Monday, May 26, 2008

I'm here!

I MADE IT!! I arrived in Freetown last night about midnight.  I met some great new friends who met me at the hovercraft.  Oh, I guess I should explain.  I left London at 1pm.  Arrived in Freetown harbor around 830pm.  The airport is right on the water.  All the passengers are crowed into a small holding room waiting for customs and luggage.  It was SO hot and humid compared to Washington DC.  It's sort of like Florida or Corpus Christi.  A man with holding a sign with my name on it was a welcome sight after all the unknowns.  He collected my luggage and guided me to the hovercraft.  Basically, it's a boat that skims the surface of the water and goes very fast.  It was completely dark so everything seemed so mysterious.  We had to wait for the luggage to be loaded.  All those bags makes me wonder why people need so many things when they travel.  We are a selfish society.  

My sponsors, Lindsay and Sean, met me on the other side of Freetown.  It was great to see Americans!  They drove me to my apartment.  It's really really big!  The furnishings are ok, and the ac works great.  I'll spend some time making it "homey" when my stuff arrives from the shipment.  My car will take 2-3 months so until then I'll depend on friends and the motor pool to get me around.

Today Lindsay and Sean took me shopping and showed me the town a little.  The Sierra Leoneons walk everywhere.  Most people are unemployed.  Women and children carry baskets of things to sell on their heads; just like in the photos.  Stray dogs roam everywhere.  The roads are rough, and my car will be perfect.  Things are generally poor and shabby.  There are no malls, no large stores, not much cleanliness.  But there is no violence and the country is at peace.  We have guards at our apartment and the gate is always locked to cars.  The pool is nice and I finally got a chance to lay outside and get some sun.

First day of work tomorrow.  I'll work on getting connected.  

Love to everyone!

2160 Freetown Place
Dulles, VA 20189-2160

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Half Way There,,,,

I arrived in \london this morning. \i'm using a British keyboard, so if this looks strange, deal with it!

\leaving Washington was more difficult than \i thought. \i made some nice friends there and \i will really miss everyone. \most of my classmates are off to their \posts; with just a few left taking language training for the summer. \laura and Cheryl drove me to the airport courtesy of Candy's available car. Candy is in Egypt visiting her family and left the car in the safe keeping of \laura,who is from \new \york and hasn't driven a car for over 15 years. We foreign service people are both flexible and helpful\1 Cheryl and \laura are taking french classes and all the way to the airport they were practicing. i can now say \'i am an american diplomat\' in French!

\i have a new method in how to pack for a trip. First, gather all your items and place them on the bed next to open suitcases. \next, open a really great bottle of champagne (the one that you had in the fridge and forgot to drink before moving). \proceed to throw things in the suitcases while alternating filling the glass with bubbly. \i recommend having a nice friend on hand to assist in the process and keep things moving. That was the best thing about moving so far!

I have a few things to say about the current state of international air travel. IT SUCKS! Well, maybe it only sucks on \united flights, but it really sucks. The service was fine, it was the accomodations. \i actually measured the space from the seat back of the large fellow in front of me to my seat cushion and \i came up with about 5 inches. \i mean, really\1 \you expect me to sit there for 7 hours with that little room? And \i'm a relatively small person; \i can't imagine what a 200 lb. man must endure. \i was on the asile, and \i had to literally jump over the arm rest and into my seat. my poor runner legs were really complaining with the lack of ability to stretch out. now, take all that info and TRY TO GO TO SLEEP FOR 4 HOURS. \yea, that's what \i thougtht. \i'm usually a pretty tolerant person, but \i really think they are pushing us passengers too far. \the food used to be good, but that has really gone down hill too. for dinner we got a choice of pasta or beef. both came with iceberg lettuce salad and banana cake. oh, you have to pay for alcohol now. it used to be free! \i had my own private stash, thank goodness. then after trying to catch some sleep in the pretzel position, we woke up to "breakfast." which was a cup of fruit and a piece of banana break in a plastic wrapper. Didn't the chef remember that we just had banana cake for the dinner meal? \yuck, even \i don't like banana desserts at every meal, and \i LOVE bananas. Anyway, try flying Air France if you get a chance. \i seem to remember they had good food and real silverware.

For some reason, my cell phone does not work in \london. \i'm going to try and email tmobile and see what the problem is. \I get a signal when \i first turn on the phone, then it goes away immediately. The bill is paid, so that's not the problem. \i expected the phone to work in \london and not freetown, but maybe the reverse will be true.

The hotel here in \london is fantastic. The Edwardian by Radisson. \i highly recommend it. It's only about 30 minutes from the airport and a shuttle will take you there for about 4£. \my room is completly modern, king size bed, (yea, like \i need that...\i'm alone!) all marble bathroom, can lighting, fluffy robe (perfect for my bath later) and crystal chandaliers in the hallways. There is a spa here but it was already closed for massage when \i got here, darn. There was an Indian wedding here when \i arrived. The ladies were wearing beautiful chiffone (sp) gowns and sparkly sandles. \Some of the men wore turbans. \it was really beautiful.

Well, \you're all probably tired of reading by now. \i leave for Freetown tomorrow at 1pm \london time. \i leave from the hotel at 11am, so \i guess it's time to get some sleep in this time zone...that king size bed is waiting\1

\love from this corner of the world,

Friday, May 23, 2008

All Aboard!!

I leave tonight at 9:40 EST. I'll be in London at 10am London time on Saturday morning; which is somewhere around 4am my time. I hope to catch a nap then tour London for the rest of the day. After that, some sleep at night and then back on the plane to Sierra Leone at 1pm Sunday. I arrive in Freetown around 7pm Sunday night. A person "an Expeditor" is meeting me. When I asked how he will know who I am, I was told that he will be holding a sign with my name on it. Wow, I'm a movie star and a diplomat! Never thought I'd have a sign at the airport.

Today was spent on those last minute things that never seemed to get done earlier; like applying for Student Loan Repayment and signing my will. That was fun...thinking about dying. I think I scared my kids with the thought of my demise. Let's hope it does not happen for many, many years. I also got a safe deposit box at the State Department Credit Union. I KNEW there was a reason I opened that account! I got to go the "little room" in the back of the bank and use my key to "match" the key from the bank and put away my jewelery. A lot of "firsts" in this job. In so many ways, I feel like I'm doing all the things in life that an independent adult does. I guess I've arrived!

Here is my new address:

Becky Cheney
2160 Freetown Place
Dulles, VA 20189-2160

You can send things regular mail with US stamps. All mail goes through Washington DC for security purposes. Go figure. Speaking of security, everyone keeps telling me to be careful. I guess my trusting nature is worrying a lot of people. I promise to try and remember that I'll be living in a third world country and that I can't do things the same way I did them on Silver Creek. I promise NOT to run at night and I promise NOT to be friendly with strangers.

I have to get the laundry, pack, etc, etc. Somehow I ended up with TWO bottles of good champagne in the frig. Wish some of you were here to celebrate this momentous moving with me.

I love you all and promise to keep in touch. I don't know what my communication options will be in Freetown, but I'll notify you that I've arrived somehow.....look out for smoke signals!!


Monday, May 12, 2008

Can you say SOS?

Today we had a briefing on security. I would have named it "Scare the Hell out of You." We learned all sorts of ways that terrorists can attack us, both personally and at the Embassy. We learned many different ways in which we can be killed. And this was an all day seminar! The presenters were former FBI and Secret Service. They don't hold back on the details, let me tell you. Here are some of the things they told us:
*If someone attacks you and asks for your purse...GIVE IT UP
*If someone tries to grab you and put you in a car....FIGHT LIKE HELL TO GET AWAY
*Keep a low profile all the time....blend in to the country you live in.
*Be aware of your surroundings at all times.
*"When you drive, be sure you have an escape route. Don't park in a no-exit place.
*Your instincts are very important...LISTEN TO THEM
*If you are shot, the odds are that the first shot or the second shot will not kill you. (Somehow that does not comfort me!)
*Vary your time and your routine. Leave home at different times.
*In rape situations, submitting is survival. Give in if you have no other choice.
*Carry your cell phone in your pocket. If the bad guy steals your purse, you can still call for help. (Besides, how many of us know the numbers in our cell phone? Without it, we would be lost...)
*There is a $25 Million dollar reward out for Osama bin Laden. Dead or Alive. (But State Department employees are not allowed to collect!)

Anyway, you get the idea. I'm going to have to be very careful out there. Terrorists and bad guys will want me for information, for cooperation, for revenge, and simply to say they harmed a diplomat of the US Government.

More uplifting news tomorrow, I'm sure.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

10 Days and Counting....

For those of you who want to have cards and letters waiting for me when I arrive in Sierra Leone, here is my new address!

Becky Cheney
2160 Freetown Place
Dulles, VA 20189-2160

The mail will take about 10 days to reach me. It is processed through the government postal system, so you can use regular US postage. Don't forget that postage went up May 12, bummer!

Today was Mother's Day. Laura drove 6 hours to come visit me for the weekend. That's how you know you're loved! (the other kids called me) As Laura drove away, it really hit me that I'm moving....and won't see her for two years...unless we meet when I have R & R. Wow. It's really becoming real.

Too tired to write more tonight. Have a good one in your corner of the world,

Thursday, May 8, 2008

May 21

The date has been set....May 21 I leave for Freetown, Sierra Leone, AFRICA. There were a few confusions along the way. I wanted to stay in US over the Memorial Holiday weekend, but Post needs me ASAP, so I will leave more than a week ahead of schedule. Welcome to the government. I'm still waiting for my visa, my car, my airline tickets.

When I went to make my airline reservations, I found out a few startling facts about third world countries. Regular air service does not operate every day or out of every city or by every carrier. Only United flies to Freetown and they only fly out of London or Brussels. It's going to take me 4 days to get to Freetown! Are you ready for this:
Wed. May 21 leave DC
Thurs May 22 arrive London
Stay overnight in London because the next flight out is on Friday
Fri May 23 leave London
Fri May 23 arrive Lungi airport
Stay overnight in Lungi airport hotel because the only ferry to Freetown has already left!
Sat May 24 arrive in Freetown.
Sun & Mon lay by the pool and relax!!!

I got the last of my immunizations. Today it was Meningitis and Typhoid. Yes, both my arms hurt and yes, that's about 7 shots total. I think I should be good for the next several years. Oh yea, except for rabies. Rabies is in short supply so I have to get that at Post when they get a shipment in.

I did a short presentation on Tuesday on Sierra Leone. I'll try and attach it to this email. Ooops. Apparently this BLOG does not support attachments. If anyone wants me to email it to them, just email me or leave a comment here with your email address and I will send it to you. Here are a few more facts about Sierra Leone that I shared in the PP presentation:

•First explored in 1462 (thirty years before Columbus!)
•Land Area comparable to half the size of Illinois
•“Sierra Leone” is Portuguese for Lion Mountains.
•Population is 5.9 Million (Freetown is 1,070,200)
•Settled by the United Kingdom (they speak English!)

*250 Miles of coast
*$1.00 equals 2901 Leones (so $8.00 cream cheese costs 23,600 Leones!)
*Lowest country on the Human Development Scale
*7th Lowest country on Human Poverty Scale
*Rainy season May - Dec
*Dry season Dec - May
*Average temps 80's
*Current Ambassador: June Carter Perry

So...time for bed for me. Hope you have a good night in your corner of the world,

Becky Boo

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Passports, Shots, Cars....Oh My!

Lots of things going on....the count down will begin shortly. I have to make my final travel arrangements very soon. Things are starting to get serious....I'M MOVING TO AFRICA!!

Last week, I received my Diplomatic Passport. That's really a big event. The cover is black and for some reason that change of color really puts things into perspective. I'm going to be a diplomat. No, I won't be an Ambassador, but in my own way, I will be promoting and representing the policies and practices of the United States. When I got the new passport, the thing I thought of is....If terrorists take over the plane, I will hide my black passport and hand them my tourist passport. No sense in letting them know I am an official U.S. government employee. Hey, I've seen the movies.

After the thrill of the Dip Passport (that's what State Department employees call it), I got to visit the travel clinic and, you guessed it....find out what immunizations I need for Africa. Basically, it would be a shorter list if I told you what I don't need! So far I got: polio booster, tetanus booster, Hep A (first of 3), and yellow fever. For those of you wanna be physicians, you might be interested to know that yellow fever is a live vaccine. They have to mix it up and administer it within the hour or else it won't work. We can only go Fridays at 1:30 to get this shot. Well, I had to leave class to get the shot and you would have thought I threatened national security for all the trouble I got into for missing class. So not only do both my arms hurt, but the teacher yelled at me! (You all know what a trouble maker I am.....) So after all that trauma, I called a quick wine/cheese party after class at my house. I'm like McGuiver in the kitchen when it comes to parties. I just started opening cabinets, cutting veggies, pouring chips, opening wine, and viola it's party time! I think my classmates also needed an excuse to unwind.

* * * * *CAR UPDATE* * * * * * *

I finally bought a car yesterday. Well, I don't actually have the car yet, but it's coming. I bought a 1996 Toyota 4x4, 170,000 miles, sunroof, cd, radio, ipod adaptor, 4 fairly new tires, and a high performance engine and exhaust system. It's red with cloth interior. It will do nicely for Africa and I only paid $4,000. It's sort of like my Avalon, only all terrain. I will try and attach a picture. I found the PERFECT car and was just about to make an offer when the owner told me it had sold for CASH about an hour after I drove it. Bummer. I was sad for a while, but I guess it wasn't meant to be.

Here's a quick list of the aftermarket modifications:- After market radio, with upgraded speakers all around and amplifier under driver seat.- Installed TRD (Toyota Racing Development) exhaust system- K&N air intake- Throttle body spacer (similar to )- Heavy duty shocks- New front rotors- Custom wheels (chrome and heavier duty than original wheels)- Switched to Mobil 1 Synthetic 10W-30 motor oil around 120k miles ago (btw, it is not recommended going back to regular/non-synthetic can damage the engine)

That's about all for now. I should be leaving for Africa the end of May. Will send exact details when I make them.

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