Monday, June 28, 2010

Pack-out Diaries, Chapter 2

Dear Pack-out Diary,

There is a common expression about the calm before the storm. Not in this house. It has been the storm before the storm before the calm before the storm. Or something like that...if it made any sense.

We spent the end of last week shopping at Target, PetSmart and TJ Max for some last minute items before the mover/packers come on Wednesday.

We also started sorting in preparation of the movers. Natalie created an ingenious scheme for labeling what items are going in Unpredictably Arriving Baggage (UAB), Hauling Hindered Extra (HHE) and storage by using different colored post-its. Though apparently it wasn't quite fail safe.

Speaking of Tiffy, we also took her to the vet one last time to get her rabies updated and to get some paperwork complete to bring her across the border. To make sure we have all of our t's dotted and i's crossed (umm...whatever), we are going to mail away for an FDA document to get signed. We should be in good shape without it, but the consequences would be too dire to come up short on paperwork. The vet told us about someone who had to have their dog shipped back to the vet, which they had to pay for, then pay to have the dog kenneled at the vet while the paperwork got done, and then pay to fly the dog to the new locale.

Tiffy also has an appointment to get one more haircut before we leave. We want it cut short, but not too short that she will be susceptible to sunburn. I hope the groomer knows what she's doing.

To maximize our car space, we invested in a hard-top roof-top cargo box. It locks into place by screws on the bottom of the inside of the box, so first we brought the box into our apartment to see how much we could fit into it. Then we took all of that stuff out to lock the box on top of the car rack. And then we loaded everything back in. The whole process was very tiring, especially for Natalie.

Getting near the end of getting our affairs in order, I cut my brother's plant down to size to take it over to some sort of retirement home in the neighborhood. They were appreciative of the donation, and I was equally glad - if not more so - to find a home for the plant as opposed to having to throw it out.

Only two more days until the real chaos begins, and then we get the week of respite before the long drive. It can't happen soon enough.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pack-out Diaries, Chapter 1

Dear Pack-out Diary,

Yesterday marked the unofficial beginning of our packing out of Crystal City. (I suppose the official start was some weeks ago when we scheduled this thing).

First, my obsessive-compulsive-lite wife wanted to record all of our possessions on video, which at first I was dreading as I thought she was going to want to go through everything item by item. "Here is a sock. Here is it's partner." Fortunately, we moved quickly scanning through stuff and got done in about 10 minutes or so.

Then a man from the moving company arrived with a magic calculator. We showed him around; told him what was going to Mexico, to storage and to garbage. After about a 20-minute tour, he pressed the "Go" button, whipped out a tiny printer, and produced a report claiming we own about 6,200 pounds of stuff, not counting our car and the stuff getting pitched. And considering much of our furniture is going into storage (bedroom furniture and our old, ugly couches), we will be shipping a very light load with us.

The man also declared we would need two days and he would send over three packers/movers.

Now we are down to our final six days of being with our things before it is taken from us, but we have a lot of shopping to get done to bolster that poundage a bit.

Which starts now...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Recalibrating Normal

The past week, well, the past few months, have been all sorts of different.

It seems as though we always are coming or going, or going and coming, hosting guests or parties, or being guests somewhere or the guests of honor at a party. Non-stop since Natalie passed her Spanish test.

I found myself doing some dishes in the midst of the pandemonium , warn out, and thinking to myself, "I can't wait until things finally settle down some and return to normal."

As soon as that thought crossed my mind, it quickly was replaced with the thought that my old sense of normal is probably obsolete. I need to recalibrate my sense of normal.

Between now and June 30, when the movers come, we will be busy preparing for the pack out as well as tying up a few loose ends.

After June 30, life definitely won't be normal because all of our things will be gone, and we'll be living out of suitcases in a hotel within view of our old apartment, which will be empty save for a few cleaning and painting supplies.

Then there is the six-day drive to Mexico.

And then a new life awaits south of the border in a land in which I won't be able to talk to the vast majority of the people and the temperature will be flirting with 120 degrees F. And that will be as close to my old version of normal as I will come for the next two years, so in order to avoid depression and the fear of the unknown, I'll be needing to rethink normal.

At least I am conscious of all of these changes. Poor Tiffy is about to go through all of these changes without any concept of what the hell is going on.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

FSO: Fantastic Send Off

We aren't leaving for another three weeks, but we had our official farewell-to-D.C. party last night.

