Friday, September 21, 2012

Shawarma Schtuff

Our new kitten, Shawarma.

Helping with homework. 
He totally doesn't care.

Because the back of the chair isn't big enough.

Nope, not big enough.

Definitely not big enough.

Lap is better.


Apparently it's all his.

Either sleepy, or didn't like the red light on the camera.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Returning to Normalcy, with an Eye on the Warden Messages

There's a warden network in every country where Americans reside, itt's a system for releasing news and warnings to our American citizens.  Earlier this week Ian stayed late in order to ensure that a warden message got out about a protest at Sports City.  Clearly, we don't want Americans traveling through or ending up at any area where there is expected trouble.

So with the understanding that things are not exactly normal, but they are calm, we transition back to daily routines.

Like trying to find one of these online:  It's a red, white, and black twin comforter for Nicholas's room.  He has this exact cover, but now has bunk beds and nothing on the top bunk.  It would be nice to get the matching cover, but I can't find it available anywhere.

I'm ordering this stuff from Amazon:  Some of the kids want Mac&Cheese, and individual boxes are expensive no matter where you buy them from.  At more than $1/box it makes sense to buy cheap pasta and make our own cheese sauce for it.  Of course I prefer real cheese sauce.  But we're talking about the kids here.

The house is basically together. The last few items of unneeded furniture (a rug, a chair, a lamp, an end table, a couple mirrors) have all been picked up.  Now we wait for the someone to come put up pictures.  I think this is the one task I really wish I could just do myself.  Art is so personal and I feel strange with other people handling it.  Unfortunately, our walls are concrete so it's not a matter of pounding a few nails in with a hammer, some of our pictures absolutely require a concrete drill bit which I'm pretty sure we don't own. Art on the wall will make this place truly feel like home, and I'm excited.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Around the Interwebs.

The past week has been filled with emotion across the region and throughout the FS/DS.








The world media and the Foreign Service blogosphere exploded with personal accounts of working with the fallen,what our jobs mean in a worldview, updates as our buildings were infiltrated, dread about the next target, reactions to our colleagues and friends in harm's way, and the little we could do but watch and wait.

Many articles reflected the emotional roller-coaster of being part of the FS/DS family.

emailfromtheembassy is here in Jordan and married to our RSO: "It ended with me finally truly understanding what kind of life we were living, when everything can change without a moment's notice, when the people you love are out there, somewhere, doing things you can only imagine, to stop the bad guys from hurting the good guys. It ended with me realizing that my husband could have died, could still, at any time die, because of the work he does, because he chooses to run into situations from which other people run away."

So many tried to explain what we do and why we do it.

ohhenrythomas wrote An elegy for men I never met: "I listened to a call-in radio show this week, on which caller after caller demanded to know why “we” don’t try and explain to “those people” what freedom of speech means in America.  “Don’t you know that that’s what diplomats DO?,” I howled at the stereo.  And, finally, it occurred to me:  No.  No, they don’t know.  Most people don’t know what it is that Foreign Service Officers, like Ambassador Stevens, and Foreign Service Specialists, like Sean Smith, do."

Discussions on freedom of speech, freedom of dissent, and misguided anger.

Arab Spring nations don't yet grasp freedom of dissent: "These are people who were born and raised in dictatorships. They are accustomed to thinking that a government controls its citizens -- that a film or documentary cannot be produced without government approval. For decades, this has been the reality of their lives, and they strongly believe that the Western world and its citizens have a similarly controlling relationship between individuals and government."

But the most hard-hitting were the blogposts from those on the ground.

Whatever is Lovely by bergamotorange, the director's wife of the American School in Tunis: "Grief has these predictable stages.  Denial is always first and we were certainly in that state all through the first night and then the acceptance set in and so did the mourning.  Saturday, we faced reality either visiting school or scrolling through pictures on Facebook  trying to figure out whose classroom the charred remains represented.  There were constant phone calls and emails from friends in Tunisia and around the world to offer condolences and help to rebuild."

We all cried when Ambassador Stevens, Glen Doherty, Sean Smith, and Tyrone Woods came home under the U.S. flag.  We all are hurt and angry that our Embassies and Consulates are bearing the brunt of the people's outrage.

I had a disturbing exchange with a teen back in the States over the weekend.  His answer to the troubles here was very simple: Evacuate and Neutralize.

Think on that bold an brash statement.

It's that sort of armchair patriotism that can truly put us at risk.

cheerfulstoic points out a truth that all Americans should realize: "When you join the foreign service they tell you that you are now the face of the United States of America, on duty or off, in the office or at home, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. And we are expected to conduct ourselves in a manner that reflects well on our country. Well, guess what America. You are - all 314 million of you - the face of the United States of America. In this interconnected modern world you don't even have to leave your house for a foreigner to meet you and judge you and your country by your words and deeds."

