Sunday, November 29, 2009

Stage 2 completed

I've arrived safe and sound in Kabul. I'll wait until I've settled in and can report back on the job front to fill you all in on the details of the trip and my first impressions of Afghanistan. But here are two random bits to keep you entertained in the until I have more to report:
  • It really is a small world. On my flight from DC to Dubai, I ended up sitting next to an Afghan gentleman who used to live in Delmar. He now lives in Clifton Park.

  • The bureaucratic snafus continued to the bitter end. For some reason I was left off of the Embassy's airport pickup list, and the motorpool left the airport without me. Moreover, the expediter wasn't looking for me -- because I wasn't on the list -- and wasn't waiting where I had been told to find him. So I was essentially stranded at the Kabul airport. Luckily a nice Kiwi diplomat noticed I looked lost and bewildered and came to my aid (he was the one who told me that the Embassy cars had left); he very kindly found the Embassy's expediter for me. Being left behind was a bit scary, but given the government's track record, really I'm not surprised that something went wrong.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Stage 1 completed

Just a quick post to say that I have arrived safe and sound in Dubai, which looks like a giant shopping mall. My hotel is nice, and I enjoyed a lovely, fresh dinner, my last for a while. The flight was long and bumpy, and I realized that the World Bank spoils its employees by always having them fly business class. But I was able to catch Julie and Julia and the most recent Harry Potter. So all was not lost.

Bedtime. Just one more sleep and then this long, long, strange trip is OVER!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Q & A 3

I find myself answering the same questions about Kabul over and over. I really don't mind, but what this tells me is that I haven't done a good job keeping everyone up to date on the latest developments. I shall now attempt to rectify this situation. Enjoy!

1. What will you be doing in Kabul? What's the job situation?

Really, all the credit for this one goes to Nick.

Way back in April, when all this first started, I was offered a position in the State Department's Joint Visitors' Bureau (JVB). This office is responsible for coordinating dignitaries' visits, handing out welcome packets and hooch keys, etc. The job would have involved lots of administrative and event work, exactly what I was trying to move away from.

Nick worked his butt off for me. He networked with staff from all over the Embassy and the USAID mission. He sent out my resume. He let people know that I was interested in doing more, that I am capable of doing more, and that I have skills that would be useful in a program office. And lo and behold, it worked.

So, I'm quite happy to report that I will be going to Kabul to serve as a Development Outreach and Communications Officer (DCO) in the USAID Office of Economic Growth (OEG). I don't yet know what kind of work I'll be doing, although I'm guessing there will be a lot of writing.

2. When are you travelling, and what's your route?
I'm travelling this coming Friday. Because Nick and I listed DC as our home city, the government requires that our travel to post start in DC. Right now I'm in Albany to spend Thanksgiving with my family. On Friday morning I hop a Southwest flight from Albany to Baltimore. I'll spend Friday afternoon puttering around DC doing some last minute errands before heading to Dulles Airport in the evening. Then it's a long haul flight to Dubai, a Saturday night stay in a hotel, and finally a quick flight to Kabul. If all goes to plan, I'll be in Kabul by Sunday afternoon....that's Sunday morning for all you east coast folk. And with any luck, Nick will be able to finagle his way onto the welcome wagon, and will be waiting for me when I step off the plane in Afghanistan.

3. Where will you be living while in Kabul?
Like most US government employees in Afghanistan, Nick and I will be living on government property. More specifically, we'll be living on the Embassy compound in Kabul. We lucked out and managed to get an apartment, so we'll essentially be living in a space very similar to our home in DC. I'll be able to write more on this once I actually see the apartment.

4. How can I get in touch with you while you're in Kabul?
I'll have internet access both at the office and in the apartment. So there will be blog posts, and you are always free to pass along a message in the comments. Some of you have my email address and/or are my friend on Facebook, and those will continue to work as well.

Just a reminder that Kabul is currently 9.5 hours ahead of the US east coast, so please don't panic if there's a delay in my responding to your message. If you don't feel like figuring out the time in Kabul yourself, I've installed a handy-dandy little clock on the right-hand side of the blog. Put it to good use!

5. What sort of vacation time will you get?
Yeah, this one is a little tricky. Nick and I have actually been hired under different leave policies. Quite convenient, eh? Yeah, they implemented a new policy 15 days after Nick arrived at post.

First, a quick primer on the two different types of leave offered to US foreign service staff in Afghanistan. The first type is home leave, otherwise known as R&R. The second type are regional breaks, called RRBs. For home leave, the government covers the cost of our flights to DC and back. For RRBs, the designated regional rest stop for Afghanistan is Delhi, India Dubai. We aren't limited to just going to Delhi Dubai; we can buy tickets to any destination in the world. However the government will only cover the cost of those tickets up to the cost of two roundtrip tickets from Kabul to Delhi Dubai.

