The world’s longest to-do list

Last week Nate and I went to a training at the FSI about the logistics of moving overseas for adults.  It was a solid two and a half hours of being told what we need to do before we move and why.

In addition to getting Athena’s transportation sorted out, going through our stuff, and renting out our home, we also have to scan all our important documents; put together wills, health directives, and powers of attorney; get lots of insurance; inventory all our things; and other stuff that my over-loaded brain is probably forgetting.

What I want to know is how did the people that left for post eight weeks after swearing-in manage to do everything?

It’s overwhelming thinking that moving from place to place every two or three years is going to be the norm for the next twenty or so years.  Maybe eventually we’ll just be so used to it, it won’t seem like a big deal?  Right now I’m struggling with finding balance between wanting to just get rid of everything and go minimalist, and keeping the stuff that I’m emotionally attached to.

Then there’s the idea of having to recreate a network of friends every time we move.  I know we’ll bump into people that we already know from time to time, but mostly we’ll be making new friends at each post.  Just thinking about that makes me tired.

Anyhow, the training was really helpful, although going from working 9-5 to a training from 6-8:30 was not exactly fun.  But I’d highly recommend it and I’m glad that they offer it in the evenings.

And because there haven’t been enough pictures of Athena lately, I’ll end with this one.  She had a playdate with some fellow DiploDogs, and they look like triplets!

Athena is in the middle, with her little snaggle tooth

Athena is in the middle, with her little snaggle tooth

The local hire tax

I think the Foreign Service is awesome.  I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities they’re giving us, and I honestly look forward to spending the next 20 to 30 years as part of the FS family.

But it really sucks being a local hire.

We don’t get per diem.  From July 2014 to May 2015, non-local hires are raking in approximately $10,117 of per diem, completely tax-free.

We also have to pay for our own housing, utilities, internet, etc.  From July 2014 to May 2015, this is costing us around$25,200.

So basically we are missing out on about $35,317 of free money.  Those with higher rents/mortgages are losing even more.

Every time I meet another local hire, I feel an instant camaraderie, like, “Oh good, you’re getting screwed too.”  Misery loves company!

Another thing I find irritating: if you’re an EFM with a job, kiss nearly all those wonderful training opportunities at the FSI good-bye.  There are only like six trainings offered on weeknights and weekends.  So most of those extra trainings, like allowances and finances in the FS, or even language training, are completely out-of-reach.  I think they assume that most EFMs in the DC area are unemployed.

Last night we went to a training, and at the end the instructor asked how many of us were EFMs that were hoping to be employed at post.  My hand shot up because, yes, of course I want a job when we’re in Dhaka!  Well, the training for EFMs seeking employment at post is during the week, when I’m work.

Looking on the bright side, at least we don’t live in Baltimore or down near Quantico.  Then we still wouldn’t get per diem or housing, Nate would have a truly hellish commute, and we’d be too far from Arlington to take advantage of any extra trainings.

I know I can’t/shouldn’t complain too much (don’t bite the hand that feeds you, and all that) since my husband loves his job, we see each other a lot more often than we used to, and we are moving halfway across to world, which is exactly what we’ve wanted for years now.  But getting the short end of the stick sucks.  At least we only have three and half more months to go!

Poking, clawing, and kneeing

Our family motto is “Plan for the worst, hope for the best.”

With that in mind, a few months ago Nate and I took a self defense class at FSI.

The idea of violent assaults is an uncomfortable one.  A lot of people think it won’t happen to them, and it’s not really the kind of thing that you want to plan for.

Aside from some kickboxing classes over five years ago, the ability to scream bloody murder, and the knowledge that, when making a fist, you should keep your thumb on the outside, I don’t know much about how to protect myself.  Even by avoiding situations that could predispose you to danger, sometimes you simply are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I was nervous about going to the self defense class. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t want to feel uncomfortable. What if they made me do some kind of attack simulation? Nate reminded me that I only had to do what I was comfortable with, and he was exactly right.  It wasn’t like I was being graded or something.

Spoiler alert: The class was great!

