Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

The rally was good fun, but the signs were really the main event as far as I was concerned. Here's a selection of the best signs from my little corner of the Mall:

There were others I didn't get pictures of. One said, "You can have my apostrophe's when you pry them from my cold dead hand's." Another read simply, "Pancakes."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

These Boots Were Made For Walkin'

Last week and this week I'm occupying my time with Subsaharan Africa area studies. This entails listening to many speakers on the geography, history, economy, security, religion, culture, art, etc. of the region. It's a lot to cram into two weeks so most of the presentations have been very broad overviews, but I think it gives me a good grounding on the issues so I can delve into them more deeply later as far as Guinea is concerned.

There are also field trips, which I think should be required for all training. This week's trips are a visits to an Ethiopian restaurant and the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. Last week we went out to the ADAMS center in Dulles. I had been to mosques before but never to Friday prayers, so that was a new and interesting experience. The service was surprisingly short: a Qu'ran reading, a brief homily (on the hajj, since it's coming up), and the prayer. The whole thing lasted 30 to 40 minutes, much more efficient than the hour-plus church services I had to sit through when I was younger. We got to see a funeral prayer too, which was also very short, and then there was discussion after.

Unfortunately, on Friday morning I completely forgot about the excursion and decided to wear the most mosque-unfriendly pair of shoes I own: cowboy boots. It took two of my classmates to get me out of them - one pinning me to the wall and the other yanking the damn things off my heels. What kind of self-respecting mosque doesn't have a boot jack available? I'm sure the mosques in Texas are more appropriately equipped.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Musical Interlude

Last night Beth and I went to see Sara Bareilles in concert with Greg Laswell and Holly Conlan. It was a good show, full of all the things I like best in music: pianos, a cello, and girls singing songs with fun lyrics that are (mostly) in my range so I can learn them and warble them in the shower later. Good stuff.

This show, like pretty much every concert I've ever been to, made me wish I had some tiny speck of musical skill. I took violin lessons for a long time in my youth; by the end of them I had not succeeded in making any actual music, only awkward squeaky imitations thereof, and I was so sick of the damn thing I never wanted to look at a violin again.

The piano might be easier - it's just pressing buttons, right? But I suspect my natural laziness and complete lack of coordination might still prevent me from ever reaching the music threshold. What I really want is to learn to play the piano like people in the movies do: in a video montage, with a thread of piano music playing in the background that seamlessly incorporates my clumsy first scales, my tremulous attempts at "Chopsticks" and "Heart and Soul", and my final graduation to piano prodigy/soulful songstress, all in about 60 seconds. However, it might be more practical just to wait until we can upload skills directly into our brains through a USB jack implanted behind the right ear. I expect this technology to be available in the next decade or two.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Swearing-In Day

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Too Many Guineas

Guinea. Guinea-Bissau. Equatorial Guinea. Papua New Guinea. Guinea pigs. Guinea fowl.

Amazon has a hard time telling these things apart. I've been looking for some books to read about my future residence and I'm finding it a rough slog. There are some out there, I know it, but in order to find them I have to filter through the rodent care handbooks and the many, many, many books on all those other Guinea countries, PNG in particular. It seems the original Guinea is not the most popular.

Of the Guinea books I have managed to track down, a large number of them are a little, shall we say, outdated. A Reliable Account of the Coast of Guinea, published 1760. Memoirs of Giambattista Scala: Consul of his Italian Majesty in Lagos in Guinea, published 1862. Sorry Signiore Scala, but Lagos is in Nigeria now. Travel guides on Guinea do not exist; the best I've found so far is the Lonely Planet guide to West Africa, where Guinea merits 37 pages in a 900-page book. At least I know it won't be overrun with tourists.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Answers and More Questions

One of the nice things about Flag Day - aside from the obvious excitement - was the satisfaction of having my questions answered. I now know where I'm going and approximately when (late May/early June) and what I'll be doing with myself in the meantime (training of various sorts). It's nice to have all that uncertainty settled.

But then, mere hours after finding out the answers I had waited so long for, the party atmosphere wore off and an entirely new set of questions presented themselves. Important questions. What kind of car should I buy? What will my housing be like? How's the power? How's the internet access? What do people wear to work? What kind of U.S. comforts should I bring with me? How will I get my mail? What shots will I need to get? What should I do about a cell phone? What do I need to do to bring the cat? Etc., etc., etc.

Fortunately, the answers to these questions only have to wait until I make the effort to track them down. I'm enjoying my long weekend, so post research starts Tuesday afternoon. And then I have seven months to hammer out the details.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Future Freaks Me Out

After all the waiting, Flag Day is finally upon us. This time tomorrow I will know, generally, what the next 2-3 years of my life will look like. I will know where I'm going and when. This is pretty momentous. I'm perhaps less stressed about it than many of my colleagues, for two reasons. First, I'm flexible. I don't have kids or a spouse or health problems or CNL points that might make one post considerably more difficult than another. There are a couple of places I'd rather not go - Juarez and Riyadh come to mind - but if I do get assigned to one of those places I can probably grit my teeth and bear it for two years. Second, I've already convinced myself that I'm going to Conakry. I really want it, and no one else is crazy enough to bid it high so I think I've got a good shot. On the other hand, that may just mean I'm extra surprised tomorrow afternoon when they send me to Rome. Or Sana'a. Or Harare. Or Tblisi. Or...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

For the Cat Fans, a Jabberwocky Update

Jabbers got very big over the summer, transforming from cute kitten to fine feline. He's taking an active interest in my new career, primarily by chewing on anything A-100-related I might happen to leave lying around. He took a nice hunk out of my bid list right around the B's - I'm not sure if this means he's disappointed we will not get to go to Bangkok and his ancestral homeland or if he's displeased with my bidding strategy. He's mysterious like that sometimes.

Now that he's all growed up he's acting more like a dog than ever: he drools when he's happy, he loves everyone, he likes to lick people's faces and he loves to play fetch. Every morning when I'm getting ready for work Jabbers meows at me until I consent to toss his little foil crinkly ball down the hallway with one hand while I try to apply makeup with the other. However, he also relishes going places he knows he's not supposed to be, so his catlike nature may not be irretrievably lost.