Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Rock In A Hard Place

One of the things that most fills me with dread when I am overseas is the thought of having to take my animals to the vet for anything other than the routine.

The fear is borne of a certain ethocentrism, I am sure...I have certain expectations based on how awesome my vets are in the states. The animal hospital we took Koshka to for her Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD - which later became the lymphoma that took her)? It not only had an oncology wing but had just done successful kidney transplants!

Right or not, that is the level of care I want available for my pets even if I never use it, and I am never sure I can get it overseas. Add to that a knowledge that some cultures do not value pets as much as we do, and well, you get nervous.

I had a decent vet in Jerusalem, but I never had to use her for much out of the ordinary. I found a week-old kitten after it fell two stories to the concrete and I went to her for help. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries and I just wanted some kitten milk replacement. She gave it to me while chiding me that "it will probably die."

Humor me. I am an American. We are the champion of lost causes.

So when I found a spot of pee on the carpet that had crystals in it, I was terrified. I hoped that it meant that the problem had passed. But then a few days later, there was a spot on the carpet, and Noostie was definitely drinking and peeing more. M convinced me to take her to the vet.

Our usual vet here, who I had only been to once and not for anything major, referred me to the emergency vet because they had no appointments available. And I'll admit that the older building in an older section of town didn't increase my confidence. But they took Noostie in and were very kind to her.

Then we did a sonogram. And I mean "we" since I helped hold her still. They saw a large shadow.

So we did an x-ray. And again I mean "we." They gave me a ginourmous heavy lead vest and lead collar while I helped hold her.

And they found a ginourmous bladder stone. One that was NOT going to pass on its own.

Which meant major surgery the very next day.

The good news is that I discovered that there is very good vet care available here at what compared to American prices is very cheap. The better news is that Noostie is on the mend. She has a few more days of pain killers and antibiotics to take and will be as good as new. They did advice me to make soak a cloth in a solution of half water and half vodka to put on her incision to help keep down inflammation. Considering how good they were, I'm willing to try it.

Or maybe they just wanted me to take some of the vodka myself for my nerves! I'd probably try that too!

And in case you are curious, here is what they took out of her:

Oh, and you probably wanted to know as well: the kitten in Jerusalem made it. I bottle fed it and took it to work with me until it was old enough to eat on its own. When it was about 3 months old, I found a nice indoor home for him in Jerusalem (because we already had two cats, a dog and a bird). I hear he is doing very well.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

You Will Be Missed

I'll just throw this out there:

Don't Go!

Apparently Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman is planning to retire.

I have never gotten to work for him, but in the interactions I have had with him, I have come to like him a lot.

When I first joined the State Department, he went to dinner with all of us who had been assigned to NEA. He had been Consul General in Jerusalem, so I was particularly interested in hearing what he had to say.

When I ran into him in the Department for the first YEARS later, he REMEMBERED MY NAME. From one meeting.

That really impressed me.

Then, as the Special Assistant in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, I had to brief him occassionally on things we would get in. He was always unfailingly nice. Once, after he had been named Assistant Secretary, I did a blog post on how I was happy for him. The next time I went to his office, he thanked me for the kind words in my blog.

I said, "Sir, what blog? Blogs are against Department policy."

And he said, "Oh, well if you had a blog, I would thank you for the kind words."

And I said, "If I had a blog, you would be welcome."

I would have loved to have worked for him. Everyone I know who has speaks very highly of him.

I am disappointed I won't get the chance. But I wish him all the best in whatever the future holds for him.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Pagan Churches and an Island Escape

So those people who make three-day weekends are seriously on to something!

This was the first full weekend I have had off in a while, so I took an extra day and M and I headed to Saaremaa, Estonia's largest island. It wasn't my first time there, but the last time was in November when I did a quick out and back to speak at our American Corner there. I literally saw nothing of the island.

So this trip, we spent the whole long weekend there and it was just what doctor ordered! And we planned our trip the way all my favorite trips end up being planned: we picked a few highlights that we wanted to make sure we saw and otherwise just explored.

We stayed at Georg Ots Spa (and I highly recommend it!) and could see the Kuressaare Castle from our window. 

We explored the castle our first night and then headed to an Italian place, La Perla, in town, for dinner.

The next day, we just drove, first down to the peninsula, then up to Panga Cliff, then back down into the interior of the island, stopping at things that looked interesting.

