Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All quiet on the NYC front

I guess these days it takes some sort of disaster to get me to post on this blog.  Riots, hurricanes and whatnot.

So, I survived Sandy relatively unscathed.  My neighborhood, the East Village, wasn't quite as lucky.  The EV was hit hard by the wind and the storm surge.  Currently the neighborhood has no power, no steam heat, and many buildings have no water.  More troubling is the lack of cell/4G service in the area.  I didn't realize I was cut off from the world until about 11am Tuesday after the storm, which meant that Nick and my family were getting pretty worked up about my safety since I hadn't checked in to say I was ok.  Once the morning rain passed I hopped on my bike and headed for midtown seeking power and a cell signal for my phone, although I did take a detour to survey the damage to the East Village.  It wasn't a pretty sight.  You can take a look for yourself at the flooding that occurred during the storm, as well as the massive substation explosion about 5 blocks from my house that probably caused a lot of the blackouts.  Sandy did a number to my neighborhood.

NYT: Sandy Hits the East Village (photos)

After finding power and a cell signal at a Cosi at 37th and 7th Ave, my bike ride back home took me past Sundaes & Cones, which was giving out free ice cream since it was melting anyway.  That was a nice treat on a rather grim day.  After discovering I had no hot water in my apartment and therefore no hot showers (duh, Liz, no power=no water heater), I decided to decamp from the East Village and head for the warmth/power/hot water/cell service of Brooklyn.  I can live without power, but I draw the line at ice cold showers.

Which takes me to now.  I've been hanging out with friends in the BK (which never lost power) since Tuesday afternoon.  School is canceled until Monday, and I won't have work until I have power in my apartment (the theater where I work is 2 blocks from my apartment).  But I will be braving the transit nightmare tomorrow to make my way back to my apartment.   I have a what's sure to be a very stinky fridge & freezer to clean out.  And I need clean clothes. there anyone who is reading this blog who lives in Brooklyn and needs an additional passenger to meet the 3 person minimum to get across one of the East River bridges tomorrow?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Just a test

Sorry for the interruption.  Just testing something out to see if I can link the blog to my Facebook page.

Please return to your regularly scheduled activities.  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

All quiet on the Ma'adi front

So, as you all probably guessed, Nick and I have pretty much let this blog fall into hibernation.  I just don't have that much to say about my life in NYC, and Nick was never particularly into writing here.  I will probably resume regular posts when I join him in Cairo next summer, but until then expect posting to be very light, possibly non-existent.

However, I am popping back online today because my mom told me that she's fielded a number of calls this week from family and friends who aren't Facebook friends with either Nick or me, and who have been concerned about Nick's safety given the recent unrest in Cairo.

First of all, a big thanks to everyone who called or emailed or kept us in your thoughts.  Second, I am happy to report that Nick is just fine.  He's quite fortunate that the Embassy and USAID Mission in Cairo aren't co-located; the Mission is located in a "suburb" of Cairo called Ma'adi, well away from downtown.  Nick's apartment complex is also located in Ma'adi, so he's been able to maintain a safe distance from the violence going on in Tahrir Square.  In fact, he just enjoyed a rather normal weekend - boating on the Nile, a BBQ at a friend's house, and I think a bike ride out in the wadi.

We are of course both heartbroken by the deaths of Ambassador Stevens, Sean Smith, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods in Libya, as well as the growing number of victims of green-on-blue violence (trainees attacking their trainers) in Afghanistan.  We are both keeping a close eye on the situation in Egypt and throughout the region.  If the situation in Cairo escalates in the coming weeks, I will make an effort to post on this blog to update you all on Nick's situation.  PS: I'm much better at updating my Facebook page, so if you want to be guaranteed to get updates, post a comment below asking to be Facebook friends and I will probably agree to "friend" you.

I wish I had something moving or thoughtful to say about the situation to conclude this post.  Instead, I leave you all with the moving and thoughtful words of others, whose opinions and insights have touched me in the past few days.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Not an April Fools'

I kid you not, this is what my phone says the current weather conditions are in Cairo.

Beats out my previous favorite weather condition, from somewhere in the midwest I believe: freezing fog.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Well said and true

Many of my USG-employed Facebook friends have shared this opinion piece from The Washington Post over the past few days, and I felt it my duty -- as a former USG employee and current USG dependent family member -- to pass it on.