We had food (check out that awesome was like we were getting married again), and a fridge full of Mexican beer. Though as I pointed out, this would have been a good time to stock up on American microbrews or something that will be less readily available than Corona and Dos Equis. At least there wasn't any Tecate.

And there was fraternizing with friends and family.

Of course there was dancing, or at least something resembling it.

And a bit of mischief as well.

And this morning, there were hangovers, but we don't need any images of that.

Even though this was our farewell party, as noted we still have a significant chunk of time before leaving. And most people at the party jumped on the opportunity to try and schedule something else with us before we go. We'll do what we can to visit with our friends as much as possible before leaving, but I fear there aren't enough hours remaining to be accommodating.

This marked our second-to-last-stop on the farewell tour, which will reach its conclusion while en route to Hermosillo when we have a blowout in Kentucky with my friends and family, and then finally the farewells, see-you-laters, etc. will be done.

Then we get to look forward to all of the return parties in two years between posts.

Friday, June 18, 2010

EFM: Essentially, a Fraction of a Man

Reality can be harsh. And in the past couple of days, I've learned that for reimbursement purposes, the government doesn't think much of me. I've always had my suspicions - hell, it is kind of the basis of this blog - but I found out exactly how the government views Extra Filing Management (EFM) - 75%.

Beginning with the black-hole period between June 30 (pack-out) and July 9 (exodus day), we will be existing in a state of purgatory sans a home. During this time, the government will be boarding us (thanks, taxpayers!) based on a rate in which Natalie counts as a whole person, and I count as 75% of a person.

And as an extra slap in the face, on July 1, the government will be reducing this per-diem reimbursement significantly. So June 30 will be a good day for us financially, but the remaining week or so will be a little bit tighter.

This is as good of a time as any other, I suppose, to point out the errors in the government's per diem philosophy. It is so faulty, in fact, that the government actually agrees with me.

When we check out of our hotel and start driving on July 9, the reimbursement/per diem policy changes.

In D.C., we get a lump sum per diem that covers food and shelter, which is determined on the rate that Natalie is a whole person and I'm only 75% of her. This is known as the predeparture subsistence expenses allowance, which is a piece of the greater foreign transfer allowance.

But as soon as we started heading in the direction of Hermosillo, we get switched to a second reimbursement rate, or as I like to call it, the one that actually makes sense. This is supposed to be covered in the Department of State Standardized Regulations (DSSR) section 925, but it isn't done very well, if at all. I'm not too sure what I'm reading in that section as the one thing worse than the government's use of acronyms is its use of jargon.

Instead of charging taxpayers for unknown lodging expenses, we have to keep hotel receipts and get reimbursed for actual expenditures. And then we also get a food per diem in which Natalie is a whole person and I get to eat 75% of what she eats. Though, when it comes to eating, Natalie is more like 25% of a person and I'm more in the range of 100% to 125%.

Fortunately, I'm older than 12, or I wouldn't count as a person. And, in the same vein, it is beneficial that we don't have any children. Anyone older than 12 after the first 75% of a person only counts as 50% of a person.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

EFM: Exodus Finalization in Motion

Apologies to anyone who was drawn into believing the below statement about VP Biden calling us. It was a joke playing on this gaffe.

A big thank you to all of the well wishers from yesterday's big announcement. Natalie was flattered. In fact, we received a phone call from no one less than our illustrious veep, Joe Biden, himself who wanted to tell Natalie that her achievement was "a big effin deal."

But now we have to start looking forward to the next steps. And they are many.

We need to prep for pack-out by taking our own inventory of our stuff and then mark with different colored post-its to indicate which shipment the items are going. We also need to do a dry run of packing our car before the movers get here so we know what we can take.

Tiffy is going back to the groomer to get her desert-style haircut - short enough to keep her relatively cool, but long enough to protect her skin from the sun. Though Tiffy and I have discussed this, and we've both determined that from about 11 a.m. to about 5 p.m., we are just going to lay naked and sprawled on the floor to keep cool.

I also need to get a copy of Tiffy's immunization records while we ourselves still need to get our shots to go to Mexico.

