Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Oops! It Happened Again.

I went to the Christmas tree lighting in Raekoja Plats on Sunday.

Of course, since I didn't bring an umbrella, it was POURING.

By standing really close to a guy with a really big umbrella (which said something about some socialist website on it...I worried about being under the umbrella of socialism!), I was able to make it through three songs and two speeches.

But by then I was drenched, so I gave up and went home.

I checked on Postimees (the largest local paper), to see if they had pictures or video of the lighting.

Instead, they had pictures and video of the tree falling...AGAIN.

You can check out video of it here, and a story about the incident here.

The rumor mill says the tree was sabotaged by squirrels...the squirrel is the mascot of the ruling Reform Party, and the tree was put up by the Mayor of Tallinn, who is from the opposition Center Party. But if you ask me, I think it was the wind.

And fear not, the tree will be back...but it will be a bit more modest...only 17 meters tall instead of the previous 24 meters. Which is still a pretty frickin' big tree!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Fixing the Christmas Market Postcard

When we were in Estonian language training, we watched this miniseries called Tuulepealne Maa, or Windswept Land.

So I shouldn't have been surprised that it is occassionally windy here. Really windy.

Yesterday the wind was just howling. From my office at the embassy, it sounded downright spooky.

When I got home, I posted about all the cool things going on this weekend...the Christmas Market in the Old City, the Tree Lighting, the International Women's Club of Tallinn Bazaar...and that is just the stuff I plan to go to!

And then my Estonian teacher commented on the post to be careful, because the Christmas tree in the Old City had FALLEN OVER! The tree in Helsinki apparently did as well!

Sure enough, I went to the local paper online, and it had several stories and even a video (which I watched last night but doesn't currently want to load). Luckily, no one was hurt and none of the Christmas market stalls were even damaged.

The stories said the tree would be back up by last night, and given Estonian efficiency, I believed them. I'd have gone last night to look, but it was raining. And in fact, despite the fact that they were calling for sunny and 43 degrees today, when I tried to go this morning, it was pouring rain and then snowing (and then raining again).

So I waited a bit and headed over this afternoon. Sure enough, the tree is back and men in a large crane are redecorating it.

Noostie and I walked around the market for an hour or so, even though the weather was cold and kind of crappy, watching the tourists and letting Noostie fantasize about herding the reindeer (I originally typed that raindeer...which I think was a freudian slip).

Tomorrow is the tree lighting. I'm hoping for better weather for the pictures...and that the tree is still upright!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Living in a Christmas Card

Because I work in Public Affairs, of course there was work to be done on Thanksgiving. So after I had stuffed myself senseless, I drove in an tryptophan induced coma to the Solaris Cinema for a viewing of A Marine Story and subsequent discussion on Don't Ask, don't Tell.

The movie was great, and the discussion was great. It was particularly awesome that Erinevus Rikkasab (Diversity Enriches) was able to secure the film's lead actress, Dreya Weber, to sit on the panel as well.

Now that Thanksgiving is done, we can dive into the Christmas season in full force.

Which of course means that my office is now adorned with two tiny and slightly tacky (especially the purple one) Christmas trees.

It also means that this weekend marks the tree lighting and the opening of the Christmas market in the Old City. I will definitely be there for that!

This is picture I have seen many places of the market...I posted it on Facebook and got a bunch of comments on how it wouldn't be real. But it is, and I will be taking some pictures myself this weekend and in the weeks to come. With or without snow depends on the weather...so far my Southern warmth has kept any substantial snow away.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011


Thanksgiving is one of the weirdest holidays for me as an American overseas.

I think I am most homesick over Thanksgiving, because only other Americans really "get it." Christmas, Easter...if you are in a country with any Christians at all, someone understands. But Thanksgiving? That is all us.

Thanksgiving is especially hard this year because I am also separated from my wife (though only 23 days to go, not that I am counting). And Thanksgiving for me is very much about being with my family. So this one has me a little in the dumps.