I Work for Uncle Sam, and I'm Proud of It

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Circus is Falling Down

Holy crap, a post from Nick!

Well, I am a month into my tour and the circus is falling down and the big top is crumbling. Most of you read the news, blogs, tweets, facebook or whatever, so you all know the situation here in Egypt. So I will spare you the details. But let's just say my days in the office remind me of my time in Kabul. The situation is similar: political turmoil, a country and region with a long history of problems, corruption, anti-American sentiments, scrutiny and micromanagement from outside, and general distrust. In addition, we have Queen of Hearts and no one really knows how deep the rabbit hole goes. So, as the Madhatter, I am have returned to the same tea-party: the guests may be different, but the situation is not. All in all I am happy - I am busy and work/live in the middle of U.S. foreign policy central (at least for the time being). As such, I am not going to dedicate this post to the situation, but give you a recap of my first month living in Cairo.

Departure and Transit

As you read in the previous blog I left on a jet plane on January 14th, bound for Frankfurt and then Cairo. The flight was uneventful...other than the sh*&!y economy class. Hey United Airlines! Six-inch LCD screens are like $50 each. Seriously, it's time to upgrade. The layover in Frankfurt consisted of the consumption of a variety of sausages, a few pints, and a hunt for the NFL playoff scores from the night before.

The next leg was short (about 4 hours). I landed in Cairo about 1500, hooked up with the expediter before immigration, picked up my luggage and met my sponsor (a real nice guy). Two hours later I was in my new home. The traffic really really sucks in Cairo: does anyone in the developing world use a blinker?

My First Night

I arrived to the 'compound' around 1900 with hopes of watching the Giants vs. Green Bay game, but I was out of luck because I did not have a satellite dish for AFN and nor internet. So I decided to unpack (yes Liz, I unpacked and put things away properly...there was nothing else to do, so I guess boredom is my motivation for doing chores). After unpacking, I went to bed in a big empty room, wondering how I am going to sleep alone for the next 15 months.

My Place

For the last 10 years I have been living in apartments in the 600-800 sq feet range. So when I arrived to my 4 bedroom and 3 bath, 1800 sq feet Cairo apartment, I was overwhelmed. I have been here a month and I still live in two rooms and rarely go into the guest bedrooms. I am sure when my HHE arrives I will start to use more of the space (i.e. an office/bike repair shop and a gym...I am also thinking about building a bar and getting a pool table, since my living room is so fracking big). All in all, the place is nice and I am adjusting slowly.

My First Week and the Late Night Call No One in the FS Wants to Get

My first week was uneventful -- I went to the office, started the check-in process, and got settled into an actual office. Woo-hoo no more cubical!

The only sad part of my first week was the unexpected passing my dear Thea. It was about 0230 in the morning on a Saturday (a Friday night state side) and I got a call from Liz saying that Thea D died. My first reaction was "what?" Liz repeated the comment and my next reaction was what..."what are you talking about?" and then it sunk in. A woman that I had loved for 32 years just died and there was nothing I could do.

This, however, was not my first experience with late night news. About a month into my tour in Kabul my Uncle D died unexpectedly. I just sat there at my computer, reading the note from my mother and tearing up because I knew there was nothing I could do. There was no one I could grieve with, there was no one I could hold or hug. This time was no different. There was nothing, I had nothing...just my memories, my loneliness, and the pains of loss. It was/is hard facing loss alone...a song, a picture, a smell, or a simple memory can set off a whirlwind of emotion. I would sit looking around for comfort only to find no one...even now I am looking for comfort, but all I have are the lonely clicks of the keys on my laptop.

The life in the FS often seems like a great adventure, but the reality is that you have left behind everyone you love, and are truly at the mercy of fate and your memories.

Integration and Parties

I am a very outgoing person, so my event calendar has been busy (except this weekend...I was sick, I had workmen coming to fix my AFN, which they could not fix, and had my UAB delivered). Everyone is very surprised to see me at various parties with people who have been at post for several months or years or did not work with the USG. There was even one night I blindly followed a new friend through the mad streets of Cairo, cerca de la manifestación, a las 0230 in the search for a cab. I am integrating well...