I'm still finalizing our driving route to post, and we are in the middle of the application process for a SENTRI pass. We know my disdain for acronyms, but a brief round of applause for this clever, cool-sounding name. Though I'm pretty certain the Border Patrol was hell bent on using SENTRI or SENTRY for this pass, and then just decided what the letters would stand for after the fact. They came up with Secure Electronic Network for Travelers' Rapid Inspection, so yeah, it is kind of a long way of describing a border SmartPass. Still, I'm a fan of this acronym, though I'm a little skeptical that such a program is a good idea. I'll need to experience a border crossing, but it seems that in matters of entering the United States, we should all just accept the fact that it is going to be a hassle in the name of national security.

One last note on the SENTRI pass. There is a 66-page instruction manual on how to fill out the application. Filling out the application took me about 30 minutes as there are several steps, but 66 pages of instructions seemed a bit excessive. After all, our state department friends already in Hermosillo were able to sum up what we can expect life to be like there for two years in a 66-page welcome manual.

We also need to make our final purchases before pack-out, which includes a new television. If I'm going to be watching people I don't understand on TV, I would at least like it to be on a large flat screen instead of my "3D" TV that I bought right before I started my freshmen year of college. I call it "3D" because the screen is rounded they even make TV sets like that anymore?

And yes, that is on my TV screen. I confess I've been drawn to watching these games, or at least have the TV set to these games while I go about my business. I've been watching/listening to the games on InVision (not Telemundo as I errantly said last time) because I love listening to the excitement by the announcers. I don't care who wins, just as long as there are many goals scored because listening to the announcers celebrate every goal like the team just won the championship makes me smile. Sadly, most games have been 0-0, 1-0 or 1-1, which makes for a lot of down time between goals.

We also need to load up on other items such as peanut butter, dog treats, cleaning supplies and toilet paper. I am fearful of a world in Mexico in which all they sell is single ply as we've been warned that the quality is not the same. That, and I've seen on TV that Americans use more pounds of toilet paper per person than any other country. Rationalizing, I figure that is because we use more double ply than the rest of the world, but that is merely speculation.

So we still have a lot on our plate. Yeah, the hard stuff is over Natalie, but we'd be kidding ourselves to think that everything else will fall into place on its own.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

FSO: Finished Spanish Orals

Excuse me while I boast a little.

Today, Natalie passed her Spanish exam completing a sweep of her foreign service tests. Ever since the first test during this process of getting into the foreign service all the way through to this final exam, she passed everything on her first try. In a related story, Jesus was struck down by lightning.

(Just kidding. About the stories being related, that is. Jesus really was struck down by lightning. And Natalie really did pass all of her tests on her first try. Just saying.)

A little while ago, I wondered aloud as to what the difference was between a 2+ and 3 in the Frustrated Scales, Inc. (FSI). Well, while I'm not sure what the difference is in assessing a 2+ compared to a 3, but I can tell you the difference in results - about four more weeks of Spanish.

During this whole process, I've met a lot of very intelligent people in the foreign service, and some trying to get in. And there are not very many who can lay claim to passing all of their tests on their first try.

I couldn't be happier for or more proud of her while she has made the foreign service testing her bitch.

So what did this all mean? Well, we have an official countdown now. We are leaving Crystal City on July 9, and on July 15, exactly one month from today, Natalie will have her first office job in about 10 months.

Now, I guess it is time I start learning Spanish, too. At least I know someone who meets the government standards as a proficient Spanish speaker.

Friday, June 11, 2010

FIFA Copa Mundial

A quick note about yesterday's post, and then I'll move onto a more pleasant topic - today's World Cup kick-off pitting Mexico against host-nation South Africa.

I fear I may have come across a little arrogant in the end. I don't expect to be America's border expert after having spent two years in Mexico. I mostly just wanted to say that I disagree with Arizona law, but I do agree that there is a problem - either actual or perceived - with what is going on at the border. And that this problem really sucks for me because I'm assuming will make my stay in Mexico a little less pleasant if not more dangerous.

OK. time. I have to admit I don't really understand, and the World Cup, while apparently a feel-good tournament for the rest of the world, tends to fall on deaf ears here in the United States. Nevertheless, in my attempt to start adapting to Mexican culture a bit, I'm going to make myself sit through an entire game.

