Sunday, February 27, 2011

Small Talk

I had a great time at the FS blogger potluck this evening, and now have many new blogs to add to my reading list!

When foreign service people meet each other for the first time in DC, there's a pattern to the conversation. It's just like in college when you always asked new acquaintances their major, but now the usual opening gambit is "where are you going?" And every time I say that I'm going to Conakry, there's a pause. An awkward, uncertain pause, like the pause after someone announces an unplanned pregnancy, because my new acquaintances are never quite sure whether congratulations or condolences are in order.

This is because Conakry is not exactly a garden spot, but also because the undesirableness of Conakry was brought up several times by several people during A-100, often as part of the official curriculum. They all equivocated a bit when they found out it was on the bid list but let's just say the place has a certain aura.

I could, of course, dispel the uncertainty by answering the inevitable question with "Conakry and I'm happy about it," but the truth is I kind of like to see people's what-do-I-say-now faces. I'm sure there will be times when I rue the day I marched into my CDO's office and lobbied for the privilege of going to a hot, sweaty place with unreliable electricity and lots of nasty tropical diseases, but I hope not too many. And in the meantime I enjoy being thought of as something of an adventurer, though certainly a naïve one, and maybe also a little crazy.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Things I've Liked on the Internet Recently

The Great Gatsby for NES, coming soon to a computer near you.
Cheese or font? Seriously, this game is hard.
Back to the Future - a photography project (some images NSFW)
World's total CPU power = one human brain. Can we be smart enough to figure ourselves out?
War. Piracy. Genocide. Madness. Nutmeg.
For those of us going to tropical climates: the quest for a malaria vaccine.
Science: 1 Laundry: 0
Best-selling books from the day you were born - I hadn't heard of most of mine, but non-fiction #9 was The Light in the Attic. <3!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Bahrain. Libya. Yemen. Belgium.

Yes, even Belgium is getting in on the protest action, though there are some slight differences between the protests there and those in in the Middle East.

While the Arabs are all protesting having lived under one government for far too long, the Belgians are protesting having gone too long without any government at all. Today the country German paper Die Tageszeitung characterized as the world's most successful failed state eclipsed Iraq's record of 249 days without a government as the MPs elected last June still haven't gotten a ruling coalition together. The Belgians, who would like their elected officials to get on with things and do their freaking jobs already, are protesting their lack of government by forming flash mobs, stripping to their underwear in public places, growing beards, and consuming free beer and frites. No tear gas or tanks involved, and the monarch doesn't really seem to mind. While I do think frites and beer might make nice additions to the events in the Middle East, I hesitate to recommend them as tools of the revolution. So far they haven't had much effect.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

If You Can't Say Something Nice

As my French exam looms ever larger on the horizon I'm starting to get a little frustrated and generally freaked out. This has recently led me to spend an inordinate amount of time whining about my French class and the language in general, which is (mostly) undeserved and makes me even more frustrated and freaked out. I don't want to be that person, so I hearby resolve to no longer say unpleasant things about the French language, the French department at FSI, my French class, or my inability to remember which nouns are which gender and which verbs take which preposition.

In practice this resolution may require a moratorium on all things French for a few weeks until after I (hopefully) pass my exam, due to the aforementioned frustration and freaking out. This will be difficult for my friends since "How's French?" is currently my version of that DC conversation staple, "How's work?" Therefore, I present a list of suggested alternative conversation topics for your convenience:

The weather
What I did last weekend/plan to do next weekend
Movies/plays/concerts I have seen recently
Books I am reading
My cat, adorableness of
Food, generally
Getting paid to learn a language, privilege and awesomeness of

Monday, February 14, 2011

PSA: DC-Area FS Blogger Potluck!

Yes, that's right - all your favorite DMV FS bloggers are getting together to talk about ourselves, like we do, but with more food and fewer screens. Details below, spread the word around. I'm bringing a pear and almond tart, and I know you don't want to miss out on that.

