Monday, July 28, 2008

Bits and Pieces

Dear Everyone,
Below is an email that I sent to my OMS classmates. Quick test: what does OMS stand for? "Office Management Specialist." Very good. DCM stands for Deputy Chief of Mission; and that is the title of my boss. My old boss left the embassy and my new boss arrives on Wednesday. Anyway, instead of re-writing the whole email, here is a copy. Enjoy! Becky

Just a quick hello. My HHE arrived on Friday and it is still sitting in the warehouse here. I went and saw it and I think they send my whole house from Texas! I sure hope there is a LOT of packing material in there because I KNOW I did not send that much stuff! I have a bike I can't use; a desk I wish I didn't send because my old apartment had a crappy desk but my new one has an awesome desk. Oh well. Life in FS.

My car arrived a week ago, but it's still in "processing" for license and registration. I found out that no car insurance company will cover me here. That's reassuring. Luckily the car I brought is not that expensive and is not attached to a loan. I was informed that I can drive the car home tomorrow. Now, if I can only find the car key and the radio....somewhere in my stuff from DC.

It's rainy season here now, so it rains about half of every day. It reminds me of my childhood summer days back in Minnesota. I have a wonderful balcony that I have already managed to fill with lots of plants. I eat most of my meals out there, to get fresh air after all that time at the a/c Embassy. So sterile! I was used to spending a lot of my day out and about in my old job, and being tied to the desk is an adjustment.

And Amy is right....being the OMS for the DCM involves a lot of scheduling. I never even used Outlook before I got this job! I'm practically a pro now. I even use the colored flags and bars for reminders and task lists. The hardest part about my job is trying to coordinate the DCM schedule with the AMB. It's a small post so they go to a lot of things together and if the AMB OMS does not inform me of appointments, then things go awry. Being in the front office has it's advantages....last week I got invited to the National Day at the Egyptian Embassy. At 5:30, the Ambassador walked by my desk and handed me HER invitation to the party. She said she couldn't go, and asked if I would like to go in her place. (wow, only been on the job for two months and already I'm a stand-in for the AMB!) Well, of course! Me? Miss a social occasion? The party was that same night at 6:30. I dashed home with the duty driver and took a quick shower and changed. I went alone, but there were several people at the party that I had met at other occasions; which was a welcome relief. Near the end of the evening when most of the people had left, I met the Egyptian Ambassador. He was really nice. He was "holding court" with his friends and he included me in their traditional wine drink - hibiscus. Here I am drinking hibiscus wine with 5 dashing Egyptians and I'm thinking I chose the right post after all! (and for anyone who's counting...yes one of them did ask me out!)

So that's the news from Sierra Leone. And me? Write a short email? I guess you know me better than that!


Sunday, July 20, 2008

Happy Home

So, those of you in the "know" know that I have been VERY unhappy with my housing arrangement here. The apartments are nice, and spacious so that was not the problem. The problem is that my apartment directly faces the guard station. The guards could see me all the time. I felt very uncomfortable. The guards are nice; they just like to watch me a lot. They have nothing else to do. Well, imagine being a single woman and being stared at all the time you are at home. None of the other apartments has such a situation. I wrote two letters, talked to five people about my feelings. This is a hardship post as it is, and I didn't want to have hardship at home. The process of housing reassignment procedures is very strict. I was not getting anyone to understand me, but I kept trying. Over the course of 5 weeks, I wrote two formal letters, talked to five different people, and prayed a lot. I was so unhappy. The good news is that THEY APPROVED MY REASSIGNMENT TO ANOTHER APARTMENT ON WEDNESDAY AND I MOVED IN ON FRIDAY!!! This apartment is right next to my old one, but it's on the other side of the building away from the guards. I feel so content! I started unpacking and nesting and making it a home the very first day. By the second day, I almost had everything arranged. It looks great! I will take some photos and send them. I even started unpacking the things I bought at Sams Club before I left. You see, the other apartment always felt so wrong, that I never unpacked anything. I lived out of the three suitcases I brought on the plane. My well being was so affected in the old apartment that I never wanted to "move in and get settled." Anyway, I am sooooo very happy now. I feel like inviting people over!

I miss everyone. I did not go to the beach today; as the crowd that goes did not call. I think during the rainy season alot of people go on vacation to get away from the weather here. I stayed home and did some gardening on the patio. I have a balcony full of plants and I even planted the flower seeds that Laura gave me.

Love to everyone,

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I'm back...

I guess I should tell you again, that living here is not like living in a civilized country. Repeat after me...THIRD WORLD...THIRD WORLD...THIRD WORLD.

I didn't have Internet at home since last Friday because the woman I share it with went back to see her family and she unplugged the connection! I had to track down her maid, meet the maid, go inside and reconnect it, etc.etc. So, I finally got the connection late on Wednesday, but was out that night and the next two nights. So...this is the first chance I've had to connect with my people.