Anyway, as provided by the old leave policy, Nick gets 2 home leaves and 2 regional breaks per year, not to exceed a total of 65 days spent out of Afghanistan. Under the new policy, which still limits my days spent out of the country to 65 per year, I can take 2 home leaves and 3 regional breaks. OR, I can trade in all of my regional breaks for a third home leave. No matter which option I choose, I end up with one more leave than Nick gets. I'm thinking that I'll take the 2 home leaves and 3 regional breaks, and use the 'extra' regional break (which will be sans Nick) for a little girls' trip with my sister. I've heard the Dalmation Coast is really nice. What do you say, Jo?

Well, that about wraps it up for this post, my last while I'm in the US. I'll try to get a quick post up as soon as I arrive in Kabul, although I'll warn you now that my first priority will be to SLEEP, my second will be to my circadian rhythm aligned with Kabul time as quickly as possible, and my third will be to enjoy being back in the company of my husband.

I wish everyone who reads this blog -- family, friends, and strangers alike -- a very happy Thanksgiving. And a special happy Thanksgiving to my poor Nicky, who is spending the day alone in Kabul. Just three more sleeps to go, honey.

Catch you all on the flip side!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Great Kabul Packout of 2009, or How I Came to Worship Post-Its

It started with the apartment looking like this:






It ended with the apartment looking like this.



In between, it looked like this:



I'm not in the mood to compose a good Regents' style blog essay (for all you non-NYers, that's the standard argument-support-support-conclusion essay format) on the packout. Ergo, a few random thoughts on the big event.
  • Packing out isn't fun. Packing out while sick is just unfair.

  • DC-area drivers seem to be as incapable of reading parking signs as they are at reading traffic lights. I put out three "Emergency No Parking" signs to reserve the street parking in front of the house more than 3 days before the packout. Thursday morning saw two cars and a jeep parked in the reserved zone. One car was there all day. The moving truck couldn't park, and instead spent the whole day taking up the bike lane and part of the traffic lane on Vermont Ave.

  • I called Parking Enforcement at 9:30AM to come ticket the cars. As of 11AM they still hadn't shown; at this point 2 out of the 3 cars had escaped. Parking Enforcement finally arrived at 3pm to ticket the one remaining car. The fine? A whopping $50 bucks. Totally not worth the half hour I spent on the phone getting Parking Enforcement to come out.

  • Nick and I have a lot of stuff. More than it would seem possible to fit in a 650 sq. foot apartment.

  • I think I shall create my own religion dedicated to the worship of Post-It notes. These wonderful little bits of paper were the key to making this packout manageable. Ergo, they were the key to my keeping hold of my sanity. I labeled everything; things that were to go to Kabul, things that were for storage, things the movers shouldn't touch. It was clear and simple and didn't require me to try to be in all places at all times to keep track of what was going where.

  • The other key to my sanity during the packout was my wonderful Toad. I thought I'd need her to help me keep on eye on the packers. Turns out there was little actual work for her to do. But it also turned out that her real task was just to be good company, and to keep me from pacing in circles, hovering over the movers and nervously wringing my hands for hours on end. I love you Toad; couldn't have made it through this without you.

  • My entire wardrobe -- shoes and all -- weighs in at about 220 lbs.

  • I don't know what sort of magic they put in those Mr. Clean Magic Erasers, but it must be a very dark and powerful magic. For it removed even the blackest of scuff marks from the walls. I'm talking black; you don't spend nearly three years wheeling two bicycles in and out of the house without making a more than a few good scuff marks. But they were no match for the Magic of Mr. Clean.

  • When one's dryer vents back into one's apartment, said apartment will yield a galloping horde of dust bunnies, no matter how often one dusts and sweeps. Also, the dust bunnies will mate with human hair -- especially long hair from the head of a female -- to form mutant hair bunnies. Terrifying.

  • Hold a garage sale or Make a massive donation to Goodwill?: one of life's great questions. It's nice to get the money from a garage sale, but sometimes the time saved by just bringing everything to Goodwill is more valuable. Nick and I better be able to take a big, fat tax deduction for all the stuff we've donated to Goodwill. But even if we can't, it still feels good to be rid of all those excess belongings. On to a better and more useful life!

  • I was in such a fog of sleep deprivation and illness that I completely forgot to tip the movers. Still feeling guilty, and still trying to remedy the situation.

  • It is possible to become emotionally attached to houseplants. Also bicycles.