To capture the excitement of the moment, I've decided to channel my inner Bill Simmons, of ESPN, and provide a streaming timeline of the game as I watch from home somewhat similar to what I did during the snowstorm. My early predictions, a lot of boredom but a high scoring game in which Mexico wins 2-0. And to make it a little more interesting, I've got a bottle of tequila in the fridge to celebrate every Mexican goal. Go Mexico!

10:05 a.m. EST - Kick-off, and the game is underway. Before the game got started, they sang national anthems of both countries, and it makes me sad that our national anthem sucks so much. Mexico and South Africa have much better anthems, and so does most every other country, at least of the ones I've heard.

Tiffy was very nervous for the start of the game.

10:07 a.m. - Mexico was on the attack early and had a shot at scoring a quick goal. By the way, it is worth mentioning that there is a constant buzz during the game provided by 80,000 fans blowing horns so that it sounds like a swarm of bees. You have to appreciate how much the rest of the world loves and how dedicated the fans are. At U.S. sporting events, about half the fans are interested in the game, and the other half interested in something else - usually beer. And if it is a baseball game, it is more like 20% or less are interested in the game.

10:12 a.m. - The first penalty was called and it just reminds me how little I understand about I played when I was young, and I even reffed little kids' games, but I have no idea what constitutes a penalty in professional

10:21 a.m. - Another penalty called - this one against Mexico resulting in a free kick against the Mexican goal (but not a penalty kick), which went high. The penalty was called as a result of a great flop by the South African player. players are some of the best actors.

10:22 a.m. - First yellow card given. Surprise, it was against a Mexican player named Juarez. Go figure.

10:32 a.m. - A yellow card against South Africa. Boredom is starting to set in. Even Tiffy isn't immuned to it. I need to take a bathroom break from all the coffee I used to start the day. Hope I don't miss anything

10:37 a.m. - Didn't miss anything, and I got back in time to see Mexico somehow miss a shot that should have made it 1-0. By the way, at this pace, the score will be 0-0.

10:42 a.m. - Some excitement as Mexico scored a goal on a corner kick, but the refs feared the game might get too exciting and called offsides. On the replay, and as the announcers pointed out, it was impossible to be offsides as South Africa had a defender standing on the baseline. So it would be impossible for a player to be behind him.

10:50 a.m. - One of the aspects I hate about is that the game clock says 45 minutes, which is supposed to be halftime. But no, only the officials are privy to the actual game time. This is one reason why this sport will never catch on here.

10:51 a.m. - Real halftime now. The announcers said Mexico should be 2-0 or 2-1, but I think they forgot this is a match. Two or three goals in one half just isn't in the cards.

There have been a few excitement moments in the game thus far, but then there will be 15 minutes of the ball at midfield that boring.

Living in the U.S.A. definitely has played a role in my malaise toward It is common to hear that because we have football, baseball and basketball, our population has other sports to follow instead of But I don't think that is true.

Americans have never been interested in Ever. We invented other sports to fill the void.

There is a famous story from World War I in which the Germans and British stopped fighting one Christmas Day and started playing instead. Kind of reminds me of the old expression, "I went to fight and a hockey game broke out." Make a few subsitutions, and you have this: "The world was at war, and a match broke out."

Anyway, in our history, we have a similar story, sort of. During the Civil War, when the northern troops had some down time, they also partook in sporting events. But they played the newly created game of baseball instead.

11:07 a.m. - Second half begins.

11:12 a.m. - Following up on a tip from the comments section, I checked the Wikipedia entry on offsides. And it appears she is right. Behind two defenders, not one. I've lost my faith in ESPN analysts. I think I need to switch to Telemundo for the rest of this game.

11:16 a.m. - Goala! South Africa!

11:17 a.m. - Scoring is such a rarity in that even the Mexican analsysts on Telemundo are going crazy shouting "Goala!" at least a dozen times. Sometimes holding it for a long time such as "Goooooaallllaaaa!" followed by quick repetition of "Goala! Goala! Goala!"

11:22 a.m. - I've should have been watching on Telemundo the whole time. I have no idea what they are saying, but they are so much more into than the ESPN announcers. Mexico just had another near miss, and the announcers were going crazy again.



11:50 a.m. - Almost forgot my celebration shot. The goal seems to have breathed new life into Mexico, which has come close to scoring again. I also need to tip my hat to the announcers for the ability to hold one note for so long while calling a goal!

