Parlez-vous Francais?

Again, thanks for all the kind words.  It means a lot.  The Foreign Service, for spouses, often means a lot of loneliness.  It's nice to know I have some internet friends out there who have my  back.  (I even know some of you in real life!)

But moving on to the matter at hand: French.  Remember I mentioned the crazy amazing benefits for spouses in the Foreign Service?  Well, for me, that will mean a 5 month intensive training course in French and North African Studies!  I know, shut the door, right?  Providing there is still room in the class next week I will get to go to work with Max everyday and we'll learn French together.  I'm SUPER excited, but also a little nervous.  With that kind of time and intensity there really isn't a reason why I shouldn't become an excellent French speaker...that's a lot of pressure. 

I imagine it will be like the days when we were back in college at the same time.  We'll pack our lunch the night before and try to be the responsible one in the morning who doesn't let the other sleep in past the third snooze alarm.

Bonjour Fran├žais!   



Casablanca, Morocco

The morning started with a breakfast of cold pizza.  Of Champions, I know.  I was getting so anxious about the Flag Day Ceremony that I couldn't really work on homework or do anything of a substantial nature.  So I painted my nails and watched project runway re-runs.

The ceremony itself is one of the most exciting and nerve wracking things I've ever been through.  Much worse than a job interview or a performance.  I started out pretty calm, but as the flags and names were ticked off and still no Max, I got more and more anxious.  So anxious, in fact, that the nice mother next to me shared some of her baby's star banana puffs to calm me down.  My cold pizza stomach growled a little and she was generous enough to offer a nibble.   

It was a strange feeling to see some of the flags come and go.  There were a few places I had become convinced we were going and when someone elses name was called I felt a little bit like I'd been dumped.

"But I loved you Nepal.  I researched you and watched discovery channel videos about your mountains.  How could you abandon me like this?  He'll never love you like I would have."

But still, the flags came and went.  There are 92 people in Max's class and he was called at #90.  I know, really.  But I have to say the wait was WELL worth it.  Casablanca was one of our top choices, but we didn't really think we had a shot.  We kind of put it on the High list and forgot about it because, well, it's awesome.  When Max turned around with his flag and walked back up the steps to his seat he had the biggest case of grinny winnys I'd ever seen.  Like a wee boy.  It was so great.

On a career level, this post is amazing for Max.  It will fulfill a few entry level requirements he has to meet in his first or second tour, including an Arabic speaking post.  In fact, because he already speaks Arabic they will teach him French! Here's a list of other awesome things about Morocco on more personal level:

- The temperature sits around 70 degrees YEAR ROUND with a low of 45 degrees in January and
   a high of 80 degrees in August.

- Did I mention it's on the coast?  Beachy McBeach.

- Mountains AND Deserts AND Forests AND Beaches. 

- Clean, safe, abundance of produce available
   (*relative to other Middle Eastern countries of course) 

- Not as conservative or restrictive to women as other Middle Eastern countries.
  Hello short sleeves!

- Travel.  Not only is travel within Morocco amazing (with efficient trains and taxis) but it has also become a destination for several European budget airlines.  We are talking $80 flights to London, Paris and Spain.  Now that's rocking the Casbah - which I'm sure I'll say a lot from now on.

- Moroccan Leather!  I've just started learning how to do leather bindings - I think we're headed to the right place.

- There is an AmidEast there - that's where I taught English in Jerusalem.   

I have to stop because my head is spinning a little.  We made it home from Flag Day sweaty, starving, and elated.  I made up a little meat and cheese plate, as is want in circumstances of celebration, and we toasted our vanilla cokes to North Africa.

Another thing that I'll say now and often in the future.  Friends: Visit us.  I feel like Morocco will be such an accessible way to experience this region of the world and we would love to host you.  So, don't be shy.  We leave DC late May of 2011 and we will be in Morocco for two years.  Our Casbah is your Casbah.

ps - Thanks for all the well wishing.  You guys are great! 


Of All The Gin Joints

I'm sure glad I walked into the State Department's!
More Later



I've found several distractions this week that have been pretty successful in keeping my mind off the big day.  The big F day.  Some of the distractions have been

- The National Museum of the American Indians (fabulous by the by - I'll post details later)
- The Sackler and Freer Galleries (Art and Statues from the Far East and South East Asia)
- Banana Republic the likes of which you think you'd find in a govermenty-fashiony place.  Oh boy.
- Wonderfully depressing documentaries about the Middle East
- A new place to do bookbinding in Maryland
- An internship at the public library across the street
- My new kitchen aid food processor.  I. Can't. Believe. It.  
- A renewed netflix subscription.  Ahhh.  (Like Shakespeare?  Canadian masterpiece "Slings and Arrows" will knock your socks off.  Don't like Shakespeare?  It still will)

I also started school yesterday.  No, I'm not too old for that yet.  My program is a Masters of Library and Information Science with San Jose State University in California and its 100% online.  Being to the Middle East and back twice over the past years has made choosing an online program one of the smartest things I've ever done.  I have 2 semesters left and I feel a little bit like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride (which I didn't know was a comedy until later in life - it crushed me). 

