After 5.5 weeks, I'm finally starting to wish I had something to do every day. Only 1.5 weeks left before I regret this statement.
"Here at the State Department, I am grateful every day for the work of our LGBT employees who are serving the United States as Foreign Service Officers and Civil Servants here and around the world. It wasn't long ago that these men and women would not have been able to serve openly, but today they can because it has gotten better. And it will get better for you." - HRC.
Secretary Clinton, you are a true ally to our community. I'm proud to work for you and for our country.
UPDATE: I had the privilege of attending an interview with Secretary Clinton the following day, October 20, 2010, and she wore purple in honor of Spirit Day. I'm feelin the love.
That's right, folks. Cyn and I pooled our collective good karma and landed the tropical paradise of: the Switzerland of Central America; the Hawaii of Latin America surfing; the country with NO MILITARY for the last 62 years known as COSTA-FREAKIN-RICA (Por favor tome ningún delito, Ticos).
No, that's true, we don't speak the Spanish. And yes, it's also true that Cynthia took 3 years of Spanish and still can't ask "where can we get some fish tacos for dinner?" And yes, it's also true that all I can say is "how do you want your eggs?", "bacon or sausage?", and, "is everything ok?" (Is it obvious I was a waitress in a prior career iteration?) Buuuuut none of that matters because we begin full-time Spanish training on November 1st for 6 months, at which time we will be presumably fluent. We depart around the end of June 2011 and couldn't possibly be more excited for our first post.
"But Eva, what will you do?" Hmmmm let me think...surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, horseback riding, museums, salsa dancing, cooking classes, bird watching, other animal/amphibian/reptile/flying creature watching, hiking, rafting, reading, hosting myriads of guests (hopefully!), and maybe, MAYBE get a job.
You guessed right. It's better not to ask.
Flag day was, in a word, intense. Even the most solid of species was shaken to the core, taking deep breaths of calming oxygen to get through the ceremony. It was FUN too though to root for the other students and dream of inviting ourselves to visit them in their new homes. Even more fun was happy hour (with free food) followed by dancing like silly, crazy people at another bar.
A glorious and rejuvenating weekend. So much so that I just popped out of bed at 630am feeling refreshed and happy (I don't have a job, people, wth).
Cyn was released from A-100 early on Thursday so we were finally able to make that walk to Georgetown that we've been talking about. It was raining but warm enough for a t-shirt so we went anyway with plans to see a movie. We were sidetracked by H&M and Urban Outfitters. Way too much money and several bags later, we decided to skip the flick and get some Vietnamese food instead. Delish.
Friday was our lunchtime/brown bag GLIFFA meeting at FSI. My bff spouse and I decided to go all out and bring lunch. He made chilaquiles, black beans and rice and I brought a rum cake. Need I say more? I think we will be invited to the next meeting. The meeting was highly informative; we talked about visas, diplomatic immunity, and the realities of being a same-sex couple in the foreign service (thanks, Michelle Schohn!!). My fellow culinarian and I spent the rest of the afternoon on a guided tour by our lovely Smithie friend through sculpture gardens, the mall and the American History museum. We appreciated the enormous Star-Spangled Banner, the gowns of the first ladies and Julia Child's kitchen. Later we met the spouses, ate some unbelievable Thai food and found a strange gay bar where were probably the only ladies who have ever braved to step foot inside.
Saturday we attended the March on Washington hosted by One Nation Working Together (organized by our incredible friend!). We started with breakfast at this Chinese-owned waffle house that doubled as a convenient store. It was scrumptious and the owner and his son were pretty hilarious. They had a sign up stating that the bathroom was out of order, but when asked about it the son just said 'nah, it works. that's just in case it ever stops working'. Maybe they just really hate cleaning them. Finding the restroom proved even more difficult as one has to weave through bar stools in the pitch black basement. A formidable opponent maybe, but not after 4 cups of coffee.
The march/rally was exciting, provocative (in the encouraging, motivating sense) and inspired hope. We even saw Jesse Jackson! Afterward, we nearly walked our legs off to see all the monuments, stroll around the Potamac River, and finally to the most amazing Greek/Turkish/Mediterranean Tapas food I've ever eaten. Baba Ganoush, Hummus, roasted red pepper dish (name?), spanakopita and puffed, fresh pita bread. Dessert was also ah-ma-zing with olive oil ice cream, Turkish delight with baklava ice cream, espresso chocolate cake with cardamom and ginger whip cream, and Greek yogurt (with lime zest!) with apricots.
Yesterday we found a dollar store in Falls Church and were able to get almost everything on our list intended for Target for a fraction of the price. We also spotted a Mexican/Salvadoran drive-through that looked just dumpy enough to possibly be an authentic, magnificent eatery. Birthday dinner followed for a fellow FSO at the always ostentatious Cheesecake Factory. We rounded out the weekend last night with Jennifer's Body and A Home at the End of the World.
Oh, and I also made this totally virgoed-out list of every possible country we could be assigned to accompanied by it's flag in preparation for Flag Day this Friday!
Left to my own devices, I like to do strange things around the house. I guess they aren't really strange per se; let's just say that I can waste away a whole day quicker than you can say "US State Department." Other FSOs wonder and ask me with concern, "how are you doing? are you getting along ok? what have you been occupying yourself with?". I answer these questions with some confusion, wondering who wouldn't like to spend all their time doing whatever they wish, smile, and say that I'm doing just great.
The truth is I spend my time doing a lot of housework: laundry, shopping, cooking, organizing, cleaning and the like. But I LOVE it. I also go to the gym, museums (I haven't quite made it there yet cause I've been busy!), visit with friends and read a lot. Sounds like heaven, right? Perhaps this feeling will eventually wear off but so far, so good.
