Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Much-Needed Update...

Have 7 months really passed since my last blog entry? Yes, they have, Dear Readers. It is either a testament to how time flies, or how lazy I really am. I shall let you decide.

In December, I had the pleasure of working TDY in Abu Dhabi, a chance to experience a smaller consular section, adjudicating visas for individuals from over 30 different countries(!), and making new connections and friendships along the way. It's funny how consular work is transferable, the applicant pool and country may be completely different, but the consular applications and procedure are the same. Overall, I absolutely loved it, the Mad Scientist came with me as well and worked out of the hotel we lived in for a couple weeks. The city had a very different energy than Mumbai, and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

Back here at post, I've moved from visa work to the American Citizen Services unit, assisting U.S. citizens in our district. I have always enjoyed feeling of use to others, and there really is no better place than the consular section to do so. I've experienced the joy of approving U.S. citizenship to tiny twin babies born to a same-sex couple, and the heartbreak of calling a wife in the middle of the night to inform her of her husband's sudden death here. Both events have moved me, and have strengthened my resolve to continue as best as I can as an officer to serve.

And the news continues...my second tour bidding cycle ended recently, and I found out our next Foreign Service post will be Amman, Jordan in 2015! Mad Scientist and I had bid this particular post (and this position) #1 on our list, and we couldn't be happier about it. MS recently informed me that the country is building a Star Trek theme park in Aqaba, what else does one need to know? It's perfect! Ok, ok, the fact that he will have excellent internet to continue his work and I will have the opportunity to learn Arabic and work in a split-rotation political-consular position is pretty perfect as well.

We've had some great trips in the last several months, including Bangkok (twice), Istanbul, and Goa, and are looking forward to a week in Leh/Ladakh at the end of the month. Between our many visitors, trips, work, and rest in between, life is has been better than I ever could have imagined. Feeling lucky and grateful, and on that positive note, to all a good night!

Monday, November 19, 2012

My Job.

In my well-intentioned efforts to start and maintain a blog, I realize I have not really delved into what a consular officer does. One dictionary defines a 'consul' as "an official appointed by a government to reside in a foreign country and represent his or her government's commercial interests and assist its citizens there." I would say that is fairly accurate. As a consular officer, my duties include, but are not limited to, providing assistance to U.S. citizens abroad in the country where I serve, and facilitating business and legitimate travel to the United States to further our interests worldwide.

Let's say you, a U.S. citizen, get into a brawl in a Mumbai dive bar and end up in jail. A consular officer would visit you in jail and assist you in obtaining necessary services. What if you decide to utilize assisted reproductive technology (ART) to have children through a surrogate at a clinic in Gujurat? A consular officer will register the births of your U.S. citizen children. What if you experience a terrorist attack or natural disaster during your annual vacation in Goa? Consular officers will work tirelessly to obtain medical services, help in evacuations, and much, much more. In short, we are at your service abroad, my dear fellow Americans, and receive great satisfaction from doing so.

And what of non-U.S. citizens? We provide consular services in the form of visas for travel to the United States, both immigrant and non-immigrant in nature. We are responsible for protecting our country's borders and ensure that the U.S. travel being facilitated is legitimate, that the person being issued the visa will use it for the purpose it is meant to be used for. Consular officers make active efforts to reach out to host country citizens and demystify the visa process, explain what they need to do and what our role in the process is. We have the pleasure of issuing visas to reunite families, for medical surgery, births, weddings, funerals, business meetings, tourism, and for a multitude of other reasons. We are also responsible for deciding whether an individual's travel to the U.S. is legitimate. U.S. law presumes non-immigrant visa applicants are intending immigrants, and the burden of proof is on the applicant to demonstrate they are not. This determination is made by consular officers, carefully and efficiently, with respect for each applicant emphasized. We understand many applicants travel long distances and pay sums that are expensive for them to reach our windows, and we make every effort to treat each person with dignity, whether we are able to grant them a visa or not.