The packout was big. It was scary. It was a looming behemoth of a task that brought me to tears several times in the weeks leading up to the big day. I didn't know what to expect. I had no experience using movers or moving an entire household. I wasn't sure if I was doing the right things to prepare. I wasn't sure if I was bringing the right foods and clothing. I worried that our belongings would be sent to the wrong destinations. I didn't want strangers going through our belongings, and I didn't want them to move things around so that I wouldn't know where everything was. I thought I wouldn't be able to get through it.

But I did. And it wasn't so bad. It turns out that the concept, the idea of the packout was much, much worse than the packout itself. So many thanks to those of you who listened while I worried and fretted and whined about how I had to manage the packout all by myself. With your support I did do it by myself.

And the next time, it won't be so big and scary.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How much do I love my husband?

Enough to tackle the most vile mess I have ever seen.

Nick's beloved grill will be joining the rest of our belongings in government storage. Nick is a grillmaster; the grill has been put to extensive use in the nearly 3 years we've lived in the condo. I have voraciously devoured countless meals of expertly grilled veggies (my favorites!), squeaky cheese, and meats of various types.

I would gladly forfeit all future grilled meals, if only for the reason that I refuse to ever do this again.

As a supplement to the Great Kabul Packout of 2009, I present, the Horrifying Grill Cleanout of 2009. The first time the grill has been cleaned since we bought it!


The starting point. The lid should be silver.
And yes, that is food stuck to the grate. And some grass.

The 1/2 inch layer of charcoaled food that lined the inside of the grill. I was actually able to pull this out in chunks with my hands.

Pulling out the charcoal. You can see a pile of it on the brick in the background as well.
Yeah, the gloves were toast after this.

Letting the degreaser do its work.

It took a good two hours, but the task is done. The grill still has a thin layer of grease covering it, but at least all of the charcoal and rancid food bits are gone.
I love you Nicky, and I love your cooking. I really do. But....never again, ok?! :-)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Going out with a bang

Yes, this is yet another post with a trapeze video. Be sure you have your sound on.

Tonight was my last trapeze class for the foreseeable future. After making my return on Saturday, I decided to let that trick be and try throwing a layout. I've only worked on my layout for a few classes, and tonight was my first time throwing it to the catcher.

And look what happened on my very first try.....

Not a bad way to go out.

Thank you Brian, Bret, Mike, Meagan, Robin, Beth(s), Stephanie, Dara, and all of the rest of the staff and crew of "regulars" at TSNY DC. I really don't know how I would have made it through the past 6 months without this.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Success!

It's not the cleanest of returns, but I made it!


Friday, November 13, 2009

On the other hand

A while back I posted an entry listing five things that I won't miss when I leave DC. If you recall, most of what I will not miss involved tourists.

Today -- my last day at the World Bank -- I have been thinking about all of the things that I will miss about DC when I leave next weekend. I guess I'm feeling a little reflective at the moment. It's a nice change from the all-consuming panic I've felt for the past week or so, compliments of the upcoming packout.

Thus, in no particular order....

1. Running on the National Mall
I don't really like running, but at least DC offers some beautiful views to keep me entertained while slogging my way through a 4-miler. Running doesn't seem so bad when one can stop and admire the sunset silhouetting the Washington Monument.

Also, the people watching on and around the Mall is of the highest quality. As annoying as they might be when clogging the sidewalks or riding the metro, sweaty tourists are really quite entertaining to observe when out on the street.

2. The Sunday morning Farmer's Market
I suspect that the sadness I feel about my final visit to the Dupont Circle farmer's market (likely this coming Sunday) has more to do with my concerns about the quality of the food in Kabul than any specific attachments to this market. But I'll list it anyway.

As a creature of habit, I take particular comfort in getting up every Sunday, rain or shine, and seeing how much I can get at the market for my weekly budget of $20. In the summer the tomatoes -red, green, purple, yellow, and zebra-striped -- are drool-worthy. In the winter I stock up on apples (how insanely good have the Honeycrisps been this season?! ) root vegetables and winter greens, and at least once each fall I try squash to see if I've overcome my dislike of it. No change so far. But as long as the sellers keep stocking it in abundance, I'll keep trying.

After living a mostly vegetarian lifestyle since Nick's departure, with the bulk of my meals being made with fresh produce from this market, I think I will find the switch to the Kabul diet of processed, meat-laden foods quite a shock to my system. In all honesty, as much as the delays in my departure for Afghanistan have been frustrating, I do apprecite the opportunity they gave me to get my fill of fresh summer produce. I'm sure I will spend many of my mealtimes in Afghanistan dreaming of fresh kale, ripe heirloom tomatoes, dribbly apples and sweet potatoes with dirt still stuck to their skins.

