Sunday, December 8, 2013
So, I have embarked on a (losing) journey to get in shape for the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. I signed up for overly expensive Pilates classes in the neighboring yuppie and pretentious studio. I religiously attend them once a week only to witness perky senior citizens twist their bony limbs like a pretzel while I try to mobilize my reluctant stomach muscles to lift my (apparently) giant upper body, panting like a Doberman after a good run. Not pretty. Since Pilates wasn’t cutting it, I decided to go further and signed up for full membership at the local YMCA.
Have you ever been to a YMCA? Man, it is amazing in there! They offer so much for so little and on top of that they provide free babysitting while you work out! He-llo! I decided to try out Zumba since it offered great movement, exercise and dancing skills, plus it is a Brazilian thing. Made in Heaven especially for me. I showed up to my first class only to find myself in the same room with more ladies of the wiry senior citizens variety, one seriously tall gal in her twenties clad in a strange outfit of purple sneakers and a t-shirt with no back that somehow was tied around her neck, and one gangly Chinese boy. Our teacher was a petite Venezuelan lady who would put the Energizer bunny to shame. She turned on some loud and overly energetic salsa, and began to Zumba. For those who are not familiar with this particular form of exercise – Zumba turned out to be a dynamic combo of a workout and overly suggestive nightclub dancing. Half of the time we would be doing squats, and the other – shimming our boobs and shaking our butts violently. The Asian kid seemed to move most of the time to some internal tune of his own. I will tell you one thing – no matter how much I work it, I can NEVER move my behind the way that tiny Venezuelan lady can. And neither can any of the old ladies, frankly. What is worse, there is a whole wall of mirrors in front of us, so that I actually have to watch my own misery and inadequate flailing of limbs up and down the room. I persevere.
Speaking of working out, it seems that the entire county of Arlington is on the same quest as me. Sadly, most of them have taken it outside the workout rooms and have flooded the streets of the area. Bloody runners, they are EVERYWHERE like some sort of shapely, energetic and menacing gigantic locusts that have invaded our quiet and boring neighborhood. The worst is that they run at night, in the dark, ALWAYS clad in all black, which means that if you are pensively driving through the back, less well lit streets, on your way to the supermarket busy with pondering what to buy that has less calories, you are bound to not see them as they come in seemingly from nowhere. Even worse, they inevitably will be blasting some inane workout music in expensive noise-isolating headphones thus not hearing your car that is happily humming along on its way to Giant. Last night, as I was driving back from Pilates around 7 pm, feeling rather good about myself and quite well disposed towards the world in the enveloping Arlington darkness, I was startled by a ridiculously well-shaped, tall female runner, who was also dragging 2 massive Collies along for the run. As I was approaching an intersection with beautiful green traffic lights, the fantastic specimen of female physique burst in from my left, not giving the red light in front of her any respect, and without stopping for even one second to see if there MIGHT be cars interested in utilizing the green light, ran across the street followed by her bored dogs. I honked for good measure, at which point, without stopping running, turned around, showed me the middle finger and screamed a rather offensive suggestion for me to go do something, frankly, physically impossible to myself. Really??
Life here is otherwise humming along. We go to Portuguese classes every day, try to amuse ourselves by spending money on the weekends. We hosted a Thanksgiving dinner last week when we had a visit from the Diplomat’s sister and her family who live in California. For the dinner itself, we also had invited the Diplomat’s pregnant cousin and her husband, and his aunt and uncle. Not sure what I was drinking at the time, but I told the Diplomat to procure a large bird this year – perhaps suffering from excitement that I had not cooked turkey in the past 3 years, or perhaps suffering from partial dementia, who knows. He delivered a 18-pound beast, which took about 6 hours to cook. In my head, there were going to be 8 adults and 3 kids. What I really ignored was the fact that Son eats 33 grams of turkey, the Diplomat’s family is largely vegetarian (with the exception of the holidays but they clearly are not trained to eat meat in unnecessarily large quantities like I am) and the pregnant cousin’s stomach was half its size due to the residing child inside her. And then aunt and uncle did not come. So there we were, 6 adults and 3 small kids and one towering, impressive turkey, roasted to a crispy perfection. We ate 1/18th of it that night. In the days that followed, I have been working those leftovers every which way I could possibly imagine. I made turkey, brie and cranberry chutney quesadillas, I made tremendous turkey soup, I made phenomenal turkey potpie, I made pasta sauce and then ate some more turkey. I still have some left in the fridge. I began feeling little turkey wings growing on my back….Next year I am cooking an undernourished turkey from a developing country!
