Tuesday, April 7, 2015

EAWE: Tanzania Day 1

I had been planning to write about the next leg of the trip, which I consider my worst air travel day, a couple of weeks ago. But then a pilot steered a commercial airplane into a mountain, killing all aboard, which made me reconsider what I considered a bad air travel day. That said, as far as non-tragic and simply inconvenient and frustrating travel days go, this was a pretty bad one.

After getting in late the night before, we woke up super early (1am) to head to the airport for our 5am flight. Everything was on track, we checked in and boarded and were ready to taxi and take off. Except we didn't. I was trying to fall asleep, but after several rounds of announcements about unexpected delays (I think due to the plane's electrical system malfunctioning, but I can't remember 100%), they finally had us deplane. No problem, we had a three hour layover in Nairobi, and we were still on track.

The first sign of things to come was not the decision to give us vouchers for breakfast at the terminal cafe but the extraordinarily unorganized way they distributed them and the cafe's woefully unprepared staff and inventory. Almost as soon as we sat down to eat, it was time to reboard. Still doing fine on time. We made sure the ground crew and flight crew knew we had a connecting flight. You'll make it, they said, we've called ahead. And then we sat on the tarmac. Again.

You can probably guess by now that we missed the flight. By the most ridiculous of margins. We taxied forever in Nairobi and then were directed not to the gate but to the customer service center. By the time we got to the gate the flight had pushed back. Without us. And the Kenya Airways crew at the gate were, shall we say, not the cream of the crop.

I won't go into the sordid details, but it was a comedy of errors for the next two hours as we waited in line to rebook, talked to our Uganda-based travel agent, and then finally obtained new boarding passes for the only other flight to Kilimanjaro that day. Nine hours later. Which would get us into Lake Manyara long after dark. There went our relaxing afternoon by the pool.

Don't worry, said Kenya Airways, we'll put you up in a hotel for the day. Those of you who have spent time in Jomo Kenyatta Intl Airport know it is not the ideal place for a one hour layover, let alone the remaining seven hours.

So we headed for the hotel. Sort of. We headed for a gate where we waited for a ride to the arrivals hall. When finally directed to said ride, as D stepped onto the bus she was screamed at by the same woman who had told her to get on. "Stop! I forgot! That's the Ebola screening vehicle." Whoops. This was August 2014, keep in mind.

We arrive at the arrivals hall to find others from our flight who had left the terminal hours before us still waiting for someone to help them get free transit visas. Finally we were assisted with this, sped through Immigration, and then were ushered out to a bus. Where - you guessed it - we waited. When we finally left, we were treated to a thirty minute drive through Nairobi in a bus with no air conditioning, which meant the windows were down to allow all the pollution and smog in.

Finally we get to the hotel and are given room keys and a meal voucher. And then we're told that the bus back to the airport will leave in 90 minutes. We wondered why on earth we were leaving so soon when our flight wasn't for another five hours. So much for a relaxing afternoon. The room keys didn't work, so we just used the lobby bathrooms and then headed to the restaurant for an abysmal lunch. We finally got new room keys and enjoyed 15 minutes in our hotel room.

Then we boarded the bus. And waited. And waited. And waited. We had been told in no uncertain terms to be there at the appointed time or the bus would leave without us. Yet the bus waited 45 minutes for two lingering passengers, to the vocal protestations of the 20 or so others on board. Back out into Nairobi traffic we went. The ride back - now in early rush hour - took more than an hour. Nine hour layover, and we got a dismal meal and 15 minutes to relax.

We got through security and Immigration and still arrived at our gate an hour early. Luckily this flight - on Precision Air - boarded on time and took off without delay. There was room to stretch out, and we were treated to gorgeous views of Mt. Kilimanjaro as we descended - our only glimpses of the trip.

By some miracle all of our bags arrived, and we didn't have difficulty with the Ebola screening or Tanzanian Immigration. Our driver was there to meet us, and off we went. The drive to the Lake Manyara Serena was relatively smooth on decent roads. We were stopped at several police checkpoints but didn't have any difficulties.

I had high hopes of some nighttime wildlife viewing on our journey; we saw a few jackals but nothing else. By the time we arrived at the Serena dinner was pretty much over, but they had very kindly kept the salad/dessert bars open and happily cooked us up delicious entrees even as we protested that the salads were plenty. I love the Serena brand of hotels. So reliably classy and service-oriented.

