Thursday, December 12, 2013


I had meant to post the details of my most recent experience moving internationally with a pet when I first arrived in Ireland, but the cat's subsequent disappearance meant I had other things on my mind at the time. The full tale of my bureaucratic misadventures is a bit long in the telling, so I'll keep it short. Here, in invoice form, are the components of a successful feline relocation:

Vet visit and rabies titer testing - 800,000 GNF ($114)
Titer test analysis - 85 EUR ($111)
Vet visit and Guinea/EU health certificates - 40,000 GNF ($6)
Flight Conakry to Paris (Delta/Air France) - $250
Pet fee at Novotel in Paris - 15 EUR ($20)
Flight Paris to Houston (Delta/Air France) - $290
Vet visit for comprehensive checkup with rabies revaccination and flea/tick meds - $208
International fax to send flight approval request (It's pretty hard to find a place that does international faxes these days.) - $10
Vet visit and health certificate (for domestic flight) - $58
Flight Houston to DC (United) - $274
Vet visit and health certificates (for international flight) - $200
Overnight mail to send health certificates to the USDA in Richmond for approval - $28
Emergency redo of vet visit after the first EU health certificate turned out to be on an outdated form - no charge
Saturday delivery overnight mail to the USDA for the correct form  - $38
USDA certification - $38
Return overnight mail (arrived the day before departure) - $28
Panicked international phone call the day before the flight to check on flight approval certificate (had been approved weeks ago but never sent to me) - $36
New pet carrier bought at the airport cargo terminal on departure because United wouldn't take the one I had because it opened on the top (though they had no problem with it on the previous flight) - $75
Flight DC to Dublin (United) - $589
Airport pickup and health inspection on arrival in Dublin - 230 EUR ($317)

Because I'm worth it
Total cat relocation expenses: TWO THOUSAND SIX HUNDRED NINETY AMERICAN DOLLARS plus untold hours spent researching regulations, waiting on hold, making appointments, schlepping him places, etc., and way more emotional distress than I had bargained for from multiple things going wrong under tight deadlines despite my very best efforts to prevent that from happening. And with the exception of a $500 stipend for general moving expenses (which you get whether you have pets or not) I paid for all of this and did all of the legwork myself. Can you tell I love my cat?

The crazy thing is that this is by no means an extreme or even unusual Foreign Service pet moving experience. A friend of mine moved her very large dog from Malawi to Guinea, with several adventures on the way including an overland stretch from Sierra Leone. Another colleague relocated a HORSE from Estonia to Ireland, and is sending it to New York next while she goes to Pakistan. I'm afraid to ask how much that's going to cost. And the FS blogosphere has countless other tales of international moves with cats, dogs, parrots, and so forth, each with their own unique complications. Moving internationally with pets is stressful and expensive but we do it anyway, because our pets are family. As awful as it is to bring them with us, it would be ten times worse to leave them behind. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Philanthropy for Touchy-Feely Soft-Hearted Romantics

Here we are again, the holiday giving season. Last year I wrote a little post about how to make sure your charitable gifts turn into positive action: Philanthropy for Cold-Hearted Hard-Nosed Realists. Its message is simple - give money, not stuff, and give it to organizations that will use your money efficiently. Although it has been by far my most popular post ever, it seems that one single blog post isn't quite enough to end poverty and bring about world peace. Imagine that. So here's another one.

Let's suppose, just for the sake of argument, that you're not actually a Cold-Hearted Hard-Nosed Realist like myself. Maybe all this talk about research and efficiency feels distant and bureaucratic to you, the complete opposite of the warm feelings of generosity and solidarity with your fellow man that you get when you bring food to the food bank or toys to the orphanage. Maybe your gift isn't "optimal" but it feels good. Writing a check is so impersonal - you want something hands-on! I get it, I really do. And while I'm tempted to get on a soapbox and say that philanthropy is supposed to be about the people being helped, not the helper, I'll cut you some slack here. We all like to feel that we are making a difference.

Fortunately, you hands-on, personal-experience-givers are in luck, because there is actually one donation-in-kind that even Cold-Hearted Hard-Nosed Realists can heartily approve of, because it's a gift that's always desperately needed and no amount of money can buy. If you don't want to give money, GIVE BLOOD. Sit in the chair, grit your teeth through the needle, and give the gift of your own life force. There's nothing more personal and hands-on than that. And as for the effects, while donated money may sometimes go to practical, boring (but essential!) things like buying a charity's copy paper or paying its electricity bill, your blood donation goes to one thing and one thing only: saving another human being's life. Up to three lives, in fact, from a single blood donation. Check this out:

I know, not everyone can donate blood. Us globetrotters are particularly likely to fall afoul of eligibility requirements - I've been hanging around near malaria too much lately, so the Red Cross would much prefer that I open my checkbook than my vein. All the more reason for those who can donate to actually do it! So get out there, eligible donors, and start saving lives. If that doesn't fill all your desire to feel like you've made a meaningful positive contribution to mankind, I don't know what else will. Plus - free cookies!

And now, because I'm pretty sure this is actually why that last post got so many hits, here's another adorable kitten video:

Monday, December 2, 2013

Vicarious Tourism: Lisbon

For Thanksgiving this year I took a little trip to Portugal. Some friends from Conakry are posted there now, and my buddy Seamus* came too, so we had ourselves a proper Conakry reunion. Other members of Team Conakry were there in spirit/FaceTime. (It's strange to think that we all lived there less than six months ago - it feels far away and forever ago now.) Our gracious hosts will be known to my regular readers as the rescuers of the Kipe Compound chickens. Well, for a while anyway. They did kill and eat them a few months later, but I was out of town at the time so I was unable to document their final chapter.

But anyway, Lisbon. Before and after the traditional Thanksgiving feasting we checked out the beach town of Cascais, visited the famous monuments (and pastry shops) of Belem, wandered through the streets of downtown Lisbon, and gawked at the mountain castles of Sintra. And there was still plenty of time to sit idly in the sun and replenish my depleted vitamin D supplies. It was a bit chilly in the shade or the wind, but a nice sheltered sunny spot was just heaven. And we ate - custard tarts, garlicky grilled octopus, roast chestnuts, and cherry liqueur. Yum.

Tourism with three children under 10 in tow turns out to be a little more challenging than the footloose single sightseeing I'm used to. This weekend has given me new respect for my parents, who hauled three little girls around Europe for years. Just like our friends' kids, those little girls were also tragically unimpressed by castles. (How things have changed!) So I didn't check off everything on my list, but this trip was really more about being with friends and eating turkey and pie than seeing all the things. And besides, it gives me another excuse to head back to Lisbon someday soon. I'm looking forward to it.

*Not his real name, but he picked it out