The Superbowl

I will finish off this post with my Superbowl Monday. In many Middle Eastern countries the work week is Sunday to Thursday. Time difference between Cairo and the East Coast is 7 hours. As such, Superbowl Sunday in Cairo was actually Monday morning at 0130. I took a nap before the game in preparation for the event. My alarm was set for 1230 so I could be out the door at 0100. I woke up, shook off the dust of sleep, and put my Chicago Bears T-Shirt on in protest. I got to the Maadi House (i.e. American Club) a few minutes before kickoff. My first priority was beer and chicken wings, because a Superbowl is not complete without these two staples.

Now, the best part of watching the Superbowl on AFN in a foreign country are the commercials. Not because they are awesome, but because they are produced by the military and are really, really terrible. But they make for some really good jokes. In general, AFN commercial teach five basic lessons: depression is the silent killer, don't abuse your spouse physically or mentally, don't sexually harass others (especially colleagues in chevrons), don't mix your ammo, and if you need to take a vacation the Eidelweiss resort is the answer. This year's commercials did not disappoint and the crowd in the bar had a gay ole time adding our own commentary. After a few hours and several beers and plates of wings (Liz editorial comment: AND A BIG FAT WIN FOR THE GIANTS!) later the game was over. It was 0500 and I had to be on the shuttle for the office at 0700.

Blurry eyed and sleepy I rolled into the office.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

And he's off

After a lazy morning in bed, packing the last of Nick's clothes and eating one last Jimmy John's sandwich, we headed to the airport. Some members of the Kabul Krew gave us a lift and provided the libations we're holding in the picture below. We checked in his 107 lb bag (repacked so as not to exceed the airline's 99 lb limit, but paying $400 in excess baggage fees!) and said our goodbyes.

And then he was off. And now we're counting down 15 months until I joined him in Cairo.

I'm trying very hard not to be too sad because this separation was a voluntary choice. I chose to go to graduate school knowing full well that it meant spending time apart from Nick. He supported my decision knowing full well it meant going to Cairo without me. We haven't been forced into this separation, like we would if Nick was in the military, or like when he had to leave for Kabul before we knew whether or not I would be able to join him. The government hasn't forced this separation upon us.

But this reasoning doesn't help fill the space in my life he's left behind.

Safe travels Nick. Be safe, be healthy, be well. And know that I will never be able to thank you enough for letting me live out my dream.

Friday, January 13, 2012

One Day More

Packout went fast. Really fast. Suspiciously fast. I am concerned.

The rest of the week has gone fast. Way too fast. Fun times included finishing season 4 of True Blood, lunch at Fogo de Chao, and a super fun going away party, complete with karaoke. I had fun.

Nick leaves for Cairo tomorrow. I have no more chores or tasks to distract myself with. I am sad.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Out with the old, in with the new, and on to the next post

I apologize for the long silence. I wasn't kidding when I said I didn't really know what to do with this blog while Nick and I were both stateside. But that's all changing very soon, so I figured this was as good a time as any to get the blog going again. Plus I have to post my traditional New Year's questionnaire (click here if you want to review my 2009 and 2010 responses).

But first, a quick summary of all that's happened over the past few months:

  • It was a sprint to the finish, but I completed my first semester of grad school at NYU with a 4.0 GPA.
  • I landed an internship for the spring semester with the Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), working in their institutional giving department.
  • Nick worked his ass off and passed Spanish on his first try!
  • Our packout for Cairo is scheduled for January 9. Nick departs for post on January 14.

We're in the middle of packout hell right now, spending money like there's no tomorrow and sorting through all of our belongings trying to determine what we're taking to Cairo, what we're putting in storage, and what we're getting rid of. It's a little easier than when we packed for Kabul, because we don't have to worry about not having enough space for whatever we're shipping overseas. Our apartment in Cairo has 4 bedrooms and 3 full baths. That's 2 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms more than we've ever had! Really we only own a 1 bedroom apartment's worth of furniture, hence why space isn't a concern. We decided to take advantage of the extra space by turning one room into a gym/ we bought a treadmill, elliptical and weights. But honestly, the thought of having so much space is a little overwhelming, especially since Nick will be living there alone for the first 15 months. However, having so much space means lots of room for visitor. So friends and family, start planning your vacations now. You've got until January 2016 to take advantage of our hospitality and proximity to the Pyramids!

