Sunday, December 26, 2010

Half Empty

Having discovered that the Ambassador declared me a pessimist at a recent FAST* meeting, I've been trying not to brood on it. Because that would just prove his case, right? I mean, you don't think I'm a pessimist, do you, loving family?

"Um, Katie, did you see my birthday present for you?" Cue the presentation of David Rakoff's Half Empty. My eyes narrow. "Have you been talking to the Ambo?" Karyn thumbs through a few chapters. "You are kind of a pessimist -- but this book says that it's not so bad." I find this of little comfort.

I really don't like blindly upbeat people. I freely admit this. They tend to have a sort of ridiculous shininess about them that rubs me as insincere. They're the ones I picture with secret cutting addictions, drinking airplane cabin handouts of gin in a dark closet, desperate to hide their bulimia from their unsuspecting cats. I, on the other hand, feel I'm practical about life: a realist. Things aren't always rosy, but you deal with them and work to make them better. Maybe I would be more upbeat if I had a coke habit to cover up or something.

It is suddenly very important that my youngest sister appreciate this world view.

"Pessimism is only bad if you let it get the better of you, yeah? I mean, it's a planning tool. You have to constantly work to keep the worst case scenario from happening; things don't naturally turn out well." Optimism is merely reflective of a lack of imagination -- or an abdication of responsibility. Or brain trauma. One of those three.

She purses her lips in a funny Karyn way and nods. "I'll give you the book just as soon as I'm done with it."



*'First And Second Tour' officers. Every time you think you've escaped the grip of junior-hood ("Look, I'm tenured now!"), State broadens the definition.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Pause

I have often stopped myself from writing things on my blog because I was uncertain of the potential impact. That's been true from the beginning of my foreign service career, but more true since I've been stationed here. It's one thing to talk about funny visa stories; how can I talk about human rights issues in my host country? How can I talk about Jordanian politics? Or our policy approach to the region? It's frustrating, because they are things I WANT people to discuss -- things people SHOULD discuss. I tell myself that I'm protecting other people by being quiet. In truthful moments, I worry that I am mainly just protecting myself.

With all that in mind, it's been hard to watch the wikileaks story. On the surface of it, what officer hasn't wanted to run screaming down a hallway with a cable in hand demanding that people consider an issue she or he thinks is being overlooked or lightly treated? I'm sure there are no small number of people secretly wishing that their cables DO get a mention -- that finally that particular issue they had championed and worked on and cried over would be exposed and people would take action. It's a hopeful viewpoint -- or maybe a frustrated viewpoint. We want our work to bring about change. Not later, not gradually, not patiently, but now.

But the rest of the world is not America or Australia or Britain or Canada, or any other country whose inhabitants are calling out about wikileaks having a right to information. Civil liberties, legal protections, the right to defend yourself and your actions: these don't exist in so many places. So many places that you wouldn't guess. So many places that you might take a nice vacation to and look around and think "this seems like a pleasant enough country" and never give another thought to what's beneath the surface. Places where, to mention certain things, you have to do it in private. Where information is not a tool, but rather a weapon to be turned against people.

It is heart-wrenching to hear wikileaks demand to know who they have put in danger, and it's astounding to me that they can't get past the thrill of 'embarrassing' the United States to see that what they are doing is dangerous -- and that they will never hear about the people who are punished for it. The person who is whisked away in the night for "questioning" won't be mentioned online or in the papers... and now, might not even be mentioned in cables meant to inform our government and help stop abuses. Are all the Western observers so gleeful about the U.S. being compromised going to take action to fix the issues wikileaks exposes? Are they even in a position to do so? No. No, they are not. Diplomats are. Or we were. Maybe less so, now.

I feel sick every time I see someone call wikileaks a "whistle-blowing" website. This is not whistle-blowing. It's just voyeurism. At best, I thought it might lead to the sort of informed discussion on the issues that cable writers so fervently dream of inspiring. It seems that people just aren't interested. More fun to poke at the American straw man you've constructed than to to think critically about the ramification of things.

