuee and pet owner, I would urge you to make every effort to attend the Egypt Evacuation Town Hall meeting tomorrow morning at 10am in the Dean Acheson auditorium. Please spread the word!

I plan to be there along with AFSA State VP Daniel Hirsch. I want all pet owners to know that the Egypt Pet Support working group that AFSA has established with participation by FLO, Humane Society US and Humane Society International as well as FAFAN, will continue to support you until you are reunited with your pet.

The Dept has announced that if you want to repatriate your pet, Embassy Cairo will get your pet to the airport with the necessary documentation and vaccinations, but it is your task to arrange for transportation back via commercial air cargo and to pay any costs associated with this. See the notice on Escape Cairo or post a comment or question on this Facebook page.

AFSA, FAFAN and HSI will discuss establishing a Fund to help defray costs and we are confident we can raise a significant amount to help get your pets back home. We will also see what additional administrative support we might be able to provide to you.

Susan Johnson - AFSA President

Wednesday, February 09, 2011


Sorry I am been absent for a few days (you did so notice!). Sunday brought the tragedy that was the Super Bowl, and then we had a good friend visiting Monday and Tuesday.

And since I hadn't seen her in a year and a half, it seemed rude to demand blogging time!

Today I was in class alone. My classmates got sucker-punched by the creeping crud. I hope they feel better soon.

Class alone is both awesome and exhausting. (I got a well-earned nap today!)

One of our assignments for today was to write a long dialogue, either occurring in a market or a taxi.

I opted for a taxi.

And for a drunk calling for one.

On New Year's.

Within my first sentence, my teacher said, "Wait, did you mean to say you shouldn't drive?"

Yep, I did.

Then two sentences later, I had the person requesting the taxi to say "Oota," which is the imperative of "wait" in a way you would use it with children or someone very familiar. My teacher thought I had made a mistake...nope, I meant to be rude.

"I don't think you are going to get your taxi."

She was correct. By the end of the dialogue, my caller had admitted being drunk and at a bar and not knowing the name or location of the bar. And saying that someone said the bar had no name.

In Estonian, you can be "with" something by adding "ga" or without something by adding "ta." So my caller says the bar has no name.

And the taxi dispatcher says, "Oh, you mean Nimeta."

And the caller said, yes, the bar has no name.

The dispatcher says, "No, the name of the bar is Nimeta."

Which is a real bar. In Tallinn. The No Name Bar...on Suur Karja 4.

I ended with the Dispatcher hanging up and not sending the cab, and, I think, with my teacher liking the story (she laughed a lot anyway).

And I am so checking out that bar when I get to Tallinn.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Helping Cairo Pets Meeting TODAY at 2 pm

Another message from the Foreign Affiars Friends of Animals Network:

Dear colleagues –

The daily Warden Messages from Embassy Cairo have reflected a steadily more accommodating approach to American citizens who are still in process of evacuating and seeking transportation for their pets.

Meanwhile, for Embassy personnel who have already evacuated, Dr Paul Beighley reports on Escape Cairo “some encouraging news that we may be able to get some pets out on the military flight on Wednesday.”

If this Wednesday flight does happen, a network of volunteers will likely be needed to provide short-term care for some of these cats and dogs.

- In preparation for this, we will meet at the AFSA office, 2101 E Street NW in DC today, Sunday Feb. 6, at 2 pm. Let us know if you can make it.

- If you can’t come to this meeting, but are potentially available to provide short-term fostering in the DC area for a USG dog or cat, please let us know.

Thanks so much to all who responded to our earlier message on this subject. We look forward to meeting with you today, and to working with you in the days ahead to help USG pets!

Susan and Alysoun

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Something Good Out of SC

I love my home state.

I think the beaches are awesome...Folly is my favorite place on the planet. The rivers there sing to me, especially the Pee Dee and the Catawba.

I love our history, warts and all. I love knowing where every little tiny place is. I love the two dailies there that I have worked for there, The State in Columbia and the Charleston Post-Courier.

I love the Gamecocks, especially Gamecock football. I love SC Archaeology and the SC Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology. I love USC's beautiful campus.

