Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

One of the hardest things about moving to Guinea is that I will no longer live with my sister. Beth and I have lived together so long and get along so well we're like an old married couple, and now it's like we're getting divorced, except without all the animosity.

We have to divvy up the stuff. I came with stuff and she came with stuff, but we both bought things in the intervening almost-three years with the other's stuff in mind. Our dining room table is mine but the chairs are hers. The plates and silverware are hers but the glassware is mine. The futon is mine but the TV is hers. The kitchen stuff is probably split about 50/50, except neither of us remembers exactly which whisk/bowl/pot belongs to whom. And so on. Somehow we have to sort it all out, and then we both have to buy stuff to fill in the gaps the other's stuff previously filled. We will no longer be able to borrow each others' jewelry or shoes, which is especially tragic for me since Beth is a much better accessorizer than I am.

We have to give up our routines. By this point we have the household management organized for maximum efficiency and utility with the tasks divided according to comparative advantage. I make the food plan and do all the cooking, and she washes all the dishes. We buy the groceries together. We alternate weekends for laundry duty. Every season we have a dinner party, for which I take care of the menu and she decorates. The two of us together do a hell of a Martha Stewart impression but it takes both of us. Now Beth is going to have to relearn how to feed herself and I'm going to have to remember how dish soap works.

But most sadly, we have to give up each other, at least on the daily basis we have now. Who will I tell how my day went? There's the cat I guess, but he doesn't really care what I say as long as I keep the scritches coming. Who will bring me pho and Sudafed when I'm sick? Who will I watch chick flicks and eat ice cream with when I just don't feel like going out? Who will tell me that I look awful in that dress/top/skirt and I need to take it back pronto?

I've lived alone before and I'm sure I'll get used to it again, but living with Beth has been great. I'm going to miss her.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Things I've Liked on the Internet Recently

Adorable endangered pygmy bunnies reintroduced to the wild. You can skip the article if you want and just look at the photo.
Michael Chabon's memories of reading The Phantom Tollbooth almost make me want to write my name on the flyleaf of a book in my own blood too, but they really make me want to read The Phantom Tollbooth again.
Murder. Incest. Slavery. Figs.
English As She Is Spoke: translating shortcuts = comedy gold.
Where language comes from and how it's built. More on the latter here.
Infamous dictators and their crimes against literature. It's hard to edit a despot.
The cyborgs are coming.

Two great videos by Everynone:

WORDS from Everynone on Vimeo.

Symmetry from Everynone on Vimeo.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I See Dead People

This week my consular training is all about American citizen services - what we at the embassy can and cannot do for Americans who find themselves in dire straits of one sort or another while overseas. Yesterday was mostly about arrests, complete with simulated prison visits. Today the focus was death. This morning we practiced calling people to notify them of a loved one's death abroad, something I sincerely hope I'll never have to do in real life, and this afternoon we visited the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

In death cases one of the duties of a consular officer is to go down to the morgue to identify the remains and take temporary possession of the deceased's effects. The State Department has wisely concluded that it's probably best if that first case at post is not our first experience with death in the flesh, so they take us on a little field trip. After a very informative PowerPoint and a video of an external autopsy we all went down to the mortuary to have a look at a corpse. It was a privilege to be there; in D.C. even the families of the deceased are not allowed in the mortuary and identify the body via Polaroid.

This may have been the first dead body I've ever seen - my family members are generally pretty long-lived and tend to favor cremation. The D.C. medical examiners run a tight ship so the gentleman in question looked almost like he was just sleeping even after a week and a half, though perhaps a bit waxy. Somehow I imagine the facilities in Conakry will be somewhat less sophisticated and the remains more seriously decomposed than today's exemplar, but it was a useful experience nonetheless. Kind of like going to the Holocaust museum - certainly educational, if not terribly cheerful.

Death smells like chemical fertilizer.

Monday, April 18, 2011


I got Jabberwocky a collar this weekend. He doesn't really need one here but I wanted him to get used to wearing one in case he ever escapes from my house in Conakry, where hopefully the American flag nameplate will alert the 70% illiterate populace that my cat has diplomatic immunity and is not for eating, tasty-looking butterball though he may be. He looks very distinguished and patriotic in it, ready to run for president. Or at least he did for the first three hours, which is how long it took for him to remove it while we weren't paying attention. I expected this. I did not expect him to hide it so well that a fairly thorough search of the apartment failed to uncover it.

My cat is smarter than me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Navel Gazing

Whenever people talk to me about blogging I tend to bring up the word "narcissism" in pretty short order, only half in jest. Like any form of public self-expression, the act of blogging contains the implicit assumption that one's thoughts have merit and that someone might be interested in them. If you don't think anyone cares, why go to all the trouble of typing it up? And with blog like mine that's largely autobiographical the act of blogging carries the assumption (or perhaps, the wild hope) that someone might be interested in, well, me.