And for the record, wikileaks isn't embarrassing the United States. None of us are embarrassed about doing our job.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Friday, November 19, 2010

Sacrilicious

"Think they'll let us take that into Jordan?"

"Why wouldn't they?"

"It's alcohol."

"They have alcohol in Jordan."

We watched silently as the duty free attendant wrapped the bottle in foam netting and slid it deftly into a bag. As she held out the bag by the handle, an imprinted ad for pork sausages was clearly visible on its side. Full color, of course.

"We can always claim diplomatic immunity."

"Yeah, I'll just let you carry that."

Friday, November 12, 2010

كان زمان

"Hey, where've you been?" This in Arabic from behind the counter to my left. I glance up from my notebook to see Rami, my favorite coffeeshop guy.

"Wow, how are you? How are things?" It's been months since I've seen Rami. He never finished his final high school exam ("why bother? I had no money for college."), but instead started working for Starbucks, eventually moving over to a competing chain's store close to the Embassy. He has the singular skill of speaking in Arabic that I can almost completely understand.

"Good, but I never see you. You busy?"

"Busy with the elections. I wrote updates on them."

"For a newspaper?"

"No, for my government." This is a little more blunt than I'd care to be, but that's what happens when your language skill level is somewhere between 'bludgeoning the listener with an anvil' and 'bludgeoning the listener with a sledgehammer'. Rami doesn't seem to mind. I explain to him that I'm moving to Pakistan and then Jerusalem.

"That's great that you can move around and experience a lot of different cultures." His dream, he once told me, is to open his own coffee shop and thus bring the different cultures to him.

"Sure," I accepted the americano he set in front of me. "That's what I'm doing here with you."

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Round up

Some highlights from the past few months:

- 'control officer' is a highly misleading term. You've got about as much control over what's happening during a high level visit as a bullrider does over the beast roiling beneath him. A better term might be 'responsible when things go wrong officer'.

- the full power of a security state becomes clear when ten police officers from three different departments all converge on your building in response to an attempted breakin across the hall. The investigative intent behind some of the security state's questions remains perhaps less clear. ("So, your apartment is in your husband's name?" "No, I live alone." "So, where is your husband?" "I'm not married." "So, your husband: is he coming back soon?")

- a lot can be removed from a car without preventing its basic operation. A whole lot.

- In Morrocco, they have Jews and Muslims, but no Christians. In Jordan, they have Christians and Muslims, but no Jews. Discuss.

- The more you're told 'Don't worry about it', the greater cause there is for alarm.

- Knowing that you'll be 36 at job's end if you sign up for one post versus being 37 at job's end if you sign up for a different post makes the first post INFINITELY more attractive.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

This Palm Frond has Quite the Incentive Package

The path to القُدس is not a straight one; the closest thing I've got to a John the Baptist is my CDO, and I'm not sure that she's into locusts and camel hair. So what to do?

Enter Pakistan.

Pakistan has been on my list for a while -- I think since hearing an NPR special on Karachi a couple of years back -- though (true statement) I never intended it as a stepping stone to anywhere specific. I actually bid on it months before looking for a job across the river ever occurred to me. Identity issues, nationalism... Sometimes a place just catches your fancy. Helpful also in being a place I can go. At least theoretically. My handshake lets me 'link' and plan, but ultimately means nothing without an accompanying thumbs up from MED. A panel opportunity has already come and gone once. I'm told there will be others.