The rooms were well-appointed and comfortable, and we all headed off to sleep at 11:00pm, relieved to finally be back on track after a stressful, uncomfortable day. The best was yet to come.

Friday, March 27, 2015

2014 EAWE: Queen Elizabeth National Park Days 2-4

We had three nights in QENP to enjoy the lovely Mweya hospitality and find some awesome animals. I was hoping for a predator bonanza, but the lions and leopards had other ideas. We did see a few lions, but it was the other animals who made it a fun experience.

Saturday morning we woke up for an early morning game drive, excited to see all kinds of awesome things. It wasn't a very fruitful morning, sadly. I only took about six photos all morning, which is an indicator. The salt lakes were pretty; we saw some nice birds and antelope; but everybody else was sleeping. We headed back to the lodge for breakfast and a nap before the afternoon's boat ride.

The boat launch is quite close to Mweya, and we were able to get there early enough to snag good seats, which ired a group of Italian tourists to no end. They demanded we get up and let them sit where we had chosen. Seriously. Luckily some Brits came along and made up for their attitudes. We set off on a slow cruise along the Kazinga channel. Lots of birds, lots of hippos. A few interesting encounters. My favorite was the buffalo and hippo snuggle fest as seen in photos before. I mean, how incredibly cute was that?

We were also charged by a hippo who thundered through the water and then surfaced at our boat and made some movements to keep going but finally turned around. It happened very quickly, and I only got a photo at the tail end when he was out of the water a bit. A bit scary for a moment.

There's a fishing village in the park where the community interacts responsibly with the wildlife (and vice versa), and so they have not been evicted. It was lovely to watch the men preparing to head out for an evening of fishing as elephants grazed the hillside and meandered to the channel below. We turned and motored back to the launch and reached the lodge just as the sun was beginning to set. It was gorgeous. Or it would have been had the Italian tourists from earlier not driven up and started yelling insults at us as we took photographs. Seriously. Again. Time for dinner and bed.

Another early morning drive on Sunday with very few sightings, though we did see our first lion of the trip. A lovely male reclining a decent distance from the road, presumably watching over his pride we believed to be on the other side of the ridge. We drove to the other side to look but found nothing. There were lots and lots and lots of nervous antelope about, not to mention bones, but no other predators in sight. We stopped at a souvenir market and found a few cute things before heading back to the lodge. I took a much-needed nap while Mom and D read or sat outside.

After lunch and before the afternoon game drive, Mom and I were sitting outside the bar area reading and checking email when we saw a mongoose run across the terrace. Mom and D had seen a few mongooses running through the lobby earlier, but this was my first sighting. And then more came. Moms and babies, lone mongooses, mongooses with radio collars, and more. Some were digging, some were foraging, some were almost running over our feet. I was in heaven. It was amazing. So, of course, I did the natural thing and followed them. I followed them to a gathering point on the side of the lodge and just watched them for about thirty minutes. There were dozens of them, of all sizes. There were a few tiny tiny babies and some adolescents and several with radio collars. I took photos and videos and listened to them squeak and just watched them. Absolutely fascinating. Absolutely a highlight of QENP.

Our afternoon game drive was a search for leopards that was futile. We saw a couple of ellies and a few antelope, but it was mostly a slow day for animals. So a final dinner for Mweya and a good night's sleep.

We left a little later that morning and planned to drive straight through to Kampala and arrive early afternoon and have time to do laundry and rest before heading to Tanzania the next day. But things didn't go as planned. First, Abdul got a tip about a lion in a tree. We headed off in hot pursuit. Sure enough, Luna the lion was up in a euphorbia tree. She did not look comfortable. First of all, she was very pregnant, which made lying down in a tree difficult. Second, the tree was not the most suitable for climbing - no flat branches. Third, there were lots of people watching her. We watched her for a bit and then headed off, enjoying herds of waterbuck and troops of baboons as we exited the park.

