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Why It’s Good to be Home July 26, 2010

Posted by KG in Back in DC, Friends, FS Life, State.
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The best, most accurate rationalization for my period of extended silence: things have been busy.  In my 9-5 world (more accurately portrayed as 8-7) I have found myself challenged intellectually, psychologically, and physically.  The physical component has been the most surprising.  It’s the exhaustion of consecutive long days, the bruises and blisters from brand new dress shoes. the trying to remain presentable while D.C. does its best Mumbai impression.  There are some calluses where there were none before, and thank goodness for leaving my jackets at work.

This weekend the accumulated stress and strain of returning to a D.C. job was fully justified. 

There are many reasons, trivial and major, on both sides of any cost-benefit analysis of whether or not you should go overseas on your third FS tour.  Ultimately, it’s a personal call with no easy single solution.  We chose to come back to the States, and are learning all about work in “the building.”  There are days when that decision bugs me, and I freely fantasize about making the other call and going for another overseas post.

But this weekend I got to do something special: to be the best man for my best friend of 20 years.  Three years ago he did the same for me, flying cross-country as part of the bargain.  Being able to stand next to him at his wedding, with no transcontinental flights or other complexities looming over us, was a gift.  The wife and I danced late into the evening, and wished the couple a happy honeymoon knowing we’d be able to have dinner with them when they got back.

We’re not sure of what will happen after this tour.  What we do know is that there’s no subsitute for being present this weekend, one of the best I’ve had since we’ve been back home.  The regrets and second guessing on what we should have done with bidding for our third tour will probably persist, but remembering this weekend will be a great counter argument.

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Returning to DC? June 8, 2010

Posted by KG in FS Life, State.
2 comments

Here’s a tip for FS folks returning to work in DC: pay close attention to your badge expiration date. I didn’t, to my detriment. If your badge expires while you’re overseas, bring your black passport with you to your first day of work. You’ll also need some documentation from your EX, and then you should march straight to the badge unit. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

There are many significant things (check in with ESC, for example) that require a current badge. The learning curve for your new job will no doubt be steep and expectations for you will be high – but your boss will understand the importance of some QT by the Jogger’s entrance.

“Develops own knowledge through broadening experiences” May 10, 2010

Posted by KG in Food, FS Life.
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With the distractions of work far, far, away, home leave has provided a significant opportunity for me to develop my skill set. For example, today I learned how to shuck an oyster. I look forward to developing this skill into a useful and fruitful talent as my leave continues.

oysters

Crackberry Withdrawal May 7, 2010

Posted by KG in Etc., FS Life.
3 comments

The first few days after we left India, I found myself fiending for my digital leash. It was absolutely pathetic: despite having my final review done, saying my goodbyes, and going through the misery that is Mumbai International Airport, I was craving updates on what was going on “back at the office.”

An office I was no longer a part of.

Luckily, those cravings passed. After a few days of being back in America, the office feels as far away as it actually is. What’s done is decisively done, and I don’t want an update on case work anymore. Which is good, because if I had acted any more jittery, I think the wife would have killed me.

The most pressing question now: should I buy an HTC Incredible?

I know, I know.

Planning for the Future April 2, 2010

Posted by KG in FS Life, Running.
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Yesterday I officially registered for the Army Ten-Miler, with a super-ambitious goal time of 1’36”. I haven’t run for longer than 20 minutes in two years. Now there are drums at my back, thumping away: 200 days. Get faster, get leaner, 200 days…

And those drummers aren’t alone. We’re in full-on countdown mode and I can’t believe it. Somewhere back there, being in India for the foreseeable future turned into leaving India pretty soon, and I missed the point of inflection. Somehow the reality is easy and difficult to digest, at the same time. Of course I’m running a footrace in DC in a few months. But leaving Mumbai in a few weeks? That’s not possible, is it?

Usually, the joke goes, outgoing officers get a sort of senioritis at the end of their tours. Sadly, that’s not a luxury I’ve had. The other members of the team have commented about it recently, about how I’m not exactly relaxing and enjoying my last month. Which is untrue — I’m absolutely enjoying my last month. At the same time I finally understand (I think) what my job means, the reasons behind what I’ve been doing so long. The last six months have brought unexpected clarity, and of course that means I can’t slack. Because right before I’m scheduled to leave, I finally get it.

Sigh. The Foreign Service. Heraclitus, manifest as bureaucratic institution. The only thing you can truly, ever get comfortable with is change. Come June I’ll be in a different office, trying to get it again, trying to understand a whole different set of equities, issues, personalities. Nothing endures but change.

—–

There are a number of Foreign Service bloggers who I read regularly, and who have dropped some comments here. My blogroll, if it were a person, would be embarrassed by how out of touch it was. Luckily it’s just a series of code, and its owner owns his laziness as a badge of honor. I’ll be getting to updating that blogroll, one of these days. Probably when I don’t want to pack.

P, S, M, and now R (and a Bonus Career Update) February 5, 2010

Posted by KG in Blog, FS Life, State.
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Yesterday we hosted another high-ranking State Department official in Mumbai, Judith McHale, Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Like the Undersecretaries who had visited before her, she took some time to have a town hall in our “lovely” visa waiting hall, to talk a bit about her vision of Public Diplomacy.

