Thursday, August 31, 2006

Here in Chennai

We made it to Chennai last night, all bags arrived and met at the airport. The house is very nice -- big, and the kids slept a bit. I'm here at work, logging in for the first time to check in. The Consulate is a very nice building -- the consular section is large, reminds me of Manila's NIV section. We went to see the school this morning, and met with the counselor there. All the kids know more about their classes, and are excited to start on Tuesday. I'll hopefully get the laptop fixed this weekend and get Internet access, so we hope to check in sometime over the weekend.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Back in the First World

We're now in the business class lounge of Frankfurt Airport, with another 3 hours to go or so before our flight takes off for Chennai. No more mishaps, although I did have to wait quite a while for this computer to be free. With our laptop problem, I'm carrying around a 10-pound paperweight. Nevertheless, all of us slept at least some on the last flight, so we should be OK for India. We don't know when we'll have access after this, although we'll probably be able to get on by the weekend.

In Accra...

Here we are at the Golden Tulip Hotel in Accra, which isn't nearly as cheesy as it sounds. It's actually quite a nice hotel. The rooms are very clean, and the place kind of looks like an airport. It's very close to the airport itself, and it even has wireless Internet access. But we're in the business center. Because....

my laptop died last night. It seems the backlight on the monitor went out, so while the computer works, you can't see anything. That's a problem for a laptop. So we thought that it would be our one glitch. Then came this morning, when we drove to Accra. The Embassy van had terrible suspension, the roads were horrible, and the driving wasn't much better. While trying to miss the potholes, the driver managed to hit part of every one. The bumping around made everyone somewhat nauseous, but Katherine more than most. We pulled off on the side of the road so she could yak. Some people offered some water, and we got back on the road, with only her dignity hurt.
This is just a day room, so we plan to have lunch, then hang out for a while until 5 p.m., when we expect the pickup from the Embassy Accra driver and expeditor to the airport. We lift off at 7 p.m. After a (hopefully brief) touchdown in Lagos, we'll be in Frankfurt. We've got several hours there, so we'll check in again.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Quickly Checking In

Everything is winding down. We had dinner out at Greenfields last night with a couple Embassy friends. Today we had lunch at Coco Beach with a couple other friends then spent some time with them in our empty echo-ey house. Ian has checkout at work Monday and Tuesday while Moise, the kids and I get the house ready to be vacated. Tuesday the kids and I will go to AISL for lunch, to say goodbye to folks there. I need to repack all our suitcases too.

Wednesday morning, 8 a.m., farewell to Togo.

Friday, August 25, 2006

(mis)Adventures in Packing

How is it possible to be so tired after two days of -not- packing a single box?

Can it be the move off our own bed to the queen in the tv room? Can it be the absence of mosquito netting, allowing more bites last night than in the months previous? The not so comfy sheets from the welcome kit? The echo in the halls? The midnight and later nights of last minute suitcase packing and junk purging? The stress of hating moves all together?
All of the above?
Yeah, I think so too.
Maybe it was also from having packers in the house two days straight. And finding boxes' worth of items overlooked after the packing was done. Oh no, we dragged it all out and said pack it anyway! The giant roasting pot, the set of glass mixing bowls (ok, they're see through, I can see how they were overlooked), the pizza stone, the picnic cooler. The bigger chuckle came from the items that weren't supposed to be packed, like the big mosquito net frame over our bed. It looks just like the four over the kids' beds, and those didn't get packed up. Or how about when they went into the bathroom in the dark, unused corner of the house where the door was shut and everything in the room was in -suitcases-. Yeah, they started wrapping our suitcases, the ones I thought I'd hidden. I told Ian we should have put them in the walk-in closet and locked the door! Thank goodness he caught it in time and neither our passports nor our undies disappeared into the back of the truck.
One of the supervisors asked where our dog was. He wanted to adopt her. Um.... The vet came on Wednesday and packed her and her things into the back of a taxi to bring to her new home. She was less than thrilled at that idea, I'm sure she had flashbacks to the last time she was tossed into the back of a taxi. I just hope she didn't jump out the windows that that were permanently rolled open. I didn't take pictures though I wish I had for the sheer silliness and sadness of it all. The kids have taken it well, much better than the loss of the cats. Thursday we played with sidewalk chalk and realized how much more peaceful it is outside while swimming, riding bikes, getting laundry, even just going in and out of the house. Even so, I hope Sable is happy and safe.
Now, without a TV to while away our hours we're playing cards, suffering through magnet chess matches (Rebecca swiftly kicked my butt today, it was awful), swimming, demolishing hordes of evil minions (aka gaming), watching DVDs on the laptop, listening to iPods and killing swarms of mosquitos from the doors being left open all day. A week from today we'll say hello from India. Until then we have a few more last minute visits with friends and I think the kids and I will go to AISL for lunch on Tuesday so we can say goodbye there.
Oh, and we'll eat out. A lot. Tonight, it was dessert across the street at Les Nuits d'Orient as a surprise for the kids. Yum.
Yeah, there are some things we're going to definitely miss.
Funny note... when our gardener left today, he was wearing a t-shirt, with a long sleeved shirt over and an additional sweatshirt at the ready. The temperature is delicious but to the Togolese, August is downright frigid.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A (not quite) Farewell

Travel orders arrived today. There are some issues that need to be remedied with them, but on the whole, they arrived in the nick of time for tomorrow. No orders, no packing. The packers should be here at 8 a.m. The iMac is getting boxed tonight but we'll still have the laptop, so most likely we'll see you all again on Friday night after the last box is gone.