It was taught by three DSS guys with experience in martial arts and self defense, and they kept it light-hearted and low-key while still acknowledging the importance of being able to protect yourself.  There was a woman taking the class with her teenage daughter, several younger and older women, and some guys in the class, and no one was singled out unless they wanted to help with a demonstration.

We learned some punches, knee and elbow jabs, and things to do with our hands (poking and clawing at an attacker’s eyes) to debilitate someone long enough to run away as fast as possible. We got to practice on these rubber torso dummies, and it was definitely a useful way to spend an evening.

Since then, I’ve started tagging along with Nate to his Muay Thai classes.  I like punching, kicking, kneeing, and elbowing things, and it’s a lot of fun.  Although not the ten minutes of plank exercises they make you do at the end.  Those are not fun.

Honestly, one of the things I like the most about Muay Thai is what I was most worried about with the self defense class: you are put in uncomfortable situations.  But that’s actually a good thing, because then you learn how to get out of them and you don’t just freak out because you’ve never been punched, kicked, pinned or held like that before.  It turns out you don’t need a lot of space to be able to knee a dude in the junk.

As Scar said, “Be prepared!

Manners 101: Protocol and U.S. Representation Abroad

This past weekend Nate and I attended a day-long class on protocol and etiquette.  It was basically a crash-course on manners.  I thought I had good manners, but wow did I learn a lot.

The morning started out with a mock-cocktail party, and we each had a slip of paper with a name on it.  We had to find said person (by introducing ourselves to as many people as possible), learn something about them, and then introduce them to the “ambassador.”  After about 15 minutes of not finding my person, I asked Nate if he’d met the woman I was supposed to find.  It turned out he’d just met her.  Whew!

So I walked up to her and instead of saying “Hi, I’m Kathryn,” like a normal human being, I said “Hi, you’re my person.” Who does that?!

And I managed to approach her just as she’d taken a huge bite of food, which was awkward for both of us.  Lesson learned: always introduce yourself politely, and check to see if whoever you’re approaching has food in their mouth.

Here are some other things I learned during the class:

  • “Avoid the American huddle.” Let’s say you go to a cocktail party.  Do you wander around and talk to as many strangers as possible, or make a bee-line for your friends and hang out with them most of the night?  I find my friends.  It’s easy, if they’re my friends they’re probably awesome, I know I like them, we have lots to talk about, and I’m less likely to embarrass myself.  Apparently I need to work on being more of an extrovert.
  • “Surf, don’t scuba dive.” It turns out I’ve been eating soup improperly my whole life.  You are supposed to glide the spoon over the surface of the soup away from you.  And for Pete’s sake, don’t slurp or drink out of the bowl.
  • Seating charts are complicated.  Who is the guest of honor in terms of seating if there is actually no guest of honor? Exactly how long has each person/couple been in the country, and when did they receive their rank? These things all need to be considered. Also, never seat two people that are having an affair next to each other.
  • “Avoid appetizers that will complicate your life.”  Let’s say you eat a chicken wing or a shrimp at a cocktail party.  What are you going to do with the bones or tail?  What if your hands get really dirty?  It’s time to break that RPCV/poor grad student “Must Eat All The Food” mentality.
  • “Lower left, raise right.” Serve food (but not beverages) from the left side, and remove plates, etc from the right.  You are also supposed to enter your place at the table from the right, which only works in theory when everyone knows that they sit in their chair from the right.  Otherwise you’re all bumping butts.
  • You break it, you bought it.  Which is to say, don’t clink those $100 crystal glasses while toasting– you could be on the hook for the bill.  Oopsies!
  • Always hold wine glasses by the stem.  So they why would anyone invent stemless wine glasses?  To make those of us that own them look stupid?  I guess it’s time to invest in more grown-up wine glasses.
  • “Pick a dining style and commit.  Don’t switch when the going gets rough.” When dining with silverware (rather than your hands or chopsticks), it turns out that there are two dining styles: American and continental.  The American dining style involves cutting with your right hand, switching the utensils around and then eating with your right hand.  In the continental style, the knife stays in your right hand and the fork, which is turned with the tines facing down, stays in your left.  So you can’t cut the steak and eat it continental style and then eat the peas American style because you can’t manage to stab each and every god-forsaken pea with your fork.
  • The art of passing bread is extraordinarily complicated.  Like, so complicated we probably spent 15 minutes discussing it.  Basically, if the bread is near you, you can’t just take a piece of bread.  No, no.  You have to offer the bread to the person to your left, and then pray to god that they know that then it’s their turn to offer you the bread, which at this point you desperately want.  What if they don’t know that you only offered them bread because you really want it?  Well, then I have have no idea what you’re supposed to do.