An inadequate description of my daily work to be sure, as there are many other duties and responsibilities of diplomats not discussed here, but with a particular emphasis on consular work, I hope I have been able to give a glimpse into what we do, and why it is important to us.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Yeh Hai Bombay, Meri Jaan!

I am guilty of thoroughly neglecting this blog as I've been micro-blogging on Facebook, but I have started a list of observations about my life in Mumbai that I'll share on this blog as well. Why a list? I like lists. I hope to have one observation for every day I am here, but given that would put me at 730 observations by the time this tour ends, it may be a rather lengthy task. Today I'll post all 70 of my experiences thus far. But before that...

A mere two weeks after ConGen finishing, we packed out our home, and made the move across the world. Our movers on the DC side were wonderful, and they mentioned our pre-organization helped them immensely (stressful, but worth it in the end). I was a little sad after our things were gone (we have about 10,000 lbs. of storage, mostly furniture, and are taking about 4,000 lbs. to post), but we reminded ourselves that we would see them in Mumbai before very long.

We arrived to Mumbai nearly 3 months ago, and life has consisted of of settling in, homesickness, learning a new job, exploring a new city, and appreciating my life in general. The U.S. Consulate in Mumbai has been instrumental and wonderful in assisting us acclimate here, and now that we are in our permanent housing and our HHE has arrived, we are really creating home. My observations on Mumbai life, from the beginning:

1. i am relishing that the non-stop honking outside appears to have calmed down after 10:30pm today (whereas on every other night it is full speed until midnight at least).

2. i am addicted to lovely salty amul butter. chai toast!

3. i saw my first 1.5" long cockroach in the kitchen and was pretty much helpless, watching it head right back into the hole it came from in the wall in the kitchen. it owns me.

4. i cooked daal and eggplant and okra sabzi today. it took much longer than at home using our welcome kit items and distilled water for cooking/dishwashing, but the taste was more intense and delicious.

5. i am becoming alarmingly comfortable using dishwashing liquid and clorox bleach on my fruits and vegetables to ensure they are safe for raw consumption, but i'm glad i don't have to give up fresh cucumber, carrots, and tomatoes for 24 months. i always hated lettuce anyway.
6. had the best skypey with my cousin today. SO grateful for modern technology.

7. i've halved the time it takes me to wash dishes using a final rinse with distilled water from the machine. still, i'm glad our housekeeper begins tomorrow.

8. i have begun wearing white socks with my flipflops, complete with dent in between big toe and second toe. not sure i can pull this off at work tomorrow.

9. devastated about how every website automatically has begun ending in ".in" now. i just want my www.google.com!

10. no one in the U.S. posts FB updates at 4am so i'm stuck re-reading earlier posts. this must be fixed immediately.

11. mosambis > oranges. and the bananas here are tiny, the length of my index finger! also, tried shareefa (sugar apple) for the first time and going to continue experimentation with new fruits.

12. i need to stay away from fabindia and W. far, far away. for the sake of my retirement fund.

13. finally booked that weekender to dubai in october (far less than traveling from Washington, DC)!

14. h
ave decided that the little 12' x 12' shops right near our place, towering high to the ceiling with every little random-yet-useful thing you might need are cooler than the expat-targeted shops at pali market.

15. waffling on getting a car + driver, because i always get a certain childhood-visits-to-india thrill riding around in an auto-rickshaw.

16. phlegmatic in the literal sense. have resigned myself to the fact that my current and severe bronchial issues are going to be the order for the next 23.5 months. consolation prize: home delivery of my medicine from the chemist.

17. found myself wishing that our housekeeper cut up the papaya she bought from the market before the weekend holiday. i then washed all the dishes and did two laundry
loads to make up for that entitled and whiney thought.

18. more encounters with the cockroach-kind. desensitization has most certainly begun!