Monday, November 11, 2013
So, last week I got a kitchen pass from the Diplomat to go to NYC for a concert of the best of the best of the old Bulgarian rock bands. I knew it was going to be amazing and all week had been trembling with excitement that I will see them (some of you don’t know that, and those of you who know me, don’t believe it, but I was an ardent hippie in my teen years and so rock was a religion back then and concerts were what we lived for). I bought a ticket on the Megabus (a double decker cheap bus that promised to take me from DC to NY in 4 hours) and began planning my trip.
Now, some will remember that the Diplomat and I bought a very centrally-located studio apartment in Manhattan over the summer, which was just renovated and cleaned and was being shown to renters. The problem was that the place was not furnished, and while the kitchen and the bathroom glistened with new paint and tiles, there was nothing else inside. I emailed a few friends in whose houses I had not already crashes during prior visits, and they generously offered couches and kids’ bedrooms. I realized, however, that I would likely come back from the concert rather late and so it might be rude to bother friends. So, the Diplomat offered to buy me an inflatable mattress (which he did, the dear, at 9 pm the night before I left) and I decided to slum it in our place. I packed the newly acquired mattress which had a pump included, Son’s giant Superman blanket, a roll of toilet paper, some makeup and my tightest jeans, and off I went on the 2.30 pm Megabus to NYC o a sunny Friday. The bus was supposed to arrive in mid-town Manhattan at 7 pm and the concert would start at 8 in Queens. I planned to get a taxi, leave my things in the apartment, spruce up to become a good-looking wild groupie and hop on the N train to Astoria with a friend from highschool.
I got a nice seat on the top floor of the bus, and spent the next 2 hours reading a book. At that point it struck me that we were not exactly moving at the speed of light, and according to the GPS in my cell phone, we would reach NYC at 7.30 pm at the earliest. Undaunted, I figured that I would be a bit late but then likely the concert wouldn’t start on time anyway so I returned to my book. A couple of times the driver, a stern lady, asked someone to turn off his phone as its glare was reflecting on the front window shield and was bothering her. I did not think much of that until I went downstairs to the bathroom and overheard a heated argument, accompanied by some peppery expletives, exchanged between the cool lady driver and a somewhat aggressive and clearly irked passenger. I went back upstairs and wondered what that was all about. Well, five minutes later, and the bus pulled over in the emergency lane. Apparently, the driver lady was trying to toss the offensive passenger with the bright phone off the bus. The time – 7 pm. I threw in a quick prayer for prompt resolution and began staring forlornly through the window at the Empire State Building, glistening just across the New Jersey turnpike, as if mocking me. So close and yet so far. 20 mins later and with absolutely no development, I started to get angry. I am going to NY only for this concert and I am about to miss it because some loser did not want to turn his stupid IPhone off. Apparently, I was not the only one to think so. I noticed that the 20-something guy in front of me was violently texting on his IPhone to someone things like, “Fuck! My life is so fucked. I am so fucked!!” I mean, the delay was irritating but perhaps THAT was a little overdramatic, it seemed to me.