We were making great time and were about 50km out of Mbarara, the approximate halfway point to Kampala when all of a sudden, as we were going up a hill and around a corner, I see the rear passenger tire go flying off the truck and behind us. Abdul did a masterful job controlling the car and stopping safely on the side of the road. We got out to assess the damage. The tire was completely intact, no tears or punctures, but the rim was a bit bent. I stayed with the car while the others went in search of the lug nuts. This was farming country, and a few of the locals came down to offer help. A couple young women found a few lug nuts, and before long we had the complete set. Abdul said he had checked the tire before setting off in the am and thought somebody might have tampered with it when we stopped for a bathroom break. From the way the lug nuts had flown - not sheared - off, they had clearly been loosened.

Just then a car full of good samaritans stopped and offered assistance. It took about an hour and lots of effort, but they were able to help Abdul get the tire back on and tightened. The truck was okay for getting back to Kampala, but the whole tire and axle would need a lot of work later on. I was very pleasantly surprised by the gentlemen who gave an hour of their time - and sweat - to help us. They tried to decline the money we offered them but finally took it with a thanks and a smile. We did get a few others stopping and asking us for money who hadn't helped, but they were easily brushed off.

We got back on the road - a bit slower and still in a bit of shock - and limped back to Kampala. We made decent time, considering, but we still arrived several hours after we had expected. That meant a furious bout of laundry (using several of my neighbors' machines that they kindly let us use), a quick dinner, repacking, and then sleep for our VERY early wakeup call the next morning. If 1:30 is really the next morning.

Stay tuned for our horrendous travel day story to follow, but with redeeming animal encounters and photos and stories after that.

Buffalo/hippo snuggles!


Can I help you?

The tail end (pun intended) of the hippo charge

Elephants near the fishing village

Ready for a night of fishing

Right before the nasty Italians showed up to insult us

Pretty Mr. Lion.

Sleepy Mr. Lion


Running across the terrace

Note the radio collar on the one at the top right and the squee baby trying to nurse in the middle

Some of the many, many mongooses in this band

Pretty elly

A very pregnant and uncomfortable Luna the lion in a euphorbia tree

She just couldn't get comfortable

Gorgeous waterbuck

Riding with mama

A main road running through the park

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2014 EAWE: Batwa Pygmies and Queen Elizabeth National Park Day 1

All right, time to stop being lazy. Here is the much-delayed continuation of my epic East African Wildlife Extravaganza when my mom visited Uganda in August 2014.

After our amazing gorilla trek on Thursday, the plan was to go on a tour of the local Batwa pygmy village. Mom, D, and I - once we convinced ourselves to stand upright again - decided that another two hour 'walk' up and down hills in the rain wasn't in the cards. No problem, our guide told us, some of the community will come up to the visitor's center to dance and tell you about their traditions. So we decided on that.

The Batwa people, traditionally hunters and gatherers, lived in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest until 1992 when it became a national park. Their eviction was then and remains controversial, but they've adapted to a more agrarian way of life and integrated with other local communities. http://www.batwaexperience.com, among other organizations, allows tourists to learn more about the Batwa and their cultural heritage. Think what you will about tribal tourism, but I remember watching National Geographic documentaries as a child about Batwa and other pygmy tribes in central Africa and being fascinated. I was happy to donate to the local school to meet some of the villagers and learn a bit. We were treated to a lively dance show, with children from all over the area joining in to hang out with the muzungu. The local matriarch is 94 and still going strong; after she danced quite energetically for us she proudly told us she lived the first half of her life in the forest and the second half outside and helps keep tradition alive among the new generations. After a quick discussion about traditional medicine and fire-starting techniques, we bought some beautiful baskets and presented a donation of both money and school supplies for the community. A lovely way to spend the afternoon.

After a tasty dinner by the fire recounting stories of the day (growing more exaggerated as we recalled the day's adventures) we retired to bed. Mom and I lay awake for a while marveling that we saw the gorillas and noticing all the new muscle groups who were making their presence known. My legs and feet were obviously tired, but then my arms started hurting from the exertions with the walking stick pushing and pulling myself up and down the mountain. Bruises started to appear within hours, badges of honor.

I slept well, thankfully, and woke the next morning ready for safari! After a hearty breakfast we bid farewell to Bwindi and were treated to amazing views of the rainforest and the clouds and mist. Gorillas in the mist for sure.

We had a several hour drive north to Queen Elizabeth National Park. The first part was on the outskirts of Bwindi so we kept our eyes open for forest elephants and antelope and gorillas. We saw a couple duiker but no big mammals, sadly. The next leg was through mainly rural areas on marginal roads, and we all tuned out a bit. Then the road improved and the towns got bigger, and soon we crossed into Queen Elizabeth National Park!