Luckily, my friends from language class have invited me to their place to share in the wonderful turkey goodness, so I won't be sitting in my apartment sulking. Plus, I am participating in a discussion on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" tomorrow evening (Why yes, I AM working on Thanksgiving...why do you act shocked?). So I will hopefully be too busy to be sad.

And today, I spoke to kids from the Jewish School here about Thanksgiving. I told them a bit about the history, a bit about the Indian perspective, and they read some poens they wrote for the occassion, did a presentation, and a group of girls sang a song (not a holiday song, but it was cute anyway).

Now, things I am thankful for:

A job I love.

That I will see my wife in 23 days and we will spend Christmas together.

That I just completed my first week as duty officer here without a single call (that NEVER happened in Jerusalem).

Saturday, November 19, 2011

What Do I Look Like?

Yesterday was a good day, but it left me still puzzled about the whole language thing.

First, the good parts.

My shipment from the commissary arrived. There was a mistake though...they DOUBLED my order of Diet Mt. Dew!

I now have TWENTY cases of Diet Mt. Dew.

This is NOT a bad thing.

I ration. One a day. I got through Jerusalem that way...only went one or two days without one.

Don't judge me. We all have our addictions.

So that means I have 240 days worth of Diet Mt. Dew. Plus I got a case of blueberry bagels. One bag in the fridge, the rest in the freezer. So I have bagels for a while (side note: why the hell doesn't Estonia have bagels? They don't even have bad bagels. I totally do not get it...this is a first world country, for heaven's sake!). My car still has a lovely blueberry smell from bringing them home.

So life is good.

And at the end of the day, I got an email from the PA section in Vilnius asking if I was interested in joining in with them to bring BETTY to the Balts.

Oh hell yeah!

For those of you who don't know, BETTY is pretty famous in the LGBT community. They did the theme song for the L Word and performed on the show numerous times. They are an alternative rock group and they will represent American culture and LGBT tolerance. And folks in my section tell me it has been a while since we have had a rock band here, and that this should go over really well. So it is still tentative, but I am really excited about it.

Now for the puzzling part.

Many folks tell me that people here just start of and stay in English with them here. I always figured they just weren't trying hard enough to use Estonian.

Now I am less sure.

Yesterday, I went to the sub place in the mall near the Embassy. There was a line, two guys and two women who seemed to be together. The guys were speaking Estonian, and though one appeared somewhat Asian (maybe Russian from the Steppes), he was speaking Estonian with his friend way more fluently than I do. And then the cashier came to take his order and spoke to him in English (after having spoken to the other guy in Estonian). He did his order in English and then she proceeded to take the women's orders, also in English.

Then she got to me...and spoke Estonian.

And I placed my order in Estonian. At one point, she asked me something in English, apologized, and switched back to Estonian!

Seriously...I am confused. I have noticed in the past that wherever I have gone, I had a cameleon-type tendency. By that, I mean that people usually I am mixed with something and whatever they are. Indian communities know I am mixed Indian. But it has happened among African Americans, Hispanics, and Jewish people as well (yes, I know that is a racist assumption that Jews somehow look alike, but it was Jewish people, not me, making that assumption, both in the states and in Jerusalem).

But I don't look Estonian. I have been told that I could look like someone from Saaremaa. And lately some have said that maybe they think I am Russian. I suppose that is possible...a couple Russians here have spoken to me in Russian, but mostly the Russians also speak to me in Estonian.

So I am at a loss...I am beginning to think that people are right that people speak to them in English. And I am happy that they don't speak to me in English. But I no longer have any idea why.

Friday, November 18, 2011

What I've been up to

Aside from about five foot.

You remember that line in the movie Airplane where Leslie Nielson says he picked the wrong week to give up smoking (and then drinking, pot, crack...)?

I picked the wrong week to let my APAO go on training!