Next thing you know, the police showed up. The POLICE, people! That led to another 20 mins of discussions. Next thing you know, the tall bulky angry phone dude is escorted by the cop to the second floor of the bus and where do you think he sits? That’s right – next to me. He spent the next 5 mins saying very violent things and some expletives to a friend on his phone, underscoring the fact that he is not a child, he has paid an entire $18 to be taken to 38th street in Manhattan and who is that ***** to tell him when and where and how to play with his phone. The time – 7.45 pm. I wondered if this was God’s way of punishing me for ditching the boys home to gallivant in Manhattan for a weekend. Then another Megabus pulled over, the cop scooped up the irritated fella with phone issues, put him on the other bus, and in about 10 mins we finally moved. We arrived a shocking 15 mins later. There was still hope! As luck would have it, my highschool friend who was supposed to wait for me at the drop off point could not get on the subway and so had to take a bus downtown. Clearly freaking out that she is making me even more late, the poor thing ran like a mad woman out of the bus to meet me. The time – 8.30 pm. We hopped into a cab and by 9 pm were inside the concert hall screaming delightedly with each song, my luggage happily stowed away in the cloak room. Needless to say, I did not change into my hot outfit and looked, ahem, a bit underwhelming. Otherwise, the concert rocked!
At 11 pm, we all went to the designated after-concert bar and waited for the musicians to show up. I kept drinking cheap wine and realizing that the slice of pizza I had while I waited for my friend mid-town is beginning to wear off despite its gigantic size. But then the musicians came in, and we all got frenetic trying to take pictures with them. Around 1.30, exhausted but happy, my friend and I piled into a car of some random friends we met and they dropped me on the East Side, close to my apartment, around 2 am. Another short cab ride, and I was finally safely home, rather exhausted.
I pulled out the queen-sized inflatable mattress and the pump that went with it, connected the two and pressed “on.” Nothing happened. Slightly suspicious, I opened the pump and stared in silent horror at the empty space where 4 D-size batteries should have been. It was 2.30 am, and I was dead tired in the middle of a fancy, completely empty studio apartment in Manhattan. I had two choices – roam the streets hoping to find a 24/7 store that sold batteries or to blow. I chose to blow – I could barely walk by then.
And so my blowing ordeal began – do you know how long it takes to manually inflate a queen-sized mattress, factoring in break times so that you don’t pass out from lack of oxygen and also factoring in slight inebriation? An hour. That’s how long. At some point, it occurred to me to try and hold the mouth of the mattress on top of the heating since it was on and was blowing air full force. I am not sure what impact that had, but I suspect it actually allowed some precious air I had blown in to actually escape, thus making it worse. While doing this, I realized that all that blowing had made me severely hungry. I quickly researched take-out places in the hood, and since it was 3 am already, my only bet was Domino’s Pizza. Which I love! So, no brainer! I quickly ordered pizza online (God bless my phone) and continued to blow air into the damn cavernous mattress in intervals. Finally done around 3.45 am, I plopped myself on it and settled in to watch the latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy online while waiting for my delicious nocturnal pizza. Then I got a call from the doorman, who sounded genuinely puzzled and asked me whether it was possible that I had ordered pizza. Why yes, I answered gaily, and pranced downstairs in my satin PJs to collect it. I smiled brightly at the doorman and as I was leaving, he said, quite apropos, “Oh, m’am, we don’t have your number here in our records.” I was puzzled so decided to ask, despite the pleasantly wafting pizza and my desire to run upstairs as fast as possible, “So, how did you call me if you don’t have my number?” “Oh,” he said innocently, “I called the number on record for your apartment, which turned out to be your husband but he seems to be in Washington, DC so he gave me your number.”
So, as you can imagine, the poor doorman had called the Diplomat at 3.45 in the morning, deeply asleep in his comfy bed in DC, with the good news that his pizza had arrived. What pizza?? asked the incredulous and utterly asleep Diplomat. You can figure out the rest. I expected to get a quizzical phone call and was ready with my apologies, but I guess he was too sleepy to make the effort. I spent the next 50 minutes happily devouring the pizza and watching the show on my phone. I got up at 11 am the next day. Man, there are times when I really envy single people and winder what in the world do they do with all of their free time.