Castles built on a promised letter from a neurologist I've spoken with for all of twenty total minutes, to be read by people who've never met me. This is science.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Holy of Holies

Jerusalem is the first place I've been in a long time -- a long time -- that made me feel truly uncomfortable: out of my element, exposed, trespassing. At best a temporary guest, politely tolerated (look, we've brought out the good china; watch you don't use the wrong fork). The conflicts here are not mine, the passion is not mine, the rapture and sense of belonging don't grip me, not even in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with the lines of tourists and the prostrating nuns and the strange lighting that made me turn my eyes, bewildered, toward my host (not Host of Hosts) asking for some clue as to what I should be feeling in that sickly, banal atmosphere. Religion here grows like profane barnacles on the sacred.

But what do I know. I'm just some vaguely Protestant girl who's spent the majority of the past ten years bowing to brass mirrors.

Sabbath dinner is with friends of a friend: an orthodox Jewish family. I feel far too bright and far too blonde. The women's faces are animated and friendly in sharp contrast with their funereal dress. I'm not sure my friend warned them that I was not of their tribe, but they are smiling and pleasant as they make room at the table. It's a curiously generous though closed gesture, like being allowed on stage yet not taking part in the performance.

The wife passes around wine in little silver cups. Lifting my cup with two fingers and sliding a third beneath the bottom to tilt it fully back, something about the muscle movement and the taste recalls a childhood memory of taking communion in Texas: feeling very grown up but somehow not quite big enough for the pew and trying not to spill a little plastic cup of grape juice lifted off of a silver tray. The recollection is so overwhelming that I involuntarily jerk the cup back from my mouth and stare at it dumbly. The woman next to me sees me start and misunderstands the reason. "I know it tastes like grape juice, but it's wine," she assures me. I'm too stunned by the memory to explain.

At work on Monday I hear about the attack on the flotilla. People are marching in Amman in protest, and the Embassy asks us to keep a low profile. Walking home, I try to be vigilant, but my mind is engaged in a peripatetic ramble of its own and gets distracted by the pastoral scene of a flock of sheep grazing in an open field by the road. I slow my stride to watch their black muzzles tear at the grass, only just noticing the shepherd with his switch in time to say 'Good Evening' before we pass one another. In this same field just last week they were shearing the sheep. Moving in the opposite direction, I had stopped on the way to work to watch them clip the fleece and bag the raw wool. The sure snip-snip sound of the shears was strangely gentle and calming in the morning. Each sheep had lunged up drunkenly from the ground the moment its turn was over, scurrying naked and trembling back to its flock.

Maybe that sense of exposure is what I've been missing.

Monday, March 29, 2010

"a most prominent tourist destination in the world"

When Paul was on the road to Damascus*, I'm not sure he was in a hired Chrysler listening to Taylor Swift. If so, he might well have wished for deafness as well as blindness somewhere a bit north of Mufraq. I'm just speculating here, though; the Bible isn't clear on this point. It is clear that, like me, he needed assistance entering the city. Fair enough. Syria scores better than Jordan on some indices of religious freedom, but it's never been big into proselytizing. Or in my case, big into US government employees.

At the border I went self consciously to the 'foreigners' window instead of the 'diplomats' one. A bit of a moot point as both were manned by the same person, a short-ish guy I judged to be in his early twenties. He dutifully stepped a foot over and nodded to me through the wavy glass. His thick, olive-yellow uniform looked itchy.

"Hello." I spoke in Arabic, bending down a bit so my voice would carry through the window's pass back tray. We both smiled. 'See,' I thought. 'All it takes is a little kindness; Syrian-American relations are improving already.' All such thought was banished, however, by the nearly audible blanch of his face when he saw what I was offering: two thin little eagle-embossed books. "Uh... I have two passports." Lamely stating the obvious is a particular gift of mine. I might as well have said 'I have two infectious diseases' by the way he picked them up. I pressed on: "One is for work, and one is for tourism. I work in Jordan, but I'm going to Syria for tourism. So my Jordanian stamps are in that one" -- pointing to the passport I had carefully not referred to as 'diplomatic' -- "and my Syrian visa is in that one" -- pointing to the blue passport. Then I turned my attention to completing the entry application as if this were the most normal thing in the world. Because in most parts of the world, it is.