Still, I am often embarrassed by the news coming out of my state. The Governor on the Appalacian Trail...or make that Argentinian tale. The guy who ran against DeMint who may or may not have been paid by the Republicans to do it. Miss SC and "The Iraq." Confederate Balls.

I could go on, but I'd rather not.

But today, something good came out of SC.

Senator Lindsey Graham.

According to the Foreign Policy Cable, Graham, who is expected to be named the ranking Republican on the Senate Appropriations' State and Foreign Operations subcommittee, sees the State Department and diplomacy as a vital tool national security.

He said:

"If you don't want to use military force any more than you have to, count me in," Graham said in an exclusive interview Tuesday with The Cable. "State Department, USAID, all of these programs, in their own way, help win this struggle against radical Islam. The unsung heroes of this war are the State Department officials, the [Department of Justice] officials, and the agricultural people who are going out there."

"To those members who do not see the value of the civilian partnership in the war on terror, I think they are making a very dangerous decision," Graham said.

I couldn't agree more.

Friday, February 04, 2011

U.S. Citizens Forced to Abandon Their Dogs in Egypt

U.S. Citizens Forced to Abandon Their Dogs in Egypt

Amid the political riots in Egypt, the U.S. State Department is evacuating U.S. nationals. But evacuees are being told that they are not allowed to take their animal companions on the plane. This leaves the terrified evacuees with an impossible choice: leave their beloved companions behind to face certain death, or risk their own lives by remaining in Egypt in order to stay with their animals.

Have we learned nothing from Hurricane Katrina? For Americans and compassionate people around the world, dogs and cats are members of the family. Animals aren't any better equipped to survive a disaster than humans are. Dogs and cats who are left behind in emergencies may be stranded in dangerous conditions for days or weeks without food or water -- or worse.

Many brave people chose to stay behind after Katrina rather than evacuate without their beloved animal family members, and many of these people perished as a result. The animals whose guardians left without them, however, were shot or suffered slow, lonely, and painful deaths from dehydration, starvation, injuries, or drowning. A few lucky animals were later rescued, but for many, help came too late. At one home, PETA's team of trained animal-emergency staffers found the rotting remains of a pit bull who had been left locked inside a cage on a kitchen table without any food or water.

Dogs and cats who are left behind by people fleeing Egypt face similar -- if not worse -- peril, and chances that they will ever be reunited with their guardians are slim to none. The people fleeing Egypt have already had their lives turned upside down. It's a low blow for their own country to put them through the heartache and stress of leaving their animal family members behind and wondering what will happen to them.

A State Department contact has confirmed to PETA that decisionmakers are discussing ways to create more animal-friendly standard operating procedures for future evacuations, but the people and animals who are caught in the turmoil in Egypt need help right now. With the stroke of a pen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could put an end to the heartbreaking destruction of families today. Please urge the Department of State's Egyptian Task Force to allow evacuees from Egypt to take their animal companions with them.

Dogs and cats have no political affiliation, and they don't start riots. They don't deserve to be left behind to die in a crisis created by humans.

Cairo Pets

AFSA has started a new Facebook page for Foreign Affairs Friends of Animals Network. They have sent a couple of emails recently that about the pets of the folks evacuated from Cairo that I wanted to share with you. The second is the more important, because they are looking for your help. They are having a couple meetings for people here in DC who can help, especially those who are in a position to foster some pets.

Here is the first:

Colleagues –

Per the U.S.U.S. Embassy Egypt evacuation status, non-emergency Embassy personnel and families have been ordered to depart Egypt, and some 2,000 U.S. citizens and family members have been evacuated since January 31 – but evacuation flights are not able to accommodate pets. Meanwhile, reports have been trickling out about the paucity of pet options for evacuating USG staff and families – and indeed, for all US citizens.

We have established contact with animal welfare organizations in the U.S. and in Egypt, to evaluate what if anything we can do to assist U.S. pets and pet owners involved in the current evacuation.

Additionally, through AFSA, we have started a dialogue with the DOS Director General’s office, with the goal of developing an SOP for handling pets in future evacuations. We are looking at the model of the U.S. domestic Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006 – an Act passed and signed into law by President Bush in the aftermath of Katrina, in response to evidence that human lives were put at risk when people were ordered to evacuate without their pets.