You may or may not have seen that the U.S. joined the NATO Cooperative Cyber Defense Center of Excellence. That center is here in Estonia, and is something we have been working on for a while. For us specifically in Public Affairs, we have been working on trying to get press attention for the announcement. Based on the number of hits on google, I am satisfied with our efforts.

And if that was all I had to work on this week, it would have been a long week.

But Monday we had a reception at the Ambassador's house for Educators. Tuesday night, I showed a film to some 60-70 students at KUMU. Wednesday night we had a rehearsal of the cyber center ceremony. When I got back from that, I worked on finishing some texts I had been trying to find time to work on for WEEKS. And then last night, we had the cyber center ceremony AND THEN and reception for Afghan diplomats.

I am hoping to leave on time tonight. And to sleep this weekend. A lot.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Lunch with Ambassador Guest

If you hurry, you can join in the GLIFAA lunch with Ambassador Michael Guest.

Ambassador Guest and his colleagues from the Council for Global Equality were at the Department for this morning for a briefing on LGBT issues for EUR Desk Officers. Immediately thereafter, they've agreed to join GLIFAA members for a brown bag lunch in Room 4517. So if you are at or near Main State, head over, lunch in hand, at 12:15.

Ambassador Guest served as the first out career Foreign Service Officer to be confirmed as an Ambassador by the U.S. Senate in 2001. He currently serves as a Senior Advisor at the Council for Global Equality, a non-profit serving to advance LGBT rights as part of U.S. efforts to promote human rights.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy Birthday, Marines!

I generally don't like balls (no comments from the peanut gallery).

This will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me.

I don't like dressing up. I particularly don't like wearing dresses. I don't own one. And since I did not wear a dress for either my college graduation or my mother's funeral, I can't think of an occassion where I would be willing to put one on at this point in my life.

I also don't drink. Or dance.

So yeah, balls are not really my thing.

I do, however, LOVE our Marines. They are great guys, and I sincerely appreciate that they put their lives on the line to guard the embassy. I feel better knowing they are there.

Plus, with the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," I feel better knowing that LGBT can serve in dignity. I feel better knowing that I could serve (well...if I weren't so darned OLD), something I always wanted to do when I was younger. I feel included now.

So I felt like it was important to go to the Marine Corps Ball...important enough to miss listening to the South Carolina-Florida game (we won - yay!).

I am glad I went. The ball was very well done...our Gunney did a fabulous job with it...it was very tasteful and dignified. Everyone there looked stunning (you'll have to take my word for that since I don't put pictures of people from the embassy on here)! The food was excellent. The music was great (and for those of you who dislike 80s music...too bad!). And I got to meet a lot of interesting people...like an Irish guy working for the British Embassy who attended Presbyterian College in Clinton, SC!

And before you ask...no, I didn't wear a dress (pantsuit...but my jacket had a tiny bit of sparkle, and my shirt was shiny blue silk) and no, I didn't dance.

I didn't drink either...well, not intentionally anyway...I did reach for my water glass and take a drink of someone's really sweet white wine (seriously, this wine had NO COLOR...I did actually look at the glass before I drank from it).

So Happy 236th Birthday Marines...I am happy I got to celebrate with you!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

St. Martin's Day Market

This week, Estonia celbrated Mardipäev, or St. Martin's Day. The day is named for St. Martin, a Roman soldier who was baptised and became a monk later in life. He apparently cut his cloak in half to give to a beggar to keep the beggar from dying from the cold, then that night had a dream where Jesus was wearing the half-cloak Martin had given away. Martin heard Jesus say to the angels: "Here is Martin, the Roman soldier who is not baptised; he has clothed me."

The feast day is, I think, November 11, but I know that Estonian kids went out on Wednesday night. I think because of the history of the day being associated with the end of the agrarian year and the beginning of winter period, and associated fairs where the men went looking for work, children now dress men and go door to door, singing songs in exchange for candy. Like Halloween but different.