The next day I had a delicious birthday dinner with a good friend and then headed over to have drinks with another in Tribeca. In the spirit of this confused weekend, the evening went off with a few hitches. Apparently, after a martini and some wine, I did not pay much attention to the direction I was taking the subway to meet my friend (who was coming in from Brooklyn), and ironically ended up in Brooklyn myself. The time – 11.30 pm. More and more frustrated, I navigated the ginormous subway station and managed to get myself back into the city in about 20 mins. Rather than risk more confusion, I got off and decided to walk to the bar, which, my friend said, was on Duane Street. In confusion that only New Yorkers would understand, I misunderstood and instead ended up on Reade Street. There was no bar in sight. I was ready to just board the bus and go back to DC. Luckily, the bar happened to be just around the corner and I soon got there. After a few drinks, I headed home by cab (to make sure I don’t end up in Jersey or the Bronx or something, the way things were going). Clearly, the cabbie had to be Bulgarian and for the duration of the ride, I was questioned on my immigration history, lectured on the current crappy state of affairs in Bulgaria and bestowed with vastly unamusing tidbits of the cabbie's life story.
The next day I went to Brooklyn to have brunch with yet another friend. I was to take the 3 pm bus back to DC. We lunched leisurely, and when I was beginning to get nervous about going back to catch the Megabus, she assured me that if I took the A train, it would put me just a block away. Plus, it was a fast train, so I needed really about 30 mins or so. What my friend did not realize was that the A train had a different schedule on the weekends and did not stop where she thought it did. Not even close. Actually, kind of far. At the end of my rope, I ended up walking 8 very long NYC blocks to where the Megabus was parked. The last 3 blocks I ran in high-heeled boots, dragging a suitcase behind, sweating profusely in the warm autumnal afternoon. I made it with 13 seconds to spare. The moment I went inside, the bus closed the doors and we took off. 4 hours on the dot, I was back in DC.
It was a great, albeit very confused and maddening weekend. I should do it again some time soon.
Wednesday, October 23, 2013
And so, it has been a good 20 days since I last wrote and SO MUCH vastly unimportant things have happened since then. Among the leading news in our thrilling lives here.
- Fat Cat’s litter, located in the guest’s bathroom (which also doubles as Son’s bathroom) stinks. Not sure why. I could swear it did not do that before we moved in back to the U.S. when we ‘d clean it, like, once a week give or take (on a good week). Now I clean it every second day. WHAT?? Yup. I am on a mission to de-stink it. I went on Amazon.com and found these carbon sheets that everyone swears by. The online recommenders even said to buy many since they can’t find them anywhere and the Amazon runs out. Nothing. Then I got this contraption that attaches on the box. People said it will change my life. It hasn’t. It is just one more thing to watch out for when cleaning. Then I bought a spray deodorizes that boasted that I won’t even notice that I have multiple cats in the house after 2 sprays. It is true, I do not notice such a things as I do not, in fact, have multiple cats. I do have one with very stinky output apparently, and now the cumulative result is the smell of pee mixed with deodorant. Then I bought different sand, something natural, made of something that looks like wood peat. It claimed super natural results. It did not lie – now my bathroom smells of perfectly natural peat, cat pee and odor eliminator. I gave up.
- The Diplomat suffered a couple of insignificant injuries while playing tennis, largely gave up the sport, then bought a cardigan and began playing golf all the time. I am considering giving him orthopedic shoes for Christmas and putting down money for a place for him in a decent retirement home for next year.
- We had our first parent-teacher conference earlier this month. It was so rewarding – nothing better than learning how amazing and unique your child is, how gifted, pleasant and intelligent he is. And that he was told not to kiss the girls in class. Um, say what now? So then the teacher told us that Son was caught kissing in class but they talked about it and she thought it would be OK. Then, in the uncomfortable silence that followed, the Diplomat all of a sudden chimed in, “Well, he just spent two years in a French school, so….” I guess the implication there was that Son’s past in the French pre-school was full of depravity and early-childhood kissing practice, freely condoned by his debauchee, free-spirited French teachers. Awkward…
- I think I am getting old. I went to get my manicure done tonight, and for 45 minutes listened to two recent college grads, having the following conversation: “And so, like, I think Jason is, like, coming to the party on Friday!!!” “Omg, that would be so funny, like.” “Yeah, I know.” (unclear why that would be funny). “Wow, this color is like amazing on you!” (It was not.) “Yeah, it’s so funny.” (not sure what was). “So, like, Jennifer said you should come, like, dressed as a cat.” “Oh, that’s so funny.” (ok, maybe this time I can see how it could be). “So, like, you and Frank, are like, super good friends now, like, went from zero to 50.” “Yeah.” “That’s funny.” (nope, just nonsensical ). And so on, and on and on, with the likes and the funnies. Like, OMG! You know? Lol. The whole conversation made no sense to me at all.
