05 October 2016

Turtles!

A few photos from our day releasing turtles. The release was done in partnership with the Oracabessa Bay Sea Turtle Project.  

Around 25,000 critically endangered hawksbill turtles will be released this year, and 1 in 20 are expected to survive to maturity (usually the odds are 1/1000).  This is due to monitoring the sand to protect against poachers, and to releasing them during the day.  The latter factor ensures the babies are at less risk from natural predators and that they have more strength for the crawl to the water and swim to catch the sea currents.  

It was an amazing experience, and since the breeding season is relatively long, I hope to be able to take The Historian along next time!


Newly hatched turtle.
After a quick rinse in the ocean, prior to release.

Just released babies, making their way to the ocean.

We lined up to help "herd" them along, but once released we did not touch the turtles. Letting them navigate to the ocean on their own helps ensure they can find their way back to this beach when it comes time to breed.


A-100 and Kingston

It has been a few months since I joined the Foreign Service, time for an update!  

A-100 is six weeks long, and I had 97 classmates.  We had classes in management, State organization, interdepartmental relationships, all the good (sometimes sleepy) stuff you'd expect from a federal agency. 

My first two tours of service (of 2 years each) are directed, meaning They tell me where to go.  The Historian and I are able to give some preferences in assignment, though.  My class was given a list of 60+ posts worldwide, some with multiple positions, that we ranked in order of preference.  We also submitted three criteria we wanted taken into consideration (kitties being one!)  

The highlight of A-100, therefore, was what is famously known as Flag Day, where we were given our assignments.  It was a day fraught with tension and excitement - a flag was projected on a screen, a name was called, and we were given a flag of our assigned country by Ambassador Ken Merten. Happily my name was called towards the beginning so I could enjoy celebrating with the rest of my classmates as they were given their posts.  



I was assigned one of our top bids - Kingston, Jamaica.  We asked for Jamaica primarily because The Historian was offered a new job in DC right after my own offer came in.  After much discussion, we agreed that for my first tour, he would take the new job while I did my first tour.  Kingston was therefore very appealing for its proximity to DC and because it is an English-speaking post.  This means I will have to have language training after this tour, and that will give Chris nearly three years in his job before he joins me for my next post. 

After A-100 concluded, I had a few weeks of specialized training and arrived in Jamaica in late July.  My job here is as a Consular Officer, and I currently interview 100+ applicants/day who are applying for non-immigrant visas to come to the United States.  This is usually tourist visas, but could also be business, student, or exchange visitors.  I've done around 3500 interviews so far. 



Jamaica is an interesting post - it is a critical crime threat post, and household goods are very expensive (a new ironing board priced out at $65)  This will put me in the first tranche for bidding on my second tour.  Jamaica also has a unique relationship with the US - its proximity means that flights are cheap, and everyone has a family member (or several) who live in the US.  This means that we have an extraordinarily high number of visa applicants - it is not implausible for a poultry farmer who lives on a few hundred dollars a month would make a trip to the US to see family or to go shopping, something that would be out of reach for an equivalent income in nearly every other country. 

My housing is nice, and the views are amazing.  There is one beach we can get to from Kingston, by hiring a fishing boat to ferry us to an uninhabited island.  Otherwise the more famous beach cities are 2.5 hours (Ocho Rios) and 4.5 hours (Montego Bay) drive.  I'm looking forward to exploring some of the less touristy beaches.  The embassy also organizes various excursions, including to release endangered sea turtles and an excursion to the Appleton rum distillery.  Household help is also very affordable, and I have an amazing helper who comes two days a week who cleans, cooks great Jamaican food, and does light shopping.

If you are a Facebook friend, you will also know that we had a brush with Hurricane Matthew over the weekend.  One of the best things about the State Dept is that it really is a community (there are fewer diplomats than there are military band members in this country).  It was amazing to watch how everyone pulled together to either support those who evacuated and to ensure the safety of those of us who stayed.  



16 March 2016

New Journeys

After rather long hiatus on this blog, I'm picking it back up again.

Its funny how life goes, and how you can play the long game and the next thing you know, everything comes to fruition at once.  I should have been buying lottery tickets.

In less than a week's time, I found out that I won elected office, because no one wanted to run against me in what was an otherwise crowded field.  Four days later, I passed my Oral Assessment to be a Foreign Service Officer with the US Dept of State.  

I was surprised by how quickly I was offered an invitation to join an A-100 class (aka diplomatic boot camp), and now I've only two days left at my job of nearly nine years...a week to finish organizing our stuff before the movers come, and then a few more days until we move to DC.

What I've learned so far about this life we'll be moving into:


  • I don't do well with goodbyes, mostly because I don't like being the center of attention.  I'd rather do meaningful farewells with people individually.
  • I do not have enough time to do meaningful farewells with people individually, so am sucking it up and throwing a party.
  • I have become someone who can jet off with a single bag, because at least when we're in transition we'll be dragging along a three bags each.
  • For as often as State on boards people, the whole process is confusing, overly complicated, and full of potential for error.  For example, no one in my class has yet found out how to sign up for vision or dental insurance, but we figure they'll tell us eventually...!
  • I've already met the bureaucratic nonchalance which I'm sure will be a constant irritation in my career.  The Historian's name is wrong on some of the on boarding forms, and everyone says it's someone else's responsibility to fix. But then they say maybe if I do the forms by hand it will be magically corrected. Somehow.  I hope!
  • It is amazing how friends and colleagues have been supportive, and excited for us. I didn't expect it, especially when it came to resigning my elected office. I'm relieved, and happy for it. 
  • Everyone is hoping that I get a post somewhere with a beach so they can visit.  I'm telling them that the folks who come see me at a hardship post get first dibs.  (Also our tastes run more to Iceland than the Bahamas!)
  • After all my work and years in politics, I'm really looking forward to being able to leave without comment the vitriol that surrounds Presidential elections behind.  

And finally...it didn't strike me just how much we're putting our lives in the hands of the Foreign Service until about the fourth or fifth person expressed shock that we don't know what our first post will be.  That my training comes first, the assignment second.  That's part of the fun of it for us!  

More soon.