11:53 a.m. - So I shouldn't have started watching until the second half. The last couple minutes in particular have been frantic with several close shots including a South African shot off the post they should have had.

11:54 a.m. - We are at 90 minutes, but the game continues because of silly onfield time.

11:55 a.m. - Game over. 1-1 tie. Mexico dodged a bullet, as a loss here would have likely been a death blow to their chances of advancing. All in all, it wasn't that bad, but I probably won't watch the entire 90 minutes of a game again. At least not during this World Cup.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

EFM: Escalating Friction with Mexico

Does not a week go by in which the American-Mexican border situation worsen?

Last week, I mentioned that I've taken more interest in world affairs as a result of coming acquainted with the foreign service and its diplomats. Naturally, my interest in Mexico is more intense, and there is no shortage of news on that front.

In the latest incident, a U.S. border patrol agent shot a Mexican teen. Any guesses as to where on the border this took place? If you took the safe guess, Juarez (can't pronounce Juarez without "War"), you'd be right.

Closer to our future, temporary home, Arizona is pissing Mexico off (as well as East Coast Democrats) with the law about needing to carry documents proving your American citizenship, which only can lead to the harassment of the Latino population - illegal or otherwise. By the way, you have to love the way the Arizona legislature dressed this one up, as it is officially called the "Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act."

Now I'm not going to pretend to have the answers. In all honesty, I get the arguments the Arizonans are making. There is a border problem, and that state is on the front line. It is easy for Americans far from the border to point at the state and its leaders and call them racists. Though in a bizarre twist, about a dozen states not along the border are introducing similar legislation. (Really Ohio? What, are you trying to keep the Canadians out? Or is this about keeping Kentuckians out? Despite what you might think, Kentucky is part of the Union, and we will continue to cross the river.)

My own opinions are that current situation is like the healthcare bill. I know something has to be done because the current situation can't continue this way, but I also think the passed solutions not only won't improve the situation, but in all likelihood, it will only serve to make things worse.

And with regards to American-Mexican relations, I have a profound interest in how this develops. As tensions between the U.S. Southwest and northern Mexico continue to spiral out of control, and seemingly become more strained every day, spending a couple of years there is not incredibly enticing.

But then there is this article claiming that the four safest cities in the United States are San Diego, El Paso, Phoenix and Austin. Apparently, our recession has made us less desirable to potential illegal immigrants, or so a U.S. Border Patrol spokesman said.

Of course, the Border Patrol has a vested interest in showing it is doing its job. Just as the legislators have a vested interest in claiming a crisis to get more federal funds and pass racist laws under the guise of protecting the local populace.

That article concludes with this quote from Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

"Border security has become the most overused, and least understood, concept in the struggle over what to do about our broken immigration system," he said. "While an election year may not be the best time, the United States finally needs an honest debate over what it means to secure the country's borders."

I certainly can agree with this, and I'm about to get an up-close look at the border as well as what it is like for those on the other side of it. Maybe in two years, I'll have the answer, which might be necessary because I'm fairly certain our government won't.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pack-out Privacy

Before this month is over, we will have our pack-out day. So naturally, I've been racking my brain about everything that could possibly happen.

During the process, for the uninitiated, contractors come and pack all of our things and take inventory of what is being packed in each box (sort of) and where the box is headed and in which shipment it is traveling.

Ever since friends, family and co-workers learned we were moving to Mexico, nary a week would go by without someone asking me if we had started packing yet. To which I would explain that taxpayers are footing the bill. I believe this has to do with keeping track who is at fault for something breaking during the move, and/or to make sure we aren't taking anything illegal with us. Just guesses, but they seem logical, and in the end, it doesn't really matter why.

Then everyone responds how great that is because packing is this worst part about moving.

True enough, but just as I'm not too keen about having a stranger wash my underwear, I've been growing a little more hesitant about the prospect of having strangers going through my things.

I guess I need to pose the question to those who've (is that a real contraction?) been through this before. Is there any level of privacy during pack-out? Can I pre-pack a box or two and mark it "miscellaneous" without movers checking it out? Or is everything we owned subject to scrutiny?

Monday, June 7, 2010

It's Sure To Be an Adventure

Over the weekend, our great farewell tour continued as we visited Natalie's friends and family in Canton, Ohio, (home of the NFL Hall of Fame and William McKinley).

