Monday, April 28, 2008

Car Shopping

Well, the search is on. I need to buy a car for West Africa, as the pristine Avalon will not hold up over there. When we were in Kenya in 1999, the roads were pretty rough. Basically, even in Nairobi (which is the capital). the paved roads all ended right at the edge of town. People, cows, goats, carts, cars, buses, and tractors all shared the road at the same time. You need to keep your wits about you! You also need a car that can handle huge pot holes, water holes, and rugged terrain in general. I'm looking at a Land Rover (Discovery model), Toyota Land Cruiser, Toyota Rav 4, Toyota 4x4. Can believe that I have never actually purchased a car all my myself? That must be come kind of record! When I was 18, my dad helped me buy my first car; and he basically picked it out. Ugh! It was not what I wanted, but it worked. (It especially looked better after I installed an 8-track player and yellow carpet on the back hat rack!) When I was married, my husband picked out all our cars. They were fine, but I never had the pleasure of actually choosing. Now I have about three weeks to not only find a CAR, but a USED car, a car that I have to ship to AFRICA, and a car I can AFFORD. Oh joy. I have met some interesting people, for sure. Today this nice Hispanic man came and picked me up and drove me to where his car was located for sale. It was a sweet looking car; Range Rover, shiny black exterior, leather, upgraded wheel rims, two sun roofs, (can roofs be plural?? or is it rooves, which rhymes with hooves??) Anyway, I felt a little unsafe getting into his car and being driven to a strange place. When I got in, I asked him (sort of jokingly) if I could trust him. He said, YES OF COURSE and then he motioned to his two little kids in the back seat, along with his brother. Way cool! I got to smile at the baby all the way there! That was a more pleasant experience than yesterday, when I test drove a 1993 Toyota 4x4. The guy picks me up to show me the car. OMG. He must have weighted 400 lbs. which is no problem, except this truck did not have running boards and it was REALLY HIGH UP! The poor guy had to heave himself into the truck and for a while there I thought we might have a medical emergency. The accessibility (or lack thereof) was one of the main reasons he was selling the car. His mechanic bought it at was a piece of crap! The check engine light came on while we were testing it, the back window would not roll up, the odometer was broken, etc etc. Oh, did I mention the interior smelled like the inside of a bar? No thanks. I have a great lead on a 2000 Range Rover Discovery II model for sale for $5000. Guy on the phone sounds nice. He is being deployed with the military and needs to sell the car in the next 10 days...good for me. I'll let you know.

Tonight I baked cookies and the apartment smells homey and wonderful. (I guess you can take me out of Minnesota, but you can't take the Minnesota out of me!) I gave some of the cookies to the night manager at my apartment complex. Yesterday, he gave me a ride to the Metro station because it was raining. It was not part of his job or anything; he was just being nice. He has done other things above and beyond, so when I filled out the general "how are we doing" survey, I mentioned his name. Apparently, he got a copy of it because he stopped by my apartment to thank me. I had just taken the first batch of cookies out of the oven, so it was perfect timing. I thought later...I wonder if he ate one of the cookies as soon as he left my apartment, or did he wait until he got back to the office? Yea, I don't think he waited...the cookies were delicious!

Today in class we learned about classification of documents. I learned that everything I create/write/send in my new job is considered "property of the US Government." In fact, the emails I send, or cables I send, or the letters I write, will some day be archived and stored in permanent storage in a government facility. They becomes available for public viewing sometime around 10-99 years from now. How cool is that?

I miss a few things about my Austin my friends, my fellow Realtors, my dog. Don't miss the big house and all the yard work, but do miss he comfort of my own bed and the ambiance of the windows and trees outside my bedroom. I miss my car sometimes; especially when I got lost yesterday (in the rain) trying to find the movie theatre. Walked about 4 blocks out of my way...But the good news is that I'm getting lots of exercise and my clothes are still getting more loose. Yea!

Better get to bed. Still am having a hard time with the east coast time change.