When: Saturday, February 26, 4-6pm
Where: Directions and info will be sent when you RSVP; the location is kid-friendly
What to bring: Your favorite dish for a crowd and your family
RSVP: RSVP to the Goodjamins (Lisa & Paul) at this address:
Please include:
* Number of guests (adults and kids)
* Dish you plan to bring (drinks and paper goods are also welcome)
* Your blog address

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Things You Do For Love

One of the many lovely things about language training is that they give us the afternoon off every other Wednesday so we can use that time to sort out all the personal business that comes with moving to another country. Today I devoted my afternoon to the cat.

Moving with pets presents its own special challenges, as they are subject to a tangled web of overlapping and constantly changing government and airline regulations on all kinds of things, mainly what shots they have to have and when, and what precise pieces of paper are needed to ascertain that the appropriate procedures have been followed. Guinea's regulations are no big deal, but we'll have to fly through Paris or Brussels on the way so the cat and his paperwork will need to meet far more stringent EU regulations also.

After an afternoon of web browsing and phone calls to determine what I need to do (lots), whether the cat's microchip is ISO-compliant (it's not), and whether my preferred vet is USDA-accredited (she is!), I'm almost ready to call it quits and leave the furball with Beth. Jabbers himself has not been particularly helpful in the process, preferring to nibble on my papers and impede my view of my laptop with demands for scritches. But I love my cat, so I'll make this happen.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


I am tired of big events. Every morning I have to be up on the latest international happenings so I can talk about them in French class. And then for reading practice we read articles about poverty in Africa, death squads killing children in Brazil, human trafficking all over the place, and other such cheerful topics. And when I'm done debating the future of Social Security and the constitutionality of health care reform en français, I need a break. I need bonnets.

Yes, bonnets, otherwise known as BBC period dramas. I need to lie in bed with tea and watch excerpts from the lives of fictional well-bred but free-spirited young ladies whose primary, nay, only goal is to look and act in just the right way to attract the favorable attentions of the mysterious/moody/socially awkward but inevitably rich and handsome gentleman a rung or two up on the social ladder. Most of these take place in Regency England, when Napoleon was laying waste to Europe and the Industrial Revolution was causing tremendous social upheaval at home, but the girls vying for the hand of Mr./Lord/Earl/Duke So-and-So either don't know or don't care, busy as they are with their piano practice and embroidery.

The plots are predictable, the protagonists often insipid, and the matrimonial prize and supporting characters irritatingly one-dimensional. But I don't care. I just need to rest my mind with simple stories where everyone's minor personal difficulties are eventually resolved and everything works out well in the end, with lots of pretty lace dresses, lush green landscapes, and good-looking men in cravats for soothing eye candy. "The good [end] happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means."* And the more time I have to spend examining real life the more need I have of some nice light fiction to escape in.

*Oscar Wilde

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Medical Experiments

As part of the moving-to-Conakry process I got my shots started on Friday - rabies, yellow fever, and hepatitis A and B. More rabies, polio, meningitis and typhoid are still to come, and possibly one or two others I've forgotten. Take that, nasty tropical diseases!

It's not good to be too cocky though, as Guinea teems with plenty of other unpleasant microorganisms who cannot be simply vaccinated away. However, modern medicine is working on those too, so I also got to try out some anti-malarials this weekend - a free sample of mefloquine to see how my sanity would bear it. I approached this experiment with some trepidation, as mefloquine has a reputation for unpleasant neurological side effects. For example, if you start the This American Life episode below at 36:00 you can hear the tale of a Fulbright scholar who lost his memory to mefloquine in India. (He did, eventually, get most of it back.)

So far my sanity seems to have remained intact, though admittedly I may not be the best judge. I didn't even have any particularly vivid or interesting dreams, though my dreams have always been a little on the weird side to begin with. Still, can't we just take care of this pesky malaria problem the old-fashioned way, the civilized way, with gin and tonics?