I decided I wanted to visit the church in Kaarma because it has a plaque on the entrance that was written in 1407 and is thought to be the earliest example of the written Estonian language. Even cooler? I can read it.

It says, if you are curious, "In this year, this church was completed. Peter and Paul in the year 1407."

When I got back to the hotel, I looked for more info on the church on the internet. And then I realized that I had missed the GIANT PENTAGRAM on the wall. I stood right next to it, and totally missed it. Doh!

And what is sad is that the pagan overtones to Estonian belief is something that really fascinates me. I knew that they are one of the most recent societies converted to Christianity (roughly in the 1200s). That I didn't know is that they put pagan symbols in some of their earliest churches.

So today we went to another church, in Karja, to see the pagan symbols there. This time, I didn't miss them.

We also went to the church in Valjala, the oldest church on Saaremaa and in fact in all of Estonia.

 It was while there that I got the idea of trying to see and photograph as many of the historic churches in Estonia as possible during my tour here. I already have a good start. I like photograph churches, so through my travels in Estonia, I have taken lots of pictures of old churches. I have now organized them into a folder of Estonian churches.

Now I just have to find out how big a project I have just created for myself.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

What Makes a Blog an FS Blog?

What makes a blog a Foreign Service blog?

For that matter, what makes a person part of the Foreign Service family?

There are some for whom the definition is less expansive than it is for me.

One of my friends, Jen over at The Dinoia Family has apparently been removed from the State Department's blogroll. Her blog isn't FS enough. Specifically, she apparently talks too much about her health issues. She talked about getting breast cancer while her husband was on an unaccompanied tour. She used:::::gasp:::::the word "nipple."

Obviously, I think that is absurd.

No one has ever questioned whether my blog was a Foreign Service blog. Even when I delve into issues such as marriage equality, which I do pretty regularly. Even when I talk about my non-work related travels. Which I do with relative frequency (directly proportional to whether I have managed to get a day off, but that is another story).

But all of these things are in the context of my life as a Foreign Service Officer.

Jen has been, I think, in the service longer than I have. But to some, she is not in the service at all. She is just a "trailing spouse." But as I said, I have a more expansive view. Perhaps that is because before I was an officer, I was a "trailing spouse." All of us, ALL of us, who are living our lives overseas at the behest the country we love and serve via our connection to the State Department, are serving. ALL of us. That is officers yes, but it is also specialists. It is also our local staff. And it is also our families. We are all serving. We are all part of the Foreign Service, and part of the Foreign Service family.

If you take a look at my blogrolls (two now because blogger has restricted the number of blogs per roll), you will see well over 300 (maybe 400...I am too lazy to count) Foreign Service blogs. There are blogs from officers, specialists, spouses and kids. I include them all because they are all serving. And even when they are not specifically talking about life in the service, they are still talking about life in the service. They are talking about careers (or lack thereof) while in the service as a spouse. They are talking about crafting in a foreign land. Raising children in a foreign land. And yes, getting sick in a foreign land. Or getting sick in America while facing the prospect of moving back to a foreign land, not getting to move to a foreign land, or having your spouse leave you behind while he or she moves to a foreign land. In short, they are talking about all the things everyone does but in a culture that is foreign, and that can never get truly familiar because we are only at a given post for a brief time.

Jen's blog in particular offers a great service to those considering joining the service by giving some insight not just into how you deal with Unaccompanied Tours but how you deal with things like the Big C in this crazy life. And frankly, it is a good news story. A story not just of how she survived (yay!) but also how the Department got her husband home to her. Found him a job in DC so he could stay with her. Found him an appropriate job overseas when the danger had passed. Took care of an FS family.

But apparently that is not FS enough.

So come on, whoever runs the blogroll at State. Put her back. Prove I am right. That we are one service, one family. Prove that we value all of our family. Every FS blog out there offers a window that someone out there needs in order to decide whether to join us. Jen's blog is a big window. I want as many people as possible looking in, so that the best people possible climb on through.

Update: The story has been picked up by a bunch of FS blogs, and those of us in the FS Blogger group on Facebook have vowed to make sure we use the word nipple in a post (see that...twice in this one!). It has also been picked up by Washington Post's Federal Eye. So maybe it really is also true that when someone closes a window (to the FS), they open a door.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Thank You, Mr. President

I got teary-eyed twice yesterday.

The first time was from sadness. It breaks my heart to see North Carolina, a state I called home for years, the state where my wife and I were married in our church ten years ago, and a place which was on my short list of places to retire to, enshrined discrimination against me into the state constitution.