"Is very strange. I have been in the (library school) business so long, now that it's over, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life."

But, it's not quite over and truthfully, when it is, things will just be getting started for me.  The Foreign Service has crazy amazing resources for spouses including continual training, scholarships for further education, and a lot of work opportunities.  They have libraries too!  Crazy Amazing, by the way, is actually what my Spouse Briefing handbook says across the top with heart dotted I's "Crazy Amazing Benefits for Spouses".

So, I've almost kept myself too distracted to think about tomorrow.  Almost.  



Why DC Is Rad

We saw this
In the shadows of this
Which was accompanied by these.  
(The 1812 Overture features real live cannons towards the end.  It's pretty awesome)


Bid List Submitted

It's a strange feeling, like a giant load has been lifted from our shoulders but that a different, perhaps even larger load has been placed squarely upon them.  Max and I submitted our bid list tonight.  As we do with most big things of an internet submission nature, we pushed the send button together with our respective index fingers.  Aahhhh, isn't that precious?  I know.  We did it for Grad School and each step of the Foreign Service labyrinth and things turned out pretty well on both accounts.  If ever there was a time to worship the Gods of superstition, I figure this is it.

I can't really spill about specific countries, but I think it's safe to follow suit of a friend of mine and tell you our preferences in a round about way.  We get three.  Max's CDO (Career Development Officer) will look at these preferences, our bid list rankings and "The Needs of the Service" of course, and make a decision based on those things.  Be warned, our preferences aren't juicy demands - they are almost as flexible as you can get in terms of where they put us on the map.  But isn't that fun?

1) We want to stay together, with any children who might enter into the family.  Not an announcement, just a precaution.  Excessive restrictions on my movement about the city and my ability to interact with locals/culture/nature/history are what we are trying to avoid.  BUT we also want to go somewhere with a high enough differential (money they pay you extra if a post is remote/lacks basic goods and services - that kind of thing) to be eligible for student loan repayment.  We have been students for a long time and we've been blessed to travel quite a bit for school...that's expensive.  We are willing to put in some time in the boonies for a little bit of gov'ment student loan repayment.

2) Max wants to either fulfill his entry level duty as a consulate officer or work specifically with his area of interest. 

3) Max wants to either practice Arabic, Hebrew, Portuguese, or Spanish or learn something new.

Our bids are all over the place geographically and each one holds an entirely different possible reality.  It's all at once thrilling and mind melting.

In related news, I'm going to sign up to take the same consulate training course that the Officers take.  If there is room, I can be trained to fill any openings that the embassy can't fill by regular officers.  Isn't that rad?  I'd probably be just as happy making books in my studio, but it's nice to know I could do interesting work at post if I wanted.

Will keep you posted....about our post.  Flag day is next Friday so light a candle for us!


The Mall

The Jefferson Memorial
The Library of Congress
The Washington Monument

The Capital Building
The Ulysses S. Grant Monument 

DC Over the Potamac

Around the World in 8 Hours

It's been kind of radio silence for a few days on the blog hasn't it?  Don't worry, things are fine.  I just wake up in the morning thinking I'll do an array of productive things and then I get sucked into researching places on our bid list.  It's not entirely a joyless activity, in fact, if it wasn't for the immense impact one of these places would have on our life - and thus a wee bit of stress, I would prefer country research over most of my daily activities.

The Foreign Service Institute has this wondrous place with information and videos on each and every post you could possible go to.  I spent 8 hours on Monday flipping through fact sheets, "personal post insights", and watching videos about as many posts as I could get to in one day.  And making excel spreadsheets to organize the information of course!  There are about 100 on our list remember.  It was actually pretty fun and every now and again I had to remember to stick to just the places on our bid list :)

We are feeling pretty good about the rankings we have given our posts.  Of course, as we've been warned, they will primarily consider "The Needs of the Services".   So quite often we'll sit down together and read out random names and imagine living there - just to try and prepare.  But how does one prepare mentally for monsoons?  "Opportunistic" crime?  Food shortages? 130 heat?