We are a thick-skinned Service.  It's part of my definition of Diplomat.  People say and do awful, hurtful, and mean things to us and about our beloved United States of America.  But it's not a sign of weakness to not hit back.  It's the exact opposite.  In its most basic state, it's something more playgrounds should teach.

We can get angry.  Get hurt.  Get sad.

But then we get back to work and reopen our doors.  You don't curse the people of your host nation.  And you certainly don't walk all over your host government with an inflated sense of righteousness because of what's happened.  And you don't take the acts of a few thousand and lay waste to millions.

Why are we even here?  To expose other nations to what we hold so dear.  Freedom of speech.  Freedom of religion.  Freedom of dissent.  These we define as basic human rights.

All humans.

We ask questions like "What can we do to help remedy this?"

"How do we open the lines of communication again?"

How do we explain to them that the freedoms we enjoy come at a cost: of hearing things we don't like; of seeing things we find offensive, of being told we are wrong, of having components to our society that are truly hateful.

As diplomats our answers to these questions do not involve bullets.

Learn about what we do.

America's Other Army

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Still Safe

This map doesn't show it easily, but Jordan is still quiet.  Right in the middle, surrounded by all those blue pins, Jordan has seen protests but no violence.  Several additional gendermerie detachments guarded our Embassy yesterday and provided enough of a deterrent to the organized protesters to keep them small and at bay. For that we are ultimately grateful.

While the burning of an American flag may sting due to the symbolism within its stitches, it is essentially a piece of material.  One that can be replaced easily.  I will not mourn the burning of a flag when our people are safe.

At the same time we are devastated by the widespread threat to our citizens and the locally engaged staff standing by us across such a swath of the world.  This is no longer "Benghazi is burning" but also Cairo... Tunis... Khartoum...  Even the Consulate in quiet Chennai was attacked.

Stay safe friends and colleagues.

View Muslim Protests in a larger map

Thursday, September 13, 2012


It seems surreal, doesn't it?  To feel like you're sitting on the edge, like at any moment things could turn, and not for the better.

Egypt is close.  Cairo is closer than Baghdad but further than Damascus.

Libya is further west than Egypt.

Yemen is pretty far south, below Saudi Arabia.

Of course we still have Syria directly north of us.

Lebanon next door to Syria.

Israel and Palestine immediately west.

And Iraq immediately east.

Iran right next door to Iraq.

(see Israel)

And then you hit Afghanistan and Pakistan.

You've heard me say before that Jordan is the calm in the middle of a circling storm. 

It's not an exaggeration in the least.

Protests in Jordan are scheduled on Fridays.  Yes, it's an organized and usually peaceful affair.  The Syrian Embassy has seen weekly protests outside its gates for months and months now.  We'll see, from the relative safety of our home, what happens tomorrow at the Embassy. 

We've been in Jordan for 2 months now.  It's a haven, it's secure, it's calm, and it's beautiful.  

And for the first time yesterday I truly felt how close we are to all the things that Jordan is not.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Benghazi, Libya

From Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

It is with profound sadness that I share the news of the death of four American personnel in Benghazi, Libya yesterday. Among them were United States Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and Foreign Service Information Management Officer, Sean Smith. We are still making next of kin notifications for the other two individuals. Our hearts go out to all their families and colleagues.

A 21 year veteran of the Foreign Service, Ambassador Stevens died last night from injuries he sustained in the attack on our office in Benghazi.

I had the privilege of swearing in Chris for his post in Libya only a few months ago. He spoke eloquently about his passion for service, for diplomacy and for the Libyan people. This assignment was only the latest in his more than two decades of dedication to advancing closer ties with the people of the Middle East and North Africa which began as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Morocco. As the conflict in Libya unfolded, Chris was one of the first Americans on the ground in Benghazi. He risked his own life to lend the Libyan people a helping hand to build the foundation for a new, free nation. He spent every day since helping to finish the work that he started. Chris was committed to advancing America’s values and interests, even when that meant putting himself in danger.

Sean Smith was a husband and a father of two, who joined the Department ten years ago. Like Chris, Sean was one of our best. Prior to arriving in Benghazi, he served in Baghdad, Pretoria, Montreal, and most recently The Hague.

All the Americans we lost in yesterday’s attacks made the ultimate sacrifice. We condemn this vicious and violent attack that took their lives, which they had committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future.