Today I decided to dye my hair. Since my beloved hairstylist is 3000 miles away (I miss you, Jenny!) and will presumably be even further away within the next year, I have been forced to look into alternative ways to maintain my locks. I considered chopping off the whole lot but that wasn't met too kindly by the wife. I decided to explore a previous interest: henna. I found an Indian grocery by accident in Falls Church, VA and was shocked by all the different kinds of henna they offered. I went with a big tub of powder and added the supplementary methi powder for fun. (I also bought all the fixings to try my hand at homemade dal while I was there.) My Pakistani and Nepali friends laughed at my purchase and joked that I bought products to bleach my skin. I'm sure they were worried about my cooking endeavour also.
I mixed everything up, let it sit for 2 hours, then applied it all over my head. It kinda stinks but reminds me of Chinese herbs so it feels a little comforting. Once smeared on, your head looks reminiscent of a slick superhero, with a 'do you could massage into any arrangement desired. I polished mine into a cute pixie style and braved the apartment gym. Luckily I didn't have to run into anyone because what looks acceptable in your apartment doesn't necessarily look as cute in a public space.
Getting the stuff out of your hair 3 hours later is quite a challenge. Of course I decided to work the heck out of my arms at the gym so holding them over my head and encouraging all the mud to break free was quite exhausting. After an extensive rinse, 2 conditions and 20 minutes later I stepped out of the shower. I LOVE IT. I love it even more than I have when done professionally. It's definitely redder than I anticipated but I think it works. It's also HEALTHY.
If anyone has any tips on how to get it off your head easier they would be much appreciated. Also, word to the wise: use gloves. My hands are bright orange.
The past two weeks have been fun, exciting, stressful, scary, and thought provoking to say the least. I think it's probably more intense when it's your first time doing all this new stuff that is acclimating to the FS lifestyle: happy hours galore, classes in what look like UN meeting sites with translator booths, spouse classes and dinners, hoping that your spouse doesn't begin to resent you for going to the gym, shopping, exploring and cooking every day, bidding on countries that you aren't 100% confident you could locate on a map, etc. This 156th class is astonishingly impressive. Not only are they friendly, down to earth and, quite honestly, attractive, they are BRILLIANT. I have never met so many people who speak 5 languages, have lived, worked and studied in as many countries, run marathons, have read every NY Times bestseller, AND can carry on a conversation about Lady Gaga at the VMA's.
The bidding process has been pretty consuming, but in a good way. It's been so pleasant to get a list of 90 cities, all with the nearing potential to be called home, and research the sh*t out of them. We have our favorites... and a few lesser favorites but we are signed on to go where we're needed and will do our best. I've decided that since I'm not working and gave up my career to go on this adventure, there will be a few stipulations. Such as: there is one place in Southern Africa that Cyn had to promise me that I could have a horse if we go there since she wants to bid it high. another few places that I will become a home brewer of beer and wine if we are sent there since they are dry, Muslim countries. and even a few that I may not be seen for 4 days as I will be on a scuba diving adventure with my new local friends who also don't work. It's also very possible that I will get a job either at the Embassy or on the local economy. We'll just have to see how long I can hold out.
I've also been elated since one of my best friends lives in NoVa. We've been able to hang out like old times and tool around the city together only now she has the addition of a little dude. It's been awesome to be able to spend time with her son (and wonderful hubby) and get to know the little animal so he understands from a very early age that I will be a part of his life forever. Much to Cyn's relief, this experience has bought a little time in the having a baby department as I have never known such exhaustion as having spent the day and night with a 2 year old boy.
Wyoming continued to be breathtakingly beautiful, Nebraska was just as boring as we thought it would be...with one small caveat. The freeways between these lovely states are 75 mph, which means we were flying along at 85 on cruise control listening to a total of 4 books on tape (David Sedaris had me in such a fit of hysterical giggles at one point that Cyn had to pause it and I nearly had to pull over for fear of crashing with the tears in my eyes obstructing my vision). We hit bugs in the multi-millions, butterflies were close behind in the thousands, but what really put a damper on our day was the bird. Cyn didn't even know we hit it since she played Hearts on the iPad pretty much the entire time I wouldn't let her drive. But I saw it coming, braced for it and said a little prayer to the universe that it wouldn't hit the windshield, and nailed it with the bumper. We heard a loud thump! I made a low groan and Cyn woke up with, "what happened? what's wrong? what was that?!" Guts and feathers were making their way over the roof of the car past the glass in front. We shivered for a few minutes then managed to forget about it for the most part.
After depositing our luggage, we returned to the car to watch a young man and his father walking past the front of our car on the sidewalk. We thought we were in the clear when the boy caught sight of the bird and leapt 2 feet into the air sideways. We covered our faces with our hands and tried to pretend that the only Prius in Nebraska wasn't ours. They watched with disgust as we climbed, with shame, into our heathen car. It may have also been amplified by the roar of giggles that we were emitting. We found an automatic car wash a couple blocks away and knew this was the jackpot. Bugs, butterflies and birds no more! We bit our nails in anticipation of sounds, feathers and blood but got off pretty easy with just some feathers flung onto the windshield by the automatic spinners. Once complete, we fought again about who was going to have to look. Of course it was me and of course it was still there only now it was a wet bird that remained stuck to the car. This time however, a group of Hells Angels was able to witness the shrieking and jumping around. We hurried back into the death mobile and searched for what to do next. The only logical thing to do would be to find a tire pump and use the compressed air to push the bird out of the grill. I did this as well (theme?). Luckily, the bird had been dislodged a little bit after the car wash and the drive over and with a little air pressure and a slow, deliberate nudge, the bird fell free of it's snare to the tune of my guttural moan that was probably heard in the next town. We did the only thing we could do after this: jumped into the car before anyone saw, squawked and howled, and went and ate Chinese food.