In sad news, Sable is with her new family now. I hope she's doing well. The kids are OK, though they will have moments of sadness. I know this was the right decision for us. I said that after the cats too, and now I regret giving them a new home. But we can't go back. We've decided cats are more our thing, and that if/when we get some in Chennai they will come with us afterwards. We've already picked names...

Monday, August 21, 2006

Why yes, it is 12:30 in the morning, why do you ask?

I've finally finished off the kids' school enrollment forms. Going through medical files to pull out immunization dates, scanning every page, then e-mailing the bulk to the school in Chennai. The office there is going to LOVE me for this, I know it.

But you know what I've discovered? Of the kids, only Rebecca's blood type is listed correct. How is that possible? I know Katherine is listed as B+ on her birth records, but her State records have O+. Nicholas is either O+ or B+ and Jonathon is either B+ or B-. The confusion is certainly making me think about ordering a home blood type test kit.

Friday, August 18, 2006


This afternoon, Rebecca and I went to a nearby artisans market with Andrea. It's a smallish place with a good assortment of handicrafts, most of them made right on the premises by artisans busily whittling, weaving and No crowds, no hassling, just shops and a little haggling. I came away with a good assortment of small gifts and even something for us. I intentionally went with just a bit of money (we're packing out soon... in case I hadn't mentioned that already) but I saw a few things I would have liked to purchase and a couple other items I think Ian would be interested in, so he may go with Katherine and Rona tomorrow. Rona should buy nothing, she's already packed out!

Happy Birthday!!

And so it happens. My youngest has reached 5 years old. He is the sparkle in our family, the unbridled joy and enthusiasm. He's smart as a whip, has an awesome memory for passing information, and can win anyone over with his charm. Don't believe me? Stop on by and see for yourself! He's outgoing, talkative (ok, ok, he never stops talking), energetic and plain fun. He can swim, kick a soccer ball, read simple stories, complete simple math, play loads of board and card games (poker too). I'm so glad we have him.

There are no babies, no toddlers, no preschoolers left in our home. He starts full-day Kindergarten in Chennai. He's also promised he won't "cry as much" now he's 5. I admire the thought (let's see if it goes beyond Day 1). I could write a book on how I feel now that Jonathon is 5, but rather than depress everyone or incite folks to e-mail on how I should get over it since we've already gone through babies 4 times, I'll leave it with this: I'm sad. Very sad. Yet ever so proud of our little family.


The day was a success. He put the finishing touches on his cake, got to talk to grandma and grandpa and of course, open his presents. Batman was the theme this year, but the gift with the most giggles came from my parents: a t-shirt that states "It's my brother's fault." Nicholas was slightly put out over that one! Jonathon has put it aside in the living room, ready to be worn the second he gets into trouble. A gift with much thought came from his sister, Katherine. She bought him an African top with shorts which he promptly donned and decided to wear to bed. A superman towel cape, Batman mobile, Batman undies and Batman t-shirt rounded out the gifts.

I still can't believe he's 5! It doesn't help that I know no fewer than 4 people pregnant at the moment... ack, baby fever!!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

ISO a Qualified Dentist

Nicholas's wiggly tooth is still wiggly. It's been weeks! Each week it gets a snidgen looser, but it's in no way on the verge of falling out. He's doing well otherwise.

Katherine cracked her front tooth last summer (funny story... she was running down the hall in the apartment building, pushing a luggage trolley and her face ran into the wall.... ok, not so funny) and the repair we had done is slowly crumbling away. She hasn't whacked it again and she's brushing and flossing and all that, but it's just falling apart. She's becoming self-conscious about her smile, and that's not good.

Rebecca's spacer fell out well ahead of schedule during the school. No idea why, she was sitting in class when it happened. Now she's worried about why her teeth aren't coming in white like Katherine's, and why one of her lower teeth has come in facing the wrong way. I think she's accepted braces in her future, and she's only 8!

Jonathon has tartar issues, so he needs a good cleaning ASAP.

When we get to India, someone point us to the nearest and best dentist!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Wrapping up Life in Togo

Let's go back a bit to the weekend and work our way from there.