To decompress Max and I have taken several self guided tours around The Mall.  (I know, I hear my family saying "You and Max get stressed?"  Well yes.  We are normal people, you know:) )     


Pirates and Tigers and Maoists - oh my!

Well, our bid list came out yesterday and reality really is a humdinger.  The infamous bid list, in our case, has about 100 locations that we need to organize into high, medium, and low preference.  Along with the prioritized list we need to submit a list of preferences that have informed our choices and will hopefully inform the choices of those above who actually get to select where we go :)

Max and I have been working out our "preferences" and they mostly have to do with quality of work life for him.  What type of job will he be doing? Will he get to learn a new language or practice his Arabic, Hebrew, Portuguese or Spanish?  How will this effect his career?  What is the general morale like at post...is that even determinable before casting our lots?  We've been told that unaccompanied posts are not an option for first timers (can I get a yay!?) so with that out of the way my only real preference would be a place where any of the following are reasonable accessible to me: history/archeology/nature/museums/people/wonder in general.  I don't really care if I have to wear a head scarf, or say goodbye to hamburgers and spices for two years, or bring a fur hat or a lava lava, or go without television, paved roads, and to some extent modern health care. (Don't tell Shawn I said that, Jenn.)  But I am interesting in learning about another culture and another place.  So those are my only two cents really.   I'm not set on working, but I would if the opportunity presented itself.  I'll have my Masters to finish and the world of books to make and read. 

Having signed on to be "worldwide available" and Max's uncanny ability to pick up languages - Arabic included - will put us in some precarious situations, I understand that.  So I think we are keeping pretty realistic about things.  You get an idea of glamor and adventure then you read something like this from a possible post:        

"Pirate attacks and armed robbery against ships occur in coastal waters. Mariners should take appropriate precautions."

Adventure? Yes.  Glamor? Maybe not.  But then again I'm no Mariner.

So all in all we are excited, but I think we are also as aware of the realities of what being a foreign service officer means as we can be at this point.  I was in a similar place before we went to the Middle East for the first time.  I wasn't stuck in Lawrence-of-Arabia-Land, but I was very much looking forward to new experiences and challenges.  It's a bit of optimistic pessimism, if there can be such a thing.  I've said this before, but preparing for the worst has left me with almost entirely positive experiences abroad.  When I heard people complain about a late bus in Jerusalem I thought instead "Wow, these buses are actually taking me where I want to go!  That's awesome."  When  I got ripped off in by a taxi driver in Jordan I thought "Well, I only lost about 5 dollars and not 10.  What could be nicer?"  It's kind of silly, I know.  I can call a spade a spade, but traveling requires a certain level of flexibility and...well, insanity.  To be elated when things are pleasant and prepared when they are not has been a very successful travel philosophy for me so far.  It has made me more grateful.  But enough of that mushy stuff for today.


The Hottub at the Supreme Court

Our second night in town Max and I took a little stroll around the Library of Congress buildings, The Folger Shakespeare Library, the Capital, and the rest of The Mall. We also walked around the Supreme Court Building where we heard a little boy ask "But why do they have their own hottubs?" A valid question - see for yourselves:

(The Doors to the Court)


You complain, and then you get something.

After a wonderful, if short, visit home to Utah Max and I packed what was left of our stuff in the few suitcases we have held on to (and one from my Mom's closet - sorry Mom) and caught our afternoon flight out of Salt Lake yesterday.  We had a short layover in Chicago, but flying across country this time instead of across oceans felt like a breeze.  On the way into DC we flew over the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, and the rest of The Mall.  To see them for the first time all lit up at night as we flew over the Potomac was really a site.  I felt like my little brother's dog Milo when it gets excited about something.

"Do you know how many books are in the Library of Congress? " pawing Max's arm
"What about the Smithsonian?  Do you know what their current exhibits are? " paw, paw
"How far is our apartment from _______, what about from _____? "yip, yip"

All was well until we realized that our neon green bag was missing.  When it's neon green you notice right away.  I have an informal travel rule to always carry toiletries and clothes for at least 24 hours after landing so that in the event of a lost bag, or three if you remember landing in Tel Aviv last year, we won't be forced to wear the sweaty clothes of sweaty airports.  But I think I was so jazzed about only going 2000 miles instead of many thousands of miles that I forgot my head and packed silly things in carry-on, like straw hats and hair straighteners.

So we spent most of the first day in Washington DC sans toothbrush, but if that's the biggest of your worries you are really doing ok.  The airline gave us a bit of a run around getting our bag back, but in the end we got our bag as well as a $150 voucher that my diplomat husband talked us into for our troubles.  He's nice.

So we have arrived, our apartment is perfect, and Max has his first day of training tomorrow.  Things are good.