No kids came to my door, largely because I live in a building with security and such, but I did get to go to the St. Martin's Day Market. The market is filled with vendors from all across the country who come in to sell their handmade crafts. It is a chance to get some beautiful handmade work for a little less than it sells in the Old City and with much greater variety than you can find there.

The market was packed, and in addition to getting to watch folk dancing of all kinds and getting to see President Ilves' wife sign books, there was everything there from knitted sweaters and gloves, to iron work, baskets, woodwork, blown glass, and then some. There were, in addition to craftspeople from Estonia, also folks from Russia, Lithuania, Latvia, Georgia, Turkey and Slovenia. Needless to say, my Christmas shopping is nearly complete...and my checking account is a bit lighter!

Friday, November 11, 2011

AFSA Responds to Insult to Diplomats

AFSA (the American Foreign Service Association), put out this response to Governor Rick Perry's insulting claim that diplomats do not have America's best interests at heart. (To their credit, they did not use any of the expletives I had in mind.)

Texas Governor Rick Perry's comments about members of the U.S. Foreign Service during a Nov. 7 radio interview (http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2011/11/7/perry-questions-intentions-of-american-diplomats) reflect a serious misunderstanding of their role in promoting American interests overseas. Diplomacy is rightly recognized as the first line of defense and a vital instrument for ensuring national security, along with the military. Foreign Service professionals carry out their role with exemplary dedication all over the world, including war zones and other dangerous regions.

Indeed, hundreds of American diplomats have given their lives in the line of duty, including six ambassadors: John Mein (Guatemala, 1968), Cleo Noel (Sudan, 1973), Rodger Davies (Cyprus, 1974), Francis Meloy (Lebanon, 1976), Adolph Dubs (Afghanistan, 1979) and Arnold Raphel (Pakistan, 1988). Other Foreign Service professionals who have made the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of terrorists or drug traffickers include Charles Robert Ray (France, 1982), William Buckley (Lebanon, 1985), Gary Durell and Jacqueline Van Landingham (Pakistan, 1995), George Tsantes (Greece, 1983), Leamon Hunt (Italy, 1984), Barbara Green and Laurence Foley (Pakistan, 2002), James Mollen and Edward Seitz (Iraq, 2004), Barbara Heald, Keith Taylor and Stephen Sullivan (Iraq, 2005), and David Foy (Pakistan, 2006). The bombings of our embassies in Beirut in 1983 and 1985, and in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam in 1998, killed scores more.

Wherever they are posted, American diplomats are dedicated to serving their country, promoting U.S. national interests as articulated by our country's elected leaders. Drawing on invaluable expertise accumulated over decades of living and working in countries all over world, often separated from family, they provide sound advice for policy decisions regardless of which party is in power, in keeping with high standards of professional excellence. They serve at the pleasure of the president, are confirmed by Congress and need the informed support of both branches of government to be effective.

In an ever more uncertain, complex world our diplomatic personnel deal with the entire spectrum of our interaction with the rest of the world. So to keep America strong and secure, we need more diplomacy, not less. And we need more, not less, support from our political leaders and citizens for their work to defend and advance our interests abroad.

The Washington Post also covered AFSA's response: Diplomat's Respond Bluntly Rick Perry.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Better Than I Did

You need to go over and check out this post by Donna over at Email From The Embassy. She takes on the comments about questioning diplomats' motives far better than I did (and we all have our fingers crossed for her as she submits her QEPs...because she is awesome).

Here is just a bit of it:

"People don't always agree with each other in the Foreign Service, and people don't always get along on a personal level. But Foreign Service officers always advance the agenda of our government, without fail. And they work together, no matter their personal beliefs. Because that is what they were hired to do. Imagine that, if you will: Democrats and Republicans, all working together on behalf of our nation - it happens every single day in the Foreign Service.


And here's the kicker: if he somehow manages to pull off a victory, those very same Foreign Service officers whom he just mindlessly insulted will stand up and support his policies across the globe.