Friday, the Embassy contingent was invited to the Ambassador's residence for a Hail and Farewell Wine and Cheese party. Lots of Hails (all the new arrivals from the past 6 months), lots of farewells (all those leaving in the next month), plenty of wine, the only cheese involved the little personal comments each person was asked to give. We were part of the Farewell crew and as such, had to give a memory of our time here. The kids stayed home for the 2 hours we were gone. They love those nights, when they rule the house.
The following evening, most of the same folks were at the RSO's home to celebrate his recent wedding to a lovely lady from Chile. It was an enjoyable time with good food and balloons for the kids. Sunday we spent quietly at home.
Monday we received our visas for India (woohoo!), had Jennifer over for dinner and learned that we have a new family for the dog (woohoo again!). The vet came through for us. We'd hoped to adopt her out to someone in the Embassy community, less chance she'll end up as dinner somewhere, but no one came forward. The Ambassador's wife said she knew someone who was interested in taking Sable, but for breeding. Seeing as we just had her spayed a couple weeks ago, that was a little late. I wasn't keen on the idea of having her as a breeding animal anyway. There are enough pets without homes, and breeding is an exhausting endeavor. If the mommy doggy at Coco Beach is any indication of the level of care given to breeders, I'm doubly glad Sable is spayed. So we'd asked the vet to ask among his patients' owners, and a lady has asked to take her. He said they are "normal" people, with kids and a big yard.
Jennifer is the girl who came into the French classroom near the end of the school year to help out with the beginner students. Mine. Our kids adored her. What was really interesting though was getting her impressions on the French teacher. There's a tendency to think something is negative, and then have that image grow in your mind until that's all you see. The French teacher was one such thing, I was wondering if his image to us had become warped over time. After talking to Jennifer, it seems we didn't even know the half of what the kids put up with, and her included. She was truly a saint for going into the classroom even after she knew what he was like. I told her how the kids really liked M/W/F French when we was there, and dreaded the T/TH when she wasn't. I figured she had something else going on those days, when in fact we learned that she just couldn't bring herself to be in that room 5 days a week. After speaking with her, we're even more sure that the decision to leave was the best one for us.
Jennifer is living an interesting life here. She's waiting to move into a furnished apartment but has been delayed until the end of September. Until then, she's living in a sort of communal compound. Her home is a room, sans running water. She gets her water from a well, so that means no bathroom either. No fridge. No oven/stove. She cooks in the communal yard over a little propane cooker. She said that earlier in the year the electricity was off for 2 weeks as well, so she brought her mattress and mosquito net outside at night. She's living a more Peace Corps life than the Peace Corps do.
She's only been here 6 months and asked us what we did for fun. It's that sort of question that just makes us cringe a little. Obviously there are folks who find their niche. If you're into golf, there is a golf course here. If you like working out at the gym, you can surely get fit. If your passion is horses, there is a stable somewhere around the airport. And of course, if you get a thrill from hunting through markets, then Togo can meet that thrill. Jennifer is a marche' afficionado, but after 6 months, she's tired of it. We're not into golf, or horses, or gyms. I guess we could have made ourselves become interested. Perhaps we missed a perfect opportunity to delve fully into something that's never caught our interest before.
Today is a holiday, so we're all home again.
Tomorrow, we'll be cat sitting while someone's house gets fumigated. Cats are pretty self-reliant, so in the morning we're all going to MED to get our check-out check-ups and I'll have the nurse do the kids' school health forms at the same time. It's the last thing lacking from their enrollment packet, so then I have the fun job of scanning and e-mailing all 40-50 pages.
We've been busier the past couple weeks than we have been most of the past year. I guess this is typical but it's a little sad too. There are definitely things about Lome' I will miss and there's always that little nagging thought that we're giving up. But I know we're on to hopefully bigger and better things, for -everyone- in the family. And in an odd way I'm glad there are things we will miss. It means Togo has its good points, and I'm happy for that. We've made some good friends, and they we will truly miss.

Friday, August 11, 2006


Naturally, with the news from London I imagine most traveling folks are wondering "What does this mean? How will this affect travel plans X, Y or Z?"

For us, my current thought is what to do with our carry-ons. If Lufthansa bans all carry-ons beyond just liquid and gel materials, is there a balanced increase in checked baggage allowance? We don't have a way to mail things out from here. Are flights from West Africa to Germany under similar bans as flights to and from London? Is there a place on-line that lists the different airlines and their up-to-date restrictions and guidelines?
Perhaps I should just plan otherwise to go bagless. It'll make sitting in the airports really boring, but if it avoids a panic-induced headache, I'm all for it.
Of course, I'm also relieved our plans were pushed back to the end of the month, after Indian Independence Day.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Best Wishes to Dina and Family!

Dina is heading to Niamey, Niger today. Her husband will be the FSHP (health practitioner). I wish them all much adventure in Niamey!

Update: Dina's family was going to fly through London today. For obvious reasons, they are still in DC.

The Difficulties Facing the Foreign Service, from the Inside

The Foreign Service is changing in its demands of and by its Officers, and it has been evolving steadily for the past decade. That's no surprise to any of us in the Service, and it shouldn't be too much of a surprise to the rest of you. If you'd like to read more on what's being called "Transformational Diplomacy", read through this link from or check behind the cut tag.