Peeking up again, I watched the corners of his mouth turn farther and farther down as he leafed through one passport and then the other. He called over a supervisor, and then another... Eventually five bodies were collected around my travel documents. Having completed my application, I stood quietly at the window trying to look guileless and inoffensive. The bodies peeled off and the original attendant returned, automatically taking the application form I passed to him with a faked air of optimism. He instructed me to sit; I sat. I sat and read Steppenwolf, to be precise. Hesse is pretty far off ideologically from Kaiser Wilhelm, but maybe the Syrians still connect Germany with Saladin worship.

After twenty or thirty minutes, he motioned me back to the window. "We've called the Foreign Ministry; you need a stamp from Jordan in this passport." He cleared his throat and held up... the blue one.

Sifting through a few possible reactions, I decided on 'somewhat-pious-maiden-in-distress'. "Oh," placing both hands on the counter, I leaned forward earnestly and opened my eyes wider. Guileless, guileless... "But that's illegal!" If nothing else, I was pleased my Arabic was holding up. "Illegal?" he repeated, appearing genuinely pained. "Yes," a lot of grave nodding on my part. "According to the law, all stamps from Jordan go in my work passport, because I work there. I don't think it's possible to have a Jordanian stamp in my tourist passport."

He shifted back and forth on his feet, uncomfortable. Having worked a window, I knew precisely how he was feeling; I also knew he was too junior to make a decision himself. "I'm sorry; you'll have to go back to the border. The Foreign Ministry said so. It's just five minutes." I sighed, semi-theatrically -- but what can you do.

My Jordanian driver took the news well at first, using the opportunity to double up on cigarette purchasing stops at the border's duty free shop. Yet at each border check point -- and there are many -- he conveyed my story with a steadily increasing tone of personal affront. "Why are you leaving so soon?" suspiciously asked one Syrian border guard who had seen us drive across only a short time before. The driver snorted and shoved both my passports at him indignantly. "She's a diplomat, so they're making her get another stamp." I (in the back of the car and still about 100 yards away from being diplomatically immune) nearly choked. I suppose he felt he was protecting my honor.

"Syrians are crazy," he said to each Jordanian border guard we saw, who repeated it back to him sympathetically. "Syrians are crazy," he said to me as we approached the Jordanian immigration checkpoint. We were approaching it in reverse, driving backwards around a barrier and down a one-way street with oncoming traffic. I nodded agreement, having decided it would be prudent to narrow my definition of 'crazy' to exclude driving practices. A few sad faces and hand presses at the Jordanian border, and I had the stamp. The Syrian custom official's supervisor looked it over in a punctilious, officious manner that I hoped his junior would never learn to copy.

And then I was in.

---------------------------------------


Damascus proper lacks the faded grandeur I had imagined from reading Ibn Battuta and Herodotus; instead, it appears to have passed 'faded' and progressed on to 'rotted'. Buildings pile on top of each other thickly, in the distance clinging to the side of the ferrous mountain like dough to the side of a bowl. From the rooftop terrace of my hotel, one can view whole blocks of abandoned, semi-collapsed mud buildings given over to cats who pick their way from wall to roof to fence. In the paved lot below there's a communal sink, used variously by taxi drivers and private vehicle owners, who fill buckets and plastic bottles. One street over is a soviet-looking statue surrounded by four fountain heads. This was the focal point of yesterday's 'Viva Palestine' rally that I ducked into a hotel lobby to avoid.