Are you a pet owner who has been involved in the Egypt evacuation yourself, or do you have close contact with a pet owner who has been involved?

Do you have ideas about what our network might do to help U.S. pets and pet owners involved in the evacuation?

Do you have suggestions for the proposed SOP to cover handling pets in future evacuations?

The Foreign Affairs Friends of Animals Network can help advocate for better evacuation plans that incorporate elements of domestic legislation. We want to hear from you!

Here is the second:

The FLO has started a blog to gather detailed information about pets remaining in Cairo, and to coordinate their care and transport as appropriate. The URL is

While the FLO works on that end, they have asked AFSA and the Foreign Affairs Friends of Animals Network to help with contingency planning on the DC end. We don’t know how the situation will evolve in the coming days, but one scenario may possibly involve flying the pets to the DC area, in which case a network of volunteers would potentially be needed to provide short-term care for some of these cats and dogs.

Are you in the DC area and interested in lending a hand?
- Let us know if you can meet at the AFSA office, 2101 E Street NW in DC this Saturday or Sunday Feb. 5 or 6 at 2 pm.
- If you can’t come to a meeting this weekend, but are potentially available to provide short-term fostering in the DC area for a USG dog or cat, please let us know that too.

Costly Mistakes

So yesterday, our teacher announced the introduction of a new learning device.

The nickel can.

Starting Monday, every mistake we make in language that we should have gotten right will cost us five cents.

The can isn't new...she used it for the last class too. It has a sign on the side. It says, in Estonian:

[Name Redacted]'s New Tooth.

But she said she made enough off of the last class for the new tooth, so now she wants a new cellphone.

She fixed the sign accordingly.

I'm planning to pick up some rolls of nickels.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Foreign Policy: U.S. Foreign Service: on the front lines in Egypt

Here is a nice piece from Foreign Policy that a lot of my friends are linking to on Facebook. I wanted to share it with and give a shout out to my friends in Egypt for the great work they are doing.

U.S. Foreign Service: on the front lines in Egypt

It is right and natural that we devote a great deal of time deliberating about the foreign policy and other implications of the events unfolding in Egypt. For Egypt, these events constitute a national crisis; for the United States, a foreign-policy crisis. But for many individuals, these events also represent a personal crisis. These include first and foremost Egyptians themselves, of course, who amid jubilation and trepidation about the future of their country must also grapple with rapidly rising food prices, various shortages, looting, and a complete standstill in tourist spending. But the crisis has also affected Americans who live and work in Egypt or tourists who have found themselves unexpectedly stranded there.

While we debate the intentions of President Mubarak, the attitude of the military, and the likely place of various groups and figures in a successor government, many in Cairo worry about
sounds of gunfire outside their windows and reports of looters in their neighborhoods. Their friends and relatives inside and outside Egypt struggle to get information on their safety and whereabouts, frustrated by the interruption of email, mobile phones, and other means of communication.

Looking after the welfare of Americans abroad -- particularly during a crisis -- is one of the core missions of the State Department and a foremost responsibility of U.S. diplomats stationed overseas. U.S. diplomats are rarely noticed, much less celebrated, but their service and sacrifices deserve the American people's recognition.

When a crisis such as this erupts, the local U.S. Embassy will scramble to understand and report to Washington on events and offer its advice on U.S. policy. But it will also initiate a massive effort to account for and care for American citizens, both those who wish to leave and those who remain behind. Right now at the Cairo airport, our Foreign Service officers and other U.S. personnel are putting in days-long shifts to assist Americans who want to leave Egypt. The same officers who are responding to Washington's demands for analysis of opposition figures and the latest reports on protests in Tahrir Square are also comforting weary travelers, serving them food and water, and packing them on to evacuation flights.

Among those the officers have seen off are their own families, whom the State Department yesterday ordered to depart Egypt. The farewells are hasty -- families must leave quickly once the order is given -- and sometimes do not take place at all if the employee is needed elsewhere. The families do not know when they will be able to return, if at all, and must make accommodations for housing and schools on the fly. When their families are long gone, the officers stay on to perform vital work to advance U.S. national security.