This was our first mass farewell, and many of the people we visited with, we hadn't seen in nearly a year. As a result, we had a lot of explaining of what lies in store down the road.

After delivering our over-rehearsed, or over-practiced, schpeel, invariably, there were two responses, but they both had one thing in common - the word "adventure."

I thought I knew what adventure meant, but after getting two entirely different meanings of the word over the weekend, I decided I had better brush up on my vocab. So I turned to my trusted Webster.

ad ven ture (ad ven'cher) n. 1 a daring, hazardous undertaking

OK, that meaning definitely makes sense in context. With a look of concern bordering on despair, I've heard this expression several times, "Well, it will be an adventure."

This is the pre-dominant use of adventure when we are in Ohio or Kentucky. You can tell this is a lifestyle they don't comprehend and definitely do not desire. Some have mixed feelings as they think it is a great opportunity to see parts of the world, but the thought of living overseas for years at a time (and in our case, Mexico), is out of the question.

But go back and look at the definition. See it started with a number "1." That means we have a second entry:

2 an unusual, stirring, often romantic experience

Once again, I have definitely picked up on this sentiment from others. "Wow! I'm so jealous. That is going to be an awesome adventure."

While I appreciate the support, this response catches me more off guard than the first. And I think the key is the part of the definition that says "often romantic." I can't help but think they have romanticized our situation too much.

Yeah, they do ask about what Natalie will be doing, but I feel as though they think we are going to be worldwide tourists. Which is definitely not the case; well, at least not for Natalie. She will have a demanding and high stress job while working at the consulate, though for Natalie, there isn't much that doesn't fall into the category of "high stress."

And not to belabor the point, but Hermosillo is not exactly a tourism hot spot.

Like all things, the reality of our adventure falls somewhere in the middle. It definitely has characteristics of a "hazardous undertaking." There is no shortage of recent news articles and television reports proving it. And there is an element of "romanticism" as we set up shop in various countries and get to experience numerous cultures.

I'm just kind of curious what a response in this vein would sound like, because I haven't heard it, yet.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Culture Shock

I was planning on writing this entry today anyway, but I received a somewhat pleasant surprise to find in my inbox this morning a 66-page pdf file entitled Welcome to Hermosillo 2010.

Now, I'm sure Natalie is sitting on pins and needles that I might disclose something in that document that isn't meant to be shared, so I'm going to go ahead and disappoint everyone by promising to keep that document almost entirely sealed. Sorry, but there is just too much paranoia right now to take that route.

I was planning on just tipping my hat to the diplomats of yesteryear and how daunting new post assignments must have been to them.

Can't you just imagine being in the foreign service 100 years ago? "Hey Joe Diplomat, we are sending you to Peking in a month. Here is a copy of The Travels of Marco Polo. I hear the duck is great. Good luck."

Just about everyday since October when we learned we would be going to Hermosillo, I've been researching on the Internet what exactly is in store for me. I realize that this kind of information is only so good, but I have to imagine will cut into the culture shock a bit. That, and the fact that Hermosillo is practically a border town with more American culture present than many other posts.

So then I skimmed through the Hermosillo hand guide this morning for an hour or so, and I started getting a little cold feet. The move to Mexico has lacked teeth; it hasn't seemed like this was something we were actually going to do.

The pdf has ushered in some of that realization. The rest probably won't hit me until we are driving through Arizona.

Now this is the part where I'll share just a little of the info that I read today, though in truth, most of what I'm going to include is stuff we've probably all heard before, and this was merely confirmation. All the same, if Natalie and the State Department would kindly close out of this blog and go do something more productive, that would much appreciated.

First, the Mexican police really do suggest bribes in lieu of tickets. Similarly, don't part with your licenses, passports, etc. In fact, don't even drive with your passport in your car; rather, keep a copy.

While it is better not to drink local tap, Hermosillo is better than most of Mexico in that you can wash dishes with it. I've been practicing not drinking water when we go out to restaurants. "Would you like a glass of water, too?" "No thanks. I'm moving to Mexico. I'm trying to quit."

The heat is scary. The locals say Hermosillo has nine months of winter and three months of hell. But still, for those inclined to feel cold (read as, my wife), they suggest space heaters for winter nights.