America’s diplomats and development experts stand on the front lines every day for our country. We are honored by the service of each and every one of them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Definition of the Day: Consulate vs. Consular Office

It's a niggling thing.  I get it.  But it still grates.

The terms are very similar and while they can, to a point, be interchanged, there are commonly recognized differences.

A Consulate is a physically stand alone operation.  It is under the Embassy, which is typically in the capital city of the country we are guests in, but the Consulate is most often in a separate city, and specifically designed to address the consular activities needed in that region.

In Chennai, we served at a Consulate.  The Embassy was in New Delhi, way up north.  There were a number of Consulates in India... Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, and others.  Each Consulate was headed by a Consul General (CG).  The CG manages the Consulate and reports to the Ambassador at the Embassy.  The Consulate can also house other offices (we had officers from all areas, but they were much smaller offices than their counterparts in New Delhi), but the primary focuses of a Consulate are visa interviews/issuances and American Citizen Services (ACS).  ACS work is quite varied, from managing deaths of Americans to adoptions to emergency services to birth certificates to managing wardens to helping with evacuations, and everything in-between that helps U.S. citizens.

The Consular Office is usually within an Embassy proper.  It is headed by a Consular Chief.  That role is filled by Ian here at Embassy Amman.  The Consular Office does the same visa and ACS work and it does it directly under the Ambassador.

When I hear the word Consulate, I think of a separate functioning system under a CG.

When I hear Consular Office, I think of a specific office within an Embassy under a Chief.

Oh, and one more thing.

The correct words are CONsulate and CONsular.  It's not Counselar, or Counselor, or Counselate, and is it not pronounced those ways either.  There is no "u" in either of the correct terms.

My irritated FYI for the day.

Nicholas is on-line

For his computers classes Nicholas has two websites.

Reading Response Journal:

Digital Media:

Visit, it totally makes his day when his visit count goes up!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Glimpse Inside the School Grounds

On one side of the school grounds there is a covered eating area.  The middle schoolers and high schoolers can choose to eat lunch in the cafeteria or out here at the benches.  They have 35-40 minutes for lunch and have the freedom to go where they wish (lunch tables, field, basketball court, gym, grassy plots, library, cafeteria...).  It doesn't get much better than that.  There's a hot lunch option each day as well as regular daily offerings... salads, sub sandwiches, yogurt, juices.  The school is a no soda or billion calorie sugary snacks zone.  The kids are chomping at the bit to buy lunch.  I sent Nicholas off with money today to purchase lunch tickets.  They'll each get 10JD/month for food (a lunch costs 2.25JD, I think).

Spending time outside is a big part of their school day.  Between every set of classes (they have four 90-minute classes a day) they have a break, one is only 10 minutes to visit lockers, but how relaxed compared to VA.  The school isn't that big, and 10 minutes to change books and get to the next class is a luxury middle schools and high schools in PW County did not have.  It's the way school should be, really.  Relaxed with a steady flow, not a crazy rush into the press of throngs of students between classes, only to choke down food in the 20-25 minute lunch period).  And the changing class bell?  Big Ben.

So if you're facing the outdoor tables and turn to the left, you see the basketball court.  The blue door to the right is one way to find the gym.  The school store is there as well.  Anyone want anything that says "Scorpions" on it?

Something you'll notice is all the green.  Amman has trees.  And the school has flowers, bushes and even some patches of grass.  The soccer field is artificial turf, but it looks good.  Yes there is a lot of brown, sand, white, yellow, tan, gray... but you'll see green sometimes too.

Turning 180 degrees to look the way we came in, you see the round multipurpose room on the left, some facilities rooms straight ahead, and more of the green patch on the right.   Apparently the seniors at the school have claimed the grass patch as their own.

The multipurpose room used to be the room for the school to congregate.  That's when it was small.  Now the school holds roughly 600 (?) kids and the multipurpose room is used for meetings and talks, and I believe some pre-K activities as well.  It's a nice room with powerful air conditioners.

Photos of hallways are uninteresting, the playgrounds all belong to the elementary school, the gym is too dark, and the library is under construction.  We'll see what I take photos of next time.  Maybe there will even be kids.

Continuing Food Adventures

Go ahead, read the labels.  I'll wait.

Doesn't phase the kids much anymore.  No, we didn't buy any.  These morsels were at Miles, at Mecca Mall.

They try to keep the countryside close.

And the village life closer.

But can always find something familiar.  It wasn't that good though.  Know the fast food "restaurant"?

Then we stopped at the Meat Master butcher store.  It has a loungey area when waiting for meat to get chopped up.

Not sure you can read the orange cone, but give it a whirl.  Yes, I'll wait again.  Think they are missed?