19. after much searching, the final gym-joining battle appears to be talwalkers vs. watson fitness. hope to decide soon. either way, Mad Scientist was sad we didn't like gold's gym as allegedly, bipasha basu works out there.

20. i hate avoiding eye contact with beggars and little children trying to sell me things on the street. i feel like i am dehumanizing them. they are persistent and prevalent. but still. 

21. riding mumbai's contradictions on my rickshaw ride home from work: where the road runs along the arabian sea, i can look out on the modern bandra-worli sea link, and enjoy smelling the relatively fresh breeze air, and then the road curves to the right, and i take in the crowded, rectangular corrugated tin and bright blue tarp-covered homes of the slums, where countless people live and work and play in poverty that many people in my country cannot even imagine exists...

22. celebrations for ganesh chaturthi include our local streets suddenly being festooned with colored lights, large, intricate and beautiful statues of the hindu god on corners everywhere, and energetic outdoor bands playing to rhythmic dhol beats. despite a few ill-timed firecrackers on work nights, i'm feeling appreciative of the enthusiasm for hindu holidays here!

23. i am going to OD on cadbury fruit and nut chocolate bars. not much i can add to that assessment. 

24. i ordered a neomask on amazon for the air pollution here and don't give a hoot how i will look in public. maybe it will be badass. probably not.

25. there is a little green-gray lizard that likes living on our balcony and i look for it every day and get so happy when i see it. i wonder if i c
an feed it and bring it inside as a pet without Mad Scientist noticing. 

26. have had a revelation (stunningly stupid that i didn't think of it before) that our housekeeper/cook can make american dishes in addition to the indo food she cooks. she made a fantastic chicken soup on friday, and im now considering all the possibilities!

27. the aforementioned firecrackers of ganpathi celebrations are so.damn.loud. for no.damn.reason. argh. 

28. Diplomatic pouch, zindabad! Three little boxes of love from Amazon and Zappos today.

29. Aloo tikka stuffed with keema, rolled in bread crumbs and pan fried. What a housekeeper/cook can do for you. Good god.

30. Costa Coffee on 14th Road is going to be our "cuppa" spot, I can just feel it.

31. "om jaya jagadish" and its variations, every night from the street corner pooja celebrations, loud enough that we hear it in our apartment. other bhajans precede and follow it. why this makes me feel guilty, i do not know. 

32. after popping local OTC decongestants like candy (i'm becoming an expert on drug variations and dosage from the interwebs), i think my sinus congestion may be improving. insha'allah.

33. i'm really enjoying getting to know my local Indian colleagues and about their lives, it is fascinating to me and i appreciate them sharing their stories with someone they have only recently met. they are amazing, strong people. 

EEO Counselor Training - Amman, Jordan

34. amman: lovely, friendly people! visited the awe-inducing temple of hercules and surrounding complex and savored the excellent feeling of being in the past, with its old spirits and energy.

35. shamelessly indulging my love for the rotana music TV channel in the hotel room, which currently appears to be on a khaleeji music kick. it was meant to be.

36. mezza + skewers. latheeth! and foul medamma was the highlight.

37. have decided that breads are key in why international cuisine tastes so good abroad. the delicious, thin, chewy pitas sprinkled with onion seeds and sesame seeds are to die for in amman (and the roomali rotis in mumbai equally so).

38. it was great to train with FSOs serving in hardship/danger posts abroad, including a large contingent from kabul that were thrilled to have non-DFAC cuisine during their stay. hearing their stories made me appreciate the good things about my post, and i am honored to have them as my colleagues. 

39. breakfast included fresh fig and melt-in-your-mouth date consumption, all while "eternal flame" by the bangles was playing in the background. reminded me of the time i heard don omar's "dale don dale" in a coffee shop in cairo. random.

Back to Mumbai.... 

40. Unsure why every hairstylist I have gone to here interprets "Just a trim, I am growing my hair out," as "Please give me a severe mullet."