- I am so tired of all the Tablet and kindle readers ads on TV! For the love of humanity, how many different types of tables do we need??? Does anyone even remember the world before tablets? We lived, right? I distinctly remember living. Yup. Sheesh! And no, I don’t have a tablet. Ok, I have an iPad, but the Diplomat bought it and is ancient!
- I miss not having voicemail on my phone. That way, people could not leave me long, complicated messages that inevitably end up asking me to do something I don’t want to do and make me feel obliged to call back. Outside of the U.S., people would just send you a brief text which goes straight to the point and which I can see instantly in order to decide better whether to ignore or to respond.
- I love Portuguese. After just 7 weeks I tested at a 2/2 level, which was the level I achieved after 6 MONTHS of Bengali. It makes you feel good….
- It seems that Brazilian swimsuits are microscopic and I would be ill-advised to wear something different on the beaches of Rio. Which is a problem since I distinctly am unable to lose weight or to look even remotely ready for a Rio beach. I am also finding it impossible to exist on apples and cabbage, as I resolutely promise myself every morning. Today, in fact, I actually ate an ENTIRE bagel with cream cheese (gasp!!!). The worst part is that I did not pack my worst enemy – the scales – in my luggage and now I have no idea what is happening in the weight area. My pants still fit though so that's comforting.
Halloween is coming up. I strongly believe that given the nature of the holiday, the costumes should be scary and theme-appropriate. Son will be a ghost, I am a dead woman walking from her grave and the diplomat will be that guy in the orange suit from Yo Gabba Gabba, DJ Lance Rock. I asked him to find himself a scary suit and that is what he came up with. I guess I see his point. Let’s see what the kids think on Halloween. Muahahahahahahahahahaha!
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Well, I had the best intentions to begin writing much more regularly once I was back in Washington, DC and life became boring again. Alas, my relationship with the Portuguese language has proven to be much more time-consuming than I suspected. Plus, I began to cook more. And to clean and do laundry. And shop for groceries. And run dishwashers. And work out. And do all those mundane normal things people in America do. I can tell you this – I miss my life in Dhaka. I continue to plot my triumphant return.
Amongst my first interesting experiences here has been the enrollment of Son in public school. Neither I nor the Diplomat were raised in the United State and thus, we were woefully unaware of the way the system worked. As you would graciously recall, we landed in Arlington the day before school started in Virginia, both for us and for Son. We registered him for school on the first day of class. While we sat there, feeling like the most awful parents who could not find enough time in their lives to register their poor child in kindergarten in advance (like, I imagined, all decent parents would do), another couple came in and did just the same. I brightened up and immediately befriended them. Turned out, there were also a Foreign Service couple. I suppose last minute school registration goes with the territory.
The next day, while dropping Son at school, I noticed other parents who were walking around with thick yellow manila envelopes, which looked important. I timidly asked what that was. The school administrator was NOT amused. Apparently, there had been an orientation night and APPARENTLY (I swear, she capitalized the words as she spoke!) we had not attended. Totally crushed, I admitted as much. She took pity on me and bestowed upon me one fat, yellow envelope. I rejoiced and ran home to read it only to become even more terrified. It was SO. MUCH.INFORMATION! I had to fill out about 47 different emergency contact forms, various releases, activity sheets and promises for good conduct. Then there was the awe-instilling PTA – the parent-teacher association for those of you NOT in the know. I am still unsure what exactly they do but it seems pivotal. I immediately began desiring to be part of it but the Diplomat poured cold water over my earnest eagerness by pointing out that Son will be leaving the school in 6 months so there was really no point to go crazy. I was sad. I had so wanted to be on the PTA.
