Updates…

A couple of random updates for my faithful readers:

1)  Son and I arrived in the States on 7/23, safe and sound.  Son is currently enjoying the company of his crazy cousins and my sister, brother-in-law, and mother in Cape Cod.  Note to self: the North Atlantic is GODDAMN FREEZING.  2 years in a tropical country has made me soft.  Also, there are sharks near the beach we go to.  Sweet.

2)  The dogs arrived safely last night after a 8-hour day of traveling.  They arrived 2+ hours ahead of schedule, even though they were confirmed to be on the later flight (10:10 p.m. arrival).  I got a call at 8:30 from United Cargo stating, “Um, you have two dogs here waiting to be picked up… can you come get them?”  Also, the United Cargo terminal in Boston is wholly staffed by Dominicans, so it was almost like being back in SDO.

3)  I’m running errands like a freaking madman… bike tune-up, purchasing/registering wife’s new car, new tires for wife’s new car, picking up the dogs, picking up the wife, etc.  I can’t wait for Maine, where I’ll have almost 3 weeks of uninterrupted tranquility… nothing to do, no one to see.  Woo-sah!

4)  Home leave is great.  I’ve been in Trader Joe’s & Whole Foods, drank good beers, been able to conduct all of my business in my native tongue (I really can’t say enough about this… while my Spanish is solid, it’s still SO MUCH EASIER when you’re positive you’re being completely understood [most of the time]), driven in a relaxed manner, known exactly where I was going at all times, and enjoyed 4G data on my shiny new smartphone (Samsung Galaxy S iii – still on the fence about it…).

5)  The Dominican Republic threw a couple of curveballs at me on my departure day.  I had to cash a check for a refund of our liability insurance down there, and of course, this took over an hour.  They had to “verify” the check and hold my passport while doing so.  I kind of lost it towards the end, demanding my check and the passport back, as I was cutting it close on making my flight… I guess my stern lecture about customer service and looming deadlines (i.e. me voy ahora mismo) lit the fire under their asses, as I had my money in about 2 minutes after my tirade.  Needless to say there was a tense moment as security came over to me and tried to look menacing/kick me out.  This, however, did not work, as the dude was about 65, 5-foot-three, and 120 lbs. soaking wet.  I dismissed him with a quick “no me jodas” glance, and he didn’t bother me anymore.

So, moral of the story is: we’re home.  Wife flies in on Thursday, and then it’s up to Maine after that.  I can’t wait.

It’s good to be home…..

Packed out!

Well, we’re packed out, and our stuff is on its way to the great beyond.  It took two days, but our whole life here in Santo Domingo was carefully wrapped and placed into boxes, and then into crates, and driven away on a flatbed truck.  The empty house is a little weird, but I know that it’s a part of our lives… the empty house at the beginning and end of tours.

Son and I only have about 30 hours left in the DR and we’ve been saying a lot of goodbyes over the last week or so.  I’m not quite sure that Son gets the temporal aspect of these goodbyes (it’ll be several years in most cases before he sees his friends from SDO again), as the last 2 times we went wheels-up from here, we returned in a matter of weeks.  This time, however, we won’t be back for a long time, and by this time next year, we’ll be fully entrenched in our next post on the other side of the world with our friends from here scattered around the globe.  I guess one of the nice things about the FS is that I could probably find a bed to crash on in about 60% of the world, either through real-life relationships or from the FS Blog community.  If Wife hadn’t gotten the call for A-100, we very well may still have been living our boring old life in CT at this point, rather than embarking on all these new adventures.

With a little more than a day left here, I’m going take an opportunity to reflect on our time here:

  • Our Spanish has become so much better since arriving, natch.  Son went from zero Spanish to basically fluent (at a 4-year-old level, of course) in just 2 short years.  I hope he keeps it up.  My wife’s ability to understand the Dominicans continues to astound me.  I still hand the phone to her when it’s an important conversation, as her 2 years of speaking through an intercom have improved her ability to understand over the phone.  I have gotten pretty damn good with my domestically-oriented Spanish, but as we were discussing with some friends last night, I still probably couldn’t pass the FSI test as my ability to explain complex political and economic issues is not up-to-par due to my limited vocabulary in these areas.  I don’t often have involved discussions about the current political and economic environment with my 7th-grade-educated empleada domestica or the various clerks, attendants, and street vendors I regularly interact with.  This duality within the FSI testing environment annoys me, as my Spanish is better than my wife’s at times, but in a different area.  The “teaching to the test” approach at FSI, while valuable to the officer, leaves the trailing spouse at a severe disadvantage; the ability to argue the cost-benefit ratio of a new economic policy of a country in the native language does NOT help one navigate the domestic landscape the EFM will surely be cast into.
  • I’m going to miss this country.  Not the city, but the country.  The DR is breathtakingly beautiful once you leave Santo Domingo.  There are beaches, mountains, deserts, jungles, rivers, farms, caves, flora and fauna, and a million and one other natural wonders to explore.  My one regret is that we didn’t get out of the city more often…  This was mostly due to this being our first tour (and being broke for the first year), and the fact that we were unable to find truly reliable domestic help.  We hope to have better luck in Indonesia.
  • I’m going to miss the people I’ve met here, both Americans and Dominicans.  I know that we’ve formed lasting friendships with a good number of people, and as it is in the FS, parting company is such sweet sorrow.  I know we’ll see each other again eventually, but it’s hard to leave behind such a good cadre of people.  Yes, I’ll make new friends, and so will they, but it still sucks.  It’s been funny these past several weeks, as we’re meeting a lot of the new arrivals and kind of just going through the motions (“Hi, nice to meet you!  I’ll be gone in less than a month, so good luck!”).  I feel bad keeping the newbies on the periphery, but what’s the point?
  • While this post has its fair share of problems (which hopefully will be alleviated by the completion of the NEC and new housing compound), it’s been an overall good post.  For those of you coming here or bidding on here, you should do so without reservation.  The Embassy community is large, but the country is also large enough to immerse yourself in the culture if you choose.  It’s an excellent post to see what the developing world looks like while still being close enough to the U.S. in case you need to get out of dodge for a while.  Miami is only a 2-hour, $250 flight.

We’re in the home-stretch, and I can’t wait.  While I’m sure I’ll have “a moment” at wheels-up, as my wife insists I will (seeing as I was a puddle on the flight from San Juan to SDQ almost 2 years ago), I’m really happy to have this adventure come to an end and a new one be just around the corner.

Mahalo, and see ya States-side.

International Long Distance + Long Hold Times = Teh Suck

Leave it to my internet connection to really, truly start to suck just when I’m getting ready to leave.  The 6Mbit/1.5Mbit connection that I pay dearly for has been averaging about .75Mbit/.2Mbit for the last 6 weeks.  For the last 2 years, I’ve used Skype for all my calls back to the States.  I have a Skype-to-Go number linked to my Google Voice number, and have found this to be a particularly smooth solution.  The GV number allows me to have the same phone number no matter where I am… I either tie it to my Skype number (while I’m abroad), or my cell, a GoPhone, or a landline (domestically).  It’s a lifesaver, as my family only needs to remember one number for me.

Somewhere in June, my internet connection decided it was going to joder conmigo (to use the vernacular de aquí).  So, of course, this leaves me Skype-less during a time when I am making at least 3-4 phone calls to the U.S. a day.  And these aren’t just “Hey, how are you?” phone calls, these are long, complex calls to sort out a variety of complex issues having to do with our impending departure.  It’s difficult to have a productive conversation when the other party is only getting every third word or so.

One of the bigger issues I’ve been dealing with is the shipment of our dogs back to the U.S.  We need to send them as cargo, as they’re traveling between my wife’s and my departure dates to facilitate our trips (and because they can’t fly into our Home Leave airport due to aircraft size restrictions).  We’re using United, and their live animal courier service is called PetSafe (you FS pet owners already know this, natch).  Well, PetSafe tends to have very long hold times… no less than a half hour EVERY. SINGLE. CALL.  With Skype?  Who cares, I just mute the call, and go about my business until someone picks up, and it costs me nothing.  Direct-dial international long distance is a whole ‘nutha ballgame.

My phone bill for last month (May to June) was a full $50 more, and that was only half a month’s worth of calls.  And at least $40 of that was probably on hold with PetSafe/United.  Other culprits of long hold times: Connecticut DMV (clarification on power of attorney and Notaries Public) and Rhode Island DMV (clarification on temporary tag rules).  There were also various calls to USAA for address switching and auto insurance policy buying, Clements to whine about having to pay for the majority of my policy when I’m going to cancel it as soon as our POV arrives in the States (within 2 weeks of the policy renewing) so now I only have to pay 40% (it’s the small victories in life), and my parents for various workings-out of logistics.  My phone bill this month is going to hurt.

Otherwise, preparations are going well for pack-out (Thursday, yikes!).  We’ve organized a bunch, and gotten rid of some other things, and basically I’m feeling reasonably good about it.  There’s just a week left for me here, and while I have a lot to do, I’m finally able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Come on, Home Leave!

12 days… but who’s counting?

As of today, I officially have 12 days left here in the Dominican Republic.  That’s 288 hours!  17,280 minutes!  1,036,800 seconds!  1.037 megaseconds!  (yes, that really is a thing)  My tickets have been bought and confirmed, pack-out survey is complete, I mostly have the pet shipment thing sorted out (except for the beagle’s crate, which seems to have disappeared into the USPS’s ethers somewhere between ATL and here), the despedida has been booked, and well, I’m feeling great about it all.

Many people have told me how bittersweet departure can be, and I mostly agree.  I am going to miss the friends we have made here (both American and Dominican), but I will not miss the city nor the Mission as a whole.  Santo Domingo has been a great post to cut our teeth on, as it has many of the advantages and challenges we will encounter in our FS career all wrapped up into one discombobulated package.  When we arrived at post there were a lot of problems here, and while changes have been made for the better, problems do still exist.  I’m sure this is no different from anywhere else in the world, and it’s really given me some perspective on the American standard of living.

One of the biggest lessons I will have taken away from this post is about patience.  In the Foreign Service, one should not expect things to happen quickly.  Hell, even the hiring process takes a year-plus, so why should anything be different once you’re in the cult?  Maintenance issues around our house have been the most frustrating, as without a federal budget in place, the Mission is not going out of its way to spend money “needlessly” (i.e. if it ain’t falling down, it ain’t broken).  We’ve had some issues in the house that have been pending for months, and I’m assuming that they will be addressed in the “make-ready” after we leave, since they have to make the house pretty again for the next tenants.  However, this leaves us with bubbling and cracked paint, water stains, crappy hot water heaters, and leaky showers that, while not “emergencies” in any sense, are still annoyances that should be dealt with.  But, hey, I only have 12 more days, so who cares?  Not my problem….

Another lesson: don’t believe what you hear about selling a car at post… it’s a nightmare.  All the post reports we read were all, “OMG, you’ll totally be able to sell whatever car you bring for what you paid for it!”.  Unfortunately, as we’ve discovered, that’s pretty far from the truth.  If you’re on the summer cycle, prepare for a buyer’s market within the Mission (there are currently like 8 cars available here).  And if you’re posted to the Dominican Republic (or most Latino countries, I’d imagine), prepare to ask for like $5,000 more than your lowest acceptable price… the haggling and under-cutting here is unbelievable.  I’ve not been offered more than $19,000 for the car I’m selling for $22,000 firm(ish).  We may have to ship the damn thing back home and sell it there… a prospect I’m not looking forward to.

Pack-out is coming up quickly, and we are trying to organize things better than the first time (i.e. CT to DC), since we still have no idea where some of our stuff is.  Luckily, with only about 5,000 lbs. of “stuff”, it should be a little easier.  Not to mention, I think I have a pretty good grasp on what I can live without for a few months at this point.  It’s also nice that we’re headed to Oakwood while we’re back in the States, so that provides some continuity, and more importantly, some essentials for living.

12 days… not that anyone’s counting.

I Just Want to Go Home….

Can it be July 23rd already?  Can I be on a plane with the Dominican Republic in my rear-view mirror para nunca volver?

Departing post is both awesome and the worst-imaginable hell all tied up in one convoluted ball of stress and emotions.  There hasn’t been a day in the past 2 weeks where I haven’t been on the verge of tears and/or an emotional breakdown at some point.  My wife’s work is, well, a little hectic right now, and she’s kind of unavailable for helping with the leg-work for the transition out of here.  So every phone call, email, frantic Google search to find a solution to the myriad new problems and issues that arise on a daily basis kind of falls into my lap.

Words of advice:

1)  Don’t have a pet in the Foreign Service.  Yes, the continuity of having your cat/dog/whatever with you at each post is nice, and it sure does help the kiddos out with the transitions every 2-3 years, but the stress and expenses of transporting animals around the globe with airlines bent on making the process as cumbersome and headache-inducing as humanly possible is really and truly a test of both spirit and will.  You want to find out if you have what it takes to accomplish anything?  Try to arrange transportation for 2 dogs out of a Spanish-speaking country with zero customer service skills.  Add a degree of difficulty: each time you call you’re told something completely different from the previous time.  If you don’t go insane and smash your head into a concrete wall repeatedly, you just might be invincible.

2)  Don’t buy or sell cars in the Foreign Service.  Selling our car has become a horrific nightmare, and there’s a real possibility of having to bring it back to the States with us to sell there.  Great, just what I want… 3 cars.  You’d think at a large post with several people arriving these days that someone might want to buy my car because it’s so easy, but you’d be wrong.  I’ve resorted to the private, non-Mission market, and now have to worry about security concerns whilst showing the vehicle to prospective buyers such as being shot or stabbed and having the vehicle be stolen from me, while negotiating a fair price in Spanish to people who think that offering $6,000 or more LESS than my asking price is a good strategy.  “Entiendo, pero es el precio americano, no es dominicano.”

2a)  Don’t buy a car for home leave and training sight-unseen in a state in which you do not reside.  Registering it in your state is a new circle of hell involving several back-and-forth trips between your state of residence’s DMV and the state of the seller.  Luckily they’re small states and neighbors (CT and RI), but still, ugh.

3)  Don’t have any possessions.  Organizing them and culling them in preparation for pack-out is just a really daunting task.  Get rid of all your crap before you take that invite into A-100.  We are truly nomads in the FS, and you shouldn’t have more stuff that can fit into 2 under-50-pound suitcases per member of your family.  Yes, the gov’t packs and unpacks your things for you and sends them to the far corners of the globe for you, but it’s a giant pain in the ass when it comes time to uproot again.

4)  Don’t expect anyone to care.  Friends and family offer “support” in their own ways, but since everyone has their own problems, griping about the procedural mountains between you and wheels-up for the last time will win you no sympathy.  Also don’t expect that your efforts to make your transition as painless for your family and friends in the States will be met with anything but unnecessary complications and hurt feelings.  I don’t think it’s in the non-FS emotional intelligence to understand just how difficult the transition process is, and you come off as being whiny or unappreciative when you vent your frustrations.

5)  Don’t expect anything to happen on time or to be correct the first time.  Expect to have to follow up regularly with anyone on whom you need to rely in order to get something departure-related accomplished.  Travel orders are usually delayed, sometimes wrong, and it throws a huge wrench into the gears when you’re waiting for amended orders so you can, you know, buy your plane ticket and try to plan your arrival with whomever is picking you up at the airport.  Paperwork gets held up on its way through the bureaucratic process, and can sometimes be stopped dead for whatever reason.  So you have to figure out where it stopped and get it moving again.  It’s your problem when someone else drops the ball.

I could go on and on and on.  I’m not really meaning to sound as whiny as I’m sure I do.  This blog is my catharsis.  If I can write about it, it makes me feel better.  I also use this blog to procrastinate, apparently, as I’m realizing how much more I need to accomplish today.

Until next time, dear readers…

Why leaving post sucks

So, I broke my promise of blogging more about our final weeks here in SDO.  Big deal.  You’ll understand after reading what follows…

I have assumed a few new roles in our family that weren’t part of the job description before we left for TDY in London.  Apparently I’ve been promoted to the “Organizer in Chief”, “Official Family Courier”, “Chauffeur”, “Administrative Assistant”, “Used Car Salesman”, “Management Liaison”, and “Keeper of my Wife’s Sanity”.  Let’s address these in order…

1)  “Organizer in Chief”:  Since my wife works pretty hard during the week, most of the organizing of pack-out has fallen to me.  This is OK.  She’s tired at the end of the day and does do what she can on weekends, but there are not enough hours in the day for her to pitch in at the levels I hoped she would be able to.  I have been organizing so much paperwork and important documents/stuff, I’m pretty sure I qualify for a MLS at this point.  I’m a damned curator at this point.  Way it goes….

2)  “Official Family Courier”:  Some document needs to go somewhere?  Let me handle it!  I make almost daily trips to the Embassy in order to deliver this or that document, or to nudge whomever it is who needs nudging to “hacer nitido” our checkout process (to use the vernacular of the day…).  I have become a liaison with just about every section of the Mission…. good thing I have some friends here in good places.

