2011-10-11: Flag Day


Today was the day we all found out where we would be posted on our first assignment. It was somewhat anticlimactic for the Construction Engineers as we know where we are going, Virginia, but most exciting for the other folks who had options ranging from the Congo to London.  Not going through the bidding process really takes away from the training experience as negotiating and strategizing with your counterparts is part of the bonding process.

Some of the folks in training get assigned domestically, like me, but to different areas.  Thus, the first flag shown in the ceremony was the Texas flag.  I found this quite fitting as it was the best looking of the bunch.  The next best looking flag was the Virginia State flag which has a bloke bearing a single breast in a tunic standing on the chest of a tyrant with his crown fallen off to the side.  The phrase “Sic semper tyrannis” is written on the flag meaning:  thus always to tyrants.  Cool.  One of the flags had an AK-47 on it.  That must be a fun country!  Welcome to the Foreign Service.

Flag day

Virginia state flag

 

2011-09-25: Life in the Capitol City


I’m on Eastern time now, and Eastern TV.  Being without TV since 2004 I was truly stoked to get checked in to my apartment with two flat screen TV’s to watch the Oklahoma State vs A&M game.  Needless to say I was very disappointed to learn that due to my new locale, this game was not showing.  Instead it was Ohio St vs somebody else.  Booo!  I tried to log in to ESPN3 but the internet provider here is not an approved provider so no luck.  So, I decided to get finished with unpacking and headed to the grocery store.

It was a short walk to the Safeway, haven’t see those in Texas in years, and it was very safe.  Just in case I packed my bodyguard 380 (remember VA is a reciprocal state, DC is not, 2nd boo!).  The Safeway was perhaps the cleanest store I’ve seen in years.  Even the parking lot was impeccably clean.  It seemed odd. 

Another oddity was overhearing two gents discussing Iraq whilst grabbing a bag of Cheerios.  That doesn’t happen in Texas.  I was also shocked how few 300lb behemoths there were.  Every time I go to Wal-Mart or Target in Texas I see at least two or three folks who can only maneuver via scooter because of their whale like condition.  Not the case here.  Maybe it is the lack of good Mexican food?  By the way, what is Hispanic food?  There was a sign over the aisle with salsa that said ‘Hispanic’ food.  Are Mexicans from Hispano? 

My last task of the day was figuring out how to get a full cart of groceries back to my apartment without a car.  I called Yellow Taxi and 20 minutes later the cab showed up.  The driver was very friendly and from Sudan.  I asked him if he was from South or North Sudan and he said the middle.  We talked a little foreign politics and he complained how corruption was ruining his country.  After we arrived, he helped me take my groceries to the elevator, except the wine.  He looked at the wine, boxed of course — cheap for me and eco-friendly for my wife, and asked me what it was.  I told him and he said he couldn’t grab it and asked me if I wanted to know why.  I said it was because he was Muslim and he said yes.  I felt bad because I didn’t confess I was a Baptist and as well couldn’t touch alcohol either, at least when no one is looking.  Who knew Baptists and Muslims had so much in common!?

The day ended with unpacking groceries and eating microwave pizza.  Ah, how quickly the college diet returns without the better half.  I’m due a few extra hours of sleep in the AM and will try and make the 50th Peace Corps ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery tomorrow.

2011-09-24: Leaving


It was really hard to say goodbye today to Malosi and Kelly. 

Check in at the airport involved a new process for me as I checked two handguns. I thought I had the bases covered but failed to empty the magazines into the original ammo box. The attendant was very patient and liked my .45. She had a concealed carry permit as well. After the gun case and ammo case were inspected we went to the TSA oversized bag check in area where the guy was a complete tool. Most of my limited experience with these chaps is fairly good but not this turkey. He kept asking me the same questions and then asked if I was a LEO. I had to ask him to repeat the question three times and finally he decoded his acronym and said Law Enforcement Officer. I explained I was a normal citizen and joked that I thought he was asking for my sign. He didn’t think that was funny.

Other than that and a guy cutting in line at the security check-point it was a pretty uneventful first leg of the trip to DC. 

I’m now in the air typing out this entry on an iPhone. As a long term BlackBerry user I have to admit the typing on the screen isn’t really that bad (at least in landscape mode).  It is frustrating at times when my fat thumbs can’t get between words or at corners of the screen. The story is they ‘learn’ your typing habits so I’ll keep pounding away about nothing in an attempt to better school my loaner iPhone. 

Coming up next is orientation at main state and then three weeks of training at FSI. Our class is the 123rd specialist class. It appears there are three or four construction engineers in the group and hopefully there will be a good showing at tomorrow’s happy hour to make informal introductions. 

Construction engineers have the shortest training of all the specialist which may be a blessing and a curse. The good thing is I get to start doing the actual work I was hired for earlier but the bad news is I have to find housing ASAP as we are on our own (in terms of no per diem and furnished apt) by the end of October. 

Since we’ve rented our house I’m not too stressed but renting with reasonable commutes from the Hill will probably push the limits of my new gov’t salary. Plus we have to take possession of all our goods being transferred to storage 90 days after training. We only have about 6000 lbs of HHE (compared to the 18k) allowance, which will make squeezing all that, two adults, and a seven month old into 500 sf much easier. 

Matiao and MJ

 

2011-09-16: One Week


There were a few unknowns I was worried about with the decision to join the Foreign Service in 30 days.  Most of them revolved around the large assets (or liabilities if you’re a Dave Ramsey fan) related to the vehicles/house and where to live affordably in D.C.  God reminded us of his plan and basically took care of each in a way that can only honor him.

Tangible examples of God’s blessings:

Truck sold for cash in one week. 

 House rented after first showing at offer price.

The other small things like gap health insurance, work transitions, and State Department paper work have been unfolding smoothly (other than my travel orders, where are they!?!) as smaller reminders that I’m really not steering this ship and my feeble attempts at control are quite humorous to the mastermind behind all this.

We are excited, honored, nervous, joyful, fearful, and humbled by the opportunity to serve the greatest country on earth and be a constant witness to many of his unyielding grace in a fallen world. 

Thanks to all for the prayer support.