[Can't read it?  I'll write it out for you backwards, just in case:  tramlaW fo ytreporP]

Gone to Church

It took us a while to get to Saint Mary of Nazareth.... I know, I know.

The building was packed with Filipinas and the music reflected the congregation.  Nothing in Tagalog, which I would have liked for the Our Father, but all in all a pleasant service.  It's even air-conditioned. And there's a parking lot.  The pastor seems American (we think Boston suburbs), his homily made sense, and Communion is the typical mad dash by everyone to the front.  The priest was the only distributor so Communion took at least 20 minutes.

Our Mass was accompanied by guitar.  I don't know if the organ sees any action at all, but those microphones are encouraging.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Rethinking Weekends

Think about a weekend in the States.

Friday night is a fun night, if that's your thing, going out with co-workers perhaps for a Happy Hour.  Maybe you're just up for finishing out the work week with your feet up at home and some TV.

Saturday is sleeping in, errands, maybe a movie or some shopping.  Gardening, having friends over.  Going to the pool, checking out a fair or festival.

Sunday is typically church in the morning, perhaps a family dinner, maybe a movie at home, quiet time.  If you have kids you could be at the park for a soccer game or some other family activity.

Here, things roll a little differently and it's taking some time to adjust to.

Thursday night is dinner at the Embassy.  The kids swim or just run around with friends until we drag them home.  It makes for a very long work day for Ian since dinner is right after work.

Until now we've tried to do errands on Friday.  Friday is the holy day here and aside from grocery stores everything is closed in the morning, even to mid-afternoon, or all day long.  Until now we try and try to get things done and are thwarted at just about every turn.

We need to change our expectations of Friday.  We need to plan nothing and enjoy just sleeping in and hanging about the house on Friday.  This will take some getting used to.

Saturday is the day to run errands, have doctor appointments, and church at 5 p.m.   It's not the day of rest we had in America and it's weird.

So... Thursday night is not relaxing.  Friday is definitely relaxed.  And Saturday is busy busy with appointments, errands and church.

I think I've got it.

My Sept 6th entry is on Hardship Homemaking. Awesome.

It's true that every consumables order is going to be different dependent on your family, your dietary needs, and how adventurous you are with local foods.

No matter how you make your list, it's all good.  Read all the options before you start, consider your family needs, and go from there.

Oh, one more thing to put on your list... cupcake wrappers.  Trust me.

The Happiest I've Been in a Long Time

I'm the kind of person who revels in contentment.  I don't need excitement, adrenaline kind of freaks me out, I plan for the worst and sort of hope for the best, when things are quiet I am satisfied.

But I'm more than content here.  I find myself feeling a deep-seated happy contentment.  I look around regularly and think "life is good."  Not OK, not Eh, not Fine, but Good, with a capital G.  Better than Good a lot of days, very rarely less than good.  Sunshine makes me happy, and we have plenty of it.  An ability to find things and get things, pick up and drop off my family, meet up with friends, clean up a room, make a decent meal (even with my wonky oven).  We can stay active, or not.  We can see people, or not.  Weekends are our own, or not.  Ian has a 5 minute commute (so far I drop him off and pick him up).  The kids are all liking school and their teachers.

At some point something will irk me, but there are too many things to be content about that the irky things are easily shrugged off.

I feel like I belong, and whether or not I do, there is the source of my contentment. 

Friday, September 7, 2012

A Week of Firsts

First swim team practice for Rebecca (first time finding the school it's held at).

First MUN meeting for Katherine.

First Forensics meeting for Katherine.

First self-defense class for me.

First Arabic class for Nicholas.

As well as...

We're actively in the process of adopting kittens.

Had dinner last night at the Ambassador's residence.

I've gone out to lunch twice this week with an assortment of wonderful women.

Katherine went to an SAT prep meeting.

Lots of other little things.  But that's a decent start for the first full week of school, no?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hardship Homemaking

There's a website out there called Hardship Homemaking, run by a handful of FS type folks.  The latest entry is about where to start when stocking a pantry.  This is nothing new for our FS officers who are Mormon or those who live by once-a-month cooking or grocery exile, but for the rest of us the article is a good place to start when stocking shelves at a new post.  Many of our posts are called Consumables Posts, which means we are allotted a certain amount of consumable items (typically food, but also encompasses anything else that gets used up... paper towels, toilet paper, soap, you get the idea) for the 2-4 years we live there.