Then, a few days later, Son brought home the school calendar. While tearfully going through it (I was cutting onions and NOT crying because my baby was now in real school), I noticed things like, “Teacher planning day, school closed,” "parent-teacher conferences, school closed,” "Wednesday before Thanksgiving, SCHOOL CLOSED???," and finally – practically 2 weeks around Christmas “school closed.” Wow, um, wait, what now? Surely this is a cruel mistake. How about parents who work? What are we supposed to do with our kids on those days? Bring them to work? Tie them to a kitchen leg at home, with snacks around and hope for the best until we come back from work?
Not to worry, said the school – we got it covered (well, mostly). We will have alternative arrangements on those days. Phew, I said and relaxed. They WERE great alternatives – days with art workshops, soccer, theater, dance. Amazing – unicorns and rainbows, right? Not so much – apparently, the alternatives cost about $65 a day. Or more. If you want them, of course. Otherwise, you can always go back to the tying-your-kid-to-the-kitchen-table-leg plan. I politely asked Son’s teacher what other parents do and she suggested that he spend some time with extended family members (grandparents, she clarified lest I thought she meant a remote, old, batty, crazy aunt). Clearly, not practical for us. Good talk. Sadly, we are not allowed to take any leave during language training or we lose the per diem. So, YMCA, here we come.
Which naturally makes me wonder - just what, exactly, does our country imagine we should be doing with our children in such times. Let's say, for argument's sake, that families with 2 working parents have the option of one parent taking a vacation and not working in order to care for the child during the winter break. Then how about single parents on a small income? Are they supposed to be able to afford the $55 (at a minimum!) a day camp for a fortnight? It just makes you wonder...Where's the village when you need one.
Other than that, Son has been ecstatic at school and says that he has many friends, even though he can’t remember the names of anyone save for this one kid and I suspect that even that name is invented since Son seems irritated at me for asking for names on a daily basis.
In other news, our government shut down today. Good times.
Sunday, September 8, 2013
So, at the end of each tour or training one very unpleasant situation comes in – the company comes and packs your 5000 lbs of crap and you are left with 2 suitcases per family member, each filled up with exactly 50 lbs of personally very important crap and you live out of those for the next one month until you land in either your next post or in training in Washington. After each tour overseas, foreign service officers must take a vacation in the good old U.S. for a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 6 weeks. It is called “home leave” and is mandatory. Imagine – we get a 6 week MANDATORY vacation. Mmmmm, hello, I love my job! Now, many people do not like this since the State Department only pays for the ticket back home and home leave has to be in the U.S. Hawaii counts, Cancun does not. The government does not pay for your lodging during home leave. As you can imagine, unless you own an unrented house in the U.S., the idea of spending a month living with your relatives, or renting an overly expensive villa on the beach or an RV, or in a hotel, all the while living out of suitcases is not appealing to the thrifty folks of the Foreign Service. But it must be done.
The idea is that United States diplomats should go back home once in a while to re-acquaint themselves with their core customers and constituency and remember who they work for – the U.S. I guess someone important in the Department was watching Apocalypse Now one dark, Washingtonian autumn night, saw Marlon Brando go rogue after spending one too many days in rural Vietnam and decided that U.S. diplomats need to come back home every now and then. I agree. Except for the suitcases part. Here is why.
On August 1 we bid a tearful goodbye to beloved Bangladesh. Fat Cat made a graceful exit the previous night, and so the Diplomat, Son and I headed over to Bulgaria for a little private vacation with Mom before returning to the U.S. for home leave. As our stuff was packed about a week before that, by then we had been living out of our suitcases in a way already. Each of us was equipped with two large suitcases and one hand luggage. It took a large van to take us to the airport. After 10 days in Bulgaria, the Diplomat flew to California to see his Sister and her family. After one more week, I left Bulgaria and flew to New York where I met with him. We were both dragging our respective 2 suitcases each. Son was having a good time with Grandma, his 2 suitcases partially unpacked for a month. In New York, thanks to the incredible generosity of good friends of ours, we stayed for a couple of weeks in a gorgeous apartment in Brooklyn. The suitcases were still not unpacked – we just pulled random crap out of them and wore whatever we found. It made looking for small items inside real fun. Then, on August 31, the Diplomat drove our newly acquired car to Virginia, I flew down on the U.S. Airways shuttle to Reagan Airport and Son and Mom arrived later that night on a United codeshare flight from Bulgaria. It merits noting that their plane landed at 7.30 pm and they came out almost two and a half hours later!!!! Two and a half hours, people – what in the world is happening on that passport control line?? It did not help my state of nerves that after the Diplomat and I had been waiting at the airport for them for about one and half hours and were just being convinced that my Mom had been taken to secondary and detained or something, I got a phone call from a formal sounding officer, who asked me nonchalantly whether I was waiting for someone that night at the airport. My stomach turned. Turns out Mom did not have the address of the place we were going to stay at and they needed it for the entry form. Sheesh.