3)  “Chauffeur”:  I’ve been driving my wife to work for some time now, but I think I really achieved “soccer mom” status after Son’s school ended…. we now have swim lessons, play dates, summer camp, and god-knows-what-else on the radar.  I can’t freaking wait until he’s a teenager.

4)  “Administrative Assistant”:  Filing, scanning, organizing, shredding, faxing, setting/cancelling appointments, sending/receiving documents, etc.  You name it… I feel like I’m back in my first job out of college at a shitty publishing firm in Boston where I was a glorified b*tch.

5)  “Used Car Salesman”:  This one’s the worst.  I want to sell the car before we leave.  It should be easy… it’s one of the few manual transmission FJs on the island, and the price is right.  However, within the Mission, everyone and their mother is selling their vehicle right now.  It’s a buyer’s market, and I’ve resorted to a “se vende” sign on the rear window and an ad in the sketchy supercarros website.  Grr, public exposure.

6)  “Management Liaison”:  This one’s weird… since my wife doesn’t have very much time during the week to escape the interview window, I’ve found myself intertwined in a good amount of the “official” departure actions since I’m nearer to my computer and more readily able to provide info at the drop of a hat.  I guess this one could also have me called “Executive Assistant”.

7)  “Keeper of my Wife’s Sanity”:  All of the above positions are under the umbrella of this one.  Due to various circumstances that are no one’s fault, my wife is unable to take much administrative time in our last several weeks at post.  Hence, I’m trying to take as much responsibility off of her plate as I can (which is hard, since so much has to be done by her due to security/personnel/privacy/access concerns).  She has a job to do, and regardless of how close to departure we are, the workload doesn’t lessen.  I just hope I’m doing enough.  I know our month of home leave can’t come soon enough for everyone involved.

So, for those of you who are trailing spouses: departure sucks.  It’s just a warning.  As an EFM, you have a sense of powerlessness which is awful and cannot be remedied.  You’re responsible for so much (after all, your spouse is the FSO and has a job to do), but have access to so little w/r/t helping out.  I wish I could take all these tasks off my wife’s plate, but because I’m not the employee I can’t get anywhere near the systems that are necessary to accomplish them.  Thus, my new job descriptions as posited above.

I’m feeling both overwhelmed and overjoyed at the prospect of leaving the DR and starting our next adventure… I just wish I had a clone to help me out.

Mahalo.

Travel Nightmares, Part Deux

Yes, my faithful readers, my travel karma struck again.  I would seriously like to know who’s puppy I killed in a former life to deserve a life of unadulterated hell in airports when I am the primary traveler.  Luckily (*spoiler alert*), this one ends much better than the journey TO London.

I had an early morning flight from Heathrow to Madrid, with a connection in the afternoon from Madrid to SDQ, all on Iberia.  We busted ass to get ourselves checked out of our “hotel” (more like the London Oakwood, Dolphin Square – you should check it out for an extended stay… quite nice) in order to catch the first Tube train of the morning @ 5:45 a.m.  Needless to say, we missed it by like 30 seconds.  Of course.  Next train came 10 minutes later, and we were on our way.

The Tube ride was smooth (1:02 door-to-door, like £5 from Pimlico to Heathrow, as compared to the “Heathrow Express” which takes 0:56, and costs £20 or so per person), and we made it to the airport about 2 hours before our flights.  Wife was flying out 1 hour later than we were, but tried to get on our flight on standby.  No dice.  We boarded our flight, saying bye to Wife, because we’d see her in Madrid.  Bwahahahahahahahahaha, this is Dave Pernal we’re talking about.  This is where the story goes to shit.

We back away from the jetway about 20 feet, and stop.  Captain announces a “mechanical anomaly” with no further explanation.  We wait for another 45 minutes, then get the dreaded “We have to deplane because there’s a hydraulic leak, and this will take 3 hours to fix.  Of course, Son and I are at the back of the plane, and are the last to get off.  I’m figuring there’s a flight to Madrid every 60-90 minutes or so, so no big deal.  We get to the customer service line and find the entire capacity of the plane in front of us in the queue, and 2 people working the desk.  Suddenly my hopes of meeting my wife in Madrid and making my connection become non-existent.