The first night we arrived we sat next to the pool and just stared at the ocean for what seemed like hours. Or at least I did. The past weeks had been so intense and exhausting that I really needed the space out time to renew my energy and process what had happened over the summer. Also, I had been reading for the last ten hours without pause. The girl with the dragon tattoo series had finally sunk it's titillating claws into me and I couldn't get enough. The staring paid off though: not only did I feel regenerated in thirty minutes, we were also able to watch a pod of dolphins just off shore in front of our hotel playing in the waves.
Because the island is so humid, the sheets, carpet and matching drapes were all musty. This is hell for my allergies and for whatever reason, nowadays they just bypass the sneezing, itchy eyes and runny nose phase and go straight for dry coughing and asthma. We didn't sleep at all that night so the next day we begged to be put in another room. We checked out many rooms and they all were the same with heavy, dank air. Finally, they sent us to the newly renovated section of the hotel and put us up in an ocean view, beautifully new, non musty room that we could relax (and breath) in.
It was in this room that I sat reading and eating fruit on the deck for hours on while Cyn caught up on sleep. The time change is great for me in Hawaii cause I crash early and wake up at 6am leaving me plenty of time to go to the gym, eat breakfast and read on the deck before Cyn even wakes up. We had found a farmers market in town the previous day and bought fresh, warm mango, papaya, pineapple and grapefruit. The pineapple was chopped up for us by the stand owner in under five seconds, a sweet Thai woman we had befriended. I had to come back the next day to get another one since the first one had been furiously consumed in the car before we even got back to the hotel and also to learn how to massacre a piece of fruit so expertly. I decided I could survive on warm tropical fruit for months alone.
When visiting Hawaii, it's impossible not to notice how fit the locals are. Let me take that back, the real locals, ie the Polynesian people, can be very large and also very small, but the later locals are more often than not insanely fit. You couldn't drive the five miles to town without seeing at least ten people running with nothing more than the equivalent of a bikini on. We wondered if to join the running club one would need to be under 3% body fat. Any higher would surely be considered gluttonous and obese. We decided we would never really fit in and went for a pina colada.
The rest of our glorious time was spent snorkeling and swimming. We even joined a night snorkel boat and stalked the benign, beastly manta ray. I also talked Cyn into renting a kayak for 24 hours so we could kayak out to the Captain Cook monument. We unfortunately saved this for the last day which was a little stormy, but the shop owner assured me that we need not fear. In hind sight this was a little naive. We kayak often in a slow moving river, but never in the open ocean. The entire ordeal was pretty stressful: from getting the kayak off the car, loaded up and subsequently loaded into the water off the dock to kayaking one mile in disruptive waves (they even prompted Cyn to put on her life jacket) to snorkeling while pulling the kayak behind us with a rope that I tied to the front of the boat to trying to get back in the kayak (stupidly pulled to shore on dead coral and lava rocks). This was by far some of the most beautiful coral we had ever seen and was well worth it but also proved to be a harrowing, learning experience.
There was a strange Brazilian dude that helped us get our kayak out of the water once we safely made it back to the dock (thank goodness). He kept telling us we were beautiful, he was looking for more friends, and would we like to keep in touch on Facebook. Cyn and I looked at each other, pretending to be bewildered, and told him we had never heard of such a book. LOLz. We thanked him for his help and gave him $10. We were dirty, bloodied, exhausted and triumphant and spent the rest of the day eating and drinking.
To add to the stress, I am extremely paranoid that our car is going to get broken into given the siren call of valuables that are clearly visible from the car windows. We've been trying to put this out of our minds and to just enjoy the trip, since there's not much we can do at this point.
Day 1: Eva's birthday! We leisurely drove to Lake Tahoe, stopping to have lunch in Sacramento with my old friends from law school, Chris and Natalie. I picked up the new iPhone before we started the trip so we could chronicle our adventures better using its digital cam and video cam, and was able to get a goot shot of Sand Harbor beach in Lake Tahoe, which occupied our afternoon. It was breathtaking:
We scored a Hotwire deal for 4.5 star penthouse suite in Reno at a cool $47.00. The hotel was one of those insane mega-casinos replete with a bowling alley, clubs, multiple restaurants, a movie theater, a driving range, and boutiques -- not usually our thing, but it was a fun hiatus from reality.
Day 2: Salt Lake City. This was a pit-stop on our way to Yellowstone/the Grand Tetons. I admittedly felt some trepidation about being queer and/or showing any affection towards Eva in this largely Mormon city. When we were pleasantly surprised upon checking in to the hotel, I felt guilty about my earlier assumptions. I presented my i.d. and the receptionist immediately offered us free Sheryl Crow tickets valued at $71 each. Unfortunately, my feeling of gratitude was quickly negated when the receptionist then stated:
You can feel free to take care of me however you wish.Her comment was followed by a creepy look, silence, and a blink. We felt a bit uncomfortable/creeped out. Eva saved the day by saying she suddenly felt tired and not up for a concert after all. We spent the evening swimming in the heated outdoor pool instead. We also ate at the hotel's restaurant, where this glorious discovery was made:
Yep, Polygamy Porter. This made us giggle through the first 10 minutes of dinner.
U.S. citizens can also still text "SWAT" to 50555 to donate $10 for flood relief in Pakistan.
As the State Department's official blog notes, 2010 has seen natural disasters strike around the world, from the devastating earthquake in Haiti at the start of the year, to recent mudslides in China, wildfires in Russia, and flooding in Pakistan.
I am proud that our government has joined with the governments, NGOs, and citizens around the world in rushing humanitarian relief and assistance to where it is needed most.
After the movers left, we spent the next two days moving out of our San Francisco sublet and into my parents home. All we had there were our remaining kitchen items and clothes, but it somehow took forever. We both feel like we've spent the last few months of our lives moving. I guess I have to get used to this process as an FSO.
Fantastic news of the day: PROP 8 WAS OVERTURNED! While this matter will surely be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (and then likely to the SCOTUS), Judge Walker's 136-page decision thoroughly and effectively memorializes the weaknesses of the arguments set forth by the Prop. 8 proponents. The constitutional right to marry, Judge Walker said, "protects an individual's choice of marital partner regardless of gender." He also said domestic partnerships in California are a "substitute and inferior institution" that lack the social meaning and cultural status of marriage. Additional choice quotes from the holding:
That the majority of California voters supported Proposition 8 is irrelevant, as ‘fundamental rights may not be submitted to [a] vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.Haters, see you in the Ninth Circuit. Justice prevailed today!
Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples. Because California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians, and because Proposition 8 prevents California from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide marriages on an equal basis, the court concludes that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.
The sexual orientation of an individual does not determine whether that individual can be a good parent.
Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals.
As my lovely wife Eva said, "THE CASTRO IS GOING TO BE OFF THE MID-CENTURY MODERN BENCHES TONIGHT!" (she's so cute.) She was right. This is what took place outside of our window in San Francisco's Castro District:
|(Photo Credit: |
Carlos Avila Gonzalez / The SF Chronicle)
Ahhh yes, moving right along. "Work" is still trudging along; I'm trying not to micromanage the new owner too much (nearly impossible), saying sometimes tearful goodbyes to patients, packing out all my stuff, and mostly just sitting around during treatments, interjecting questions, making silly jokes, and being generally useless. It's oddly nice and less awkward than I thought it would be.
I, in total Eva form, bought a bunch of prepaid discount packages for various exercise related activities and saved them all for the last minute. This means that in order to get my 'deal' I have to work out two and sometimes even three times a day. This also means that my effing abs hurt like a mutha, I'm sleeping like a baby, and really have no time nor energy for anxiety or stress. This also means that I should be in great shape for Hawaii! Did we tell you that we're going to Hawaii? Well, as embarrassing as it is since we went no less than four times last year, we're still not sick of it and we're going on the 16th. We are, however, going to a new island if that makes you feel any better (not newly discovered, mind you, but Kona). Also, now that we moved to the Castro I walk like three miles a day since I have to commute back and forth to the Mission to "work" and take advantage of all my exercise deals. All I can say is that I hope this all pays off.
The packing thing is going to be crazy. My Virgo side is in full effect: making lists, reorganizing lists and updating them, creating calendars, bossing Cyn around, etc. Cyn's bff Andrea is coming up this weekend to help us with the madness (so thoughtful! this is the same person who sent us hot breakfast in bed last week for no good reason except that she is an exceptional person). Cross your fingers for us and the good people moving our stuff...
Regardless, the river valley was delightful; we spent lots of time eating, reading and relaxing with our friends Palav and Sanjay. Palav is an adventurous soul and brings out the best in me. She swam to a neighboring beach with me and enjoyed the rope swing as well (although she decided not to take the plunge which was probably smart. the boys sitting on the shore ribbed us and said they had been watching previous jumpers fall short into shallow water due to not being able to hang on long enough to fall into deeper areas. I of course took this as a personal challenge, held on for dear life, landed deep and have the rope burns to prove it).
We got our friends hooked on True Blood, I got to wear my new super cute bathing suit and we visited a winery that Cynthia and I have somehow missed on our bazillion trips to the region, Hook and Ladder, which I highly recommend. We ate an enormous picnic lunch in the sun, did a ton of giggling and a little bit of dreaming (we like to talk about the "commune"/farm we are going to have with a few other couples in our future).
We also managed to talk about the Bohemian Grove transaction nearly every day with different folks. While at the second winery we saw no less than four private jets fly over the vineyard. I won't say much except that cronyism is alive and well and adult white men in severely powerful positions need to feel like fertile blossoms just as much as the next little girl.
So I've always found it a bit annoying when bloggers say "it's been a while since I posted last" or "sorry for such a long delay between posts" and things of the like. Why don't you just post? Boy was I a jerk. I totally get it now, folks. It's an odd sense of regret and dismissal that makes you feel lousy. Like failing to feed a neighbor's cat - not that I would ever do that (sheesh).
I will start by apologizing for my rude thoughts and follow with sorry it's been so long since I posted (not that anyone can read this blog except family at this point) and I will try to be better in the future. But, A LOT has been going on! As Cyn probably already wrote about (I am worse than most and haven't even kept up with what she's been saying - for shame!) WE (and by we of course I mean Cynthia) WERE INVITED TO THE SEPTEMBER A-100 CLASS!!!!!! We sold the condo, I've sold my business (more about that later), we moved into a sub-let (in a new 'hood!), Cyn put in her notice at work, and all those publications we downloaded before are now relevant and current! At this point we finally have a little time to chill out in the evenings, catch dinner and drinks with friends, go on mini-vacations (last weekend to Raging Waters and this weekend to Russian River), and overall enjoy a much-needed sense of relief that this is all happening and we will be moving forward.
We are looking forward to a trip to Hawaii next month followed immediately by a week with my family in Washington State. Upon returning to SF we will have a little going away party and pack up the remaining things before beginning our sure to be awesome road trip to DC. All of which we will totally keep you updated on.
As if that isn't enough, I will also be turning dirty thirty.