The second time was from joy. Joy at finally seeing the President of the United States say he supports my right to be married. To say that he believes I should be treated equally, be able to visit my wife in the hospital, make medical decisions for her should she not be able, claim her body should she die before me so I can bury her as she wanted, or leave our house and my pension and social security to her should I die before her.  Joy at seeing him say, without equivocation, “I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

We still disagree on one point. He still thinks this is an issue for the states, and I do not. The states no longer get to decide whether or not to recognize interracial marriages. The Supreme Court in Loving v Virginia ruled that marriage is a civil right that cannot be denied just because some people find it is distasteful. Because if you don’t believe in interracial marriage, don’t marry someone of another race. And if you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t marry someone of the same sex. (and don’t hand me that line about churches being forced to marry gay people because it isn’t true…I witnessed my own church refuse to marry a straight couple because that couple did not want to meet the church’s requirement of pre-marital counseling. And while I know it is a religious issue for some, it is for me as well. My church recognizes my marriage.)

What I find really stunning, and telling, is that the arguments used against gay marriage (or as I like to call it, marriage) are the same arguments used against interracial marriage, the first of which is that Americans “aren’t ready.” And yet, when Loving v Virginia declared laws against interracial marriage unconstitutional, more than 70% of the population opposed interracial marriage (in fact, when I voted in the late 80s to remove this unconstitutional provision from the SC constitution, nearly 30% were still opposed to it…we did what was right anyway). The latest polls show that 52% of Americans support the right of gays and lesbians to marry. So it is time to do what is right.

Let’s play a little game. I am going see if you can guess whether the argument was used against interracial marriage or same-sex marriage.  I will put the answers below…no cheating!

1.  These marriages run counter to God’s plan.

2. These marriages are “unnatural.”

3. The people entering into these marriages are from “the dregs of society.”

4. Allowing these marriages will open the door to incestuous marriages or polygamy.

5. These people already have a right to marry.

6. These marriages would be disastrous for society.

7. These marriages cannot produce children.

8. These marriages would degrade traditional marriage.

9. These marriages would cause a higher incidence of disease.

10. These marriages would harm the children.

So what do you think? Can you tell which arguments were used against same-sex marriage and which were used against interracial marriage? I’ll put the answers in the comments. Don’t cheat!

Monday, May 07, 2012

Yeah! What He Said!

Here are the comments made by President Obama on Foreign Affairs Day:

I send greetings to all those celebrating Foreign Affairs Day 2012 at the Department of State and our
Embassies and Consulates across the globe.

Today, we recognize the Foreign Service professionals who work tirelessly to advance our national interests
and build a safer, more democratic, and more prosperous world for all. You are the face of American diplomacy,
and on behalf of a grateful Nation, I thank you and your families for your professionalism, integrity, and
devotion to service.

Whether you work at the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, the Foreign Commercial Service, the Foreign Agricultural Service, the International Broadcasting Bureau, or at our
hundreds of Embassies, Consulates, and missions around the world, your work is immensely beneficial to the
American people and the international community.  Your efforts to build bridges of understanding help promote
sustainable development and prosperity, global health, democratic values, and human rights.  Even as you face
the unique and evolving challenges of the 21st century, you are laying the groundwork for a world where everyone
can make of their lives what they will.

On this occasion, we also pay homage to the memory of Sharon Sue Clark, a Department of State employee who
died of complications from cerebral malaria on December 26, 2010, while serving in Abuja, Nigeria.  This Foreign
Affairs Day, her name will be etched into the Memorial Plaque, commemorating her legacy and the legacy of all
who made the ultimate sacrifice in pursuit of creating a better world.

I join Secretary Clinton in saluting those lost in diplomatic service to our Nation and in thanking all
those who continue to work toward a brighter future for Americans and people everywhere.

Barack Obama

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Let's Do It

In 2008, some folks in Estonia got together and decided to clean up the country. They named their NGO "Teeme Ära," or "Let's Do It."

The cleanup was a huge success, and they have done it again each year since. This year, "Let's Do It" campaigns are happening in 80 countries around the world.

For the last few years, the Embassy has participated in these cleanups. At least temporarily, Estonia is our home too, and so it is only right that we help keep it beautiful.