41. seriously thrilled to be the new owner of a beautifully banged up silver toyota qualis that brings back vivid memories of someone's 1987 african safari. stylee, baby!
42. green coconut meat > brown coconut meat.

43. Mad Scientist is learning hindi in class twice a week and i'm astounded at how quickly he is turning out such clearly and properly enunciated phrases. feeling proud of him- and he practices nearly every evening, too!
44. missing the wael jassar concert tonight and other arabic events in DC! nothing can console me on this subject.
45. navratri celebrations! translation: a different, huge, and beautiful Hindu deity hoisted into the same lighted street corner stage (Durga this time, complete with the demon she is slaughtering) and lovely garba-esque tunes (ok, i did just hear om jay jagadish again as well). i still feel guilty, too.

46. i remain in love with my housekeeper. she makes me fresh-squeezed mosambi juice every day
now in addition to chopping up papaya and green coconuts, and has me eating karela (bitter gourd) sabzi WITH JOY.

47. our permanent housing here is apparently in the same building as saif ali khan and kareena kapoor. i should feel more excited about this fact than i do. the last film i saw of his was "dil chahta hai" (that was saif, right?) and of hers was "refugee." wondering if i should update myself to be polite. Mad Scientist is highly disappointed the resident celeb isn't bips.
48. the patisseries here are to die for, at prices that would make Whole Foods and other U.S. gourmet shops weep. hazelnut mousse cakes, pistachio-chocolate cupcakes, flakey vegetable pastries, olive bread, date and walnut cakes...theobroma right by our house is just brilliant!

49. shops on linking road: INFINITE numbers of sparkly sandals! every color, style, design, heel height, and size ("mil jayega!") the mind can imagine. i wanna wear sparkly sparkly sparkles forever.

50. weekender to calcutta: the auto-rickshaws are green and yellow. also, i really enjoyed the colonial (e.g., architecture, "chowringhee" road) and communist (i.e., ho chi minh sarani and lenin sarani) elements in the city.

51. even though i've been here awhile now, my dreams at night still take place in the U.S. it's weird, and then i wake up disoriented.

52. desperately hoping that a wizened old man, with a long white beard with bright orange ends from being dipped in henna, who goes only by "islam-bhai," will be my new tailor here in bandra west.
53. am watching an important shaadi live tonight via streaming video. god bless the interwebs infinity.

54. viber = my new favorite app. 

55. mukhwas here is intense and lovely. it might be because of the betel nut involved. i LOVED eating Chutki as a kid when visiting india, too. does that have tobacco in it?

56. Phone call today.
N: What's that noise in the background?
Me: It's my car.
N: No, it sounds like a jackhammer.
Me: Yes.

57. ok, look. my FB interaction is 99% on my phone now, so i don't always get the birthday reminders. and for those who are aware of my birthday-recollection track record, you understand the severity of the situation here. i therefore wish every one of you happy birthday love, for whenever that day happens to be for you (in whatever time zone applies). 

58. All your voting/election postings are making me quite anxious! I've never felt so far away from the DC scene before. I sent in my absentee ballot for President (it's Maryland, we all know how it ends) and am looking forward to the results. Personally speaking, four more years, please!

59. delivery of our 4,000 lbs HHE (household effects) shipment to post today! and, prettiest moving truck ever.
60. freshlimesodasweet!

61. i fight a losing battle with the dust that creeps into our apartment every few days here. why oh why cannot i just give up and accept it?

62. one pincer of butter garlic crab at Mahesh Home Lunch here had more meat than an entire Maryland blue crab back home. it was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, i was eating the fried garlic in butter with a spoon after the crabmeat was finished.

63. walked along Juhu beach today and loved seeing all the families and groups of young men and women enjoying the holiday splashing in the water, eating hot and cold snacks, checking out everything from bangles to kites, and chatting away.