The southern sector of QENP, the Ishasha sector, is famous for tree-climbing lions. Most of the lions favor fig trees, which are abundant in this area and afford good views of the plains. We circled the main lion trees for an hour so with nary a sighting and then drove down to a gazebo to have lunch. The gazebo overlooked the Ishasha river (if I remember correctly) and feeds into Lake Edward a bit farther north. There was an active school of hippos hanging out, and between us we were the only ones in the area. Two hippos had a mouth fight, the most protracted one I've ever seen, which greatly entertained us. As we were wrapping up lunch our guide pointed that the far bank of the river (and far is a relative term; it was within an easy stone's throw, as you can see in the photos) was Congo. So close yet so far!

We headed back out for another look at the lion trees but finally had to give up and head north. There's a main road running through the park, and we had a lot of ground to cover, so it wasn't a relaxing game drive. Eventually we crossed the Kazinga Channel via bridge, which separates Lakes Edward and George. Soon after that we turned off into the approach to Mweya Lodge. D was eager to see elephants, but Abdul cautioned that we might not be lucky given the area and time of day. We stopped for a few antelope and monkeys, but no big game. We were almost at Mweya when we saw flashes of grey through the trees. And there they were! A small but lovely herd of elephants headed to the river to drink. We marveled for a while and then drove on, encountering a lovely hippo out of the water headed for his nightly foraging.

Mweya is a gorgeous lodge in a spectacular setting overlooking the Kazinga Channel. We checked in, oriented ourselves, relaxed on the terrace with drinks, and then enjoyed a tasty buffet dinner before bed. The next morning we'd head out on our first early morning game drive, of many to come!

Cows on the road leading out of Bwindi

Gorillas in the mist!

Bwindi on the left, farms on the right


Uganda kob

Amazing fighting hippos

Those trees are in DRC

And back to regular life


Baby elly :-)


Hungry hungry hippo

Gorgeous elly

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Greetings from Beirut!

Three and a half weeks ago I landed in a new city in a new country to begin a new posting. This is my third FS assignment. It is also my third FS assignment in the same time zone. Fascinating, right?

Beirut, Lebanon is a unique FS posting in terms of security, restrictions, history, and numerous other facets. It's not a PSP post nor fully unaccompanied, yet it is in some ways more restricted than at least one PSP post. In addition to not talking about work I'm not going to talk much about conditions of life here in Lebanon for reasons of safety and security. But this will continue to be a travel blog, with lots of appearances from fluffy felines and photos when practicable.

Yes, the cats made the trip here and are settling in well. They miss their stuff (as do I) but were excited by the UAB shipment's arrival this week along with some of their beds and accoutrements. I'll write about the trip here in another post.

For now I just wanted to check in, remind you I'm still here, and get the ball rolling on blogging more regularly.

Since arriving I've been up to the mountains to see Roman ruins in the snow at Faqra, experienced fabulous French and Lebanese food at some superb restaurants, walked around the yachts on the waterfront, and sighed with contentment every time I glimpse the Mediterranean on my daily walks around. Weekend brunch buffets at a Lebanese restaurant and the Four Seasons were a treat, and I love being able to buy everything I need at one supermarket.

Add in amazing regional travel opportunities, a fantastic team and challenging but interesting portfolio at work, and a cozy and welcoming apartment, and I'm excited for the next two and a half years!

Faqra - Roman ruins in the snow!

The weekend after I arrived from NH - not a huge difference in weather!

If you squint you can see the Mediterranean in the far distance. I'll get closer for better photos soon, I promise.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Christmas 2014 (featuring lots of cats)

It's doctor/dentist/vet appointment week, that oh-so-necessary feature of most R&Rs and home leaves. So I'll try to think of something more fun and recap Christmas.

I was lucky to spend a second Christmas in a row home in NH, and I greatly enjoyed hanging out with family and celebrating favored traditions.