If I were an insecure sort of person - which I am - I might start to use reactions to my blog (or the lack thereof) as indicators of my worth as a human being. In my previous blog I once bemoaned the dearth of comments on my posts and how embarrassingly much that affected my self-esteem. Fortunately this is no longer a problem for me, thanks to the miracle of Google Analytics.

People read my blog. I know this because Google counts them up for me and displays a bunch of interesting (but non-personally-identifiable) information on them in convenient, comforting graph form. Granted, we're not talking Huffington Post numbers here, but I'll take what I can get. Someone in Estonia read my blog today. (Hi!) This week I'm big in Guatemala. Some people, besides my mom, apparently even read on a semi-regular basis. I am more than slightly ashamed of how much my heart-cockle temperature increases every time I see that graph spike right after I put up a new post, but I can't deny that it does. My name is Meredith, and I am a Google Analytics junkie.

I may or may not have written this post for the express purpose of getting another hit of sweet, sweet internet affirmation.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Job Security

So, crisis has been averted. Congress rescued us all from a government shutdown at (literally) the eleventh hour. The day has been saved, and now both parties are parading around patting themselves on the back. I am furious.

Don't get me wrong - I'm also relieved. A government shutdown might have meant a few days (weeks?) of unexpected vacation, but it also would've meant leaner or missing paychecks and would have wreaked havoc on my training and packout schedule. I am happy to avoid those unpleasant outcomes.

However, in my book those self-congratulatory members of Congress get exactly zero credit for rescuing us from a disaster of their own making. And waiting until the very last possible second meant that government agencies had to drop everything and spend the last week making contingency plans for a shutdown that never came. That's a lot of energy and man-hours wasted, resources that should have been used for their intended purpose, serving the American people. That's a lot of freaked-out government employees wondering if they'd still have a job on Monday.

Why couldn't this "historic" compromise have been made last week? Or last month? Or six months ago when the FY 2011 budget was actually due? Why does it take going to the edge of the abyss - and dragging the whole country along for the ride - to get Congress to quit grandstanding and actually govern?

And after all the sturm und drang, what do we have to show for it? A continuing resolution that will fund the government until Thursday. We STILL don't have an actual budget. The wonks are saying that the big compromises have been made and it's likely that a budget will pass next week without incident, but I won't believe it until it's done - signed, sealed, and delivered. Four more days is plenty of time to find another way to hold the country hostage to a narrow political agenda.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Friday, April 1, 2011

There's More Than One Way to Ship a Cat

I'm slowly crossing things off my moving-to-Conakry checklist. I found a car. I made a power of attorney and a medical directive. I bought new rain boots and umbrellas. I'll get my visa started on Monday. Now I have to sort out how to get Jabberwocky to our future home. This is tricky.

We're flying economy?  Srsly?

There are three options: take him on the plane as carry-on luggage, take him on the plane but check him as cargo, or hire a pet shipping company to deal with it. The first two differ slightly in fees, airport procedures, and levels of personal and/or feline emotional trauma while flying, but the general experience will go something like this:

Trick the cat into the carrier, take him and all my luggage to the airport, fly to New York. Take him and all my luggage to theoretical hotel that allows cats and takes government rates. Put out food, water, and kitty litter and mostly abandon the cat in my hotel room while I learn about immigration from the DHS perspective and eat delicious food. Hope hotel staff does not lose/abuse cat while I'm away. Somehow get the cat into the carrier again, this time probably with force because he's not stupid. (Note to self: it might be a good idea to get his claws trimmed ahead of time). Take him and all my luggage to the airport, fly to Paris. Hope I did everything correctly and have all the proper forms to get him through EU customs. Take him and all my luggage to theoretical hotel that allows cats and takes government rates. Put out food, water, and kitty litter and mostly abandon the cat in my hotel room while I gaze at the Seine and eat delicious food. Hope hotel staff does not lose/abuse cat while I'm away. (Alternately, give in to cat's pathetic cuteness and stay in hotel feeling bitter about missing Paris.) Somehow - it'll take a miracle - get the cat into the carrier for a third time. Take him and all my luggage to the airport, fly to Conakry. Hope I did everything correctly and have all the proper forms to get him through Guinean customs. Take him and all my luggage to our palatial new accommodations. Hope cat will eventually forgive me.

The final option goes something like this: Leave cat and health certificates with Beth, go about my business and get to Conakry. Some days later, Pet Shipping Co. picks the cat up from her. Magic happens. Pet Shipping Co. drops cat off at our palatial new accommodations. Hope cat will eventually forgive me.

See how much shorter that second one is? How much easier and stress-free? This idyllic pet transport experience can be mine for the low, low price of $4,300 (current lowest bid). I think I 'll do it the hard way.