Sunday, September 9, 2018

A Trip to Malta, Paris Cooling Off

To begin, I'd like to give you some context: I am sitting on my balcony in Paris, which looks into some trees that thankfully block the view of the apartment building next door. Not that it's ugly, but it's nice to look at green instead of concrete.

I'm sitting on a brand new plastic wicker chair with a maroon cushion on it. Next to me is a little table with a mosaic-glass top, glinting in the morning sun. It's about 8am on a Sunday. To my left is a tall, leaning plant, a sort of little ferny palm kind of thing. One of the stalks leans dangerously, and I've turned it so that it rests on the balcony railing. To my right is a hammock hanging in its stand, with two large potted plants in front of it. It's a very pleasant balcony, with a pleasant view, and there's a pleasant chill in the air.

On the glinting mosaic table, there is a tall drinking glass filled with a chunky green liquid. It is the result of big ambition and little planning. Deciding that my diet was sadly lacking in fruits and vegetables, I researched juicing recipes yesterday and went shopping for seven days worth of juices. In Mali, a friend had sold me his juicer and the results were refreshing and healthy and fresh: three things that weren't necessarily staples there. Anyway, I brought the juicer with me to Paris.

Well, most of it. Turns out there is one small but critical piece missing. I didn't figure that out until this morning, of course, after having bought all the little ingredients, the greens and the fruits and the vegetables, and dreaming about the concoction that would fill me with good things. Reordering the part is possible, and I did so: but $24 and 3 weeks of waiting does not help me in the moment. I check the internet and it assures me: a blender will work fine. All one needs is cheesecloth to strain the blended muck into.

Not surprisingly, I lack cheesecloth.

So here I am, on my all-around pleasant balcony, chewing my breakfast juice. It's not bad: celery, parsley, spinach, pear, lemon, and water to thin it out a bit.

That's my morning context for you. As I chew thoughtfully, it seems like a great idea to think of my last weekend, which was spent in Malta with friends.

Malta

Malta is made of of one large island and a few smaller ones. Parts of it have been the backdrop for many movies and TV series. There's a medieval touch to some of the cities, like Mdina (pronounced um-dee-na). It reminded me a bit of Dubrovnik, with the smooth stone walls and alleys. On the other hand, in the more modern areas, progress has decreed that one must build, build, build. The friends I was visiting - we shall call them C and R - live on the third floor of an apartment building smashed between two other buildings. Their apartment contains a long hallway that connects the kitchen to each of the five or six rooms of the apartment: two bedrooms, one storage room, a bathroom, an alcove with a view to the wall of the building next door, and an office. It's a very long hallway.

The apartment is bright and sparkly: at one end of the hallway is the living room, which has glass doors leading to a balcony overlooking the bay and looking onto Valetta. The apartment floor is made completely of shiny tile. C and R have decorated nicely, so that it feels roomy and calm and comfortable.

My weekend in Malta was short, just Friday to Monday. In that time, though, I was able to go to a beach, visit an old city, ride an electric scooter down the street, eat dinner in town, catch up with friends and go sailing for a day in lovely blue waters. Here, take a look at a photographic recap of the weekend:


An interesting statue in Valetta.

Another interesting statue in Valetta. 

C and R and me

The marina

View from Valetta

Zipping right along in C and R's Cooper Mini convertible. 

View of our beach day from above. 

Mdina entrance. 

Pretty me by a pretty wall. 

Master chef C grills fish for dinner. 

Master chef C and me. 

After a day of sailing, we head home.

Happy sailors. 


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Paris, continued

 More pictures from week 2!

Bastille Day cruise on the river Seine

Feeling classy!

So happy, feeling like I'm in heaven!

It's fuzzy, but that's fireworks coming out of the Eiffel Tower!

Bastille Day fireworks and a demonic looking Eiffel Tower

The day after Les Bleus win the World Cup, it took me an
hour and a half to get home from work. On the way, I passed this!

Park at sunset

My street


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Vivant à Paris: La Premiere Semaine

In short: I'm loving Paris so far! More to come, but here is a taste via some photos...

Jacques checks out some flowers in nearby park Bois de Bologne. 

Lake and geese at the park. 

My favorite path so far in the park. 

View coming out of the metro on the way to work. 

Monday, June 25, 2018

Pre-Departure Preparations

I'm one week out from heading to Paris! As usual, the preparatory tasks start piling up, even though it feels like I've been trying to stay ahead of it all. In any case, here's my monthly blog post to sum it all up.

The past six weeks were a real roller coaster for me. Coming back to FSI (the Foreign Service Institute, where much of our formal, professional training takes place) was both fun and stressful. It's odd, because FSI is like an idyllic college campus: lots of green space, walking paths under the trees, picnic tables, a few little gazebos, a decent cafeteria with some variety, and hallways packed with people learning tradecraft, languages of all kinds, and other useful diplo-skills.

I was excited at first to see familiar faces from previous trainings. Oddly enough, though, the anticipation of seeing familiar faces caused more anxiety than nostalgic fondness for me. By the end of each day in my first few weeks, I would feel like I was frantically checking out the face of every person I passed in the hallway, wondering if they knew me or vice versa. It was strange, even as I felt myself tensing up and angst-ing about it, the thought would cross my mind that I loved seeing familiar faces, it shouldn't be so stressful. Talking to other people helped me feel better: many people feel the same way.