What Syria lacks in grandeur it makes up for in Iranians**. The hotel lobby was awash in shapeless black bodies, some of whom would send their men over to try and communicate Farsi language requests to the Arabic speaking reception. As I was changing money to pass the time while the Viva Palestine rally likewise passed, the desk worker shook his head at me. "I can't understand anything they say." Throwing up his hands, he switched to English. "Five days, all Iranians. Stay five days only, many many, then finish." It appeared to be bringing him a great deal of business, but he didn't seem all that pleased with the situation. Still, I rather enjoyed mingling with them at the Old City shops and once in a press of bodies as they streamed out of the Umayyad Mosque and bore me almost bodily to the Sayyida Ruqayya Shrine. How often does an American get to say she spent her afternoon among the people of Iran? Two 'state sponsors of terrorism' in one go is pretty good, if you ask me.

At the end of the weekend, I'd bought nothing -- but I read 300 pages. That's a quality vacation.





*I suppose for the weekend of Palm Sunday I ought to have been more properly traveling to Jerusalem; in my defense, Jesus didn't have a soon-to-expire Syrian visa burning a hole in his pocket.

**There are two important Shiite shrines in Damascus, and my visit happened to coincide with the Iranian festival of Nowruz.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I have always relied upon the kindness of الشباب

Yesterday coming back from dropping a friend off at his hotel, I was shunted down a side street by some construction. In Jordan, being shunted down a street invariably means driving on for miles and miles with no turn around point. You really shouldn't fight it: it's like death and taxes and Fourth of July countdown meetings. You just have to ride it out.

Only this time the shunting included the added variable of a very low gas tank. Very low. Much lower than I had realized. As one identical city block gave way to the next, the gas gauge needle was falling in an inverse proportion to my anxiety. Which was rising. A lot. Gas stations are few and far between in Jordan, emphasis here on 'few' and 'far'.

By the time the gas light came on, I was in a semi-controlled panic. Here I was, set to run out of fuel on the side of some unnamed street in the middle of who-knows-where at 11 o'clock at night on a schoolday. I thought about calling a friend, but how would she ever find me? "Kate, I'm out of gas! Tell Dave to come pick me up -- I'm right next to a pharmacy. He'll know it by the adjacent pile of rubble and the loitering stray cats."

So I did what any smart diplomat would do in the middle of the night in the Near East on an unmarked road with no streetlights: I pulled up next to a group of youth and practiced my Arabic. To their credit, they acted as if this happened to them every day. And who knows, maybe it does.

"Excuse me -- could you help me? I'm looking for a gas station." It's worth pointing out here that implying you'd like directions is about the stupidest thing you could ever do in Amman. Earlier when I'd called my friend's hotel to get its location, I talked to three different employees before one finally admitted, "We're sorry; we just can't assist you." So what I was actually hoping was for one of the young men to pull a gas can out of his pocket. Stranger things have happened.

The group members exchanged a few 'have-you-got-a-gas-can?' glances, then one brave soul stepped forward and shrugged. "I'll take you there." And he reached for my keys...

At this point I had a split second decision to make. Get in a car (my car) with a strange guy who is going to drive me (presumably) to a gas station. Or run out of gas and be surrounded by a lot of strange guys without any real means of escape. Not, actually, that difficult a decision in the end. Though I did offer a silent apology to the RSO shop as I slid into the passenger seat.

"How do I adjust the chair?" my savior and / or abductor asked. "Ah, it's broken." "Oh," brief pause while, in lieu of the carseat, he adjusted his glasses. "Is this okay?" He indicated the oil light, which was blinking. "Umm, also broken." I may not have been smart enough to avoid buying a car on the local market, but I did pat myself on the back for having randomly memorized the word for 'broken' that morning. At this point he was probably wondering about his own safety, but we started off just the same. His friends' heads swiveled to watch us depart as if they were on a single collective pivot.

We chatted a bit in the car while he steered us through intersections and alleys, down a path I had no chance of retracing on my own; I figured if I was on my way to my death, I ought to at least enjoy the last few moments beforehand. "Are you here for work, or school..?" he asked. "Work; I'm with the US Embassy." No point in lying about these things. He told me he was an airline steward for chartered flights, though also did work as a tailor. The words 'steward' and 'tailor' he said in English, which made me wonder if he was using my old language class tactic of just saying what you know, not necessarily what was true. He would, of course, very much like to go to America some day. "You would be most welcome," was my reply, one of the few times I've really and truly meant it.