64. the fireworks/explosions have been going solid, with the near-constant bright flashing lights and gunshots/boom noises outside making me wonder whether we are in a war zone or celebrating Diwali (even a friend who served in Kabul who was at our house tonight said the sounds were utterly PTSD recurring)! zero sleep tonight.

65. finally getting our apartment set up and having people over to visit REALLY makes me feel happy here in Mumbai. we loved entertaining in DC and hope to continue that here. home sweet home.

66. i ate a salad out last night. that's right, fresh-cut vegetables washed in local water and served right up on a plate for my weak American stomach's consumption. no illness. but, given my food paranoia, this ain't happening again.

67. Diwali mithai from Bengal Sweets with chai = best breakfast EVER.
68. sleepless in mumbai again. thanks, Diwali firecrackers. 

69. received my official FS commission through diplomatic pouch, signed by now re-elected President Obama and Secretary Clinton. couldn't feel more honored.
70. today was the first time i had to cancel a meeting (my first family visitor to mumbai no less!) due to the likelihood of civil unrest/violence here. the local grocery shops boarded right up on the news of politician Bal Thackerey's death.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Byebye, ConGen!

Ok, yes, the title is a bit premature. But with two days to go and my final consular training exam tomorrow morning, I can safely say I am suffering from rather severe senioritis :> After training I have a couple consultation days, a 2-day pack-out, then we move into a hotel (with a whirlpool, hooray for the little things), and finally leave for post!

Amazingly, about one week ago, I moved into a state of serene calm that has not been shaken, no matter what things have had to get done (and there are a myriad related to the job alone!). I think its related to our being assigned our permanent housing and seeing photos of the place that will be ours for the next two years (we have a short stint in TDY housing that also looks lovely). Knowing where one will live can have a calming, stabilizing effect on someone who has lived in one area her whole life, after all!

Our house is being properly sorted for the movers: lots of piles with post-it notes stuck on top, gifting items to friends and donating to non-profits, disposal of chemical products/flammables/alcohol/etc., large plastic "tupperware" bins of clothes and linens, suitcases strewn about, and it's only going to get worse, darlings! :)

Goodbyes to family and friends have consisted of parties with heartwarming chats and cakes, random telephone conversations with my mother where we get choked up at the same time not needing to say any words because we understand, dancing about in basements with friends to Arabic music, and more to come. It's been so nice to say things that often don't get said, to feel the warmth of positivity and good wishes, and to look forward to our life changes with all the support behind us. I feel the wind is at our backs, and am seriously overwhelmed with gratitude these days. Life can't get much better!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My Country.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz is known in the FS world for the test he would give to new U.S. ambassadors in his office, where he kept a globe of the world. “They’d been through all kinds of exams and so on — confirmation — and I’d say to them, ‘Well, there’s just one more test you have to pass.’” They’d usually groan. “‘You have to walk over to that globe and demonstrate to me that you can identify your country.’ And, inevitably, they would point out the country to which they had been assigned.”

The correct answer, of course, was in fact the United States — THAT was their country. And Shultz’s moral was that you never forget what country you’re representing. It's a story I always enjoy sharing, especially because I believe so strongly in it and our missions abroad.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Everything is a little sweeter with an expiration date.

As I prepare for our departure, I have thought more than once about what I am going to miss the most about living in the United States. Looking around me on a daily basis, it pretty quickly becomes clear. The diversity of my nation. Living, working, eating, and playing around people of various backgrounds, ethnicities, races, cultures, religions every single day. I take it for granted, this rainbow of the United States. But the prospect of moving to a country where most people are racially/ethnically similar, I realize that I am going to miss this very visual reminder of how open, tolerant, and accepting the U.S. is. Few places in the world have this diversity. And I am embarrassed to admit I got a rather large lump in my throat at the gym a few days ago (right after a set on the lat pull-down!) looking around me and realizing how much I am going to miss seeing the variety of people I do on a regular basis. It will be different. Very, very different. And in the meantime, looking around at everyday people is well, just a little sweeter.