(Department nerds: that leaves trips from T, E, G, and the two Ds for Mumbai. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll be getting them during my time here.)

The strange thing about these town halls is our community’s reluctance to ask questions, in stark contrast with my hyper-inquisitive A-100 class. So for the last two meetings with bigwigs, I’ve tried to come prepared with some thoughts relevant to the speaker. It’s not always you can ask a policy-maker a question directly. Since the U/S’s shop has been at the forefront of using new media in our diplomatic efforts, I (naturally) asked about blogging. And more specifically: where she stood on the ongoing debate over personal blogs maintained by members of the Foreign Service community.

Her answer was very encouraging, touching on how as representatives of the USG we need to be careful with what we say in public, but how at the same time we should be treated as adults with the intellectual skills to be able to differentiate what we could write from what we should not blog about. I did make a special point to bring up recent stories about A-100 classes being told they should shut their blogs down, anecdotes she found unfortunate. Considering the paternalistic feeling of that particular message “shut your blog down!,” her take on the issue was appreciated.

Speaking of discrection: initially I thought it would be great to ask Ambassador McHale how I could live every week like it was Shark Week.

*****
In more late-breaking news: if you’re in the Department and reading this, both my wife and I are named in STATE 011771. We’re very happy, and very, very relieved.

No One Told You It Was Going to be Easy January 25, 2010

Posted by KG in FS Life, State.
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The hardest part of this job is when you see the worst in people. I’ve had to do that for the last five months. And in spades, today.

Apologies to Liam Schwartz, who would enjoy greater detail, but I can’t get too into the weeds without giving too much information out. Let’s leave it at the fact that today was, from 8:30 to 4, chock full of liars, ranging from tales of facepalm worthy ridiculousness to a gentleman whose deception was of the most odious kind possible in our little world without being outright evil. By the time the day ended, I was feeling Hobbesian, like the consular line was the last redoubt against an endless flood of people bent on breaking the law to make a better life for themselves — or to make a few quick bucks.

For the last five months, that’s been the gig. The fun part, the Hardy Boys-glee of pattern recognition and putting together dots worlds apart. And the hard part, the reality of facing that “dot” and realizing they are people — and then telling that person that they’re caught.

No one believes me when I tell them I miss being on the straight NIV line.

More on Haiti January 14, 2010

Posted by KG in FS Life.
2 comments

There’s an official State Department page on how to help. This page also has the latest Department briefings, as well as other developing information.

The first I heard of the crisis was from my boss. Sadly, she’s one of the ones that lost a friend; the Department has confirmed that one of our own died in the earthquake.

One of the more sobering elements of this peripatetic life has been the way it has changed my perspective on tragedies half a world away. When events like these occur, our first questions to each other are always “Do you know anyone there?”

And the answer, almost always, is yes.

Belated Thanks December 9, 2009

Posted by KG in Etc., Family, Food, Friends, FS Life, Travels, Yoga.
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Crazy time — parents and sister in town, then out of town with my parents and sister, then arranging for the parents to travel while staying in town, all the while transitioning to a new position in the office. Deep breath.

In the madness I forgot to give thanks this year, quite literally. Despite hosting two lovely strangers and my family for Thanksgiving, we forgot to go around the table and give thanks. Despite the chance to be with my nuclear and extended family, all at the same time, in our ancestral city for the first time in years, I didn’t think to thank anyone. Despite being able to show my family my workplace, introduce them to my coworkers, and take them to a rather unique local holiday celebration, not once did I think “I need to feel grateful for this.”

Here’s a corrective, banking on the spiritually evergreen nature of thanks.

Thank you Orville and Wilbur Wright, Otto Lilienthal, Samuel Langley, and all the other parents of modern aviation, for making the two week holiday half way across the world possible.

Thank you random farm in Pune, for providing amazing Thanksgiving turkeys two years running.

Thank you Michael Graglia for being the best yoga teacher I’ve had, ever. (we’ll miss you!)

Thank you cell phone deregulation and competitive market, for making it so darn cheap to call home.

Thank you Bandra for your ample bounty of cheap and delicious food, just a phone call away.

And thank you to all the family and friends who have visited us in Mumbai over the last year and a half, for making India feel a little bit like home.

Can’t Sit Still September 20, 2009

Posted by KG in Food, FS Life, Traveling, Travels.
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A long flight back from Australia, a day moving “offices” (even “cubicle” would be an overstatement), a flight to Delhi, a conference, a flight back, and two job interviews.

That was tiring.

But the timing gods have been munificent.  It’s that awesome time in India when every other day seems to be a holiday, and so we’re getting things done.  Miraculously, I’ve uploaded all of my pictures (click), though the task of naming, captioning, geotagging, and all that good stuff remains.  Oh yeah, and the ever popular “vacation wrap up” blog post, which my tens of readers are no doubt anticipating with baited breath.  Sorry!  Not this post.  All that uploading has made me hungry, and we have little in the name of food at home.  Time to go rectify that.  To put you all in the same boat, here’s a photo of some awesome and exotic flavored ice creams we ate on the Daintree Coast — chocolate sapote, wattleseed, jackfruit, and the rare and mysterious apricot.

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