Three hours later, we get to the front of the line (I may have had a small emotional meltdown at some point, realizing the direness of our situation.  I desperately tried to hide this moment of emotional weakness from Son, but I think I failed), as I’ve been on Kayak and whatnot exploring my options for getting home.  I notice a couple of flights to NYC from Heathrow still within the realm of possibility, and check connections to SDQ.  None until Monday.  Well, that’s not horrible, as my sister lives 45 minutes from JFK and I haven’t seen her since last summer.  I call her at 6 a.m. local time and see if I can crash for at least overnight, maybe 2 days.  She says yes, so score.  I work out the details with the desk staff, and am ticketed on a British Airways flight to JFK, arriving at a reasonable hour.

Thing is, at this point, I have no way of contacting my wife to let her know what happened.  I send emails to her Gmail and State emails, hoping she’ll have the sense to check email in Madrid when she doesn’t find us there.  I also desperately try to get BA and Iberia to send a message to her via the plane, paging her, her arrival gate, and the departure gate.  They more or less refuse, and I call the Duty Officer at the London Embassy to see if she can get in touch with the Duty Officer in Madrid to see if they can have any better luck.  I call my housekeeper in the DR, asking her to stay until my wife arrives to relay the message, and I also as a friend to call my wife after 6 p.m. on her BB to relay the message.  I have no idea if any of the messages will get through.  I fear that if my wife does not see us in Madrid, she will freak out.  I finally find a helpful BA agent who sends text messages to Madrid about my situation… my last hope.

Son and I work our way to the gate, get the boarding call, and immediately hit a snag at the gate.  Apparently our seats aren’t our seats.  Great.  The gate agent works for a few getting us new seats, which aren’t together.  Nope, no way… no one wants my 4-year-old next to them for a 7+ hour flight with me 12 rows away.  Gate agent works some more, gets us 2 seats together.  Nice.

Anyways we board our flight, and find 2 people in our seats.  They have tickets for different seats, but keep saying “We’re a family, we’re not moving.”  I ask if any of their tickets are 2 seats together, they say yes and direct me to them.  I get there, and, why yes, they fed me a line of bullshit.  At this point, I’m visibly frustrated and a flight attendant asked me if I needed help.  I explained that there were 2 people in my ticketed seats who didn’t belong, and I’d appreciate sitting in MY seats.  She says she’ll help, goes over to the offending party and explains that they need to move.  They refuse, and become surly, but not surly enough to get kicked off the flight (I was secretly hoping for this, because seriously f*ck them, they were incredibly rude and douchey about the whole situation both to me an my son).  At this point, we’re standing in the galley, and I just lose it.  Like literally, lip quivering, tears rolling down my cheeks, choking on a combination of rage and utter frustration and exasperation.  A flight attendant asks me if I’m OK, and I say no… I’m far from it.  He contacts the crew chief to see if there’s anything they can do for us, and we wait there for about 10 minutes with me still a mess.

Finally they return, and ask us to follow them.  This is where the happy ending comes in to play.  We’re escorted up to First Class on a British Airways 747.  We get 2 private adjacent seats, and are told to enjoy our flight.  I’m brought champagne, Son’s brought some OJ, and we taxi down the runway.  Throughout the flight I’m plied with Bordeaux, 15 year old Scotch, and some of the tastiest food I’ve had in a while, whether on an airplane or not.  Slowly, I gather my composure and decide to relax.

As I write this, we’re about 35,000 feet over the Atlantic with about 3 hours left on the flight.  Son slept for the first 3+ hours, which was awesome, and I get the unintended (and awesome) consequence of Son getting to play with his cousins for a day or two before we head back to the DR on Monday.  Totally unnecessary load of BS to deal with on an otherwise stressful day that was to entail 14 hours of traveling.

I can’t wait to see what happens when we’re wheels-up from the DR before Wife heads back, and even more so what happens on our flight to Indonesia where we have 30+ hours for stuff to go wrong.

Flying sucks.  But apparently I’m going to have to get used to it.

Touring London, One Playground at a Time

So, this time in London with Son in tow has been extremely different than my last time here *mrharumph* years ago when I was a strapping young lad of 17 in search of the next pub that would serve me a pint.  Now, instead of looking for pubs with clever names and barhands willing to overlook my clear underagedness, I’m trying to find playgrounds every day to keep my son entertained.