My aunt and uncle came to visit the weekend before Christmas along with their one year-old black lab, and we had a wonderful time with them. Saturday my parents cut down a very special little tree from the back pasture, and we tried our best to make it pretty. On Sunday we had a big brunch with other friends stopping by, and we spent the afternoon stringing popcorn and cranberry for the birds and laughing and telling stories. As soon as the sun set we headed out on our holiday pilgrimage of lights, which I thought I'd blogged about before but now can't find. My brother, sister-in-law, and nephew joined us, so we had two cars of revelers. The road to the first attraction was treacherous, and we all slipped and slid on the ice after parking and walking to see the lights, meet Santa and Mrs. Claus (and the Grinch, and the elves, and - new this year - the abominable snowman). My nephew was so excited to see his name (and his sister's) on the nice list, and he sweetly posed for photos. We headed to the next two attractions and had a lovely time and then drove home for Dad's world famous homemade pizza and a fun kid-friendly trivia game. On Monday Dad and I met my aunt, uncle, and grandmother for lunch and then shopped for dinner, a delicious Italian feast. It was sad to say goodbye to my aunt and uncle (and puppy!), but they now live a bit closer than they used to, so we should see them more often.

My grandmother came over on Christmas Eve, and we spent the afternoon watching TV and cooking. Dad made a seafood scampi for dinner, and we talked to my brother in CO. Christmas Day we slept in and leisurely opened presents and finished cooking what we were bringing to my brother's. The cats were very excited by their presents; Callaghan helped unwrap his and just couldn't wait until the packaging was removed because, well, feathers. We loaded the car with the kids' presents and headed to their house where we were greeted by cute little excited kiddos who wanted to show us their hauls thus far, which were quite impressive.

We hung out for a while playing with new toys and the cats and eating yummy snacks and then opened presents. My nephew LOVED his new spy gear and immediately tried out the rearview spy glasses, invisible ink, and the motion alarm.  Grandma got the biggest box of chocolates any of us had ever seen (she has a bit of a sweet tooth), and her reaction was priceless. We were in stitches laughing at it. Their cats also got some presents, and Flower went berserk for her new laser pointer.

After a yummy dinner of venison stew and my favorite butternut squash recipe, we relaxed in the living room. My niece started enticing the cats with their new toys, but they were having none of it. So I pretended to be a cat and chased them. Which she thought was the funniest thing ever; she was laughing so hard she could barely keep swishing the toys. Then she and my nephew took turns playing the cat, and we all played spy games a bit more. After dropping Grandma at her home we continued home and went to bed before a very lazy day after Christmas. It was perfect and lovely.

The cats watch the tree going up with skepticism.

We ran out of colored lights at the top and didn't bother to undo the clumps.

Only non-breakable ornaments this year, thanks to the cats. They were quite good though, never actually getting into it.

My other nieces, Flower and Luna.

Flower going crazy for her new laser!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Flag Day Nostalgia

For the first time in many months I find myself getting through my blogroll quickly, easily catching up with the new postings most days. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that I spend some days in yoga pants and don't leave the house (hey, it's cold outside, and I'm on Congressionally-mandated home leave, which I sometimes interpret literally).

Anyway, I've been branching out to new blogs thanks to Life After Jerusalem and Subject Verb Object and their amazingly comprehensive blog lists. A few of the new ones I'm reading are from newly-minted FSOs and EFMs, just out of A-100 and Flag Day and still in training for their first posts. (The two today are Adventures in the Foreign Service and a B, C, D Adventure - you can tell I'm going in alphabetical order.) Reading them has me reminiscing back to those heady first days in the FS when there were so many unknowns, and everything was shiny and new. I like to think I'm not completely jaded these days and still find a lot about the FS shiny and exciting, but I definitely have lost some of that initial OMG-ness that comes with A-100.

I'm preparing to give a presentation on my FS life and travels at my grandmother's senior living community next week, which is also getting me to do research on places I've been and remember stories I've not thought or talked about in a while. Which gives me pause to remember how amazing the FS really is and how much I've seen/done/accomplished in almost five and a half years.

I spoke on the phone today to a college senior who is considering a career in international affairs and possibly the FS, connected by her aunt who works at the aforementioned senior living community. She had great questions and clearly had given a lot of thought to what to ask me that would help guide her next steps. I'll tell you what I told her - and what I tell everyone who asks, and some who don't: take the Foreign Service Officer Test. It's free, you can take it once a year, and one of two things will happen: you'll pass and get a chance to move forward in the process, or you won't pass but will learn what the test looks and feels like and be better prepared to retake it next year.

