Saturday, July 31, 2010

Picture Pages

Holy crap I am so far behind on posting pictures. Over the last two weeks my work load has just exploded. As in Liz's brain has gone kablooey and is oozing out her ears. Also Nick and I are both fighting off the Kabul Krud.

So, not a lot of insightful thoughts today. Mostly picture pages. Here's a look at Nick and Liz's June 2010 in Kabul.

When Nick and I returned from home leave, we discovered that one of the Kabul Kitties had given birth to 4 kittens: one orange and white striped, one black and white spotted, one grey and white striped, and one calico. Given how different the kittens look I think Mommy Cat might be a bit of a tramp, although I leave it to Toad to educate me on cat genetics.



The British Ball took place about 2 weeks after we got back from home leave. With dinner, dancing, and way too much to drink, we were almost able to forget that we were in Kabul with 12 more months to go before the end of our tour.

We went to the Ball with a bunch of friends, including the lovely lady pictured below. That's Go, my awesome running buddy. She kept me company on my pre-3oth birthday half marathon (which I did finish, in about 2.5 hours under the blazing Kabul sun. And then two weeks later Go went and finished the Kabul Marathon in just about 5 hours, never mind the nasty stomach bug that kept her from eating for 5 days prior to the race. Show off).

A week after the Ball I spoke at the USAID-sponsored Afghan First conference, held at a hotel high on a hill on the outskirts of Kabul. The conference served to educate Afghan business owners about contracting opportunities with the USG. I was bombarded with questions that weren't really questions about USAID's stabilization programming ("The river cleaning program you did in City X. I do not think that was a good program." Okay, thanks!), with business cards from construction company owners, and with requests to pose for pictures with said business owners. And I spent 3 hours under a head scarf in a stifling hot conference hall. What was good about the conference? As always, the chance to leave the compound and get a different view of Kabul (and the air was remarkably clear that day!)


But the very very best thing about the conference? A non-DFAC lunch.

Lastly, at the very end of the month, Nick and I and my friend Sarah got to go out on a Thursday night for an "official" event -- a party at the Serena Hotel (Kabul's only 5 star hotel!) to celebrate the launch of Safi Airline's new plane. It was another night that was so pleasant as to almost make me forget where I was. The Serena would be a beautiful hotel in any city -- the fact that it's in Kabul only heightens its appeal. We sat in a lovely courtyard at tables with white tablecloths, sipping fruit juice and enjoying the sunset and a warm summer (dust free, for once!) breeze. We chatted with tablemates. Nick chatted up the Deputy Minister of Finance. We listened to some speeches and scored some Safi swag.


Of course, you can guess what the best part of the whole evening was, right?

It was absolutely the 20 ft long buffet dinner. With fish. And salads. And carrot ginger soup. And Singapore noodles, Afghan chicken, lamb, potatoes And vegetables that weren't cooked and salted to death. Not to mention desserts.

Oh yeah. The company wasn't too bad either.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Listed

The bid list. It is here.

There are lots of positions open in Afghanistan. And Iraq. And Sudan.

There are slots at Missions other than these three, of course. At first glance, some are very appealing (eastern Europe). Some are not so appealing (a conflict prone country in the Pacific). There are one-year positions in CPCs, like Afghanistan. All of them make me ask whether the FS life is right for us.

Let the deliberations begin.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Leaks

You might be waiting for a post with my thoughts and reactions the Wikileaks story. For propriety's sake, there's not much I can say except.....some days I feel like I know the answers, and some days I have nothing but questions.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Circus, circus, I love the circus!

In another life I will have the skills and flexibility to be a real circus freak.

In the meantime, I will just have to live vicariously through those individuals who are doing it in this lifetime.

Coming this November....



J, please set your DVR NOW!

Monday, July 12, 2010

None of your bid-ness

July 12 was supposed to be a red-letter day: the day USAID HR would release the priority bidding list. At last, Nick and I would be able to answer the question that everyone -- friends, family, and colleagues alike -- has been asking us: where are you going to go when you're done with Afghanistan?

For the uninitiated, the bid list is the process by which a foreign service officer (FSO) picks which post s/he goes to next. (I think the process is essentially the same for USAID and State, although of course we're looking at different positions and posts. But just FYI that any time I talk about FSOs in this post, I'm talking about USAID employees.) In very basic terms, HR sends out a list of all of the jobs available at all of the USAID missions throughout the world. Nick, and everyone else serving at a critical threat post, get to bid before the rest of USAID. Nick and I review the list, pick three countries that sound like fun, and then we get assigned to one of them. Quick and painless, right?


Wrong.


According to colleagues with significant bidding experience and the booklet we received from HR titled "Tips for first time bidders", bidding is a long and complicated process. Deciding which posts to bid on involves more than just looking at a map and picking what country we'd like to see next. We have to take into consideration:
  • Nick's career trajectory
  • how difficult it might be for me to get a job outside the Embassy (or if it's even allowed)
  • how far away from our families we want to be for the next four years (the duration of most USAID posts)
  • whether it's a language-designated post (requiring us to move to DC temporarily so Nick can do language training)
  • the different benefit packages associated with each mission (danger and locality pay differ from country to country)
  • the security situation, and
  • the overall quality of life.

The last two points -- as well as the second bullet -- are especially important as we move into the potential baby making/adopting years. Wait, don't get excited (I'm looking at you, Parents X, Parents M, and Sister J). It's not something we're looking at in the immediate future. But it is something in the back of our minds, and something we need to consider when picking where we're going to be living from ages 31-35.

Needless to say, the buildup to the release of the bid list has been intense. We've been tossing around our "dream" locations, trying to get inside information on what positions will be open, grilling our colleagues about the pros and cons of the missions at which they previously served, and doing a lot of thinking and talking about whether a career in the foreign service is right for us. Nick has even been counting down the days to the release of the bid list, until I asked him to stop because just thinking about all of the variables and the implications and the...bigness of it all made my head hurt. So I was really looking forward to today. July 12. Bid list release day. The day when the fuzzy, shapeless mess that is our future would become just a little bit more clear.

Except that it didn't happen. Saturday morning an email went out to all USAID staffers: "Due to unforeseen circumstances, HR must delay indefinitely the release of the bid list for priority bidders."

So today ended up being just another Monday, like all the other Mondays in Afghanistan before it. And the waiting resumes.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Awards

In a rare change of pace, Nick and I have actually had a pretty busy social calendar. His birthday, the British Ball, the 4th of July, and lots of going away dinners and parties. It's a very busy turnover season -- I think something like 85% of Mission staff are departing this summer. And everyone gets a party. Or sometimes multiple parties.

I have lots of pictures and anecdotes to share. And I'd share them all with you in this post, except Nick left the camera at his office.

But I do have a few pictures that I can share right now, because they're from someone else's camera.



Pretty spiffy, huh? That's Nick with Ambassador Eikenberry, receiving one of his 3(!) awards at last week's Embassy awards ceremony. And that's me and a few of my colleagues receiving an award from the Ambassador in recognition of our work on the Marble Conference, one of the two group awards I received.

There are days where I can't stand my work. There are days where I can't stand being here. But even I have to admit that this was pretty cool.