And I'm on the way out again tonight, so I just wanted everyone to know that I'm fine. I have some good news and since I'm probably now going to the beach tomorrow, I will write and tell you about it. It's been raining here more often, so the trips to the beach are waning.

Love you all and talk to you VERY soon!!


Sunday, July 6, 2008

3 Long Days....and Death

The foreign service is filled with much diversity. Not only in the people, but the job, the lifestyle and the emotions. Be ready for it.

On Friday, we had a huge reception for the 4th of July. It's customary for the US Embassy to invite all the important people from the host country to help celebrate Independence Day. We had a huge party for about 300 people. I actually got up on 4th of July morning and put on a sort of cocktail dress. That's the first time in my 50 years of living that I wore a dress on 4th of July! (later you will read that I wore another dress later in the two dresses on 4th of July will be a record that probably won't be broken!) The dress must have looked pretty good, because many of my co-workers at the Embassy smiled in awe as I walked in to start my shift. My job was a "meeter" which meant I escorted the guests from the security checkpoint to the front door of the embassy. It's quite a walk and I did it for about an hour plus. The funny part is this: it was windy that day. My beautiful hair got all messed up. I was wearing a sort of lose, low cut dress; which would have been fine if it wasn't windy. So here I am....escorting the minister of defence, presidents of companies and various dignitaries and the whole time I'm afraid to look down and see if my dress is blowing in the wind and exposing my black victoria secret bra! The trick about being comfortable is to not think about the problem...because in this case I could do nothing about it! Just smile, say hello, and hope I'm covered...literally! There were various speeches, toasts with champagne, and finger food. By the way, we as Embassy employees are told not to eat any food or drink anything until we are sure all our guests are served. We are literally told to eat before we do an we don't take food for the guests. We are literally working the event, not being a part of it. And for those of you we did not get paid overtime for working; even thought it's a national holiday and all the people in the US are having picnics and wearing jeans. All part of the job.

The second dress of the evening came in the form of dressing for a wedding reception. Only I can meet a nice young girl on a Friday at the manicure shop, talk to her about her wedding, and be invited to the reception the next week. So, I put on a summer cocktail dress, some strappy sandals and went to the reception around 9pm, which is what time things start around here. The young couple seemed so sweet and happy and for a little while it made me believe in love again.

The next day, Saturday, was local elections in Sierra Leone. The US Embassy sent a team of about 50 people to local polling centers to observe if the elections were fair and free. I worked the Ops Center (Operations center) which means I took in calls from the teams in the field and reported what was seen. It was really busy...I answered calls non-stop from 8am to 4pm. It's really exciting to be a part of the democratic process. After the elections, someone from the Embassy made a report to Washington, DC. Who would have thought I would be doing something like this? And no, for those of you keeping track; we didn't get paid. We do this as a service for our country.

Saturday afternoon I had the very best chicken I have eaten since my grandmothers recipe. I walked to a little Lebanese bakery near here that has rotisserie chicken and amazing Lebanese bread. As I was walking home, I slipped and fell in the rain! No, the chicken did not get ruined, as it was in a plastic bag. I will say that all my African neighbors were quite worried about me, as I fell really hard and actually got a little hurt. But mostly I felt humiliated and tried not to think about the fact that my first introduction to my neighborhood was falling on my face! Humility is everything...

Saturday evening, I went out with a friend to a casino. We played black jack and I actually doubled my money! I was loosing at first, but it got easier. I was always so intimidated to play in Las Vegas, but this was a small operation and actually quite fun. The guy next to me helped me "double down" and "pay insurance" and I learned quickly to watch and see what the "deck" was doing. It was cool to win!

Sunday was spent at the beach. I find it so relaxing to forget the issues of the week and just stare at the beauty all around me. I call it therapy! It's not crowded; and in fact, the only people around were the people in our group. Everyone here has servants and they cook the lunch, serve the drinks, open the gate to let you car in, etc. We listened to music on my Ipod and played in the surf.

Now for the difficult news. This afternoon, my cousin died. He was 52 and he died of cancer. I found out the news from an email my sister sent me. Not the way to hear that the person who was like a brother to you, has died. But I'm living in Africa, and that's just the way it is here. My phone is not reliable, my internet is not always right next to me, and I have to get news somehow. I knew he was very sick and I had talked to him on Friday afternoon...but it's still not easy. That's a part of this job that I will probably always hate....if something bad happens, you will not be there to get hugs from people you love. You will not be able to be consoled by your family. And in my case, I have not been here long enough to make a close friend to share this news with. Comfort will be hard to come by tonight. I talked to my Dad and cried. I talked to my sister and cried. I tried to talk to my daughter, but the internet was not cooperating. Welcome to life in the foreign service. Death away from home is not easy. I have been asked to write a eulogy, so I'll wait until I can think about my cousin who was like a brother to me and see if any words some to mind. Besides prayer, it's the only contribution I can make from here.

Appreciate every day you get as a gift. It may literally be your last some day.

Love from Africa,