Condoleezza Rice wants to transform diplomacy. But first she'll have to deal with the diplomats.
Condoleezza Rice is cold. It's a searing June morning in Washington, and on the streets outside her handsome 7th floor office suite at the State Department, damp passersby are reminded why this muggy neighborhood at the edge of the Potomac River is called Foggy Bottom. But Condi Rice is cold, because the air conditioning is set so high the room feels refrigerated.
In her house in northern California, Rice explains, she never needs to turn on the AC. The climate is temperate, never freezing, never scorching. One of her aides jokes that they could move State's headquarters west, and Rice enthusiastically backs the idea. This is the second time in half an hour that she has compared aspects of her previous life, as an academic, to her new one as secretary of State. Each time she came down favoring the old days. "The best job I ever had was provost of Stanford," she says.
Rice has never been afraid to say, diplomatically, that being the highest ranking member of the president's Cabinet, the third in line to the Oval Office, isn't her dream job. This is, after all, the woman who repeatedly declared that her highest aspiration was to be commissioner of the National Football League. When Paul Tagliabue announced he would resign this year, Rice was seriously considered to be a potential replacement.
So if, in a perfect world, Rice would be somewhere else, if she misses the old days, why is she embracing the role of the State Department's chief manager? When so many of her predecessors eschewed the thankless task of corralling a far-flung bureaucracy and stuck to the glamour job of counseling the president, why does she speak of the Foreign Service's need to transform? And why is she devoting her time and reputation to changing a diplomatic corps that, for most of its existence, has outlasted the whims of political administrations?
Because some old days, Rice thinks, are gone for good.
"We've fought two wars," she says, meaning the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. "We had the biggest terrorist attack in American history. The old order is gone. The kind of pre-9/11 order is gone. And so we're in the process of trying to help reconstruct a new order, and it's got to be one based on democratic principles.
"I'll be very straightforward about it," she continues, leaning forward slightly in her chair. "We want to see well-governed democratic states. We don't want to see well-governed dictatorships, and we don't want to see poorly governed democracies. And so we have a view: The world is going to be better off if the world is a network of well-governed democratic states."
It is, at base, neither a controversial nor an especially original concept. "United States foreign policy has been encouraging democracy for almost 100 years. And you know what, it's been a huge success," says Thomas Boyatt, a four-time ambassador and president of the Foreign Affairs Council, a nonpartisan group that assesses the management of diplomacy.
The Bush administration chose to animate its vision for a democratic world by overthrowing undemocratic regimes. But it found that Western liberal thinking doesn't always spring up from the ashes. Recently, the administration has described a new path: People must embrace democratic values and systems on their own, and the United States should go to those countries and work with them, serving as an example and an ally. It's a longer-term proposition, to some observers an obvious one, and Rice is its guiding force.
Transformational diplomacy, as Rice calls it, is her central vision for U.S. foreign policy. Its success or failure will in large measure shape her legacy. The question is, will the people who actually have to implement her idea - Foreign Service officers - go along?
"This is a period of time when diplomacy can really matter," Rice says. But some things have got to change. "When you have a president who says we want to imagine the day when tyranny no longer exists, that's hardly status quo," she says. "And if the Foreign Service had, I think, an image problem, it's that it was always defending the status quo."
A New Kind of Diplomat
Rice wants Foreign Service officers to be the front-line evangelists for democracy around the world. Sounding almost chastened by the wars, she looks at the string of developing or emerging powers the United States wants to influence - especially China, India and Indonesia - and says, "We can't take over the work of these governments. All we can do is to be out among the people helping to assist these governments."
The idea is for diplomats to interact less with their foreign counterparts and more with nonofficial actors - nongovernmental organizations, activists, religious groups. "More and more of the life of these big multiethnic countries goes on outside the capital, and American foreign policy will be ill-represented and ill-conceived if it all is sitting in [capital cities]," Rice says.
Thus, Foreign Service officers no longer can be promoted without serving in hardship posts - places such as Ethiopia or Iraq, where Western creature comforts are scarce or nonexistent - and in unaccompanied posts, where personnel work alone and without security and cannot bring their family members because it's too dangerous. Diplomats also have to learn more so-called "hard" languages - those such as Mandarin, Arabic and Pashto, which are difficult for Westerners to master - if they want to rise in the ranks. And their promotions will be based on how effectively they communicate America's message on television and in public gatherings, and whether they can set up effective aid programs such as HIV clinics or programs to enfranchise women.
To some extent, these changes were in the works before Rice took the helm at State. Her predecessor, Colin Powell, expanded leadership and management training courses, and emphasized public interaction and more intensive language instruction. Powell laid the groundwork for a diplomatic corps that paid more attention to managing American diplomacy actively, on the ground, rather than simply reporting back to Washington on what they saw happening around them.
But Powell couched change in tactical terms. He spoke of the Foreign Service as his troops, and focused his management agenda on securing more resources for them - money for better computer systems, more training and tighter embassy security.
Rice has kept Powell's reforms in place, but she has pinned transformational diplomacy, and its attendant demands on the Foreign Service, to the Bush administration's democracy-building policy objectives, observers say. Internally, Powell fought for the department's needs more than the president's, and the Foreign Service adored him for it.
Rice "is taking a more radical line," says Andrew Natsios, who was administrator of State's Agency for International Development until last year. She wants to train good policy analysts, he says, but also expert managers of programs and aid, the tools the United States will use to influence countries to turn toward democracy.
In a speech at Georgetown University in January, Rice said diplomats must become "first-rate administrators of programs, capable of helping foreign citizens to strengthen the rule of law, to start businesses, to improve health and to reform education." That's not the Foreign Service's customary role. "The State Department has traditionally been an information-processing institution," Natsios says, with diplomats reporting on political trends and bureaucratic minutia in their host countries. Transformational diplomacy "is going to meet a lot of resistance," he says.
"What she has done is to realign the organization behind the policy," says Prudence Bushnell, a two-time career ambassador who was, until last year, the dean of the Foreign Service Institute's Leadership and Management School. "That is her prerogative. But it's also the responsibility of the career people to look at her priorities and say, 'This is what we need to get them accomplished.' It comes down to a respectful negotiation between career and noncareer leadership, shorter-term agenda and longer-term needs."
Shock to the System
As Rice's transformational diplomacy takes hold, the Foreign Service has shifted dozens of positions out of Western European nations and into developing ones, most notably China, India and Indonesia. Rice wants to move more. But some complain that the realignment has been rushed. About 25 Foreign Service officers saw the positions to which they already had been assigned - in more traditional locales - abolished in order to add more slots in the new hot spots, according to a State Department official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity surrounding personnel matters. This number included about half a dozen people who were undergoing long-term language training, which can take officers away from their posts for up to two years, the official says.
This disruption to diplomats' lives and careers upsets Rice's critics. Why not move employees to new positions as they become vacant, rather than upend the system because of a political imperative, they argue?
Of course, this is part of the "status quo" that Rice says the Foreign Service has spent so much time defending. "It's a major change," Rice says of the new policy. "We have more hardship and unaccompanied posts than at any other time, in some very difficult places, and so we're trying to be sensitive to how to prepare people for that." But, she adds, "I think it's exciting. Most people came into the Foreign Service because they wanted to change the world, not because they wanted to sit behind a desk. And this is a period of time in which the world is changing very dramatically, and you have to be on the front lines."
Nowhere is the front line more demanding, and more dangerous, than in Iraq. The department has assigned more than 1,000 employees to Iraq over the past three years. There are nearly 200 Foreign Service officers in Baghdad alone. All this comes amid the broader realignment of positions, and it has actually slowed that process and strained the Foreign Service overall, critics contend. "Iraq has trumped all other priorities," the State Department official says.
State is setting up posts outside Baghdad in cities and provinces where American presence is not as strong. These provincial reconstruction teams are akin to military forward-operating bases. They are vulnerable, dangerous and provide the foothold among the masses the Bush administration wants to have.
As of April, State had been able to fill only 12 of the 35 slots assigned to provincial reconstruction teams. The delay was due partly to a fight between State and the Pentagon over who should protect personnel stationed at the posts - the military or private security guards. Ultimately, the military agreed to take on the job, although private security still will be required in some cases, Rice says. As of June, State had increased the number of positions to 43 and had managed to fill most of them. But Rice also added 28 positions, and had identified only five candidates for filling those. Rice says she wants to find the right mix of newer and more seasoned officers, but undoubtedly the process is slowed by diplomats' realization that, by working on the reconstruction teams, they're risking their lives.
Foreign Service officers are not strangers to dangerous work. It's an old saw among their ranks that more high-ranking diplomats and ambassadors have been killed in the line of duty than generals have died in combat. And there obviously are Foreign Service officers who are willing to volunteer to go. But some question how deep that pool of candidates really is. The number of people willing to return to Iraq after one tour is small, the State Department official says: "Very few are willing to tempt fate twice."
A New Policy?
It would be inaccurate, indeed, unfair, to say there's a careerist rebellion against Rice's vision for diplomacy. Foreign Service officers agree they should get out of ministries and into the field more often. One diplomat, who is on her second overseas tour and working at the hardship post of Adis Ababa, Ethiopia, says she can't imagine finding as much professional and personal fulfillment working in a comfortable Western European capital. And neither can her bosses, who've been in the service for decades, she adds.
"The people with the most experience seem to be the most willing to put on the blue jeans and go to some crazy place where Americans haven't been in 15 years," she says. The image of the tweedy diplomat on the embassy cocktail circuit is foreign to a huge number of diplomats. "I've actually never seen that person," she says.
Rice agrees that old stereotypes no longer apply. "It's been a long time since being a diplomat was really that way," she says. On that point, she and her skeptics agree. But, they say, she doesn't seem to recognize that the Foreign Service already was transforming before she arrived. "There are some very interesting, and possibly even overdue changes in how we staff ourselves around the world that I think are good," Barbara Bodine, the former U.S. ambassador to Yemen, says of Rice's policies. "But I think it's wrapped up in a package that makes it sound grander than it is. There's a slight hyperbole that this crowd operates under."
Bodine comes from a class of diplomats who spent their careers working in difficult locales and learning hard languages. She was second-in-command at the U.S. embassy in Kuwait when the country was invaded by the Iraqi army and spent more than four months under siege. Like many longtime diplomats, Bodine thinks the Foreign Service started evolving years ago.
"The issue of having a certain level of language competency, we've had that," Bodine says. "We said you had to have one hard or two soft languages to get into the senior Foreign Service. . . . The requirement that you have to spend some time in hardship posts - we've had that for a very long time." Diplomats also have recognized that developing nations were starved in favor of Western democracies. "Our posts in the developing world are almost impossibly small," Bodine says. "We don't have the people; we don't have the resources." (The dearth of language expertise is especially pronounced. As of last September, the most recent period for which the State Department has figures, there were only 42 Foreign Service officers considered fluent enough in Arabic to present U.S. policy on television, in a media interview or at a public forum.)
The Foreign Service began adapting to the post-Cold War era not long after it began. In the early 1990s, the State Department opened approximately 20 new embassies in the former Soviet states and transferred employees from Western Europe to staff them. After the fall of communism, the department turned to fighting other pressing problems, notably the spread of official corruption in Africa. Rice doesn't contest this. But she wants to see the Foreign Service go further. "The Foreign Service is becoming more expeditionary in what it does," she says. Rice points to the military model of an effective, well-supported expeditionary force. And that makes some diplomats nervous.
Militarizing Diplomacy
As the United States puts more resources into helping developing nations build democratic systems, it is stretching the Foreign Service, which has neither the personnel nor the expertise to manage huge logistical operations and programs, such as delivering food aid or implementing large-scale vaccination programs. The military, however, has that capacity, and has demonstrated it during natural disasters in Indonesia and Pakistan, and in various reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and Iraq.
As the United States extends its influence through more aid and development programs, the Foreign Service risks becoming sidelined. "If State doesn't become more operational, it's going to be overwhelmed by the Defense Department," says Natsios, the former AID administrator. Rice seems to understand that. But her tactic has been to embrace the military as a counterpart. The shift is most noticeable in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the military is protecting diplomats and might end up living alongside them. "The concept is more to embed with our military for protection of our civilians," particularly the provincial reconstruction teams, Rice says. That rattles some diplomats; not because they don't trust or admire the military, but because they fear an erosion of Foreign Service culture.
"For all the good that Powell did, he did begin this militarization," Bodine says. He used the same techniques he learned as an Army officer to lead an army of diplomats. When Rice and others point to military support systems or hierarchies as good models for the Foreign Service, to many diplomats it's an inherent criticism of the way they work now. "To me, it's saying that we don't have value as diplomats," Bodine says. "It's saying we only have value if we're somehow crypto-soldiers. And we're not. Our values are different and our culture is different."
Bushnell, who in 1998 was ambassador to Kenya when al Qaeda terrorists destroyed the embassy there, concurs. "When I read about the debate over whether our military can go into a foreign country for covert operations without the approval of the resident U.S. ambassador, I think, 'Wait just a minute. Who's in charge here, the civilian who is the personal representative of the president of the United States or a faceless military commander?' "
"To implement transformational diplomacy - or any other policy - you need a clear chain of command and accountability," Bushnell says. "This is lacking. We don't seem to have settled the role of the military and the role of the career diplomat."
An Idealist, But a Manager
Even Rice's most skeptical critics believe that the Foreign Service must adapt. And for all the concern and often strenuous objections to the ideology behind her plan, perhaps what has kept many diplomats from rejecting her ideas outright is that they don't doubt her credentials as a manager.
As provost of Stanford, she essentially was the chief operating officer of a large institution. Managing people and programs is not foreign to her. She endeavors to swear in as many new Foreign Service classes and ambassadors as possible. She has helped develop coursework at the Foreign Service Institute, the diplomats' training school. And she has a straightforward and sensible management agenda, which she defines as focusing on "mission, resources and people."
In these ways, Rice is not so different from Colin Powell, and perhaps she knows this. She has stayed the course on his beloved management reforms, and for that reason she remained in the good graces of many career diplomats. "I don't think the core mission has changed," Rice says. "The means of delivery is what's changed." No one expects the Foreign Service to change quickly, least of all Rice. In her Georgetown speech, she said transformational diplomacy and reshaping the State Department is "the work of a generation." She implicitly acknowledged that change takes time, and that it will go on without her. But while she's here - even though she might prefer to be somewhere else - Rice has a mission, and ultimately, a sense of her own place in it. Despite visionary talk of new orders and the casting off of old ways, there are moments when Rice sounds like a policy realist.
"America is admired I think," she says, and then corrects herself. "When America's admired, it's actually not principally for its power, it's for its ideals. . . . If we're going to be engaging people, if we're going to be a part of their lives, [we can't] do it from a perch of 'America's perfect. We know how to do all of this, and we're here to teach you.' No, in fact, America's story is one of perfect institutions and imperfect people and the constant battle to make those institutions as . . . perfect as they sound on paper."
If that story applies to the Foreign Service, then Rice is in the thick of the fight. Whether she wins or loses, at least for now, she's holding her ground.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Feeling Like I Should Write Something of Import