The experience of the officers in Cairo is hardly unique -- many diplomats are stationed at embassies and consulates overseas where conditions do not permit their families to
accompany them. Alongside other civilians and of course members of the military, they make daily sacrifices to serve their country. Few Americans are actually aware of what they do, and fewer still will ever have need to call upon their help. But they are there when Americans require, and for Americans stranded in Egypt, that is a deep relief.

Oh No He Didn't!

I had today's post mostly written in my head by this morning. I had used the drive in the polish it up in my brain.

But of course, I don't write my posts at work. So I was waiting until I got home.

And then I went to area studies.

I was already a bit dubious, since today's topic was the Russian Federation and its neighbors. Which is sort of what he talked about last week when our scheduled speaker was unable to make it past the guards (bureaucratic oops).

Now bear in mind that we are not going to the Russian Federation, but okay, we are going to neighboring countries.

AND bear in mind that this is the same guy who criticized State for lumping all the former Soviet countries under the Russian bureau (never mind that this isn't actually true, or that some of the countries of the former Soviet Union aren't even in the European bureau just gotta pick your straw man and stick with it) but is for the second week in a row, talking about all of us in the context of Russia....

His area of expertise is the ethnicities of the former Soviet Union.

Which means that he should stay the hell away from discussions about other say, American Indians.

Particularly southeastern US American Indians...and if I am in your class, stay FAR away from the Indians of North and South Carolina unless you know what the hell you are talking about.

So as a throw away joke about ethnicities, he said ethnicities were still being created. And that if you didn't believe they could even be created overnight overnight, you need to read about the Lumbee.

Really, you're going there?

I am the historian for my tribe. We have two main bands, one of which originates from just across the border from the Lumbee. There is a ton of intermarriage and shared history between the Lumbee and my people. So as the historian for my tribe, I know more about Lumbee history than your average non-Lumbee bear.

And they are NOT, as he said, a "group of people who have nothing in common except their New York lawyer." They are NOT seeking recognition as an Indian tribe so they can get a casino. And the reason they lawsuit is ongoing has much more to do with Jesse Helms than Lumbee origins. There is NO DOUBT, at least by anyone who actually bothers to do the research, that the Lumbee are Indians (and even Lumbee who are mixed with other races are still Indian, much like I am Indian even though my father was is both my race and my culture). And even if they are, as some argue, a remnant tribe, that does not make them any less a tribe than other tribes that are remnant tribes but enjoy federal recognition. (Though again, if you do the research, you can scarcely miss coming to the conclusion that the Lumbee descend primarily from one dominant group).

It is a testament to the degree to which I have become a diplomat that I did not go with any of my first three impulses. My first was to rip him a new one. Closely related is my second, which was to throw something at him. My third was to just walk out.

Because I am a diplomat, I went for door number four, and sat and stewed.

And because I am a diplomat, I plan in the very near future to have a private "frank and open" discussion with him about it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

No, that isn't what I meant

We all have those language moments.

You know, when you say something that you didn't mean because you changed a letter or so.

Like when I tried in Estonian to say "closed street" and said "mitten street" instead.

Or when I tried to say to an elderly Israeli woman during her visa interview that "I thought" something. Turns out, transposing the syllables changes "I thought" to "I f*cked."


So I did that again today. I was trying to say "It is time to begin class."

I didn't use the right verb for "to begin" is an issue my classmate and I both have...there are two verbs commonly used for "to begin" or "to start," hakkima and alustada, and I inevitably use the wrong one.

But today, I not only used the wrong word, but I changed the word by ONE LETTER.

So instead of it being time to begin class, it was time to, uh, poop, in class.

Nope, not what I meant to say. Not even on my bad days.

Ah, language.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

How'd That Work Out Last Time?

Our assignment for today was to write a paragraph using our vocabulary about politcal advertising, elections, and government encouraging people to vote for us for the Estonian parliament.

I decided that I should run instead for Queen of the World.

In my paragraph, I said that while I knew that the election was for parliment, I thought that people should vote for me for Queen of the World (for life). And that if they did, they would not have to work or pay taxes, and that they would have everything they wanted including a big house and lots of money.

My teacher, sadly, said she would not be voting for me.

She said that it sounded like communism...and that we knew how that had worked out last time!