Yesterday's event was a lot of fun. About twenty of us from the embassy, including the Ambassador, joined with folks from Coca-Cola and Tallinna Vesi (Tallinn Water) to clean up a little area of beach in northern Tallinn. By then end of it, we are all pretty grubby but had filled a giant garbage container with trash. You start out picking up small glass sherds, papers and cigarette butts, but by the end, you are hauling massive rubber tubing, tires and assorted gigantic unidentifiables! One of the things I found was a mass of leather netting that I suspect had been used to cover an old Soviet vehicle to keep it from being identified from the air. This beach, like most beaches in Estonia, was off limits to average Estonians and was only for use by the Soviet military.

I personally think I get extra points for going out. I am still nursing a raging cold that has been kicking me in the teeth for two weeks now (and that I may have shared with BETTY member Elizabeth...sorry about that...though I am still maintaining plausible deniability...I think you brought your cold with you!). And speaking of BETTY, while I was out in the woods cleaning, one of the folks came up to me and asked if I wasn't the one who brought BETTY to town. She said she had really enjoyed the concert and wanted to thank me. She said she felt like the Embassy doing things like that really helped the LGBT community here and gave them extra confidence.

Now that definitely makes cleaning with a cold worth while!

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Foreign Affairs Day

May 4th this year was Foreign Affairs Day. Each Foreign Affairs Day, AFSA marks the day with the annual Memorial Plaque ceremony, where any new names of diplomats who have perished in the line of duty are added. People don't often realize how dangerous our work can be. They think about the military putting their lives on the line for the country but fail to realize that we do as well, only without guns to defend ourselves. In fact, more Ambassadors have died in the line of duty than have Generals and Admirals.

Here is what AFSA wrote about this ceremony this year. Below that, you will find a video of this year's ceremony. 

The first memorial plaque, now at the west end of the diplomatic lobby of the Department of State, was unveiled on March 3, 1933 by Secretary of State Henry Stimson at the entrance of what is now the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, standing next to the White House, which then housed the State, War and Navy Departments. The inscription on this plaque states: "Erected by members of the American Foreign Service Association in honor of diplomatic and consular officers of the United States who while on active duty lost their lives under heroic or tragic circumstances". The establishment of this plaque grew out of efforts in the late 20s and early 30s to establish a "Roll of Honor" naming those who had died by violence or other causes related to service abroad such as tropical diseases. The first name is that of William Palfrey, chosen by the Continental Congress as Consul General to France, who set sail in 1780 and was never heard from again. Travel by sea was dangerous and often fatal in the early years of our country, and tropical diseases also frequently struck down 19th century American representatives.

The first plaque was limited to Foreign Service officers, but after World War II the plaque became open to Foreign Service personnel of all ranks. The second plaque erected in 1972 at the east end of the lobby, during the Vietnam War, carried a new inscription "Erected by the American Foreign Service Association in honor of those Americans who have lost their lives abroad under heroic or other inspirational circumstances while serving the country abroad in foreign affairs." This phrase was interpreted to comprehend the distinctive dangers, including terrorist acts, of life and work in the Foreign Service. Disease was generally no longer considered after World War II, and terrorism became the chief cause for inscription. In 1982, eligibility was extended to include US Government employees of other agencies serving at embassies, including military personnel. However, in 2005, due to the sharp increase in the number of non-Foreign Service civilians serving abroad from agencies that have their own memorials to fallen employees, the AFSA Governing Board re-instituted the original plaque criterion. In one other change, the AFSA Governing Board in 2001 established an additional criterion of “in the line of duty” to cover Foreign Service members killed during the official performance of their duties even if not due to terrorist acts. The criteria were revised slightly again in 2011; please see the criteria by clicking the link to the right.
There are 108 names on the west plaque and 128 on the east plaque, for a total of 236, as of May 2012. These Americans died in 64 different foreign countries, as well as at sea. It must be emphasized that the names on these plaques represent only a part of the total number of Americans who die of various causes while serving their country overseas.

AFSA owns and maintains the plaques. The AFSA Awards and Plaques Committee considers proposals for additional names and makes recommendations to the AFSA Governing Board which selects the final names for inscription, based on the criteria established by the Governing Board. AFSA organizes unveiling ceremonies in cooperation with the Department of State when new names are added. At the 2012 ceremony, we added one new name: That of Sharon S. Clark, a first-tour Foreign Service Office Management Specialist who died of cerebral malaria in Abuja, Nigeria in December 2010.
The next ceremony will be held on the next Foreign Affairs Day, which is May 3, 2013.