It’s funny, as we’ve gone to the Natural History Museum, Kew Gardens, Kensington Gardens, the London Zoo (so quaint how they call it the “Zed-Ess-Ell” London Zoo), Batttersea Park, The Museum of Childhood, and The Museum of Science, and all Son’s kept asking is “Where’s the playground?”  Granted, we’ve found some awesome playgrounds (Battersea Park and the Diana Memorial Playground in Kensington Gardens are incredible), but the two he wants most to go back to are the ones in Kew Gardens and in the Zoo.  Mind you, every other playground we’ve been to has been public (and thus, free), but he wants to go to the two where we have to pay for entry into an attraction that I’ll never see any of except the playground.  Currently admission to Kew Gardens is like £14 for adults, and for Son and I the Zoo was £35 to get in.  With the exchange rate at $1.61 per Pound, that’s steep for a playground.

Since it’s our last week here, I’m going to put my foot down, however… I’m going to drag Son to a few things I want to see: the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace, and possibly the V&A’s exhibit on “100 Years of British Design”.  I think I’ll be bale to slip one more trip in to visit the Diana Memorial Playground, and maybe even head out to Battersea Park again, but this is Dada’s week.

We’re back to reality (i.e. the DR) in under a week and I’m looking forward to it, somehow.  Probably because I know I have less than 2 months left at post at that point, and that is a much more manageable number than 6, 12, or 18.  London has been a nice break from the tropics and the chaos of Santo Domingo.  It’s been nice to ride subways, take taxis, and wander the streets.  It’s been nice to go to the market and buy gourmet cheeses, meats, and produce and not have to worry about cholera, hepatitis, or other nasty critters.  It’s been nice to wear a jacket or sweater almost every day.  But the nicest part has been spending the days with Son, regardless of how frustrated I get with him on his constant quest for the ultimate playground.

There are worse things in life, I guess.

Cheerio until I’m back in GMT -4.

I guess I’m not as important as I once assumed

It all started with me reading this.  I thought to myself, “Really?  Jen is like one of the bestest FS bloggers out there who’s blog I constantly look to for advice, insight, humor, and just downright know-how.”  Then I decided to actually check out the careers.state.gov blogroll to see who was on it.

See, it all started out in 2010 or so, when we doing the whirlwind thing in DC, then literally just arrived at our first post when I received this email:

Dear Dave,

Recently you gave us permission to utilize excerpts of your blog posts on INTERNational Connections, the U.S. Department of State’s career-networking site for current and former interns. While we’re just getting that content-sharing program off the ground, we’ve already received great feedback on how helpful your content has been to those thinking about pursuing a career with the U.S. Department of State.

With that in mind, we’d like to expand our cooperation with you. We’re currently in the process of completely overhauling the Careers website (http://careers.state.gov) to help provide prospective candidates with more authentic first-hand and relevant content that’s easier to find. As part of this content, we’d like to feature a link to your blog (dp’s blog), as part of a blog-roll on the site. This would simply be a direct link to your site, with none of your content featured directly on careers.state.gov.

Please acknowledge that you’re fine with this scenario; please let me know if you have any questions about this initiative. Thanks!

Sincerely,
A FSS working in Washington

Wow! I thought.  I’m like famous, or something.  Well, at least amongst the ridiculously small community of trailing-spouse bloggers here in the Foreign Service.  And State had recognized me as having something important to say!  Golly-gee-willikers, I was excited.

So I continued blogging about what goes on in my life abroad on a semi-consistent basis.  See, when you’re living abroad, running a household, keeping everyone on schedule, getting chores and errands done, trying to have a social life, etc. blogging can become kind of secondary.  It’s not that I don’t want to do it, it’s just that at the end of the day either I feel like there’s absolutely nothing to say, or I’m too damn tired or frustrated to say anything at all.  I was averaging about a post every 2 to 3 weeks.  Not bad when you’re Mr. Mom.

So, after reading Jen’s post, I got curious.  I checked the careers.state.gov blogroll to see if I was still there.  Nope.  Not a trace.  Maybe it had something to do with a forced 3 or so week hiatus that came down from above.  Maybe it had to do with the fact that much of my content was kind of negative on some level.  I don’t know…. nor do I really care.  I write about the realities of my life in the Foreign Service, good or bad, and plan on doing so for as long as I’m permitted to.

Moving forward, since we’re getting so close to pack-out and home leave, I’ll be trying to pick up the writing and give helpful pointers about pack-out, as well as the usual horror stories that I’m sure will come with it.  This is where I’ve turned to others’ blogs to gauge my perceived level of insanity.  “Has anyone else experienced this?  Yes?  Then I should probably just shut up.”