20 minutes later and 30 JD fewer, we left the gas station to return to his random street corner. His friends were stacked up along the curb like a glee club, clearly awaiting his return with some interest. "I am so sorry; I've been a lot of trouble." I wasn't sure what to do: offer him money? shake his hand? "No, it was a small thing; it's normal." He jumped out of the car and pointed down a street; "The Embassy is that way."

Part of your job as a diplomat is to remind foreigners that Americans are people, not just policies or movie caricatures; it's nice to be reminded of the flip side of that yourself from time to time.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner

Hosting a high level visitor turns out to be a lot like hosting a dinner party, only you don't get to pick the guests, and the guests happen to control your salary. There's a lot of talk of who sits where, who eats what, event themes, name placards... Suddenly the Embassy is very very clean. VVIPs and their entourages must be constantly woozy from fresh paint and floor wax fumes, which is probably why they feel we have the power to subvert basic laws of physics when incorporating seats at tables or getting bodies from one place to another in record time. But of course, we do have those powers: we're professional diplomats, after all. And that is what I reminded myself of while making "Restrooms -->" signs. I can't hang them up till closer to my event, however, since the paint on the wall still hasn't dried.

[Postscript: Well, that could have gone better. But at least everyone knew where the toilets were.]

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"What's that, Lassie? Little Timmy's trapped in a well... and can't deliver his demarche?!"

So, two weeks isn't much time in which to develop a really informed opinion about Political work -- but if there was one thing Consular taught me, it was to make unshakable, irrevocable decisions based on a minimum of data and in a very short time frame. So here's my take (we'll call it a "first impression" to give me an out later).

1. The single biggest difference between POL and CONS is the the source of motivation for the work. The pressure source for POL is completely polar to that of CONS. All the motivating pressure in CONS comes from below: there's a person with a problem standing in front of you, and now what are you going to do about it? All the pressure in POL, however, comes from above: someone has made a problem for your boss, and what is your boss going to make you do about it? You can see how in CONS, you might have more of an idea about how your onward action has a direct bearing on the situation. You can also see how 'urgency' would have a slightly different coloring from one office to another:

CONS: This is urgent! [Read: Someone is in danger!]

POL: This is urgent! [Read: Washington wants this real bad like!]

I do admit that 'urgent' in CONS often means "I really want to go to my third cousin's husband's niece's christening," but then you get to use your own discernment to dissect the 'urgent' nature of the case; i.e., "Yes, so sorry -- passports take two weeks to renew." I don't think it would be very wise to (at least openly) dissect 'urgent' in POL on your own, though having done so in CONS now makes me sincerely doubt the 'urgency' of anything not involving the immediate need for a tourniquet.

There are also times in POL, however, when no one is putting pressure on you;* then it's up to you to put pressure on yourself. And we all know how well that went for you in grad school.

2. It's much harder to measure your productivity in POL than in CONS. There's no 11C report to run at the end of the day and taunt your slower colleagues with, mainly because there aren't any real widgets to move or beans to count. I suppose you could track numbers of cables written or business cards collected, maybe number of Codels hosted... in CONS one of the potential pitfalls is turning everything into a numbers game, but in POL I'm guessing one pitfall is going the opposite extreme and denying that numbers matter at all. Ideally in any job you want a nice balance between quantity and quality: efficiency. I haven't yet received my POL work requirements statement (you have 45 days from your start date to set these up), but I'm super curious how they'll be phrased given our essentially widget-less environment. "Write five catchy subject lines"? "Don't lose anyone's luggage"? "Set up a semaphore station so Post can transmit cables even when ClassNet goes down"? (I guess that last one is more of an IT job...)