After packout comes the farewell party, the last night together, and then the final goodbyes on January 14. And then I'll be sad for a really long time; until Summer 2013 2015 exactly, by which point I will hopefully have graduated from NYU and be on my way to reunite with Nick in Cairo.

But more on that later. Or not, depending on how sad I am.

Anyway, as promised,here are my reflections on the year that was and my hopes for the year to come.

1. What did you do in 2009 that you’d never done before?

Visited Hong Kong and Australia, went on a boondoggle to Panjshir, moved to New York City, pet (and ate!) kangaroo, watched horse racing, went to a Black Eyed Peas concert, learned how to use a squat toilet

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Let's go through them one by one, shall we? My resolutions for 2011 were:

  • Figure out a long term career plan, even if it means going back to school – I’m still working on the career plan bit, but I did start the process by going back to school
  • Run more local races, at least one half-marathon; try to run the 2011 Budapest Marathon – Well, the Budapest Marathon plan went out the door when Nick lost his assignment there. I did fulfill the Sisters M tradition of running a Thanksgiving race, and Nick joined us!
  • Trek to Everest Base Camp – Nope. We scratched that trip in favor of Australia. I think it was a good swap.
  • Do at least one good deed each week -- Maybe?
  • Try a new hairstyle and/or hair color – nope, although I’m still toying with going darker.
  • Spend at least 2 hours per week reading – Yes, grad school requires more than 2 hours of reading each week. Although when I wrote this resolution, academic texts weren’t really the type of books to which I was referring
  • Get another piercing – Sigh, no. Still want to though. Come on Sister J!
  • Get plans in place for a kickass 40th wedding anniversary gift/celebration for my parents – Ugh. No. I suck.
  • Help my mom organize at least one charity drive for Afghanistan -- Nope
  • Write in this blog more often to keep a record of our transition from Kabul to Budapest – Well, I think I did an ok job recording our departure from Kabul. I’ll try to write more now that Nick’s departure for Egypt is imminent.

Ugh, not a great track record there.

Resolutions for 2012:

  • Stop chewing the inside of my cheek
  • Run a half marathon
  • Visit one NYC museum per month
  • Get another piercing and do something different with my hair
  • Write in the blog more often, and get Nick to write from Cairo
  • Plan something awesome for my parents' 40th wedding anniversary
  • Read at least one non-school book each month

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

Yep. We’ve got two new members of Family X. And lots of friends and colleagues had babies, and even more are currently expecting.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My mom’s cousin.

5. What countries did you visit?
UAE, Afghanistan, Hong Kong and Australia

6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
Lots of nights at the theater. I'm already staring to make that happen.

7. What dates from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

  • March 17: Nick and I and a few others threw a legendary Red Tent party, and I got accepted to NYU
  • May 6: Our first nephew joined Family X -- Evan James
  • June 11: We left Afghanistan
  • June 12: We arrived in DC
  • July 6: Nick started Spanish training
  • September 1: I moved to New York City
  • October 11: Nick and I celebrated 3 years of legally wedded bliss
  • November 10: Our second niece joined the family – Lily Demetra
  • November 24: ran the Troy Turkey Trot with Nick and Sister J
  • December 16: Nick passed Spanish, and I finished my first semester at NYU

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting accepted to NYU. Departing Kabul with my sanity relatively intact. For Nick it was passing Spanish.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Not being able to forgive and let go of hurt feelings. Allowing those feelings to fester and grow (same as last year. This will be a lifelong challenge for me.) Not being patient with my family when they came to visit us in DC after we returned from Kabul. Panicking unnecessarily over my management final.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
My knee went out while I was working out and now it makes crunchy noises when I squat or do bicycle crunches. But it’s not painful. Otherwise Nick and I have been surprisingly healthy this year.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
The whole of our trips to Hong Kong and Australia. Our fancy-pants digital SLR camera. Nick’s new wardrobe after he lost about 50 lbs. Our 14 Afghan carpets. The Insanity workout series. New bikes. Enrolling at NYU.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Nick's. He’s been so supportive of my decision to go to NYU, even as I wallow in guilt for being an absent wife and spending all of our hard earned money. I can’t believe how much we’ve grown as a couple, especially over the last few years. Kabul was hard, but I really think our marriage is better now than before we went.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
I know its cliché, but Kim Kardashian and Sinead O’Connor.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Hong Kong, Australia, Afghan carpets, Spanish tutors, NYU tuition, NYC rent