Love to all,
Becky Boo

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Bits and Pieces

I had a long class on Monday and Tuesday. It felt totally blissful to sleep in, not rush, smell the roses (literally) and just generally socialize and be a normal human for a change.

Last Friday was graduation. Pictures, programs, congratulations. Ambassador John D. Negroponte (Deputy Secretary of State) gave the oath of office. It's really official when you raise your hand and promise to support and defend the Constitution of the United States in front of about 500 classmates, friends, family and assorted dignitaries.

I've completed the first three weeks of general Specialist orientation. Now our wave of tiresome briefings will be replaced by information specific to our unique speciality. Our class of 54 is separated into each specific individual category for more training. My departure date is set for somewhere around May 22nd. I have much to do; arrange a car, find out about housing choices, prepare for shipment of my HHE (House Hold Effects). I also have to arrange immunizations (oh joy!) diplomatic passport, consumables shipment (paper towels, baking supplies, cleaning stuff---things which are too expensive to purchase in Sierra Leone or NOT AVAILABLE). I sat down this morning and made out Level Two "TO DO" lists. Wish me luck!

I wanted to mention a few things I have been thinking about that have to do with being away from home. I have a feeling my children (especially the younger two) are more adaptable than I am. I think Ryan and Laura have moved every six months or so since they left college. I, on the other hand, have been in the same house for 17 years; with only two of those spent in Germany. Here are a few things (good and bad) that are different from being in Austin:

The fellow in the apartment below me smokes. How do I know this? Well, I like to keep my patio door open and let the fresh air in. Suddenly, there is this horrible smell of cigarette smoke coming in the apartment! UGH!! I went out on the patio and looked all around and finally looked down, and there was half a person smoking a cigarette. Only half a person because that's all I could see from my angle. The joys of apartment living, I guess.

I love birds. At home in Austin, I have a birdbath right outside my kitchen window. I used to love watching the birds come and take a bath and eat out of the feeder. I lamented what I would do when I could not see the birds from my balcony in Washington. No worries! I can see the birds closer than ever! I put out some bread crumbs, old crackers, popcorn, etc, and the birds have come to me. This morning I woke up to the smaller birds fighting over the crumbs. It was sweet music! Of course, I have to be very still when I watch them because if they see me, they fly away. Now I can see the birds and hear them from about 2-3 feet away. Where there is a will, there is a way!

I miss driving my car. Laura has my car in New York because I really don't need it here. It's been three weeks and I've been taking the Metro. Not much of a problem and I like the exercise. But it rains a lot here. No fun getting caught in the rain. Yesterday I walked about two miles to get a pedicure. (girl thing) It started to rain on the way home. I was wearing those ridiculous next-to-nothing flip flops they give you so you don't ruin your polish. I had to walk the two miles home in the drizzle and then I really missed my car. But I did think of all the money I'm saving not having to buy gasoline!

Tomorrow it's back to class. My highest priority is to check with the Embassy in Sierra Leone and determine housing choices and what attire is appropriate on Post. I'll let you know if we wear sun dresses or business suits!

Hope all is well in your corner of the world,
Becky Boo

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Africa it is!

I just could not prolong the suspense any longer. I finally reached Ryan today so with all the blood relatives informed, I decided to go ahead and publish where the Foreign Service is sending me. I apologize in advance to those people who I really tried to reach to tell via the telephone before this BLOG update came out. I realize everyone is busy, including me!

Drum roll please.......

I'm being assigned to SIERRA LEONE!!!! That's in West Africa.

I have no idea how the B-O-L-D type came on, but oh well! I guess BLOG-land is celebrating with me.

I don't know a whole lot about the country yet, but I will be emailing Post in the next couple of days and will keep you updated. So far the worry is whether they will have a Catholic church there, as the population is primarily Muslim. The medical care is sub-standard, so I will have all dentist and Dr. visits here in DC before I leave. I'm not sure about taking my's been noted that the roads are not in very good condition and a 4x4 might be a better option than my Avalon. The capital city of Freetown is where the Embassy is located. It's right on the ocean, so I should have nice weather like Texas, only warmer.

On another note, our class visited the CIA and the OPS center in the past two days. It's quite an honor to be allowed into these places, as they are highly secure areas and not just anyone has access. We learned what happens in a crisis and how all the "principles" are contacted and kept up to date with all the details. I really feel like I've stepped into another world with this career.

On a more humble note, tonight I locked myself out of my apartment! I had to have the building manager give me this HUGE security key to gain access to my apartment to retrieve my keys. You see, in my defense, I was having dinner with friends and in all the excitement of showing them my apartment and the beautiful flowers that I received, I forgot to pick up my house keys. I think I will keep that little episode of forgetfullness (yes, Ryan, there is another "ness" word!) to myself and not inform the Foreign Service. After all, I want them to believe they can trust me with Top Secret documents and here I can't even keep track of my keys!

Hope all is well in your corner of the world.


Becky Boo

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


For those of you checking back here and wondering WHEN I plan to announce which country I've been assigned...there is a reason I have not posted the country yet. I have not yet had been able to contact several of my really close friends to tell them in person (over the phone)! And one of those really special people is my son, Ryan. He just arrived back from Thailand and so far we have missed talking to each other. I really don't want him to read it here first. And for my other dear friends, you know who you are! I was away for the evening tonight and could not call you. Actually, I was standing on the parade route waiting to see the Pope! I will update the country choice as soon as I can reach those people mentioned above. Your patience will be rewarded very soon!!

Becky Boo

Monday, April 14, 2008

Tomorrow is the BIG day!

Tomorrow we find out our assignments. About 3:00 eastern time, think of me. I will be standing in the Woods Lobby which is the reception hall we entered on our very first day of class. It's where we took the oath of office and where tomorrow they will announce our names and then the country we are going to. It's called "Flag Day" and it's called that because they hand you a small flag from the country you are being assigned to serve. Some of us were worried if we were supposed to recognize the flag and then deduce which country we are going to, but someone reassured us that they would actually speak the country name so we would not have to spend tonight memorizing the flags from all these new and exotic countries. I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I would not be able to distinguish the country flag of Sierra Leone from Congo or Liberia.

Today we had a seminar in Crisis Management. This briefing explained what happens when an embassy experiences a level of danger due to some event happening in the country; such as a natural disaster or a political uprising. We learned how to contact Washington, how to take precautions regarding employees, and what to do in an evacuation. Not stuff I necessarily want to think about, but I'm very relieved that these procedures are in place. FYI, my first choice, Liberia, has been evacuated 8 times. Hmmmmm. I hear they are more stable now.....

I had a great time this weekend. I had drinks and dinner on Friday night with a fellow classmate at a fantastic Lebanese restaurant. On Saturday, .I got to see Laura. We had a great time talking and hanging out together. I'm really going to miss her. I am getting pretty good at navigating the Metro mass transit system. I took the train all the way to lovely Trenton, NJ!

On Sunday night I hosted my first party in DC. I invited some classmates to my house for a "Taboo and Fondue" party. We discussed world events, had some GREAT fondue that someone brought and then played a few rounds of Taboo. I had fun being the hostess in my little tiny apartment and even thought I don't have much, it still felt good to share with others. I'll probably have parties wherever I am in the world.

Time for bed. This time tomorrow I will know where I'll be living for the next two years!

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Tonight I baked banana bread and the whole apartment smells delicious! As much as this move has disrupted my normal life, I find myself not being able to give up certain things about who I am. It may sound corny, but I really enjoy baking. I had these perfectly ripe bananas sitting on the counter for the past four days and I just could not let them go to waste! So after the movers insisted that I throw away all my baking products, I broke down tonight and went to the store and bought baking soda, flour, vanilla, crisco, chocolate chips and even a bread pan. It was a challenge to find the measuring spoons and other stuff in my tiny kitchen but what ever I didn't have, I found something that would work. When it came time to test to see if the bread was done, I usually stick a wooden tooth pick in the center of the bread. You guessed it, no toothpicks got packed. Hmmmmm. I decided to look around the kitchen and found the end of the cork screw. That make a big hole but worked fine. I'll have homemade banana bread to bring to class tomorrow and all my class mates will love me!

I ran 4 miles tonight, then walked a mile to the grocery store. Too tired to write anything else.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Coat update....

I forgot to tell you the "coat story" that I mentioned in my previous post. As I wrote, I somehow I managed to misplace my favorite yellow coat that I intended to bring to DC. (and I'm double disappointed because I even had it dry cleaned before I left!) Anyway, as I have already mentioned several times, it's much colder here than Austin. Most days, it's been 45 degrees and cloudy or rainy or both. On Saturday when I went shopping I saw this adorable black and white checked coat at Ann Taylor. Now, for those of you in the know (and this probably does not include the guys), Ann Taylor is quite an expensive store. This coat was on sale for the ridiculously low price of $99.00. That's a steal at Ann Taylor. I tried it on and it fit. I wasn't quite sure of it, but my classmate who was with me said it looked great, so I thought what the heck and I bought it. The coat looks like something what Marlo Thomas or Mary Tyler Moore might wear; stylish but classic. Anyway, I wore it to class on Monday and SO many people gave me compliments on it! So....the moral of this story is that everything works out somehow....and maybe even better than you thought!


What was I thinking??

Tonight I unpacked some of the boxes I managed to load into the car before I left Austin. Way back when I had time to read, I read in some of our pre-departure literature that it was helpful to bring some familiar things from home to make your temporary housing feel a little more cozy. Well, I packed in quite a hurry. It was more than a challenge to organize HHE (house hold effects that go in temporary storage, HHE2 (items that will be shipped to me overseas eventually) and UAB (unaccompanied Air Baggage), and keep everything straight. Needless to say, the stuff I threw into the car was very last on the packing list as well as the priority list. Somehow, I managed to lose half of my business clothes and my favorite yellow coat. (and believe me, you need a coat this time of year in Washington DC....but that story has a happy ending so more on that later) I also forgot to bring a long sleeved running shirt and since I run 5 days a week, and it's C-O-L-D here, that would have been most helpful. But as I unpacked tonight, I had to smile at some of the things that DID make it into the car. I somehow ended up with not one but TWO yo-yo's! Now, I'm not a yo-yo champion or anything, but I like to play with them for stress relief. I guess God thought I would need lots of stress relief. I brought a string of "star" lights that I bought at IKEA before I left. I had never opened them and just threw them in at the last minute. I hung them over the patio door and they look great! I think I'm ready for a party so I may invite my classmates over this weekend. I brought three random glass paperweights. Don't know why I did, only maybe I wanted the place to have some color? I must have brought like a million post-it note pads. Why? Did I think there might be a shortage in the DC area? (now if I could only find the stapler and tape that I thought I packed!) Something that really made me smile was when I unwrapped the few pieces of Polish pottery that I brought. I used the bright blue bowls and coffee cups every day back in Austin and now they look quite cheery in my new apartment. (especially since everything here is decorated in brown and beige) Oh, this is for Pam. I unwrapped the special turtle that Marty gave me and it arrived safely. It now sits on my counter right near the only plant I managed to transport in the car from Austin. They look great together. It feels a little more like home now.

Class is getting a little easier. Today we learned about how important our EER (Employee Evaluation Review) is to our career, and how to prepare for one. We also learned our personality types from the Myers Briggs test. (MBTI) The personality types help us to learn about ourselves (ENFP for me) but also how to interact at work with people who have types different than we do. Tomorrow we are "off-site" for a training exercise. We will be outside all day in teams. I imagine a typical team building scenario. I'm looking forward to being outside and away from the classroom for a change. Bonus?? We get to wear jeans and tennis shoes!!

I'm settling in here and still feel good about the job. I feel like I'm in the right place. It's been an adjustment getting used to an efficiency apartment compared to a 2000 s.f. house, but I have found I really don't need much. Besides, living like this will get us used to the accommodations overseas, so I won't expect a mansion when I get to Africa.

Hope all is well with everyone in your corner of the world.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

The Final Cut!

Well, after days of research, talking to current FS people, friendly advice, reading online postings, and general "gut feelings," I have created a list of countries I would like to serve in. The list is in preferred order and takes into consideration size of post, danger level, availability of fun things to do, housing choices, post moral, and of course financial compensation. Each post has a different level of income associated with it, and all these factors play a part in where I want to be assigned. After a point, I just decided that I have to trust that I will get a good assignment and then make the most of it. Not many people in my OMS (remember what that stands for??) group are very interested in the African countries, so I might get one of my top choices since my top 4 picks are Africa.

Here they are in order:
1-Monrovia, Liberia
2-Freetown, Sierra Leone
3-Ibidjan, Ivory Coast
4-Kinshasa, Congo
5-Tegucigalpa, Honduras
8-Tel Aviv, Israel
9-Istanbul, Turkey
10-Seoul, Korea
11-Abuja, Nigeria
12-Tokyo, Japan
13-Paris, France
14-Nassau, Bahamas
15-Stockholm, Sweden
16-Manama, Bahrain
17-Washington, DC

My top 4 choices were chosen because of African culture, danger pay, and good reports of post morale. Most of them also have interesting things to do nearby. I chose Honduras and Guatemala because of the possible Spanish language training offered and because I think that would be a beautiful part of the world to see. After that, the countries are ranked in order compared to where I would want to go if I HAD to chose places and I ranked them in order of where I didn't want to go and put the most desired on the top of the list. We usually get assigned to our top 1-4 choices, so I don't think my middle list of countries will be very important, but I would rather go to Tel Aviv or Istanbul than Bahrain or Sweden.

I think it's amazing that I am even discussing these countries. Six days ago I could not even tell you where most of them were on a world map! I mean, I could tell you where Africa was, but Bahrian? (after researching Bahrian, I really didn't want to go there! Very boring, not much to do, high danger and it's on an isolated island)

I have spent this Sunday at home and it feels good to slow down a little compared to the hectic schedule of the weekdays. Yesterday (Saturday) I managed to go shopping downtown with a new friend from class. She knows the area so she navigated the Metro. (although since we were talking so much, she managed to get us on blue line instead of the orange line and we had to get off and switch trains!) I purchased a mini-wardrobe, and that was really necessary since I am missing my UAB (air) shipment and am running out of business clothes. For those of you who know me well and know how much my running has affected my life; I'll tell you that I finally figured out why my old clothes don't fit. I bought clothes two sizes smaller that what I have in the closet!! The beauty of running!

Speaking of running....I was happy to get back to running on Monday and Wednesday this past week. It had been two weeks since I last had a chance to put on my running shoes and I felt glorious getting outside and running about 3 miles. I decided my training routine would be "every other day." Well, Friday I was too exhausted to run, Saturday I walked about 5 miles getting to and from the Metro, and Sunday it rained all day. I might have to re-think the "every other day" idea to "run on days when it does not rain!" This is NOT sunny Texas, that's for sure.

Ok, enough for now. We find out where we will be assigned at a special ceremony on April 15th. Until then, it's wait and see! If you want to check out personal reports of some of these countries from people who have lived there, go to "Tales from a Small Planet" and you can read all the personal stuff. You will have to enter a password, but it's free and the reading is interesting.

Hope all is well in your corner of the world!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


Day three finds our class continuing to process paperwork. I learned a new term today, "Snowflaked." I think it means slammed with forms, or "gotcha" or something like that. All the ex-military guys seem to be very familiar with this term. Anyone want to enlighten me?

We met with our Career Advisor again today. Most of the 15 OMS Candidates seem to have a preference where they want to go...but everyone is holding their choice "close to the vest" in hopes that no one else learns of their high demand and also chooses that country. We all want the perfect place with the perfect accommodations, far from harms way. Personally, I would not mind a little danger. I figure if I raised three teenagers, I have enough hazard experience. Africa still sifts to the top, but I have heard from friends that they would prefer Bahamas, Sweden and Paris in order to have cool places to visit. FYI, Africa has "Paris or London" as R&R once a year, so that also might work. The government pays for me to come home once every two years. But at "danger posts" I get a R&R vacation once a year.

Other adjustments to this new life include apartment living. I have not lived in an apartment since 1977. A lot of you were not even born yet! Tonight I walked 20 steps down the hall to the laundry facility. I was very careful to take my keys, so as to not lock myself out of the apartment. I dutifully put in my "whites" and inserted my computer card to pay for the wash. Yes, folks, quarters are no longer an option. And yes, the government issued me this free laundry card so it's free to me! As I walked away from the room, I suddenly realized that it would be much more efficient to throw in both loads at once!! I have not had the option of doing all the laundry at once, since at home in Texas, I only had one machine. I felt so foolish for a minute that I had not thought of this earlier. We get so rigid with our routines, that it takes a while to think outside the box when things change.

My good friend Tony, a FS Specialist of one year, sent me the best email today. He named it, "Welcome to the Foreign Circus." It made me smile. Sometimes in the rush of trying to learn everything and keep up with homework and get enough sleep, he added some humor to my day. Next time HR loses my paperwork, I'll remember his tag line.

Tomorrow we have Happy Hour with the previous class and they can fill us in on all the stuff we will need to endure for the remaining 5 weeks. The pace here is really fast. The people are talented for a could not keep up otherwise.

Becky Boo

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

And the jourey begins.....

March 2007, applied online for Foreign Service Specialist position with State Department
August 2007, passed oral exam
January 2008, passed top secret security clearance and medical clearance
February 2008, invited to the 100th Class of Specialists in Washington DC
March 2008, packed up the house, sold junk, gave away goodies, got in the car and DROVE cross-country with Laura from Austin to DC. Arrived tired, hungry, exhausted.

The first day of class we were "sworn in" in the Woods room of the FSI complex. You quickly learn to live by acronyms. Believe me, three letters can stand for everything in the world. We promised to "preserve and protect and defend the constitution of the United States, to protect our country against all enemies, foreign and domestic." And a bunch of other things I forgot in the emotional moment of raising my right hand. The remainder of day one was a blur due to lack of sleep due to high anxiety of what to wear on the first day!

Memories of the first day...
*About 67 people in my class. We call ourselves "Foreign Service Specialist Candidates." There are about 10 different Specialities; including mine: Office Management Specialist.
*Everyone seems so capable, smart, intelligent. Then I think, "wait a minute, I'm in this group!" If finally hits me that I was specially selected....just like all these other talented people in the room.
*All the men wear suits and ties. It's great to be in a room with all these handsome, clean-cut guys. I feel like I'm surrounded by FBI or Secret Service!

*We get a tour of the facilities and I feel like a kindergartner being led around....where is the rope we hang on to? The mention the bathrooms more than once, so I guess that's important?

*We get our list of possible countries of assignment at 4pm. Everyone pours over the list and hopes to get a good country. We have a week to research our choices and then we rank them in the order we want them. So far I'm leaning towards Africa, but who knows where I'll end up.

Here is the list of possible places I could be sent to:

Abidjan, Ivory Coast, AFRICA
Abuja, Nigeria, AFRICA
Freetown, Sierra Leone, AFRICA
Guatemala, GUATEMALA
Istanbul, TURKEY
Kinshasa, Congo, AFRICA
Monrovia, Liberia, AFRICA
Port-au-Prince, HAITI
Seoul, KOREA
Stockholm, SWEDEN
Tegucigalpa, HONDURAS
Tel Aviv, ISRAEL
Tokyo, JAPAN
Washington, DC

I miss everyone and will try and keep you updated as much as possible. So far....."I'M LOVING IT!!!"

Becky Boo