The New York Times published an article re: digital diplomacy, aka "21st century statecraft" today featuring two State Dept reps. A telling quote from the article:
A series of events last year helped [their] work gain traction by showing that connection technologies have become inextricably entwined with the challenges of foreign policy. In April 2009, there was the so-called Twitter revolution in Moldova. In July 2009, there was China’s regional-information blockade, including a total shutdown of the Internet, following the Uighur uprisings (“full” Internet usage was restored to Xinjiang 10 months later). And then, of course, Iran, beginning in June 2009, when the organizing power of cellphones and social media — and their ability to capture and disseminate images like the death of a young Iranian woman, Neda Agha-Soltan — arrested the world’s attention.IMHO, utilizing social networking and web 2.0 to open communication/expand the marketplace of ideas is a powerful way to support values that the American government espouses. As the SCOTUS has recognized, open debate, through which there is an exchange or competition of ideas, is the best way for society to progress and for people to discern the truth. I'm glad the State Dept is so eager to include digital diplomacy in its toolbox.
On another note, I had to share my weekly jam. This Bat For Lashes song takes a while to pick up, but once it does, it's magical.
Bat For Lashes - Daniel (HD)
Since receiving an invite to join the 156th A-100 class, we have received many questions from family members and friends. I realized everyone had pretty similar inquiries, so below you'll find a short FAQ:
What is the Foreign Service?
The Foreign Service is a branch of the U.S. Department of State that represents the United States’ interests abroad. A Foreign Service Officer (FSO) is a diplomat. There are five career tracks that an applicant must choose from before becoming an FSO:
- Consular: Consular Officers protect Americans abroad and strengthen U.S. border security
- Economic: Economic Officers promote economic partnerships, development, and fair trade
- Management: Management Officers run our embassies and make American diplomacy work
- Political: Political Officers analyze political events
- Public Diplomacy: Public Diplomacy Officers explain American values and policies
As a Political Officer, you’ll keep a trained eye on the political climate at your foreign post and decipher events as they relate to U.S. interests, negotiations and policies. As you learn new skills and enjoy outstanding benefits, you’ll communicate with foreign governments to seek support for shared goals, including votes in multilateral fora, in addition to:Note, however, that each FSO is obligated to doing consular work for one year (and often 2-3 years). Because I passed the Mandarin exam and accepted bonus points for doing so, I also committed to serving in a Mandarin-speaking country at least once before being tenured (e.g., in one of my first two posts), and once after being tenured.
- Developing foreign contacts in and out of politics and government to advance U.S. political interests
- Assessing the impact of political developments on the U.S. and making recommendations on action by our government
- Supporting high level visits and advising policymakers on how to communicate with foreign governments
Where will you be posted?
Entering FSOs sign contracts for "worldwide availability." We all start with a five-week "bootcamp" of courses/orientation colloquially called the A-100. These courses are taught in the Foreign Service Institute at the National Foreign Affairs Training Center in Arlington, Virginia.
At the beginning of training, each A-100 class is provided with a bid list, which lists all the countries available with open posts. We will have a couple weeks of bidding, where we will rank the posts as High, Medium and Low. While the Dept of State may take your ranking into consideration, “the needs of the Department are paramount.” We will go where we're needed. During the last day of training, each class has a Flag Day. Each class member gets a flag representing the location of our first assignment.
The nature of our first assignments will govern the type of specialized training that follows. That training may include public diplomacy training, consular training, political-economic tradecraft, or management training. Required language training can last for an additional six to nine months. Overall, newly hired FSOs can expect to spend from three months to one year in training before departure for their first overseas assignment.
What will Eva be doing?
The Obama Administration recently made policies and regulations as applicable to same-sex partners and spouses more inclusive. See my earlier posts on this topic and Secretary Clinton's remarks. Eva will be traveling with me as a "trailing spouse." Unfortunately, because of DOMA, Eva will not receive the health insurance or pension benefits that opposite-sex spouses of Foreign Service Officers receive. We are hoping that the legislature will soon pass the Domestic Partners Benefits and Obligations Act (DBOA), which would allow us to enjoy the same family benefits already provided to employees with different-sex spouses.
Eva will, however, be eligible for the following (from the State Dept website): diplomatic passports, inclusion on employee travel orders to and from posts abroad, shipment of household effects, inclusion in family size calculations for the purpose of making housing allocations, family member preference for employment at posts abroad, use of medical facilities at posts abroad, medical evacuation from posts abroad, emergency travel for partners to visit gravely ill or injured employees and relatives, inclusion as family members for emergency evacuation from posts abroad, subsistence payments related to emergency evacuation from posts abroad, inclusion in calculations of payments of overseas allowances (e.g., payment for quarters, cost of living, and other allowances), representation expenses, and training at the Foreign Service Institute.
I'll let Eva answer the question as to what else she'll be doing while we're on assignment. Those of you who know my extraordinary wife are well aware that she's an ambitious, intelligent woman who will make her own opportunities!
An hour ago, I accepted an email invitation to join the September A-100 class in D.C.!
Eva and I are ecstatic. We are going to realize a dream we didn't even know we had until last year.
Secretary Clinton gave a very heartful and eloquent speech on the integration of LGBT* rights with US foreign policy earlier this week at an event celebrating Pride Month. I just adore this woman. The transcript is at the link. [*I prefer the term "queer" for political reasons, probably as a result of too many women's studies classes at Smith ;) ]
Our first open house was last Sunday and our agent said about 40 people came by. We are going to lose quite a bit of money, as we purchased our home at the height of the market in 2006. Our neighborhood is also quickly gentrifying and property values are sure to recover as soon as the economy improves. Nonetheless, we're pushing forward and tying up all our loose ends (including selling our home!) to prepare for the Foreign Service. Hopefully this is not a huge gamble and my security clearance comes soon.