Mexican schedules are intimidating. They start the day "early" though that makes sense because it is so hot. By the way, the guide considers starting the work day at 8 a.m. as early. When I did work, that is when my work day started, so I don't think of 8 a.m. as early. But then things get interesting. Morning runs til 1-2 p.m. followed by the biggest meal of the day. Dinner is at 9 p.m., which isn't that weird for the East Coast when we are eating out, but we usually eat our dinner at home around 6 p.m. Going out at night means you better be able to sleep in or be able to operate on less sleep because it will run into the early morning hours.

All not too bad, but as you start adding little differences here and there, and maybe a few larger ones like language, and culture shock is on the horizon. And a lot of heat.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

One Thing I Know (and a few thoughts)

Hand me a stone tablet; I have some information ready to be etched down.

On second thought, I've never used a chisel. The Internet will have to do.

We scheduled our pack-out day, and now I can lay claim to real knowledge as opposed to fool's knowledge. I know what day the movers are coming for our things.

Which, of course, could cause a problem. Because while we know when the contractors will bring the boxes, we don't know if Natalie will pass her Spanish exam on the first go around. We have a pretty good idea, but what we don't know.

It kind of makes me wonder who is writing the policies and guidelines of being a foreign service officer. I hope it is not the same people who are writing the policies and guidelines of foreign diplomacy.

By now, the world knows my disdain for the acronyms used during the moving process (I'm looking at you, UAB and HHE). Well, here is yet another aspect of moving that doesn't make any sense. Why do we need to schedule a pack-out day before we know when we are leaving (OK, we have a date, but it also is dependent on passing Spanish)? How does this make any sense?

I suppose "putting the cart before the horse" isn't considered a warning to proceed in logical order; rather, it is considered an instruction manual.

Anyway, I'm glad to have knocked out one practice run (at a friend's expense), so hopefully our turn will go smoothly...I think I just heard the collective foreign service community chuckle.

We do have the advantage of filling a car with the really, really important things, and we are in the process of adding a roof-top cargo container and rack on our compact sedan to compensate for the loss of our backseat for transporting Tiffy.

House Keeping Note:
When I first started this blog, I spent some time looking for other blogs to follow, and then added a few as they found me. In other words, I got lazy and content. While not necessarily one of my aims when I got started, I learned quickly that the foreign service has an extensive blogosphere, and it is a great way to learn from others and make contacts.

So I've added a lot of blogs to my follow list, and I figure that will continue to grow over the next few days. I'm mostly only adding and following other Entertaining, Functioning Manuscriptists (EFM-written blogs that get updated with some regularity...maybe an acronym was a bad idea there).

A special thanks to Life After Jerusalem for keeping such an extensive and well-organized list of bloggers. She provides a great tool for following other bloggers.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Downsides of a Shrinking World

FRASER, Col. - Less than a year ago, I thought Guatemala was an island country. I thought Lahore was in India. I had a rough idea of Haiti's whereabouts, though I didn't know it shared a land border with the D.R. I couldn't name a city in Chile.

Now I know Americans who are or who will be posted at these places where natural disasters and civil unrest have wreaked havoc.

I'm somewhat embarrassed to say that in the past, when something like an earthquake would wipe out the capital of an island nation or if a sinkhole swallowed an entire city block in an impoverished country, I would have looked at the photos and videos in brief amazement, and then proceeded to check out how my fantasy baseball team was doing without sparing any additional time dwelling on the catastrophe.

Now I look for articles and reports about what ground zero is like, to see if there is any news about any deaths or injuries to Americans and for a statement from the State Department.

Ignorance was bliss. Not knowing where these places were - let alone someone living there - made it easy to look away. I'm sure that natural and man-made disasters have always been occurring at a similar frequency as now, but now that I'm paying more attention, it seems like hardly a week passes without learning of something else terrible happening somewhere else in a place where I just learned of someone I know arriving for post. (You might have to read that sentence a couple of times, but trust me, it makes sense.)

Consequently, my fantasy baseball team is getting a little tender, love and care, but I'm slowly becoming more of a world citizen instead of mid-Atlantic American. The exposure to fascinating world cultures, cuisine and customs is a huge benefit, but becoming more aware of the world's hardships is more sobering everyday.