Saturday, July 04, 2015

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

An airline friend of mine told me that when pilots realize they're losing control of the situation or are starting to panic, they're taught to focus on three things:  first, figure out how to keep the plane in the air, making sure to take in the aircraft as a whole and not fixate on any one issue; next, assess where you are and which direction you're headed; and lastly, tell air traffic control what's happening and ask for instruction.  Those three things in that order.  Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.

Trying to figure out how to structure a new office in a new place, I find that this directive is a helpful guide -- on occasion I'm actively conscious of us moving from one stage to another and back again.  I just hope air traffic control is patient as we figure out what all the various lights and switches and levers mean.  I'm not certain that our SCape masks double as flotation devices.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Own Statement

This has been a whirlwind of a year.  Between rushing to beat the other students to the school kitchen on 'pizza days', navigating Omani traffic circles, and finding time to undertake Post's weekly radio checks in the midst of a busy beach-side study schedule, I've maintained a focus on Department goals and advancing U.S. interests.

This rating season, I'm particularly proud of my significant contributions to pronunciation of the letter ع.  This has allowed increased communication on globalization, recycling, and opposition movements within 1920s Arab theater schools.  Just the other day, an Omani contact asked me if I had strong opinions on shisha flavors.  "Yes," I told him with confidence.  "I prefer 'grape with mint'."  Such important intercultural exchange would not have been possible were it not for my direct and continued efforts with this letter.

This rating period has also provided opportunities to hone my problem solving skills.  Upon arriving at school one day to find the classrooms unsuitably chilly, I quickly set about analyzing the situation.  After conferring with colleagues, we soon identified the problem:  improper A/C settings.  At my suggestion, we implemented a group system of monitoring and surreptitiously adjusting the A/C during class breaks.  The result?  A better learning environment, increased camaraderie, and potentially tens of thousands in savings to the Omani government through a reduced burden on their energy subsidy program.  We expect these newly freed resources to be channeled into shared U.S.-Omani interests of counterterrorism, protection of international waterways, and frankincense production.

Lastly, I've taken full advantage of provided opportunities to increase my substantive knowledge.  Not only do I now know three different Arabic words for 'goat', I can also identify local goats by origin and ascertain whether they are of the meaty or merely decorative variety.  My studied knowledge of the local coffee shop menu proved invaluable when told the cafe had run out of caramel -- I was able to instantaneously switch my order to a chai latte, thus salvaging an intense study session that might not have taken place without sugar and caffeine.  And during Secretary Kerry's visit to Muscat, I was able to identify from the press pictures exactly which area of Souq Mutrah he had traversed, using this as a starting point to further discussion on the P5+1 negotiations with Iran and their impact on Oman's tourism sector.  Omani counterparts reported this conversation was "interesting" and provided "new and unexpected information."

All and all, it's been a full year, and I've been pleased by the chance to serve my country in such a direct and fulfilling way.  I plan to seek out similar challenges in all my future postings, and thus concur with my rater's recommendation that I be promoted at the earliest available opportunity.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Security Clearance Time!

Please respond to the following in as much detail as possible.  Failure to completely and correctly answer all questions may result in administrative action against you, including but not limited to loss of your security clearance, jail time, and permanent placement on Post's Fourth of July planning committee.

1.  Do you have now, or have you ever had at any point within the past seven (7) years, a spouse, cohabitant, family member, friend, acquaintance, work colleague, or pet?  Yes ___  No ___

1a) If the answer to (1) is 'Yes', please provide the details of each, including full name, birthdate, citizenship(s), physical address, legal address, phone number(s), blood type, date of initial contact, extent and type of contact, frequency of contact, phase of moon during contact, and degree of separation from Kevin Bacon. [Note:  please limit your response to three pages.]

1b) If pet's name is "Spot," please describe the color of the spot(s), the number, and their approximate size(s).

2.  Did you include your Facebook friends in the above list?  Yes ___  No ___

2a) If the answer to (2) is 'No', we invite you to correct your mistake.

3.  Do you have now, or have you ever had at any point within the past seven (7) years, a personal email account?  Yes ___  No ___

3a) If the answer to (3) is 'Yes', do you now use, or have you ever used at any point within the past seven (7) years, your personal email account for work related purposes?  Yes ___  No ___  Kind of ___

3b) If the answer to (3a) is 'Kind of', are you a former Secretary of State?  Yes ___  No ___

3c) If the answer to (3b) is 'Yes', may we provide your name to the New York Times?  They keep calling.

4. Do you have now, or have you ever had at any point within the past seven (7) years, a personal passport?  Yes ___  No ___

4a) If the answer to (4) is 'Yes', please provide the document number, the date and place of issuance, the date of expiry, and a short essay describing your passport photo.  If the answer to (4) is 'No', please skip to question (6).

5.  Have you, at any point within the past seven (7) years, used your passport for personal travel outside of the United States?  [Note:  Dubai is outside of the United States.]  Yes ___  No ___

5a) If the answer to (5) is 'Yes', please list all trips taken, including the date of the trip, the purpose of the trip, your port of entry, where you stayed, what you ate, what you wore, and which embarrassing ex-boyfriend accompanied you.

5b) If you have photos of you and your embarrassing ex-boyfriend(s), please provide them to DS for posting on the Department's website.

6.  Please list all your places of physical residence within the past seven (7) years.  Include whether you enjoyed the place of residence, what time of year is best to visit, a recommended local hotel, and a list of nearby restaurants and tourist attractions.  [Note:  if one of your previous or current places of residence is 'Hawaii', please be informed that determination of your clearance eligibility may require extra time and multiple on site trips by a DS agent.]