3. There aren't any FSNs in POL. Well, I mean, there are, but not physically in POL -- they're way over there, in the unclassified part of the building that you never think to step foot in. You probably have no idea what they're doing. In fact, you, PolOff, said to have your fingers on the proverbial pulse of the country in which you're stationed, can go pretty much all day without even seeing a Jordanian. Try that in CONS, and the FSNs will come find you and feed you things.

4. Which brings me to the next big difference: there is a serious lack of food culture in POL. The Human Rights Officer brought in doughnuts today to celebrate having finally finished the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, and the doughnuts just SAT THERE all the way through our staff meeting. I once brought in six dozen cookies to the Consular section, and those suckers were gone in less than two hours. Today was Consular Leadership Day, and I understand they had no fewer than three cakes. Three cakes!

5. No one in POL is going to suggest you buy a "Political Leadership Tenets" Junior Spaghetti Tank.



*I'm sure this also happens occasionally in CONS, but I honestly can't recall any such moments.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Superfluous

My time in ACS came to a close today, and now I'm suddenly POL -- or in other words, I've abruptly gone from being the last person evacuated from post in the event of a disaster, the one most necessary in a crisis, to being the first one on the plane. Three years of consular work, over. If you think that's a weird feeling, you're right. Luckily, I've got a long weekend ahead of me to settle into the idea.

I've been trying to reflect on the things I've learned in consular. Maybe more patience. Definitely more humility when dealing with rules and bureaucracy. I've stretched the 'E' side of my personality, for all you MBTI fans. Those are all good things. It's been a heavy three years though. This last year in particular, it seemed like I was proverbially sprinting nearly the entire time, to the point where returning home at night was merely a stage setter for an epic struggle between my desire to sleep and my desire to eat. That part I won't miss. But watching the FSNs 'sprint', too -- that part I won't forget. If I'm ever in a position of management, I hope I can make things better for them.

So, sure, POL work. Bring it on. We'll see what I learn this time.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Super Oblivious

The super bowl happened, and I had no idea.

Which might be the best thing ever about living overseas.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Thirty-one January Oh-ten

I am beginning to fear my body is developing an allergy to clothing. I suppose this might not be that big an issue in a warm weather climate, but in the middle of winter in a Muslim country, it's less than ideal. Definitely it's causing me to rethink certain cuts of underwear. I'm guessing it's an MS thing.

That's pretty much what I've been occupied with at work lately: how far up one's back you can scratch before it becomes indecent. That and mid-level bidding and my POL rotation and my EER and the training plan for my successor and finishing up projects in Consular before I go. Any bit of that list that doesn't fit in my head ends up as a prickly knot just below my sternum, slightly to the right... It's strange, because I feel fairly on top of things. So on top of things, actually, that I don't really see a need to be stressed. The stomach prickliness was a surprise. Thanks, corporeal self! You just give and give.

There's a particular job I want to be on tomorrow's bidlist, but I don't want to get overly focused on it. If last year's motto was "No More Drama," maybe this year's can be "Just Roll With It."

And maybe a new laundry detergent would stop the itching.

Monday, January 18, 2010

You may be an undigested bit of hummus, a blot of lebneh, a crumb of jamid, a fragment of underdone falafel.

While doing a notarial for the RSO, he commented on all of my fancy stamps. "Yes, they're by far the most fun part of this job," I assured him, proceeding to add a few more consular seals to his document via some showy wrist action -- the ACS equivalent of the bar scene in Cocktail. Consular work is all about knowing your audience.

There was a moment -- only a moment! -- where I felt a slight twinge of... something. Regret? The POL section certainly wasn't going to have any fun presses or stickers; they probably wouldn't even give me a name stamp. Would I be sorrowful moving on from what I've come to think of as my scrapbooking tour? I handed the RSO back his elaborately inked and crimped paper and considered this for a bit.

Hmm, no -- I'm pretty sure I'll be fine.