I don't really have anything of import to write, though. Therein lies the problem. Want to hear some discombobulated ramblings? Read on...

School started in Chennai today and I'm just about finished filling out enrollment forms. The last things are the physicals. Kind of a pain to get done, but when is hanging around the doctor's office not a pain?
My parents return home from Poland tomorrow. From what I've heard, they had a wonderful time meeting with the relatives and seeing the sights. I'm so glad my grandmother had the oppotunity to go with them. This was her first opportunity to return to Poland since she was a little girl.
We've been told about our housing assignment in Chennai. It sounds just about perfect, so we're all quite excited. It's an older home, has 2 floors (stairs again!) and is on the Consul General's compound along with a couple other family homes, the tennis courts and the pool. The other homes (aside from the CG residence) all have families in them, a couple with kids the same ages as ours. That alone is making our monsters giddy. Even better, the compound is close to both school and Consulate.
Tomorrow is the 6 month anniversary of my BCC surgery. I'll try to remember to take a picture. I'll always have a scar, I scar easily, so I'm glad I wear glasses! But I've been good about wearing a hat whenever I'm outside, long sleeves when it's not too miserably hot, and SPF moisturizer when I know I'll actually be in the sun. Here's to many years of healthy skin.
The stress of moving, or the anticipation of moving, is expressing itself in different ways around here. I'm happy to report that I no longer have insomnia, but as usual I have 3 different To Do lists floating in my head. They keep me up for a while until I pull out one of my many notebooks to jot everything down. The suitcases are taking over our bedroom floor and I feel better tossing things in there as I pass them. Katherine is behaving much more upbeat. She has her moments of being difficult or "depressed" but she's much better than she was 2 months ago and has taken a keen interest in playing with her sister. Rebecca is, of course, thrilled at all the hours of attention. Though something is bothering Becca, something she can't figure out. The past couple nights she's had trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. Tonight she cried but when I asked what she was talking about or thinking about at the time, she couldn't come up with anything that would trigger this emotional response. I thought it must have to do with the move, starting over, leaving the dog, worries along that line... but she said no. And it's not from anything she's watched on TV or read in a book. She's just emotional. It will work itself out in time. The boys, well, the boys are as rambunctious as ever, but I have a feeling that's just them being boys.
Can you believe Jonathon, my baby, will be 5 next week? I can't either.
Still watching the housing market back home. Does anyone think there will be something, anything, affordable in Northern Virginia 2 1/2 years from now? We have our fingers crossed and once our car is paid off we'll be building up our savings for a house. Until then though, checking out is plain disheartening!
OK, enough tidbits. Off to bed. Another week almost done, and only 20 days left in Togo.