15. What did you get really excited about?
Legal gay marriage in NY state! Our trips to Hong Kong and Australia. My trip to Panjshir. Departing Kabul and being back in the US of A. Starting grad school. Weekends with Nick, especially when he came to NYC. My new internship with MTC. Nick passing Spanish.

16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
Anything that was on regular rotation at our Kabul dance parties: Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Kei$ha, etc.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

  • happier or sadder? A little of both. I’m happier being in grad school than being in Kabul, but I miss Nick. This time last year we had been together nearly non-stop for more than a year, and would continue to spend nearly all of our time together until I left for NYC in September. We’d settled into a pretty good routine last semester, but now that his departure for Cairo is imminent the separation anxiety is rising again.
  • thinner or fatter? I was thinner right up until the end of the year. I blew it over the holidays. Nick hit his lowest weight just before the holidays, but he too blew it over Christmas. We’re both getting back on track though.
  • richer or poorer? We were richer, until I started grad school. NYU is freaking expensive as hell!

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
More thought and concern for the needs/hopes/concerns/lives/feelings of others. More time in the company of friends and family.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Less complaining. Less navel gazing. Less watching TV. Less time sitting on the Bolt Bus. Less time working on my management final.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
With the newly expanded Family X in Chicago.

21. Did you fall in love in 2011?

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Our must-watch shows are: How I Met Your Mother, Modern Family, True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Dexter, Vampire Diaries. I’m also into Glee, Grimm, and Up All Night. I’d like to start watching Homeland.

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?
Kim Kardashian

24. What was the best book you read?
I quite enjoyed The Family Fang, The Hunger Games, Bossypants, Just Kids, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and Free for All. It was fun to read In a Sunburned Country before we went to Australia and then experience some of what Bill Bryson wrote about for myself.

25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Mumford & Sons, although Nick’s been a fan since Spring 2010.

26. What did you want and get?
Nick getting healthy. Kickass vacations. A relatively easy return to the US. A great 2-bedroom apartment in Logan Circle for a 6-month lease with a sliding rent to maximize our per diem. Acceptance into NYU. A sweet apartment in the East Village. Nick’s first bid choice (after we lost Budapest).

27. What did you want and not get?
A transporter so I can go visit Nick in Cairo whenever I want

28. What was your favorite film of this year?
I really can’t remember all the movies I saw this year, let alone my favorite one. I can say that did not enjoy “Super 8”. Nick and I saw it right after we got back to US and it was just way too intense for us at that time.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 31, and I have absolutely no idea how we celebrated. I don't have any pictures, so I'm guessing it wasn't anything flashy.

30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
Having Nick with me in NYC.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Minimalist…ie, how few clothes can I own and still put together a reasonable number of different outfits?

32. What kept you sane?
Nick. Friends. Family. Working out. Megavideo. Knowing that we were in the final stretch of our time in Kabul.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Darren Criss

34. What political issue stirred you the most?
Afghanistan. The Arab Spring and the ongoing unrest in Egypt.

35. Who did you miss?
Everyone. My parents. My sister. My family. My friends. Caela Beagle. Nick.

36. Who was the best new person you met?
Friends in Kabul. My new niece and nephew.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011.
When writing papers or reading for class, my eyes can hold out a lot longer when I blow up my computer monitor resolution to 130% -- in other words, I am getting old.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
This song doesn't really sum up my year, but it never fails to make me want to jump up and dance, and singing these lyrics at the top of my lungs never fails to be cathartic:

Pink: "Raise Your Glass"
So if you're too school for cool
And you're treated like a fool
You can choose to let it go
We can always, we can always party on our own

So raise your glass if you are wrong in all the right ways
All my underdogs
We will never be, never be anything but loud, and nitty gritty
Dirty little freaks
Won't you come on and come on and raise your glass,
Just come on and come on and raise your glass