Per my estimate, we have problems getting out of the garage at least 50% of the time. Either the machine that takes cash won't work, it may charge the unvalidated price, the arm might not lift to let you out, or like today, the machine might just eat your card. Since the garage is only run by automatons, when you have a problem you must call the humans either by pushing a button on the machine or by calling the number on your card (which you might not have since the machine is apparently starving). Today, like most days, no one answered the distress call. The difference was that I wasn't alone and had two other cars that couldn't get out either. We hemmed and hawed over how to get out for 15 minutes or so: push the arm up? big fine for breaking arms. pull a ticket and get the entrance arm to come up? must have car weight on platform. crash through the arm? bad, bad, bad.
Finally, the guy in the smallest car was fed up enough and managed to squeeze most of his auto body under the arm, pressed forward and voila! it lifted. He then backed his car onto the entrance platform and pulled a ticket so I could exit there. I quickly sped through then did the same for the lady behind me (I shouldn't mention that other cars that had filed into line behind but as they were not part of our battle, we left them). We left victorious, flipped the machines the bird, and gloated all the way home about how we beat the robots once again.
Good news for civil rights today. President Obama just signed an executive memorandum directing all federal agencies to extend fringe benefits to gay and lesbian employees, to the extent permitted by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA continues to constrict federal action granting FSOs in same-sex partnerships and marriages from enjoying certain benefits, such as health insurance and pension benefits.
Here's the statement from the White House.
"Last year, I issued a Presidential Memorandum that instructed the Office of Personnel Management and the Secretary of State to extend certain available benefits they had identified to gay & lesbian federal employees and their families under their respective jurisdictions. Among those benefits were long-term care insurance and expanded sick leave for civil service employees and medical care abroad, eligibility for employment at posts, cost-of-living adjustments abroad and medical evacuation for domestic partners of foreign service members.
"In that same Memorandum, I called upon the federal agencies to undertake a comprehensive review and to identify any additional benefits that could be extended to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees under existing law.
"That process has now concluded, and I am proud to announce that earlier today, I signed a Memorandum that requires Executive agencies to take immediate action to extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees a number of meaningful benefits, from family assistance services to hardship transfers to relocation expenses. It also requires agencies that extend any new benefits to employees' opposite-sex spouses to make those benefits available on equal terms to employees' same-sex domestic partners to the extent permitted by law.
"While this Memorandum is an important step on the path to equality, my Administration continues to be prevented by existing Federal law from providing same-sex domestic partners with the full range of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples. That is why, today, I renew my call for swift passage of an important piece of legislation pending in both Houses of Congress -- the Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act. This legislation, championed by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins and Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin, would extend to the same-sex domestic partners of Federal employees the full range of benefits currently enjoyed by Federal employees' opposite-sex spouses. I look forward to signing it into law."
Obama extended specified benefits to domestic partners of FSOs last year, but this effectively means that same-sex coupled FSOs will receive at least one additional benefit. The President finalized a regulation that makes same-sex partners eligible for long-term care insurance.
During all the craziness of trying to get our place painted, staged, boxed up, packed away, and cleaned, I have been the fore(wo)man. This means that sometimes I have to try and communicate with folks that don't speak any English, and sometimes, like yesterday, they speak only broken Mandarin since Cantonese is their first language.
Yesterday I was woken up at 730 by our painter who wanted the lo-down on what was all left to paint at the house. I walked him through the house in my shorts and tank top and told him in my very limited Mandarin what needed to be painted and with what color. He talked a lot. He said words that I've never heard before. They he made gestures that looked like driving a car and asked me to follow him into the hallway to the elevator. I didn't have any shoes on but thought that maybe he just wanted to make sure that I had a car so that I could get the rest of the paint we needed. Instead, he led me out to the street in my bare feet to his car and gestured for me to get in. Huh? I pointed to my feet and said in Mandarin, "I am not wearing any shoes!" Later, I realized what I actually said in Mandarin was, "I don't have any SHRIMP!" He became very confused. Then he pointed at the meter and said more things that I didn't understand. What?? Oh! You need coins! No problem - I'll get them for you. I ran inside to get some more clothes and shoes on and grab the coins.
He again gestured for me to get into the car, only this time he wanted me to drive! I brought a mini bottle of paint and asked if he wanted me to take him to get more paint. Yes. Ahhhh ok, now I am getting somewhere! I begin driving us to the paint store (good thing I can drive a stick shift) and after a few blocks he begins to yell confused things at me. I say that I'm turning up here in a block. This calms him for a second until I speed up on the next road. I told him I have 10 more blocks to go and then he gets really upset and makes me pull over and hands me his phone. I call the only person I can think of: my father in law. Turns out he just wanted me to park his car in a place that isn't metered. I drove us to the garage and we giggled all the way back to the house. Thank goodness for the Chinese sense of humor.
New song I love: Home. What does the word mean for people who live vaguely nomadic lives (e.g., FSOs)?
For me, home is always where Eva is....
(now, if only that darn security clearance can come through ;) )
One more vid just for fun:
Last weekend Cyn and I attended a rodeo in Castro Valley (her first and my third). We were there to support a friend interning for the American Cancer Society to track smokers around the arena and see if they were smoking in designated areas. Our job was basically to stand around with a clipboard and mark any deviant or suspicious activity.
We saw lots of wayward behavior and took our job very seriously.
If an old cowboy took snuff out of his overall pocket and looked like he was going to chomp down, we would say "tobacco 6 o'clock! older man, plaid cut-off flannel". If a woman was trying to enhance the enjoyment of her late morning Coors Light with a menthol we would say "prohibited smoking 2:30! 45, female, daisy dukes and wife beater". I'm pretty sure we were totally incognito and wholly appreciated as our giggling echoed throughout the valley.