Monday, August 7, 2006

It's Time...

Our address for September onward:

6260 Chennai Place
Dulles, VA 20189-6260
It's a U.S. address, so mailing stuff to us only requires whatever postage is to send to Virginia. Letters do not need 2 or 3 stamps, 1 will do. Really. And mail to and from Chennai will take approximately 2-3 weeks, though longer during the winter holidays.
Another important note... please please address anything to us either to my name or to Ian as Ian, -not- to David. We happen to be going to a post where Ian's boss will be David Hopper. The same David Hopper who received our consumables order last fall. Help us all out by using Ian's name. Unless of course you know the other David Hopper and want to send things to him... then please disregard this note.
We realized that our three years in Chennai (provided no wars break out or a pandemic or riots or whatnot requiring evacuation) will be the longest we as a family will have lived in one place. I know that's no record, but still, our oldest child is only 10 and we've moved houses 9 times between 4 states and 3 countries. Chennai will be country #4 and move #10.
It should get better from here on out, with typical assignments lasting 3 years each. Unless of course, we encounter one of those evacuation scenarios I mentioned.

Only in a Developing Nation

The kids were swimming while Ian and I watched. Nicholas ran inside to use the bathroom. I heard Maaa maaa and asked Ian:

"Is that Nicholas or.. a goat?"