I’ll admit that as the class progressed, I decided would be able to avoid most of the diplomatic protocol rigmarole by simply never hosting a fancy dinner party.  But when you think about it, that’s impossible (and silly).  When other people invite us to dinner parties, are we going to decline because god help us if we have to return the favor?

Upon further thought, I’ve come to the conclusion that Dhaka will be an good first post to get our diplomatic feet wet because we’ll be able to hire help for our dinner parties, rather than having to do it all ourselves.  Although we might have a few practice rounds while we’re still in DC.  Also, I realize that not every time we have people over will be a fancy-schmancy affair.  We are big fans of low-key entertaining.

Who wants to come over for dinner?!

I blinked and a month happened

It’s September.  September 2nd, to be exact.

Flag Day was over a month ago.  People, time is flying by.  We leave for Dhaka in eight months!  It sounds so far away, but shit is getting real faster than I expected it to.

So, what have we been up to?  I went to visit my family in Wisconsin for a long weekend, and Nate had to stay behind, unfortunately.  But I brought back loads of cheese, sausage and brats, so he didn’t miss out entirely.

Labor Day weekend was nice, and we went to the farmer’s market in Del Ray and, while we were in the neighborhood, bought Athena a pretty new leather collar. We met up with a bunch of Nate’s friends from A-100 at a middle eastern food festival on Saturday night, and that was super fun.  We went for a hike around Pohick Bay, and Athena had an absolute blast; we brought her home soaking wet and covered in sand, seaweed, and mud.  That afternoon Nate smoked ribs and a chicken on the grill for four hours and they turned out really well.  We also managed to bring the wrong key with us on our long run, so Nate had to break into our house.  I took pictures of Nate breaking in, but I’m not going to share them.  That would be stupid.  Instead you get another Athena photo!

Athena: doggy fashion trend-setter!

Athena: doggy fashion trend-setter! Also, toys do make the best pillows.

Oh, and I quit my part-time retail job!  While I will miss being able to buy beautiful clothes at a ridiculously low price, I’m happier having my weekends back (my checking account is also relieved).  No more on-call shifts, no more being polite to people who don’t deserve it, and no more stress about getting weekends off!  That brief foray into the world of retail was fun while it lasted (usually), but I’m glad it’s done.

We’ve been busy, and life is good!  Now if only that nice fall-like weather would come our way…

I’m officially jealous

Let’s start this off by talking about what a sweet gig being in the State Department’s Foreign Service is, training-wise.

A-100 is officially over, and Nate started his South Asian regional studies class last week.  He has several weeks of regional studies, and then Bangla training starts in the beginning of September.  (Depending on the language and how proficient your are/n’t, this can last anywhere from a zero to nine months.)

Nate, and all of the other FSOs going someplace that doesn’t speak English, are going to be paid to learn a language.  How fricking awesome is that?  I am practically green with envy.

I would love so much to have access to the kind of training that Nate and his classmates are getting.  And they’re getting paid for it!

And his classmates from out of town?  They’re getting free housing and per diem!  PER DIEM, people.  For the next six to nine months!

I guess I was paid during language and technical (ha!) training in Peace Corps, to the tune of a whopping $250/month.  So in my mind, that doesn’t count.

Yes, the Foreign Service has its perks.

So, Nate’s South Asian regional studies class: based on the stories I hear, it sounds like they spend most of the time watching movies.

Now, I know this isn’t the case because I incredulously asked if that was, and apparently they only watch movies during lunch. For some reason I mostly just hear about the movies when I ask Nate how his day was.

His regional studies class actually sounds really interesting, to the point that I wish I could go to his classes.  Last week they went on a field trip to a mosque and then had lunch at a Pakistani restaurant.  And on Thursday they are having a movie night.

Holy smokes, my job is boring.