Actually I felt utterly at home at the rodeo. For many years I was an avid 4-H member, owned much Western attire, and can muck out a stall quicker than you can say "yee haw". The smell of manure, the sound of country music and braying farm animals, the dust in your shoes and eyes - I love it all. I especially love the opportunity to wear my "wild thing" shirt that boasts a cartoonish horse rearing up with 'wild thing' written in glittery cursive on a bright red background. I enjoyed many comments on my shirt that day and was almost carried away into buying a matching felt cowboy hat.
Eva and I are legally married under CA law (we were one of those lucky couples that married after the California Supreme Court decision and before the passage of Proposition 8). We are fortunate enough to reside in San Francisco, where it's very seldom that we face any type of homophobia, and certainly never in the workplace. All my prior employers in the public and private sector have thus far afforded the same benefits to opposite and same sex spouses/domestic partners of their employees.
Sadly, this is not true of the federal government. One major source of concern for us when contemplating joining the FS was the disparate treatment of same-sex couples. Before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama extended specified benefits to domestic partners in 2009, same-sex partners/spouses had to be listed as Members of Household (MOH), one class below that of an Eligible Family Member (EFM). This meant that same-sex spouses & partners of Foreign Service Officers were ineligible for diplomatic passports, use of medical facilities at overseas posts, medical and other emergency evacuation (note: pets were authorized to be evacuated in emergencies with the FSO, even if same-sex partners were not), transportation between posts, and training in security and languages.
President Obama justly issued an Executive Memorandum (not an Executive Order, meaning it could expire with his office) to recognize same-sex partners as EFMs and extend the aforementioned benefits to them. However, due to statutory restrictions placed by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), same-sex partners and spouses of FSOs remained precluded from qualification for a range of other benefits, including federally-provided health insurance and pension benefits.
Digger over at Life After Jerusalem recently posted an update re: the 2009 Domestic Partnership Benefits and Obligations Act (S. 1102). If passed, this would allow Eva to receive the same benefits that spouses of my future heterosexual colleagues would receive. I've cut and pasted the Washington Post article below:
Senate vote on same-sex benefits 'within weeks'
The Senate could vote on a bill extending fringe benefits to the same-sex partners of gay federal employees "within weeks" and well before July 4, according to aides to Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.).
The Nutmeg State senator is lead sponsor of the measure, which would cost an estimated $310 million through 2020, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
That's a notable, but not terribly hefty price tag by Washington standards, and Lieberman is fine with the anticipated cost.
“This legislation would cost about two-hundredths of a percent of the federal government’s overall costs for the civilian workforce," Lieberman said Tuesday. "That is a very small price to pay for the improvements we would see in recruitment, retention, and morale. OPM has committed to provide an offset for the legislation before it is enacted, making it that much more reasonable.”
Indeed those offsets -- first requested by Lieberman and Senate Republicans in December -- aren't ready yet and won't be until Lieberman is ready to introduce the bill to the full Senate, according to an OPM spokesman.
Lieberman's bill may win some Republican votes, but a House version passed last year with no GOP support. The House bill also covers eligible federal retirees, giving it a heftier price tag that the GOP considers unacceptable.
"At a time when unemployment is at 9.9 percent, it’s absurd that Democrats would push a costly new benefit for federal employees when so many Americans in the private sector are out of work," said Frederick Hill, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which first approved the benefits bill. "This legislation is a good example of how this Congress and administration have neglected efforts to rein-in spending and create jobs in favor of an agenda to satisfy their political base."
My lovely wife just announced the following:
If we get posted to Laos* or S.E. Asia, I am:Then she looked very proud of herself.
- Not wearing make-up
- Not wearing a bra
- Swimming every day
(Eva and I were talking about Laos because of an entertaining blog written by another FSO called Life on the Mekong, chronicling their experiences there.)
We hiked Cavallo Point last weekend with our good friends Rasha, Palav, and Sanjay. All three of them are medical residents at UCSF, so we're pretty lucky to spend the very little leisure time they have in their company. We basked in the sunshine and the magnificent views of San Francisco Bay, Alcatraz, Golden Gate Bridge from our vantage point @ Fort Baker. We even spotted two porpoises and several sea lions!
Even if I do end up being appointed to join the Foreign Service (fingers crossed!), leaving San Francisco will be bittersweet. It's pretty clear why people leave their hearts in our fair city. It's progressive, open-minded, culturally literate, queer-friendly, beautiful, and surrounded by vineyards/wine country, hikes, rivers, waterfalls, and views.
San Francisco will always be home to me.
From the New York Times: "In the most direct attack on an American facility in Pakistan in years, militants mounted a multipronged assault against the United States Consulate in this northern city on Monday, using a truck bomb, machine guns and rocket launchers, Pakistani and American officials said." The attackers failed to breach the outer perimeter of the compound. Six Pakistanis were killed and 20 wounded, but there were no Americans hurt or killed in the attack.
Over the weekend we drove to LA to visit some friends, enjoy the sunshine, hopefully spot some second or third tier celebs (mostly Cyn's wish), but primarily to go to a wedding. Our friend and former roommate tied the knot with an incredible guy that could only be described as the perfect match for her.
This time we were smart and stayed at a hotel right next door, which we arrived at one whole hour early (yay us!) with plenty of time to get ready, sample the "heavenly" bed (gotta love the Westin), and get our behinds out the door to the church.
Now, I knew that the wedding was at a church but what I didn't know or have time to mentally prepare for was that our previously non-religious friend had apparently become an Episcopalian. We were both pretty shocked to gaze at the program for a one hour, very traditional ceremony. Poor Cyn had never been to a traditional Catholic wedding so I took the opportunity to play a joke on her by appealing to her perfectionist, Type A side; I suggested that she should probably start reviewing the biblical sections of the program, maybe even memorize the whole thing, as everyone would be expected to sing, perform, and participate. She was truly terrified. I let her off the hook once I saw little beads of sweat on her brow and she started biting her nails.