We spent the next two days at our favorite American auntie’s place in Maryland for the Labor Day weekend (suitcases not even brought into the rooms) and then we finally moved into our current digs in Virginia, where we are going to spend the next 6 months studying the incredibly confusing language of Portuguese. Due to the lack of enough hangers, my suitcases remained unpacked for 3 more days until I finally made the obligatory pilgrimage trips for returning Americans to Costco and Bed, Bath and Beyond and supplied the apartment with vital housing essentials. Suitcases unpacked. Phew! It is nice to finally find the underwear you are actually looking for. Other than that, home leave was great.
Going to the suitcases during home leave (and any travel with multiple stops, really) is daunting, much like going to the mattresses is for the mafia during their wars. You rarely get to unpack anything during each stop since it is such an effort to stuff back everything inside (each suitcase magically ends being heavier and heavier each time!). Your clothes are always wrinkled , at times smell musty (especially if it was raining at the airport when your luggage was offloaded) and you end up using only the topmost clothes day after day after day. It does not help that you have packed 4 tennis rackets there as well so every time you try to look for a small elusive item like a bottle of Iboprufen which seems to move all over the packed suitcase with surprising alacrity for an inanimate object, you curse the stupid rackets and take them out and then put them back in, along with the 6 pairs of shoes you were convinced you will wear in New York City (which you did not).
We have been back for about a week now in Washington, DC and already had a week of language training. It felt good to walk on campus, wearing clean, ironed clothes.
Monday, August 26, 2013
Let us be honest – this was NOT a love at first sight. And frankly, definitely not at second glance either. It was, however, a love affair after all, and one to remember for life. As many of you know, I have just left
Bangladesh after a brief 2-year
stint and after some reflection, am ready to pontificate and extrapolate on my
Bangladesh is not an easy place to live but it has probably some of the best people in the world. The country hits you at the airport – by smell, at first; then by color; by everyone staring at you while you are at the passport control line and later on, at the luggage belt, which typically takes about an hour before a single bag appears (yours comes last, for sure). But if you smile wearily at the border police officer who reviews your passport and wish him a good day, he will immediately bust out in an enormous smile and wish you the same. This is how the entire country is – Bangladeshis are the friendliest, most welcoming and helpful people I have ever met in my life. If you need help on the street, everyone in plain sight (and their multiple relatives 5 minutes after he calls them) will come immediately to help you. They will help even if they do not know how or have the slightest clue what they are doing. The point is – they are ready and willing. If you meet a new person and chat him or her up, within less than 5 minutes they will get your phone number and within less than a week will invite you over their house. There, you will meet their good friends, each of whom will talk to you, truly interested in what you have to say; they will listen to you, ask you a million questions about you, your family, your job, your life and in return, share the same. Then, they will invite you to their own, and before you know it, you will know half of Dhaka. And these will not be casual, one-time visits or acquaintances. These turn into beautiful friendships with people on whom you can rely for everything. Everything.
I miss Bangladesh viscerally. I miss it every single day. Naturally, above all, I miss my many friends there. But I also miss so many other things. I miss the simplicity of life. I miss the mess on the streets. I miss the restaurants that are so few that I know all of them and I know I am guaranteed to meet a friend wherever I end up for dinner. I miss my colleagues. I miss playing tennis at the clubs (I do NOT miss the clubs though). I miss speaking Bangla. I miss dohi fushka. I miss wearing sarees. I miss the fashion shows and the garish makeup I’d wear. I miss everyone smiling. I miss the staring! I miss the heat!! I simply miss Bangladesh.
