Wrapping up home leave…

Well, we’re back in CT for a 36 hour rest stop en route from northern Maine to DC.  Maine was WONDERFUL.  No TV and very limited internet, ocean views, wildlife, quiet, peace, tranquility.

More to come when we get settled in DC.

Mahalo.

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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.