We continue to enjoy the lovely TDY in London, as Son and I are getting as much done as possible in the remaining week-plus we have here.  Once we get back to SDO, it’s more house-arrest style living rather than being able to roam the city aimlessly without the always-looming threat of being robbed, harassed, kidnapped, or killed.

London has shown me that I miss the first world so much: I miss the markets; the museums; the public transportation; being able to walk around; good food; fresh and abundant ingredients… but I’ll be back there shortly.  Maine and a month of solitude/tranquility can’t come soon enough.

Cheerio, mates.

Travel Adventures (Or How My Airplane Karma Really, Really, Really Sucks)

We arrived in London on Saturday.  It’s been cool and rainy ever since.  I don’t think I’ve ever been happier to put on a sweater and/or raincoat.  After almost 2 years in a disgustingly hot and humid climate, being chilly is like my own personal heaven.

Our flight here was not without adventure, however.  Waiting for my plane in SDO, I ran into a few of my wife’s colleagues, one going to Panama and one going to DC.  All our flights were in a 40-minute window, so we sat and chatted for a few before heading off to our respective gates.  Some thunderstorms were rolling in, but it’s 4:00 p.m. in SDO, when does that NOT happen?  My two friends each get on their planes, and Son and I watch them taxi and take off.  We’re up next, we board the plane, and even taxi out to the runway.  We hold for a few minutes, then the captain announces that the thunderstorm is a little stronger than expected, and we’re going to wait it out.  He also mentions that it’s quick-moving, and we should be underway in about 15-20 minutes.

An hour and 45 minutes later, we’re given the go-ahead for take-off.  Mind you I have a 2-hour layover in JFK to clear customs and immigration, get from Terminal 4 to Terminal 3 with my suitcases and toddler, etc.  I ask the flight crew if they think it’s possible to make this connection in the roughly hour-long period we’ll have from touch-down to take-off of my next flight.  They assure me that it’s possible, and to help me out, they move me and Son to the first-class cabin for the remaining 30 minutes of the flight so we can disembark more quickly.

We land, and I have 1:05 to make my flight.  Luckily Dip passports are almost as good as those million-mile clubs when clearing immigration and customs in JFK.  I also had some ground crew escorting and expediting the process.  We could have made it.  I seriously think we could have made it.  The ground crew had a different idea, and decided to re-book me on an AA flight that was leaving a little later (I was originally scheduled to and excited to fly British Airways on a 10:55 p.m. flight), much to my chagrin.  I accepted, as I was not given much choice, and settled in to wait for this new flight which was supposed to take off at 11:15 p.m.  Of course, this being me, we were delayed until 12:45 a.m.  I emailed my wife (she was already in London) about my flight changes, and sent her a text, just to be sure.

Luckily, I had spent some of the time sitting in JFK to scavenge for food options (there aren’t many at 11 p.m.), and ended up with a couple of bananas, some chocolate milk, a couple of cheese slices, and some waters (for $23, mind you).  Thank god I did, because American DID NOT FEED US ON THE FLIGHT.  Beverage service and snacks only, with no option to purchase meals-in-a-box due to the fact that the plane we were flying on had landed about 30 minutes before we took off, and they were trying to minimize our delay.  Ugh.

I got almost no sleep on the plane (of course), and was ravenously hungry, but we finally landed in London at about 11:35 a.m. local time.  I collected our luggage and cleared Border Control and customs with no problem.  No sign of my wife, however.  Shit.  We had a wedding to get to by 2:45 p.m., and I had no way of contacting her.  I quickly bought a SIM card (I love the UK for this single reason: SIM card vending machines EVERYWHERE), used Skype to call my wife’s cell (no answer), and checked my email (no reply to my message).  Double shit.  We walked around the terminal for a few minutes looking for her to no avail, and then I decided I would ask where the BA flight I was originally on would have landed.  2 terminals over, of course.  Son and I schlepped our stuff onto the light rail, and made it to the other terminal (and by “Son and I,” I of course mean “I”), and after 15 minutes of searching, located my wife.  Phew.

Of course, by this point we had about 1 hour to get to the hotel, check-in, drop our things, shower, put a suit on, and take a cab to central London from Ealing.  Our Tube train had massive delays (25 minutes sitting at a stop), I had to get the wrinkles out of my suit (not too many thanks to this video), and there was traffic inbound to central London.  We missed most of the wedding ceremony, but got to hang out at the reception for a fabulous Indian banquet feast.

The end.  More about our London adventures as they happen.