Turns out, it was a goat.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Sable is healing well

36 hours since her surgery, Sable is doing so much better. She's eating, drinking, walking around. Ian, Rebecca and the boys gave her a sponge bath and brushed her so I imagine she's feeling loads better just from that. The vet came this morning and evening and said she's progressing fine. She's not at all thrilled being closed off in the front foyer, but tomorrow I think we'll leash her and let her get some fresh air and leg stretching outside. Her stitches come out in 10 days.

Thursday, August 3, 2006

And I thought vet care was questionable in Manila.

We had Sable spayed today. She was picked up and put int he back of a taxi at 8 this morning. She was returned at 12:30, carried from the back of a taxi again, with her abdomen shaved and stitched and her entire side of fur all bloody. OH MY GOODNESS. Thank goodness I'd prepared a dark, quiet corner, soft with brand new dog pillow for her. She wags her tail some, but doesn't lift her head or anything. I don't know if it's lingering anaesthesia or pain that's keeping her down, but she's definitely still totally out of it. I'm concerned having her directly in our care rather than recovering in a vet hospital but who am I kidding, there aren't any vet hospitals here and she's probably much better off here than where ever the surgery was done. Ack. It's going to be a long few days. The vet will come back tonight and then twice a day for the next few days. I hope she'll be OK.

Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Keeping Busy.

Ian has been busy at work the past couple weeks, a welcome change of pace. Today was a continuation with a second American death case from the weekend, he didn't even break for lunch which is an odd thing indeed.

At home, nothing spectacular happened but it was a good day anyhow. Katherine enjoys practicing the piano and is doing well learning new songs from her "Kids' Favorites" book. She also won a round of Settlers of Catan, but Nicholas was right on her tail. The kids all played nice in the pool this morning. Someone from GSO came and changed about 8 light bulbs in the house. Yes, I can change a lightbulb, what I can't seem to figure out is taking off the covers. I've seen it done and yet I have this huge fear of fumbling it while tottering on the top of a rickety ladder. Our ceilings vary somewhere between 10-12' high and I could see myself dropping or slipping. It wouldn't be pretty. But now all our lights work and the boys especially are pleased.
We made a white cake with lemon pudding in it topped by lemon frosting. I love lemon stuff. And we finally opened up our single special bottle of kiwi wine, the one we carted for two years from Rotorua, NZ, through Sydney, Singapore, Manila, on to Arlington, VA and then here. Our fear of it being rancid were unfounded. It was amazing and wonderful. I wish we had a case! Unfortunately, Riverhead Estates no longer makes kiwi wine. Perhaps we need to go back to New Zealand and find a replacement.
While the rest of the family watched a couple episodes of Sliders (we're working our way through the first 3 seasons, and it has kept surprisingly well for an early 90s series and opens up a lot of discussion on different moral and political issues), I nearly finished Bad Twin by Gary Troup. It's a fictional fictional tale (yes, two fictionals), created especially for fans of the "Lost" TV series. I'm enjoying it quite a bit, especially as written in such a way that if I place a Sam Spade voice in my head, the book reads like a "dark and stormy night" novel. I'm curious to see how it ends.
Did I get anything productive done today? Not a thing. But that's OK sometimes too.

Being forewarned

As I've mentioned before, we recently had a death case that involved a victim of a Nigerian 419 scam. The scammers made him believe that they needed his help bring gold from Ghana to Dubai. It went on for about 18 months, and he gave almost a million dollars to the perpetrators, in addition to traveling to Dubai and Accra. A colleague in Ouagadougou, who had a similar case (though it didn't involve the death) sent me a link to a New Yorker story about a well-educated older man who was taken for hundreds of thousands of dollars. He even went to jail for depositing fraudulent checks and committing wire fraud.

It's easy to call the victims stupid or naive. Perhaps they are naive, but I think more than anything else, they don't want an opportunity to pass by. It doesn't matter how ridiculous it gets to an objective observer. Many people say that e-mail is an aid to the scammers because they can use anonymous Web-based e-mail addresses. That's true, but there's a psychological factor as well. E-mails can look official, or they can look personal. When you get an pleading e-mail for help from someone in distress, you can inject as much emotion into it as you're prone to give.
There's also the "good money after bad" issue. I've noticed in dealing with these cases that at some point -- perhaps after $500, maybe after $50000 -- the victim has decided internally that they can't admit to themselves that they've been scammed. So they keep going, hoping that it'll all pan out in the end. It's better than admitting failure. Sometimes that means getting friends and family to give loans, sometimes it means stealing money from your company, and sometimes you've gone so far you think you have nothing else to live for. Think about it -- if you lose $300,000, $500,000, or a million dollars, you (if you're like most Americans) are never going to recover from that. You've not only ruined your own life, but probably your childrens' as well. It's not surprising to see someone consider suicide.
Anyway, here's the story. And believe me, whether it's from Nigeria or not -- I've heard from colleagues in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Benin, Ethiopia, the Netherlands -- the money isn't coming. But there are Internet cafe's full of Nigerians, Ghanaians and anyone with passable written English who will tell you it is.