A lot of people put a lot of effort into preparing for the test, and for some that works. For me, though, I do much better when I don't over prepare. Read up on current events, brush up on international history and U.S. pop culture references through the years. If you need to study, study the thirteen dimensions that guide the selection process and what your chosen cone looks like. And be able to match your own experiences to the thirteen dimensions and your cone and be able to give specific examples. Careers.state.gov is among the best study guides out there.

All right, back to nostalgia. I like it. I can remember my own Flag Day and how much I was sweating in my suit on that hot August day in the FSI Fieldhouse (I believe Flag Days are now held in the newer, better-cooled K building). Never in a million years did I think I'd be assigned to Jeddah, though when I look back at it there was a moment in my CDO interview early on when my CDO asked if Jeddah met my preferences. I said it did and that I wouldn't mind it, but I never really thought that would translate into getting the Saudi flag a few weeks later. In an example of the small FS world, my first CDO is now a CON chief in NEA and someone I will be working with closely in my next job.

I love reading Flag Day stories because they're all unique but all so much the same as well. Most people are excited - either because they got a top choice and/or because they finally know where they're going after so much uncertainty. It's a bonding experience for an A-100 class (as is every other moment of those six weeks, but still). And it's something that every FS generalist and specialist (I think?) has in common. If nothing else, you can make small talk about Flag Day. There are few moments in life with such complete, but highly anticipated, surprise (maybe finding out the gender of a baby at birth, though few are able to resist the temptation to find out earlier these days, or where a medical student matches for residency) that have such a profound impact on your life. And for that reason I think the Flag Day tradition is pretty darn cool. I, for one, never get tired of reading/hearing about the stories. What about you?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

More DC Fun

Most of the DC touristy things I did during this round of training were while Dad was visiting, but I did get to do a few more fun things. Shopping, of course, was one of those: Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Target, Crate and Barrel, the Container Store, Origins, Leesburg Outlets, and even the rundown neighborhood Safeway were all havens of post-tour bliss.

I didn't get to all of my favorite food haunts, but I did get plenty of pho, pad thai, pizza, and other goodies Uganda didn't offer (or didn't offer tasty versions of). Thanksgiving was catered by Whole Foods, which is apparently a very 'in' thing to do, judging by the massive lines to even enter the parking lot and then to collect one's order. It was yummy, a relaxing day was had by all, and plenty of TV was watched (including the parade!).

What else? I made a few trips to the Mosaic District in Merrifield, taking advantage of a lovely spa there, a very nice nail place, their Sunday farmers market, the Angelika, and - of course - Target. I met colleagues for dinner at Pentagon Row and enjoyed a bit of shopping there as well as watching the ice skaters on the lovely rink.

D and I went to the Spy Museum one weekend. I hadn't been there, and I needed to buy 'spy stuff' for my nephew for Christmas. I don't think he quite knows what a spy does, but he knows he wants to be one. And the Spy Museum is a perfect place to load up on tools of the trade for an eight year old. We also saw Rosewater at Landmark Cinema (interestingly, since the last movie I'd seen in the theater prior to that two years before was Argo).

I didn't do a whole lot of cultural outings in DC, but I did attend an entertaining ballet performance at the Kennedy Center - the Suzanne Farrell Ballet Company. It was a nice mix of traditional (Swan Lake) and more contemporary pieces, which I enjoyed. I also went to see the Celtics play the Wizards at the Verizon Center, springing for seats pretty close to the court. Before the game I enjoyed Shake Shack for dinner and wandered through the downtown holiday craft fair, which had some really nice stuff, including jewelry I couldn't resist. The game was incredible - midway through the third quarter the Celts were down by 21, and people started leaving. The Boston bench came back and tied the game and forced not one but two overtimes! Boston ended up losing by one point - it truly came down to the final buzzer - but I wasn't too upset, since the game was so phenomenally entertaining. A great show by both teams, for sure.

Let's see. That may be it. I was only there a little over a month, so I did get a good number of fun events in. I think I already blogged about FS Blogger dinner #1; I also organized FS Blogger dinner #2 with Kelly from Well That Was Different, Nicole from Kids with Diplomatic Immunity, and Gretchen from Texpatica. Such a fun night of Thai and talking.