Here are some additional tips to the article Secrets to a Well-Stocked Pantry:

Don't ship soda, crackers or cereal to last your full tour.  Toilet paper is one thing, those other things go bad anywhere from a month onward.  Crackers and cereal last longer if you keep them in the deep freeze, but even then they'll go stale before you want them to.  Soda, especially diet soda, goes bad fast.  Find something local for soft drinks if you have to have them, and buy the imported stuff from home from the co-op or local mom&pop store periodically.  To replenish items that can go stale, employ Amazon Grocery or any number of other sites for regular delivery (obviously this doesn't work for liquids).  It adds to your weekly mail too, so what's not to love about that?

When stocking a pantry, keep the holidays in mind.  Regular spices are great, but when you get to holiday baking and you've always used Pumpkin Pie Spice in your cookies, it's nice to have it there.  Spices are something that can also be kept in the freezer in tight air-locked containers, especially ones you don't use often.

Don't ship rice.  It's everywhere.  Everyone eats it.  I knew someone who shipped rice to themselves in Manila, a non-consumables post, and a country that exports rice and is known for the Banaue rice fields.

Flour is another item that's not necessarily worth shipping.  Every country bakes bread in one form or another.  See if the local option is good enough, and affordable enough, first.

Chocolate is something else that can lose its texture and quality if it sits on the shelf for a long time.  Send enough in consumables for about a year, after that order it through a grocery option.  Important tip: Order during the colder months.  One Easter in India my folks sent us all chocolate Easter bunnies.  What arrived were solid chocolate puddles with eerie candy eyes every-which-way in the corner of the cellophane wrapped boxes.

Items like Del Monte canned tomatoes can be familiar, but it's another food that's commonly found on the local market.  Consumables orders, if you don't use the whole allotment from the starting gate, give you a complementary shipment within the first year of your tour.  Take the time to check the local stores and try similar items before you determine that you have to order what you've always used.  Sometimes the local items are close enough and cheaper.  Sometimes not.  But you don't know until you look yourself.

There you have my tips for the day.

I kind of miss doing consumables.  Sometimes it's easier to get 1000 pounds of food at once and have instantly stocked shelves versus starting with nothing and working week after week to stock the cupboards.  But either way, it's all a food adventure, right?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Settling in.

School is in full gear.  Ian is at work.  The house is coming together (though it sounds like I need to punch it up a notch, I hear tales of hosting poker this weekend??  Still can't see the dining table...).

I figured I'd do a slightly updated 10 Things I Like About Our Life in Amman

1) Driving is easy.  Even when it's bad, it's easy.  A 10 minute drive may take 20 minutes but... it's 20 minutes.

2) Vet care is decent an affordable.  We caught a big tomcat in a borrowed humane trap and had him fixed.  Since he's a stray it cost 15JD ($20).  That cat gave us a seriously dirty look when we released him in the yard last night.

3) The weather is still wonderful.  We often drive with the windows open, except in late afternoon.  Of course not when stuck in traffic, there are some serious emissions issues, but with regular driving the windows go down.

4) The school bus picks up all 4 of my kids at the same time, and they all go to the same school, and the stop is at our front door.  Every kid who takes the bus gets a personal pickup.  We had it good with Saunders too as the bus stop was in front of our house as well as all our other posts.  I'm happy to continue that tradition.

5) Mail can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.  School supplies I ordered last week arrived yesterday.  A shirt Rebecca ordered more than a month ago arrived yesterday.  It's like Christmas.  I've forgotten most of the items I've ordered by the time they arrive anyway.

6) Grocery shopping is easy.  There are a number of options, all with pros and cons, though I usually pick convenience over anything else. Hello Spinneys. Proximity to home? check. Hours? check.  Ease of parking? check.  Ease of getting groceries? check. Ease of using VAT card? check.

7) The Embassy club and the Embassy itself.  A place to hang out, talk to people, let the kids swim or hit the playground, get a snack.  I've taken on the CLO library, just keeping it together as people take and return books.  It's fun.  I like pretending I'm a librarian type.  And they just got a new bookshelf donated!

8) The American Community School.   The kids have a block schedule (4 classes on day 1, different 4 classes on day 2, repeat), and a 15-35 minute break between every set of classes.  They can go outside any time between classes, eat lunch outside, play outside. See #3. There are no lines to go through the hallways.  They like their teachers and their classes.  Of course, every kid has a teacher that isn't their favorite but that continues the lesson "you won't always like everyone, but you remain respectful and do the work anyway."

9) Freedom for the kids.  Because I'll know more and more of the kids and the kids' parents, my offspring receive the benefit of having more freedoms.  It's a welcome turn of events for them.

10) Quiet.  I have plenty of quiet time to myself now.  It's something I miss during the summer.