Yes, I had a love affair with Bangladesh and just like any other relationships, ours had many ups and downs. That means simply that our affair is enduring and will continue evolving. I know I will be back there again, it is simply a matter of time. For the time being, all our lovely friends must come over and visit me. As of a week ago, I have now officially returned home. It is good to be back for I have missed you too, my lovely United State of America!
Sunday, August 11, 2013
I have been asked this question so many times now, that I thought it deserved its own carefully thought out post. Here it goes:
Q: Are you over 58.5?
You are Ok. Go apply.
Phew. That took a load off.
What? It's not thoughtful enough for you? Sheesh...Ok, fine, here it goes in unnecessary detail.
According to the State Department, "Career candidate appointments to the Foreign Service shall be made before the candidate's 60th birthday. The maximum age for appointment is based on the requirement that all career candidates shall be able to: (a) complete at least two full tours of duty abroad, exclusive of orientation and training; (b) complete the requisite eligibility period for tenure consideration, and (c) complete the requisite eligibility period to receive retirement benefits before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 65. (Note: one needs a minimum of 5 years of service in order to have retirement benefits.) Thus, new hires must be no older than 59 years and 364 days on the day of entry into service." Now, we all know how long it takes to get into the Foreign Service (if you don't, go to my particularly poignant posts on the application process here) - let's say conservatively it is about 1.5 years, assuming you get in from the first try and your security clearance process lasts about 6 months, and you get off the waiting list pretty much right away. That is a
LOT of "if" and
"but." But let's say that you are awesome and the administration is
feeling perky and benevolent. So, drink some vodka, do some math, blow your nose
and come to the conclusion that if you are over 58.5 when you first down and
stare at the antiquated computers in the FSOT testing room, chances that you
will make it are rather minimal. Not because you are not awesome and could not
go from a junior officer to Ambassador in 5 years. I bet you could with bells
on. The problem is that we get pensioned at 65. I think it is nice. It gives me
a good excuse to stop working, jump on a seniors' cruise in the Caribbean and dance fragile and contained salsa till 11
pm with equally fragile folk, to the singular consternation of a less nimble,
sedentary Diplomat. Some complain. I guess they are not into senior salsa.
I suppose the real question is what is realistically an upper age to enter the service. I think that the entrance process is sufficiently emotionally grueling and physiologically damaging to your liver that if you are ready to torture yourself with it, that you need to ask yourself how many tours you want out of it. As the regulation states, you need to be able to serve at least two tours. Each of your first 2 entry tours should last 2 years (unless you decide that the best way to entertain yourself at this precious age is to go to Afghanistan or, say, Yemen, which are 1 year tours). For at least one of them, you will need to learn language, which will be anywhere from 6 to 12 months in general. You will also go through the rather fascinating A-100 training, which is another useful 6 weeks of your life. So, that means - 4 years of in-country service, plus 8 mos of language and professional training, plus another 2 months of other training, plus 2-3 months of home leave, random classes and not knowing what is happening to you. Ok, I have had some wine now, so I am too confused to count. I hope for your sake you do that. If you want to serve longer...figure it out.
Besides the practical consideration of the Department regulations, I honestly do not know how much your age plays in during the exams. It sure brings in a lot of varied experience (unless, of course, you have been herding cows all of your life in Montana, which is not all THAT varied, I suppose; but then again, I have never herded anything but Son and the Diplomat at the airport, so what do I know), which is valued highly, I think. For your own sake, it might help if you are sprightly. At least in spirit. Or mind. Or in something. I always feel sprightly is a great thing to be.
I have known people in the Service who have entered at the gentle and impressionable ages of 22 and of 57. In fact, I have had several of them in my own class (huge shout-out to my man in
They are all loving it. At least they have said so. I trust them. So go on, my
dear middle-aged, nervous reader - apply! The Foreign Service wants you! Manila