And, the best news: all of my purchases added up to 246 lbs, which was perfect for my 250 lb UAB limit! My car was not overloaded for the long drive to NH for home leave. Well, it was pretty loaded up thanks to all the Christmas presents and cat paraphernalia, but it wasn't overloaded.

More on Christmas in NH coming soon!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

DC with Dad

This fall I had just six weeks in the DC area to indulge in favorite sights, foods, friends, and fun. I was in training all day every day during the week but still managed to fit in some wonderful fun. First up, a visit with my Dad!

My dad brought me my car from NH when I first got to DC and stayed for a week to soak up history, culture, art, and fun. His stay coincided with some spectacular weather, and we had a great time seeing some new to both of us DC staples. On Saturday we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian, happily visiting on one of the days they were celebrating Day of the Dead. We were treated to some amazing displays of art, singing, and dancing while there. The cafeteria was quite busy and tasty, but I think it was too busy to be truly enjoyable that day. I'll have to go back and choose my foods based not on the shortest lines but by what sounds best.

We walked along the Mall a bit before heading back to VA for Dad's inaugural trip to Wegmans. It was lovely to be back at this oh glorious of food emporiums. We picked up assorted goodies and had a quiet night in. On Sunday we woke up to a power outage, which I realized wasn't as convenient in Uganda as the generator didn't automatically kick in. Luckily the power came on during our outing to Safeway and we were able to get in showers.

First up was a trip to Eastern Market and a wander through the stalls followed by brunch at the Boxcar Tavern. I had bought timed entry tickets to go up the Washington Monument so we headed back downtown and strolled among the Sunday sports leagues and enjoyed that wonderfully DC spectacle. After a visit to the WWII Memorial it was time to go up the monument. Neither of us had gone up before, and it was lovely to see the view of DC from that high up! My favorite part, though, was seeing the commemorative stones placed by various cities, states, and countries from the elevator down. So neat, and something you can't see from outside.

After that we visited the Holocaust Museum, always a somber look at a painful time in history. I hadn't been since high school and, especially having visited Auschwitz since my last visit, it was interesting to better understand some of the exhibits and put them into greater context. The collections (non-permanent) included video segments from Darfur and Syria, both current crises/genocides, depending on how you define them. I won't try to do so here. But seeing some of the footage from refugee camps in Uganda and knowing I'll soon be in Lebanon, these really hit home. We definitely don't always learn from history.

During the rest of the week Dad and I had dinner with my aunt and cousin at a lovely Balkan restaurant in Eastern Market, and D and I introduced him to the wonder of Pho 75. He's a fan of both. On his own that week, while I was at work, he managed to take in the Botanic Garden, the National Gallery, the Museum of American Art and the National Portrait Gallery, National History Museum, most of the monuments - including MLK Jr and Einstein - and the Zoo. Quite a full week; his FitBit was super happy with his walking and gave him uber badges all week.

DC has long been a vacation destination for my family, since we have had family in the area since I was in high school and then with my going to university there and joining the FS. Next time I'm there for any length of time my parents intend to both come and stay for a while. The museums and sights never get old, and there's always something new to see and do (and eat).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Keep Calm and Save Diplopundit

Most Foreign Service bloggers and much of the FS community are avid readers of Diplopundit's truly impressive blog. Unfortunately, Domani Spero will be forced to put down her pen at the end of the month as what started as a hobby has turned into a full-time unpaid job. Which is, of course, unsustainable. Fundraising efforts in the last year haven't been lucrative enough for the blog to keep going, and the post we all dreaded about the blog going black went up last week.

Enter an intrepid FSO who started a Go Fund Me campaign to save Diplopundit (thanks for this post's title goes to said FSO). In just two days more than $10k of the necessary $30k has been raised. This is tremendous and illustrates how important Diplopundit is to the entire DOS community. So let's keep up the momentum. Please take a few moments to give whatever you can to save this informative, well-researched, and entertaining news source. We may not always agree with Domani Spero, but her efforts to keep us in the loop of the good, the bad, and the ugly are unparalleled.

Keep Calm and Save Diplopundit!

Edit: as of right now the total raised stands at $19,972. Let's bump this up to $30,000 in the next couple of weeks! Please donate if you haven't already, and spread the word. The FS can't lose this valuable resource.