Because that's what the Foreign Service is about. Diplomats support American ideals in every country across the globe, often at great risk to themselves and their families. Diplomats (and their boss, the Secretary of State) don't set their own policies. Rather, they serve as boots on the ground, the eyes and ears of the President in every corner of the globe. Diplomats report back what they see and hear and think in these countries that Rick Perry has probably never considered visiting. They present the facts - and yes, they present their own educated opinions - so that our President has the information he needs to create and direct policy. Once the President decides on policy, these same diplomats work to advance his agenda. Not their own agendas, mind you. Never their own agendas."

I recommend you read the whole post.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

We Deserve Better

Nobody joins the Foreign Service to get rich.

We join for a miriad of reasons, but scratch most of us in the Foreign Service and you will find a deeply patriotic American.

We endure harsh conditions in war zones and other inhospitable places. We endure separations from our loved ones, sometimes for years. We endure diseases and environmental conditions most Americans would never consider subjecting their families to.

We earn, according to a recent study, 26% less than we could in comparable private sector jobs, and yet we endure the seemingly endless accusations that we are just overpaid bureaucrats who are the cause of our country's economic crisis. And to that end, lately we have endured pay freezes and pay cuts, and we live with the fear of job cuts and government shutdowns.

And still we serve.

We serve because we believe. We believe in this country. We believe in serving it. We believe that in order to be strong, this country needs both military and diplomatic strength.

So we deserve better than having a candidate for president of this great country question our intentions.

We deserve better than someone saying "I’m not sure our State Department serves us well...I’m talking about the career diplomats and the Secretary of State who, all too often, may not be making decisions, or giving advice to the administration that’s in this country’s best interest."

Trust me. Everything we do...EVERYTHING WE DO...we do because we believe it is in our country's best interest.

That is why we serve. FOR our country. PERIOD.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Welcome to the 164th!

It is that time again, time to welcome the new FSOs to the Foreign Service! The 164the A-100 class began today!

So a special welcome to the following bloggers:

FSO Wannabe (who I hope actually accepted the offer!)

That lady, There


You Can't Get There From Here.

Your blogs have been moved to the FS blogroll.

Let me know if I have missed anyone.

Welcome and congrats!!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Don't Hate Me Because Tallinn's Beautiful

You know you are jealous.

I still think it is pretty cool that I get to live in a place like Tallinn for three years.

And that I get to do the work I am doing for three years (exhausted though I already am).

I took this picture yesterday from Lounge 24, a bar on top of the Radisson Hotel. I was there because we are planning an event for next month, and we hope to hold it there.

I had a picture of me taken from up there as well (which I won't be posting here, even though lots of you clearly already know what I look like), and I swear it looks like I am standing in from of one of those fake tourist posters.

So yeah, don't hate me...come visit!

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

It is not that I don't care

(about the blog, that is...) I have just been slammed.

By the end of the week, I *might* have gone home on time one night...Friday, I am seriously counting on you!

I was in Pärnu Monday night for the close of Pärnu America Weeks. We spoke to a high school class, a college class and went to the closing ceremony. They had a ginourmous cake which was pretty good (cakes here are different than in the states but they are pretty good if you aren't expecting a U.S. style cake. The same could not be said for most cakes in Jerusalem, so I will take it). I got home about 10:30.

Yesterday, I was at the Ambassador's residence first for an interview with his wife by Eesti Naine, the oldest and most respected women's magazine in Estonia...it was Eesti Naine (Estonian Woman) during the first Estonian republic, then it became Soviet Woman then went back to Estonian Woman after re-independence. So it has been around since 1923 I think.

After that, we had a reception at the residence, an econ thing I wouldn't have normally been involved with had there not been a press component. So I got home at about 9.

Tonight, we are having a Town Hall for the American citizens here in Estonia. My guess is I will make it home 8:30ish.

And tomorrow we have a film screening...again, I'll likely get home 8:30ish.

I am defending my Friday evening like a mother bear.