3. My bike
I love my bike. I love how much time it saves. I love that with it I find myself going to parts of DC that I wouldn't otherwise visit due to their lack of public transportation (Georgetown....not that there's anything all that great in Georgetown, but at least it's somewhere to go). Whenever I'm asked for advice on living in DC by a recent transplant, I always tell him or her to make getting a bike a priority. When my old bike was stolen I was completely lost. I couldn't fathom how I would manage without it; I was going to lose a whole 40 minutes out of my day just walking to work! Without my bike I feel slow and inefficient. It will be a sad day when I have to put it in storage. That will be one of the last things I do before leaving, because I can't see how I can get all of my errands done without it.

4. The restaurants
You name the cuisine, DC probably has it. Italian? Of course. Japanese? Yes. Belgian? In abundance. Ethiopian? Ghanian? Slavic? Scandinavian? Nepalese? Yes Yes Yes Yes.

And if you can't find it in DC, you can probably find it in the VA or MD suburbs. Although Nick would argue that there is one cuisine lacks proper representation in the DC area: Chicago deep-dish pizza. Nicky, you can remedy that one when you win the lottery.

And Maryam and Pauline, I fully expect you to keep me up to date with additions to the DC restaurant scene. That means pictures and description from first course to last. For the next 1.5 years, my 'dining out' will be limited to living vicariously through you two.

Which reminds me, I need to get to Lalibela one more time before I leave.

5. TSNY DC
I don't know how I would have made it through the past few months if not for the welcome distraction of trapeze and silks classes. Yes, they cost a pretty penny. But it gave me something to focus on and look forward to during the lloongg months of silence from HR. It's been so long since circus has been part of my life. But from my experience at the rig in DC, I know that I need to find ways to keep it in my life. If Nick and I stay with the foreign service this may be tricky at times. We'll just have to be creative, and strategic in our bids for posts. Hey, Jamaica has a USAID mission and a Breezes resort with a trapeze! It could work.

6. Friends & Colleagues
I'm keeping it short and sweet here, to avoid hurting any feelings. Thanks to those who have made my time at the World Bank the great experience that it was. Thanks to those who have been part of mine and Nick's time in DC. Thanks to those of you who have gone out of your way to keep me entertained for the past 6 months. Keep in touch all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Timelines

Because inquiring minds want to know.

All dates confirmed unless otherwise noted.
  • November 13: my last day at the World Bank
  • November 19: government packout of the condo
  • November 20ish (tbc): driving up to Albany
  • November 26: enjoy Turkey Day with family and dog
  • November 27 (tbc): fly from Albany to DC, stop by State Department for final rabies vaccine, depart for Kabul
Swimming as hard as I can to keep my head above water. Current life question: How in the world did Nick and I manage to acquire so much stuff, and how did we fit it all into 650 sq. feet?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Murphy's Law

As if my life wasn't complicated enough at the moment, on Friday night our laptop decided to up and quit on me. It's in the hands of the Geek Squad now; fingers crossed they can bring it back to life they just called -- it has a bad hard drive and is toast and they might not be able to recover our files. Panicking over the possible loss of our honeymoon photos.

I had more to write, but now I can't even think.

Monday, November 2, 2009

We can't be shut down...well, yes we can

It was your typical Thursday night in Wonderland. Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumb decided to throw an immovable feast to celebrate a quadrilateral birthday, and invited every clam in town. Crammed in, we cranked the music, opened the beverages, and then opened the window. As the party rolled on, so did the Absinth Jell-O shots served by the Cheshire Cat. After a few hours the party was at full tilt and spilled out into the hallway. The shots turned from little cups to trays with spoons, but at that point we were down to grape Jell-O which are not as good but hey, no one complained.

Around midnight I decided to indulge a bad habit and have a cup of tea and a breath of fresh air with the Mad Hatter. With beverages in hand, we retreated through the rabbit hole to the back of the apartment complex. Just as we hit the foyer, the Queen of Hearts appeared, looking seriously displeased. The Queen had heard the ruckus from upstairs through the open windows, and the sound ricocheting off of the building across the way only amplified the noise. Hiding our tea behind our backs, the Queen questioned the Mad Hatter and I about the party, given an update of the grave situation in Wonderland, and were told to ‘shut it down.’ After the Queen departed we took the ‘blue pill,’ wheeled around and climbed back through the rabbit hole. We hit the feast at full speed; the Mad Hatter closed the windows and I turned off the music. We updated everyone on the Queen’s request. There was slight pause, and then the party disbursed.

The next day the Mad Hatter and I became the heroes of the day; without our intervention, the Queen of Hearts would have climbed through the rabbit hole to view the feast in person, and most likely would have shouted "Off with their heads!" And then the Tweedle Dummies would no longer be with us in Wonderland.