Monday, October 01, 2012

Back in the U.S.S.R.

Actually, not at all. It is just a good title to explain why I haven't posted in a week.

So no, not back in the U.S.S.R. First, because this was my first visit to Russia, and I am currently back FROM there. And second, because Russia is clearly NOT the U.S.S.R. (which no longer exists), as is evidenced by the reason for my visit –

Social media.

I was in Moscow last week for training on social media in Russian space. But getting there was half the battle.

It started more than a month ago. When the announcement for the training came out, I deleted it because they required post to pay for the travel. And my budget was stretched thin. But then the department came up with money for me and one of my staff to travel. So we happily agreed to go.

All went well with getting our visas. So our next problem was just getting on the plane. They had us on standby! Not sure how that happens with what the government pays for fares, but luckily we managed to get on the plane. Then we get to passport control. And the officer says to me “You came in from Copenhagen in August 2011.”

I answered in Estonian, Yes. I work here.

“But you have no visa.”

Luckily, I had my diplomatic card. I brought it at the last minute thinking I would need it to get back INTO Estonia, not that I would need it to keep me from being deported!

The flight was uneventful, but the traffic is Moscow is ridiculous. It took forever to get to the Golden Ring hotel.

We spent the first evening wandering around, and I got to tick on an item on my bucket list – seeing St. Basil’s Cathedral at Red Square. I didn’t get to see Lenin though…the entire building containing his tomb was covered by a gigantic sign for a light show that was to start a few days later.

We went to the Arbot and looked at souvenirs, then ate, of all places, at a Wendy’s. Don’t judge me. Sometimes you need a frosty.

The next two days were spent at the embassy, which is BIG. The room where our class was held overlooked a nice green space…it could have been any apartment complex in Arlington. You could watch people walking their dogs and babies staring out of apartment windows, runners getting exercise and moms with strollers. You could forget it was a compound.

Lots of folks at the embassy apparently live on the compound, and I really think you could survive without ever leaving it. In addition to the green spaces and homes, there is dry cleaning, a cafeteria, a commissary that is like a small grocery store, a gym, a park with playground equipment, and there was even a bar! I bet there are people who never leave it, though that for me kind of defeats the purpose of being in the Foreign Service.

I saw a ton more people who I knew than I expected. Friends from Riga and Minsk. A fellow blogger. There was even someone who was in my oral assessment! And of course, people from big PA in Washington. Of course, the State Department is a very small world…I even ran into someone my wife served with at Main State.

After the first day of training, we had a reception at the DCM’s house. All I can say is wow, she has a seriously awesome chef! Sadly, the food was just finger food (I would so love to taste her meals!), so after the reception, some of us headed to dinner. We found a place on the Arbot that served pasta and sushi, a weird combo but okay none the less. The eel was better than in Tallinn, the smoked salmon was worse and the salmon roe doesn’t seem to exist here.

Our second day of training started entirely too early…you should not have to get to training earlier than you normally go to work. But the session was a good one on creating a crisis response plan, so with the help of copious amounts of coffee (which I normally don’t drink) and an engaging instructor, I made it through.

The one thing lacking in the training was time to sight-see, so I opted out of a dinner they scheduled for our second day and walked around Red Square instead. I needed to buy some souvenirs (got them...complete with haggling!) and see more of the Kremlin. And ride the metro again. I am glad I was with a Russian speaker, because Russians and Americans are alike in the lack of an inclination to put their signs in anything but their own language. The city is challenging for those of us with barely above zero Russian skills.

So there you have it. My excuse for not blogging this past week. No tigers. Just no time or computer access! I am glad I went, but even more glad to be home. And I got some good news after I got back…I got promoted! Guess I will have to quit saying "this is why I will never get promoted!"

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