It's disappointing and confusing, that 'coming home' is not the easy, simple thing one imagines it will be. Sure, I'm not dodging suicidal motorcycle drivers along unpaved roads, or going through my seventeenth power outage of the hour. Maybe I understand (mostly) the language spoken around me, and I don't have constant low-grade digestive stress. On the other hand, the stores seem overwhelmingly and unnecessarily over-stocked with options, and nothing hits me emotionally like I think it "should." There's a stress with coming back that is undefined and nebulous, but no less intense for all that. Interpersonal relationships feel strained. Good friends seem distant or, worse, too judgmental.

Thankfully, some of that unnamed stress melted away as I learned about visas and our processes for granting or denying them; passports and nationality, and the unexpected rights and limitations that come with them; and all about the services I might be asked to provide for Americans living overseas (like visiting them in prison, or doing welfare and whereabout checks). It was a great six-week course and although I know it'll be necessary to learn all over again on arrival in Paris, I feel at least marginally more intelligent on the subject matter than I did before.

Which brings me to the present! As I said, it's one week until blast off, and I'm busy getting ready. I drove down to Durham on Sunday with Jacques in the back seat. Today we went to the veterinarian, got our $95 EU health certificate, and sent it off to USDA so that they can provide their $28 APHIS approval stamp and send it back in my $25 overnight FedEx package, hopefully in time to take with us to the airport on Monday. Whew! They aren't kidding when they say having pets in the Foreign Service ain't cheap!

Last minute shopping, separating stuff into shipment piles, changing my address, and getting my stuff together all take time, energy, and focus. Luckily, I have wonderful parents who are willing to help and keep me going, as well as great friends who support me and cheer me on. The mobile life style does help clarify relationships, and those that can stand the test of sporadic visits and my intense bouts of scrambling to get things done are definitely keepers. I'm a very lucky person to have such incredible people in my life.

Next post will be from Paris!

--Z

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Back in Training

Greetings from DMV! (That's DC, Maryland, and Virginia, not the Department of Motor Vehicles, just to assuage any concerns!)

About three weeks ago, I packed my bags and piled my things and Jacques in the car and motored up to DC with my dad. After spending a night, dad headed up to Baltimore to meet my mom, who was staying there to help her brother after some serious surgery (he's on the mend now).

After a couple of doctor's visits and meeting up with friends, I began consular training, often called "Con-Gen". This is a six week course wherein I learn all about the work I'll be doing in Paris. Broadly, it includes processing visa applications and helping Americans abroad in various contexts (adoptions, deaths, jail, passport issues, etc). After two weeks, my brain is buzzing with all that I've learned about the fascinating world of how non-Americans apply for visas, and the role I as a consular officer will play in the process. The class is challenging but the instructors are good: dynamic, knowledgeable, and understanding of the stuffed-head feeling all us students have right now. Training includes lectures, homework, roleplays of various scenarios, computer training, and a healthy dose of real-life stories.

Meanwhile, I'm staying with my friends Joe and Cody, and Jacques and I have settled nicely into the roomy basement apartment. A local dog-walking company comes every weekday to walk him, which he seems to enjoy. He's still quite reactive to other dogs, but we're working on it! Jacques also enjoys meandering around the back yard of the house, watching and barking at cars, pedestrians, dogs, and birds. And sometimes things I can't see. :)

My training takes place at the Foreign Service Institute in Arlington. It's fun to be back there, because there are so many familiar faces: former French instructors, people I met in Bamako, A-100 colleagues back for training, and occasionally someone I worked with at Main State. It was a bit overwhelming at first: I would find myself getting anxious, that first week, as I looked at every face I passed in the hall, wondering if it was someone I should remember or know. I continue to carry my IFAC (individual first aid kit) around with me, a habit picked up in Bamako. Overall, the level of anxiety I've felt since returning to FSI has surprised me. Talking to other Bamako-returnees, it seems within the normal response continuum, but still... it's harder than I thought. That seems to be my foreign service mantra!

My between-posts resolution is to write a blog entry at least once a month... wish me luck!

Friday, April 20, 2018

A New Year, A New Adventure

Happy 2018 and, as is becoming a distressing recurring phrase, sorry for not writing for so long!

Last I wrote was September 2017. I was in Mali making new friends, raising my pup Jacques, and looking at my last six months at post. To kick off restarting blog posts, here are some highlights from September '17 until today. Enjoy!

September: Trip to Ghana for work and a little play!



October: Trip to Morocco with good friends!



November: Time well spent in Bamako, celebrating Thanksgiving and lots of walking and hiking with Jacques.


December: Work trip to Conakry, Guinea, plus taking pictures in my Bamako neighborhood.




January 2018: Enjoying the dry "cool" weather on some hiking trips in/around Bamako.




February: Several Bamako photo safaris and a road trip to Dakar!












March: Saying Goodbye (last photo safari and some random pictures)







April: Home leave, relaxing in Durham, NC, watching spring spring.