7.  How would you describe 'Gary Busey'?  Creepy ___  Avuncular ___  I am Gary Busey ___

7a) If the answer to (7) is 'I am Gary Busey', please note your clearance is revoked.  This decision is not subject to appeal.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Treasure Island

Foreign language is as boundless as the sea and just as hard to drink.  Maybe there's some excitement in knowing that it's a bottomless project; no matter your level of mastery, there will always be something new to discover.*  The sheer breadth of material to cover, however, allows for unwise drift.  Every so often I'll look up and realize I'm rowing away from the group, following some interesting but little relevant current (with 'relevancy' here meaning 'on our final exam').  The others are indulgent, but I'm not supposed to wander too far from the flotilla.

This happened to me in second grade, too.  My school, in a fit of progressivism, allowed us free rein in choosing our studies.  I don't remember doing anything that year but reading contentedly in a corner, though probably we had meditation sessions and talked about our feelings.  My third grade teacher -- in a different district -- taught me with barely checked disdain how to sit in a desk, face the chalkboard, and head and number my papers.  There were workbooks; multiplication tables suddenly became of paramount importance.  It was bewildering.  Third grade bit hard.  (Mrs. Proudfoot, if you're out there, just know that I never liked you, either.)

It's the second grade-style planetary nature of language learning that motivates me, though whether this is due to my own lazy stubborness or to a more respectable curiosity-fueled sense of wonder, I'm unsure.  I would love these last few months to be a time of wonder, with language discovered in context, all of us peripatetically exploring the Arabic terrain instead of trudging down a path marked by grammar charts.  Too bad that "I don't know, Madam Ambassador; I saw a shiny thing the week we covered that topic" is probably not going to cut it when I get to post.

*I admit that I'm not finding this all that exciting just now

Sunday, November 09, 2014


"Hey, check it out -- a rainbow."

"Oh, yeah; nice.  How do you say 'rainbow' in Arabic?"

"I don't know.  It's never come up."

"Hey, check it out -- is that some 'sectarian violence'?  Or maybe a 'car bomb'?"

"Now you're talking."

Sunday, October 19, 2014

An Open Letter to the Random Omani Man Who Tried to Tempt Me into Illicit Relations by Showing Me Pictures of His Goats

Dear Random Omani Man:

First, I want to thank you for your interest.  It's not everyday that an aging Western spinster finds herself subject to the attention of a successful host country national such as yourself.  I was impressed not only by the quantity of your goats, but also by their obvious quality.  As you noted, the one with the white forelock was especially fine and -- I might add -- well photographed.  Clearly you know your way around an iPhone as well as a goat pen.  You must be considered quite the catch in your village, especially if -- as you indicated -- you also have a cozy seating area in which one might partake of shisha and "tea."

Perhaps it was absorption in the photos that led you to draw next to me so uncomfortably closely while showing them, which I could understand given the subject matter and our intimate open air setting.  However, try as I might, I really can't find any reason for you to have touched my knee -- twice -- to bring my attention to the various proffered pictures.  Did you think my blonde coloring meant I was some floozy who would welcome your bold advances?  Did you assume my wearing of three-quarter length sleeves indicated a certain looseness?  Well, not so, sir.  I'm afraid real life is not like in the movies where women fall all over a man at the mention of 'Long Haired Merino' and illegally procured liquor; I apologize if Hollywood led you astray.  If it is any comfort, you are not the first to have been taken in by such false narratives.

In sum, call me when you get a camel.  Until then, I ask you to keep your wandering hands off my knees.

All the best,


Saturday, October 04, 2014

لا مفر منه

It's not fair -- or true -- to say that they area in which they have us living isn't the 'real' Oman.  It's as much a part of Oman as any other place in the country; it just happens to be the part that most closely resembles Cincinnati, were Cincinnati to be populated solely with Tagalog, Urdu, and Hindi speakers.  I've been trying to use Arabic in my day-to-day interactions regardless, but I wonder if it isn't slightly insulting to the non-Omani workers here.  For sure it's confusing for those I encounter; usually I have to go through two or three Arabic phrases before they finally say, still in English, mouths slack with indulgent skepticism, "Oh, are you studying Arabic?"  How cute of me.  I miss going to مطعم الأسرة in Amman and having the men in the little paper caps and blue jackets mutter barely intelligible Arabic responses to my food orders that I always took to mean, "Oh, you again with your بندورة and your كبدة دجاج..."

I drove two hours yesterday to visit an eid market in the town of Nizwa.  I told my classmates, who were going on a hike to a wadi, that I wanted to see the goat auction, but truthfully I just wanted to get out of Ohio.  The region was, in ancient times, a renowned producer of copper, and you can see it in the crumbling sides of the mountains, which are streaked with dirty penny-like browns and greens.  Coming over a crest to a wadi, I had to focus on the curve ahead of me to keep from driving off the mountain and straight into the expanse of date palms, it was so arresting a view.

The market goats were tempting, but in the end I settled on purchasing a single pomegranate to justify the trip.  After trading Arabic eid greetings back and forth, the vendor (an Omani) asked, with sudden excitement if I was a Muslim.  "Uh, no," I explained shortly, then felt the need to apologize for my obvious religious shortcoming when my response left him clearly crestfallen.  "Oh, that's just the world," he said, brushing off my apology.  I suppose Ohio had come to him.