The ceremony was quite lovely; they blended their two cultures (Irish and Chicano) with grace and creativity. The only thing that disturbed me was that the priest required everyone to come up to the front for communion. I can withstand nearly any religious rhetoric while retaining personal distance, but what I refuse to ever do is drink the symbolic blood and eat the figurative flesh of Christ. It was now my turn to sweat as I desperately tried to think of how I was going to get out of this terrifying allegorical performance without offending everyone present - especially the bride and groom. "I'll tell the priest I'm a vegetarian...I'm gluten free...I'm gay...I'm an alcoholic..." Thankfully, I saw that almost all the groomsmen declined the wafer and wine and got off with a brief priestly blessing. When it was our turn to go up, Cyn declined the Eucharist with me and once the priest saw that we were together - as in married - she took hold of us with a mighty clutch and rocked the roof off that holy house with an extra special blessing.
The rest of the reception was very enjoyable: open bar, great food, first-class guests, on and on. I am, however, adding this event to my ever-growing pile of evidence that weddings make people crazy. From what I can tell, the majority of people really return to the steady ground lain by the generations before us of traditional and patriarchal ceremonies whence they decide to get married. Perhaps that is the whole idea anyway and I am missing the point? - it is a ceremony after all. But I just don't think it will cease to amaze me that it doesn't seem to matter how well you know someone; the conventional wedding paradigm is strong and alive. From diamond rings to fathers giving away their brides, some things may never die.
I found this very helpful chart on the pros and cons of FS life on another FSO's blog, Worldwide Availability:
I really don't feel that overtly stressed about the situation, considering, but I have these acute gripping moments of anxiety that I have only before felt in the months leading up to our wedding last year. I must be internalizing all the affects of the process. A couple weeks ago I was going to bed (that seems to be the favorite time for these episodes to pop up) and had this realization that we were selling the house and felt simultaneously dreadful and sentimental. This has been a welcome reality for quite literally a year which is why it caught me so off guard. Strange. Then last night another occurrence of disquiet gripped me regarding selling my business. It was like I realized that it wouldn't be mine anymore. This seems to be a common (new) theme in my life right now.
It's weird because I am really excited about the next step and trying to just enjoy every day. I know that I will miss this time and create all kinds of nostalgia about it someday. Why can't that be an easy feat?
Maybe this will help:
As the Foreign Service journey becomes more and more of a reality for us, my poor mom's nervousness is growing exponentially. Without internet access or really any idea of what this entails or what the next few years will look like for us, I can't blame her. I promised to compile several websites that she can review (at the library), make some print outs, and even buy her a couple books. If any of our followers (err, Cyn) have any suggestions, they would be much appreciated.
Since Cyn had to be up early on Saturday, I decided to get an early start too. I had a leisurely breakfast in the hotel with coffee on the deck then decided to do some exploring. I borrowed one of the ancient, squeaky beach cruisers that the hotel owns and set out with a primitive map for the Natural History Museum. The fee was nominal and I learned a ton about the local ecology. They had incredible displays of much of the wildlife: stuffed cougars and tons of birds, smaller mammals, and more information that you could shake a stick at about the Bay (which is actually an estuary) and the infamous Morrow Rock.
Then I rode the bike around the Park and explored all the old roads, eventually found a loop road back to the hotel which ended up being all uphill which was unfortunate on the ol' beach cruiser with no gears. I must've been quite a sight because I actually had two nice, older gentlemen slow their trucks to a crawl to ask if I needed help or a ride.
Once I crested the hill I nearly cried but managed instead to let out a whoop that echoed through the valley. I didn't see any birds scatter but I'm sure they heard my victorious cry. I must have gotten a second wind on the way down the other side of the hill because I decided to ride the 2 miles into town for a snack and a much earned beer. I was given free salt water taffy from an older gent that asked if I have been a good girl, which was just as creepy as it sounds. I wine tasted and bought a delicious bottle of Primitivo from Aron Hill, enjoyed a fabulous Mahi taco with plenty of beer to wash it down, and even got in a March Madness game.
Cyn got to eat seafood to her heart's content which delights us both; overall it was a glorious, energizing weekend.
The LA Times posted an article today about the extreme under-representation of black folks in our country's top diplomatic posts. The article notes that of the 32 diplomats heading embassies and other U.S. missions in Europe, only one, John L. Withers, the ambassador to Albania, was black. Withers is leaving his post later this year, leaving a total of ZERO. There were also zero African Americans among the 10 ambassadors or chiefs of mission in South and Central Asia, or the 18 in the Near East, and only one among the 17 in East Asia. The only place where black diplomats headed missions? Africa, of course (note the extreme sarcasm)! 11 of the 37 missions in Africa were headed by African Americans. I'd also be interested in finding statistics about the representation of other people of color in top embassy posts...
I am loving Muay Thai! There seems to be nothing better to finally see those stubborn couple of pounds begin to budge than this fun and challenging self defense art. The best part is learning to take a little punching and kicking (with the help of a pad). Truthfully, it's terrifying, but I'm hoping it will pay off in some capacity of getting stronger and tougher.
Unfortunately, like an idiot, I attended class on Sunday night just 5 days after my Moony tribute tattoo was hammered in. Nearly half of it was eroded open by the end of two hours of punching and getting punched...sigh. We'll just have to wait and see how that turns out.
Last night, which is not too different from most nights, Cyn launched into teaching some boxing technique. This particular skill, however, was quite a performance, including a sort of skipping motion with alternating high knees, complete with instructions of how to knee an opponent in the groin. I asked if the running man was really something that boxers use to hurt someone.
"Huh?" she replied, "of course you can hurt someone with a knee strike!"
I have definitely found my sport - my rendition of the running man has already hurt many people. Rivaled only perhaps by this guy: