Sunday, June 29, 2008

Etiquette in Africa?

Hi all,
Well, I woke up on Saturday morning and I actually felt healthy for the first time in a week! It was almost like....I was the energizer bunny because I felt so well. It reminded me how sick really I had been because feeling well was so unfamiliar.

Big social event happened on Friday. We only work half days on Fridays, and the Ambassador had invited a select few of us to her house for lunch. Ok, now remember this is the foreign service. She did not casually walk by my desk and verbally ask me to stop by her place for sandwiches after work. Oh no. I got an engraved invitation! It was all very formal! Her house is very beautiful (nothing like mine) and she has a staff of servants to pour the wine and prepare the food. For those curious in the crowd, she served Lasagna (yea comfort food!) and bread and salad. For desert we had mixed fruit in a crystal dish, topped with chocolate ice cream. No, it's not Amy's Ice Cream, but I'll take it. Somehow, I am really missing ice cream over here. It's not very available and it does not taste the same as the US. Anyway, enough about the food. I had a mini-crisis about the forks! I took several etiquette classes at UT, so I pretty much know how to butter bread the correct way (yes, guys, there is a proper way to eat bread at a formal table), and to use the silverware from the outside in. Well......the table was set with the dinner fork on the outside!! I saw my salad sitting right next to my dinner plate and I thought...what??? Why isn't the salad fork on the outside? So, of course, I sat there confused until I watched the Ambassador pick up her dinner fork and dig into her Lasagna. So, I did the same. I ate the Lasagna first. Strange. I mentioned this dilemma to someone at Post and they informed me that in Europe, they serve the salad after the main course, so that's why they place the dinner fork on the outside so you use it first. However, this person also told me that that rule only applies if you don't actually see the salad on the table...clearly a violation because the salad was sitting right there! This person also added that European style table-settings should only be used in Europe, and not in Africa. But of course someone else stated that the Ambassador can do whatever she wants and that's the prevailing rule! Thank you Emily Post. Cheers! Becky

Monday, June 23, 2008

Sick in Africa

I looked at the date of the last posting and really couldn't believe it. It's been over 10 days since I last wrote something. Somewhere in my mind, I think that all the things I see through my eyes, somehow make it to you all, without me writing anything.

I was really sick the last 24 hours. Welcome to Africa. (I say that a helps me keep my humor) Who knows why or what I encountered to make me sick, you just live with it. People told me to expect to get sick every now and then, so I guess it was time. I've been here for a month and the nurse said all my US immunities have probably worn off by now. It's no fun being sick alone. I was so sick that I started to wonder if there was perhaps something seriously wrong with me, but by the start of the 2nd day I felt better, although weak. The nurse said I can go 2 days being very sick before I need to worry or take medicine. Thanks for that!

For those of you looking for a good book to read, pick up White Man's Grave by Richard Dooling. It's a novel, but it's based on actual events. The book is about a Peace Corps volunteer who goes missing in Sierra Leone and the best friend and father who go looking for him. The book has lots of history of SL and local customs. It will help you get familiar with this country. On or about page 166, there is a story about the first time the friend gets sick in Africa. Let's just say he describes it well.

Here are some personal messages to see who's reading my blog, and also some recent perceptions of being here:

Vilma: It was so great to finally be able to run again for the first time in a month...and on the beach no less! I ran about 2 miles and walked a mile or so. I got way way overheated because we ran at noon and I think the temp was about 85 with the humidity at least that. All that running might be the reason I got so sick on Sunday. I probably over-did-it. However, I DID manage to pay volleyball and water frisbee on Sunday before I got sick.

Pam: I got your two postcards today. We only get mail about every two weeks. It was so nice to get your cards! If you want to have fun, you can send me some US stamps and stationary and I will write you and your Dad. There are no stamps here and I am running out. Greeting cards are also pretty difficult to come by, so if you get a hand-made birthday greeting, that's why.

Regina: I really really miss our manicures! I have only found one girl to do them here, and she does not do acrylic nails. So my beautiful nails are going to crap. I would love it if you would send me some nail polish because I will probably have to start doing them myself. The girl I found is also unreliable because she does not have a car. Again, welcome to third world! If you want to do the mailing, just send cotton balls, clear base coat, and a couple of bottles of light pink. I'm not as daring as you with the reds! As Pam for my address.....

Regina 2: How are the renters doing? Is the house back in MLS for lease? Any leads yet? Oh, and how is the pie shop? YUM>>>>>>>

Angela, Ryan, Laura: Someone write soon! I'm going to deduct mommy points if I don't hear from one of you.

Laura: I'm waiting for your care package. We got mail today, but it was only letters and bills. I'm hoping the package will be here soon. Oh, the reason you never got your NYT is because they would not allow it to be mailed to a PO box and for some reason the street address of your old apartment did not come up on their records as a "place for delivery." I guess you are not smart enough in Millerton to receive the NYT.

Ryan: I have an IRS letter to mail to you about your tax surplus check from President Bush. Have you gotten your $$ yet? Also, you have a subscription to "The Week" to renew. If you don't want it, I DO! We can get magazines here; albeit two weeks late. But I have determined that late news is preferable to no news. (this coming from a daily reader of the NYT, I know.)

Angela: Have you gotten your birthday card yet?

Allison: No, your package has not arrived yet either. Does it have any Pico in it??? I can't have it right now since I've been sick but.....

Allan and Rachael and Roy: The adventure is even more daring and exciting than I imagined. Every day I look out the car windows and see things you would not believe. I probably already wrote some of them, but really, the poverty is so prevalent that it overshadows everything. Here is something humorous: The taxi's here have all these "religious" sayings on them; like "god is great" or "praise Allah" or "the spirit is in ya" or whatever. I think they write those things so they can stay alive for the next days driving. Driving....oh my. The taxi's just stop in the middle of the road to pick people up. NO warning, no break lights (hardly any of the cars have lights of any kind) and you have to drive carefully not to hit someone entering or exiting a taxi. The dogs roam freely all over here. They sleep on the sides of the road and never seem to take a bit of notice of cars literally inches from their sleeping bodies. Most of the dogs seem underfed and mangy. Some are so thin I wonder how they will find their next meal with so little energy. Food is scarce for humans and animals.

Ok. Enough for now. We sick people have to get our rest.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

My new houseboy Chris

I think I mentioned that I have a "houseboy" named Chris. I don't know what to call him, exactly, but he is awesome. Tonight when I came home from work (at a decent hour finally), he had the candles lit, cleaned the house, washed and ironed my clothes, cleaned the apartment, made dinner, and set the table. All this for $10 a day. I know, I can't believe it either. Some other people in the Foreign Service already know you can get cheap help overseas. I never even thought about hiring someone, but it's really almost necessary here. The food has to be washed very carefully with bleach, the apartment gets more dirty than in the US, and by hiring someone, we are helping them have a job. Some people pay the help only about $7 per day and that's also ok. Chris also does all the shopping for me. He picks out what to make. I only told him not to make things too spicy. I also told him I love fruit, especially bananas, so even on the days he doesn't come, he stops by and gives me bananas. I actually saw REAL bananas on the banana tree outside my apartment. It was so cool to see how they grow. Anyway, Chris is a godsend. I work so many hours that I would probably just come home and eat a bowl of cereal every night if he were not here. Pam, he is SUCH a good chef, that I would recommend he come and work with Shawn at the restaurant. When came home tonight, he had made fish; some sort of tuna with spices, a rub, and garnished with plantains, tomatoes and parsley. Now, this is Africa, and that is NOT the way most people eat. He also made a lettuce salad with fresh veggies, greens, and olives. For dessert I had the freshest mango ever! Chris once had his own catering business and I can see why. He's about 23 years old, I'm guessing. He also worked at a hotel, so he does these creative things with my mosquito net; folds it into a beautiful decoration.

I know, I'm spoiled. I may never cook again. Maybe I can take Chris with me on my next assignment. He wants to learn to drive (most people here cannot drive because it costs too much to learn; and no one can afford a car), so when my car comes, I may teach him and then he can be my driver too. What a lifestyle. I would not have believed it myself 3 months ago.

Now, contrast that with the average lifestyle of the people of Freetown. When we drive down the street, we see people carrying everything and anything on their heads. It's an art I'm sure. The other day, I saw a woman carrying about 10 dozen eggs on her head. Did I already mention that? It still boggles my mind. Today it rained; and the people still walked in the rain, carrying on with their business. I think the large platters that they carry on their heads serve as sort of large umbrellas to protect them from the rain. Oh, when it rains, everything turns to mud. Remember, there are no sidewalks here and the roads are NOT paved. If it rains a lot, the streets turn to raging streams. No one seems bothered. Life is hard here and rain will not kill you; it's just another inconvenience in an already inconvenient life. Yesterday, we had a storm and a large tree fell across the road we take to work. Until they could get equipment to move it, all the traffic had to be diverted through the woods as a detour. This road....OMG. You can forget about complaining about traffic on the way to work. At least you have smooth, safe roads. I can really tell you that without a 4-wheel drive, you cannot live here safely. The Africans that DO somehow own a car, usually have these beat up old Nissan cars that look like they are held together by duct tape and prayer. The drivers are so aggressive that if you don't throw your car out there and be aggressive also, you would never get anywhere. There is no such thing as courtesy. Courtesy is for sissies. You will just get taken advantage of and laugh ted at. I hope I'm up to the task when my car finally arrives.

I have rediscovered reading. I actually take my whole hour for lunch, because the day is so busy I really need the break. I just started the book by Barrack Obama; Dreams of my Father. It's good. I wanted to sit outside in the sunshine and read during lunch, but here is the dilemma of that. Remember I work in an Embassy. Remember security? Well, we just can't push open the side door and sit outside like we used to do at my old job. Oh no. In order to get outside, I would have to go through several steel doors, carrying my food, walk around the building; you get the idea. It isn't worth it.

I will send photos as soon as I get the cable for my camera to connect with the computer. One of the bad things about packing and moving is that you cannot possibly keep track of everything. Things get put in the wrong box and pretty soon you find yourself with a camera with no instruction book; an Ipod, but no charger for the wall, or good booze and nothing but Walmart plastic to drink it out of. Those of you who know me well, know how much I HATE plastic glasses. They came with my apartment here....but I could only tolerate them so long, and so I broke down and bought 4 glass glasses on Sunday. Ah, I feel so much better. I'm telling you, it's the little things in life!

You'e probably asleep by now with all this reading. Hope all is well in your corner.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Be will be jealous!

Time to write a few fun things to let you know I'm ok here. I didn't mean that last email to scare anyone.

The last two weekends, I have gone to the beach with friends from work. These are two different beaches and I will mention more about that later. The road to both beaches is very rough and it takes about 1 and a half hours to drive there. The roads are terrible. No one in the United States would believe it. The road is only paved a very small portion of the way. Today we went through streams, giant holes filled with water, ruts in the road that I wondered how we would even manuver around, and bumbs so large it feels like you're on a roller coaster and bridges so narrow that I hoped to god we would make it. Just to make things interesting, I did see several "dead" cars from long ago lying at the botton of creek beds. These cars had probably gotten into an accident or missed a turn and went over the side. The cars sit in the creek forever...getting rusted and falling apart. No one ever bothers to remove them. I'm a little anxious about driving here when my car actually does arrive. Everyone I have talked to says you get used to it. I'll let you know!

So after all the driving and being thrown around inside the car like a rag doll, we arrive at the beach. The beach we went to last weekend was remote. We were the only people there except for a few Africans who came to cook lunch for us. The beach is breathtakingly beautiful. Pure white sand, crystal clear blue water, no seaweed (like in Texas), no jelly fish, no debris of any kind. Just wonderfully clean water. In the background of the beach are the mountains. The mountains are covered in lush green plants and trees, so it's very magestic. No people, only beautiful nature all around. We played in the big waves, had lunch of Angel fish and rice cooked by the local Africans. Basically all you do is call someone's cell phone (of course you know them!), you tell them you're coming to the beach and how many people you are brining. The meal is delicious and only costs about $5.

The beach I went to today was an invitation from some people I met at a Happy Hour for my boss last night. (The drive was similar to last week and took about the same amount of time. There is no shortage of beautiful beaches in Sierra Leone. There is 250 miles of beautiful coastland.) These were Lebanese people. They are rich here in Freetown, as they own a lot of the business' here. There was a large party of about 30 people. All very nice people and they brought all this home made Lebanese food. We played in the waves, talked and even played sand volleyball. I got several comliments on my volleyball skills, which means I got noticed! I made a lot of saves on the court and got every one of my serves over the net. Nothing wrong with being 50...I've still got it! Oh, I also wore my new bikini to the beach. The old black one was getting tired and boring even for me. I think with all the trips to the beach, I should have brought a lot more swimsuits!

One quick word about food. There is something here the Africans call "rock buns." Basically, its a muffin; only a little more hard and dry than ours. Anyway, I bought one and left it in a little brown paper sack on the shelf in my kitchen. The next day, I took it to work with me. I put it in the microwave to heat it up for breakfast. When I took out the brown paper sack with the muffin in it, ALL THESE LITTLE ANTS CRAWLED OUT!!! Everyone has these little ants in their kitchen, but I forgot about it and didn't think they would get in the bag with the muffin. Anyway, the amazing part is that those hearty ants survived cooking in the microwave! I didn't know if I should eat the muffin or not; I figured it must be sanitized if it was in the microwave....and I didn't see any ants on the muffin. This being Africa and me being hungry, I ate a few bites.....then a co-worker brought in some really yummy lemon pound cake and I promptly threw the muffin away, just in the nick of time! Just like me to come all the way to Africa having received all my vaccinations for yellow fever, malaria, typhoid, rabies, etc. only to be killed off my tiny kitchen ants!

Hope all is well in your corner of the world!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Chapter Two - Life in the Third World

Yesterday you got a taste of my working world. Tonight I will write a few things about living in a third world country.

First off, there is the water. In the US, water is plentiful and clean. It may not be cheap, but I bet most of you never stop to think what happens when you turn on the tap; you just do it. Here, water is unclean and you cannot drink out of the tap. That means, when you brush your teeth in the morning or take medicine at night, you have to have already thought about walking to the kitchen and getting a bottle of water out of the fridge before you attempt to swallow that water. We also have something called a water distilling machine. You can get water out of that because it's been purified. That water is room-temperature and is also in the kitchen. The problem in my house is that the kitchen is at the complete opposite end of the house from the bedroom! That means if I want a drink of water before bed or get thirsty during the night (remember I was a runner and I drank lots of water), I would have had to arrange a bottle of water in the bedroom, or take a long walk across cold tile floor in the dark to drink water!

Speaking of running, I miss it like crazy. I feel like a drug addict that has been without a fix for way too long. I have not been running in over two weeks now. Why? Because it's not safe to just run out the front door like it was in Austin. Remember, I am one of a very few white people here and I have a lot of money by African standards. Just by looking at me, you can tell that I am not wanting for anything. I am fairly plump (by African standards), I get driven to work in a fancy American car, I wear jewelery, I am clean, I can read and write, I have a job. Besides all that, I don't know my way around and getting lost would not be a good thing. Also, the roads are terrible for running. They are mostly dirt, uneven, dangerous with cars and people all over, dogs roaming (dogs with rabies and I have not had my series of shots yet because there was a shortage in DC), and besides all that it's very humid here. Basically, imagine running/training at the Texas State fair, as you try to dodge all the people and run over cables and garbage on the ground. Hazardous to say the least! I really really miss running. Did I say that already? Tonight I tried to get some exercise by swimming laps in the pool in my compound. Yes, they call it a compound because the building is surrounded by high cement walls and razor wire. The first time I saw that, it really stunned me. But then I looked around and saw that all the important and valuable buildings in town had it. The cheaper version of razor wire is this: you simply take sharp, broken glass and imbed it in concrete on the top of the wall surrounding your house. It's actually quite colorful and effective for keeping out intruders. I also have guards at the gate of my compound 24 hours a day. NO car can enter without the permission of the guards. As for the swimming, it pretty much sucked. The pool is small, so I swam diagonal laps, which meant I had to swim a LOT of laps in 30 minutes. I miss running where you really get a workout, where you can feel the wind on your body, where you can hear the birds, etc. I hear you can run on the beach here...I'll have to hire a partner.

Speaking of hiring, you do that a lot here. Labor is cheap and actually necessary. For instance, all the fresh fruit and vegetables have to be washed thoroughly in bleach water. Now, I don't know how to do that, nor do I have the time. I work very long hours at the Embassy. Plus, there is the issue of shopping for food. The grocery stores are very small, and don't carry the same things all the time. A lot of the food has an expired expiration date (which I NEVER paid attention to in the U.S.) and the price of the food is really expensive. I don't know how the Africans can afford to eat. Well, actually I have an idea. They don't shop much at the store. They buy most of their things from the road side stands. These line the roads all over town and into the country. The food is left sitting out all day until it sells or something. People will sell a few lemons, a few loaves of baguette bread, some mango, etc. I don't know the price of these items, nor the quality. In fact, I don't recall ever seeing a white person buying these products on the side of the road. We are all worried about becoming sick.

So, the person I hired to help me is named Chris. He is African and he is about 23 years old, I think. He is a friend of the RSO (security officer) at the Embassy. He can read and write, he cooks for me, cleans, does laundry, and will iron if I ask him. Cleaning is very important because things get pretty dirty here; much more so than in the US. For instance, I came home one day and a whole area of the hallway had about a million dead bugs on the floor. I have no idea how that happened, but it's Africa. Chris works 3 days a week and when I got home from a long day at the Embassy last week, he had dinner waiting for me on the table. The house was clean and a candle was burning. It was really nice. Chris can also arrange to have things custom made for me; like chairs for my kitchen table that did not come with the house. Strange to have a table that you cannot sit at, but that's Africa. The Embassy is American, of course, but even we have limited resources. For example, I was only issued two bath towels. That is a real hardship!!! If I take a shower and go swimming in the same day, I have no clean or dry towel. If I go to the beach and take a shower when I get home, then I have no towel in the morning! There are NO rugs or anything, so I just stand in a pool of water when I get out of the shower and hope I don't fall in the slippery mess.

As Dave would say, "all part of the adventure!"

Gotta get some sleep. Hope all is well in your corner of the world. I would love to hear your comments.....please write!


Sunday, June 1, 2008

Hello from Freetown!

I am copying an email I sent to my fellow OMS friends. They are being assigned around the world, or are still in Washington DC for language training and we are somehow managing to keep in touch. Frankly, I'm too tired to write a new email! But there are LOTS of juicy details in the following email about my first week on the job. Enjoy!


Dearest Laura and Gang,
Get ready for the adventure of your life if you're being posted to West Africa, or probably anywhere in Africa for that matter. Debi, your post sounds like a luxury compared to mine. Let me explain....

Today is Sunday, June 1st and I've been here a week already. This is the first time my computer has been hooked up in my apartment. No one has spare time to help me get the access code. I have no time at work to even check personal email.

I arrived to work on Tuesday after Memorial day. The TDY OMS was really nice; she's a 35 year FS veteran and knows everything about everything. Everyone at Post loves her and wishes she would stay. She gave me as much training as she could, but Post is so busy (they have been short 1 OMS for almost 3 months now) that we were mostly reacting as fast as things came up. I walked the first day as I got briefed by all the different sections (and because I was new and didn't know my way around the building) but by the second day I was running everywhere. I think I had lunch two of the four days, and I worked overtime every day I was there. Yes, already. I really REALLY cannot believe I have only been there 4 days. It seems like a month! Here is something for the record books...the very first time I picked up my desk phone, the person on the other line was the Ambassador!! She was pleasant enough and since I had not learned how to transfer a call yet, I just put her on hold and told her OMS she was on the line. Thank god I have had a LOT of phone training in the past. No one has time to train me on how the phones work. Days two and three were a blur.

On Friday, things started out a little rocky in the morning. When I went to meet the fellow embassy workers who have a car and drive us, they looked at my shoes in horror and told me that "open towed shoes" are not allowed in the Front Office! Of course, I ran back and changed into the first flats I could find that had toes. At the office, we had a going away cake for the departing OMS who had been training me. I was in "secret" with the Ambassador to get the cake, the knife, the napkins, and gather all the people together at the specified time. Now, I hardly know who anyone is and I have to round them up to get them to the party! Totally, the hostess, I actually pulled this off. Then we had a crisis with the computers in that they were all being "spamed" and everyone was calling the Front office to get answers. On top of that, my ClassNet computer did not work and so I could not pull cables for the DCM. Oh, the DCM had two "visitors" who had to be checked in and escorted to the Front office. In between all that, I had to supervise the Char force (the cleaning people) as they dumped garbage and cleaned the Front office because they are FSN's and cannot be left alone for security reasons. AND ALL THAT HAPPENED BY 10:30 IN THE MORINING!! After the TDY OMS left at 10:45, I officially became the OMS for the AMB and the DCM. The AMB then had visitors who had to be escorted. While she was in a closed door meeting, I actually had my first 30 minutes of quiet time since I started this job. What a nice change! I skipped lunch to try and organize my desk. That was my second big mistake after the shoe incident. I incorrectly thought that since the Embassy officially closes at 1pm on Fridays, that they would not serve lunch. Oh no, Here, you better eat every chance you get! At 2pm, the ARSO called me and asked if I could do my security training and make my new badge. I thought he was joking, but no. Remember, the Embassy officially closes at 1pm on Fridays, but I think if you're still in the building, you're "fair game." He really wanted to get it done, so after that crazy morning and NO lunch, I had to try and be alert as he gave me instructions for the combinations for three different doors, the procedure for the alarm system, and then we took my official Badge photo. I look like hell, as you might imagine. He thought it looked fine, but then he's a guy! Then at 3pm, DCM (remember she had visitors?) called me and invited me to see the Tacugama Chimpanzee Rehabilitation Camp with her visitor. So because the DCM is really nice and I really wanted to see this place, I threw my papers in my bag, ran downstairs to meet them and got in the car not knowing how far we were going or anything. Thank god I managed to go to the bathroom before we left!

Ok....roads in Sierra Leone are BAD. Chris, I know well the people who jump out in front of your car while you are driving. How about the stray dogs, and chickens that wander the roads? And I had to laugh when Debi said no one pays attention to the stop lights. ARE YOU KIDDING? We don't have any stop lights here in Freetown. Not a one, I have only seen two roads that even have lines on them! The main roads in town are not too bad, as long as you can live with the road dropping off on the shoulder to nothingness, and the crazy people who cut in front of you in their rickey car only because they know you will not risk getting your nice American car smashed. Oh, and what about the so-called local taxi's who stop right in front of you to pick up and drop off passengers? Or the abandoned, broken down cars that just sit by the side of the road or in the road until someone drags them away some time in the future? Thank god most of the cars are in such poor condition that no one can drive very quickly. Not many people can afford a car, so everyone walks. Everyone...old people, toddlers walking alone, mothers with infants strapped to their backs carrying huge platters of something on their heads, children carrying bundles of sticks on their heads, everyone; rain or shine.

Back to the drive to the Chimp Camp. The road here was unbelievable. Remote. As you approach the camp, the sign says, ENGAGE 4-WHEEL DRIVE and I can understand why. I looked ahead and the road looked like a dirt path going straight up a mountain. And I mean straight UP through the jungle! I thought we were going to go up like a ride at the fair until our car would go over backwards when the elevation became too steep. You should have seen the nervous look on the face of the DCM's visitor, sheer panic! I was so hungry and so used to the bad roads that it didn't phase me much. I knew we would either make it, or not. We did. Got to the camp. Boy, was I glad I had run back to get those closed-toe flats from the morning fiasco! We walked on dirt paths to see the Chimps and learn about the camp. Thank god I chose to wear capri pants that morning....a dress or a suit would have been a nuisance. It's very hot and humid here. We walked about 2 miles in the jungle to see the different Chimp enclosures. Our guide, Willy, has been at the camp since it opened 12 years ago. He knows all 80 chimps by name...yes they all have names. He can "Chimp" talk to them, or call them by their English names and they all answer him. It was fascinating. I will definitely go back. It's a great project, so be sure and go to the link and find out more. On the drive back, I had a smashed piece of that going-away cake and I proceeded to munch on that as we drove home. It was the most delicious tasting rum cake I had ever eaten. Food is a good thing! Got home around 6pm. My "house boy" had dinner waiting for me (more about that later) and I ate that and promptly fell asleep at 7:30! So much for my Friday half day! Exciting but fulfilling. I know I will have to pace myself and get some rest now and then, or I'll burn out.

Saturday morning there was a soccer match (of course they call it "football" here) between the two Embassy teams. It's an annual FSN match. Since the AMB had asked me what she should wear to such an event, (and I was honored to be asked) I thought it best that I attend. Then I had to decide what I should wear! Remember it's really HOT and humid here and the thought of sitting out in the sun for hours was not all that appealing. My sunscreen is still in my HHE, of course! Here is the cool part.....when we got there, the AMB had these special AMB chairs brought in for her to sit on. An AMB does not just sit in a folding chair, you know! These were like living room wing back chairs. They set up three chairs. She sat in the middle and she asked ME and another woman to sit next to her! So in my very first week on the job, I find myself sitting right next to the Ambassador of Sierra Leone, giving play-by-play soccer instructions and discussing our children. Unbelievable. I have a feeling this might be a 7-day a week job, because she also gave me updates on the Monday schedule; a meeting that MUST be scheduled that wasn't planned, a cancellation of the meeting with Parliament, and workers scheduled to be doing maintenance at her residence. And I'm supposed to remember all this in my head at a soccer match! Nothing like hitting the ground running.

Ok, enough about me. Laura, throw away all open-toed shoes, Debi, be glad you have stop lights, Chris, come visit me on the World Food plane, Diane, be glad you will be in civilized Paris, Cheryl, there are no cats here; only stray dogs and lots of them and them all look like they came from the same mother. Joy, be glad you have your husband with you as it gets lonely here in Africa, and the rest of you;...write!