Tuesday, May 18, 2010

EFM: Essential Furnishing - Maps

In my brief experiences, I've reached the conclusion that the foreign service community is obsessed with maps. Maps are essential to the foreign service. So much so that even some blogs incorporate maps in their layout. My knowledge of world geography has never been so honed as it is now.

It started with the bid list. Just as the header of DiploLife's blog depicts (other than the child part anyway), in preparation for the bid list, I went out and bought a huge world map. We spent our first hours with the bid list plotting cities we'd never heard of before. Nouakchott is really a place? And it is a capital city? Hmmm...(And to further prove my growing knowledge of world geography, I spelled that city correctly on the first try!)

A funny sidebar, at least to me. Within days of mapping all of the potential places we could go and hanging it by our door, our refrigerator broke down so we had the apartment come up and fix it. I wish I could have seen the utility man's expression when he saw our map with labels marking many cities in the Middle East, Central America and Mexico. He probably thought we were some sort of government-sponsored anti-terrorism group keeping track of training cells or something.

Flag Day comes and goes, and the next thing we need is a map of Mexico. That hangs above our computer, and I'm getting pretty good at knowing where all of the major cities are. At the same time, Natalie also picked up a world map of all foreign service posts.

About the same time as getting our Mexico map, we got a TomTom, because, as we understand it, it is the only GPS brand that has Mexican maps included without having to pay about $1,000 to upload new ones.

This is by far is my most favorite map that I've come across. A few weeks ago, doing some banking took me to the Capitol South Metro stop, so I thought I'd spend some time at the Library of Congress. I spent some time in the Periodicals section hoping to read an 1844 copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer from one of their special collections, but I didn't get to enjoy that experience. So I thought I'd try my luck at the Maps section where I asked to see maps of Mexico and Texas from 1848, which are hard to come by because Texas wasn't a state yet.

In particular, I wanted to see maps of the American-Mexican War, and the Library assistant was able to provide me the actual battle maps drawn by the American generals. I was giddy in my nerdiness. But while I was most fascinated by the generals' maps, I found the lithographs, like that one done after the Battle of Monterrey, to be the most visually appealing. You probably can't tell from this photo of the map, but there are numbers and a key that tell you what the landmarks in the map are. I think I need to order copies of some of these lithographs from the Library, which is a service it provides.

With our packout day on the horizon, and our AAA membership approaching an end, my task for today is go to AAA to pick up maps of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, and Mexico, if they have any. Not just for the drive to post, but we figured if we feel the need to get out of Mexico for a long weekend or something, these will be the areas will be visiting.

Maps - learn to read them and understand them because they are your friends. Sure, they're simple and old and the Internet with its Map Quests and Google Map have a come a long way to replace maps, or at least digitlize them, but a good paper map is key. Besides, everyone in the foreign service is doing it.


  1. I love maps, too! And as someone who used to work at AAA, you should know that many countries have reciprocal membership with the US, so if your card is still valid for a short period when you arrive in Mexico, you should be able to stop at a Mexican AAA (whatever the equivalent is) and pick up whatever you need! I would check on reciprocity to be sure, though.

  2. Thanks for the compliment on my blog.

    I am also a map-addict. Maybe knowing where I am on a map makes me think I know where I am in life. ? Just a thought.

    I always prefer maps to listed directions (such as mapquest) too.

  3. Love the maps! What a very cool adventure at the Library of Congress, and thanks for the link!

  4. Once we crossed the border and registered our car, we bought a map of Mexico for $5. We love it!! My son is obsessed with maps too! It's a great skill to know where some of these strange cities are in the world.

  5. Nice post, I always enjoy reading your thoughts.
    Check out these cool map links: