Friday, December 9, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: Touristic Bridge Holiday(?)

Today we observe the solemn and important Argentine holiday known as the "touristic bridge." When Argentine fixed day holidays occur on Tuesday or Thursday, they bridge the days to the weekend with an extra day off. So here's to celebrating yesterday's holiday with a super long weekend! Huzzah!

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Today's bonus holiday is in honor of the Catholic "Feast of the Immaculate Conception." Celebrated on the 8 of December, which is 9 months prior to the the Virgin Mary's birth day (September 8th).

If my local staff are any indication, this Holiday tends to be celebrated... by not going to work.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: National Sovereignty Day

It's not every day you celebrate losing a battle. However, that's exactly what we're doing today! As one of the more recent national holidays (since 2010), today commemorates the heavy losses suffered by the Anglo-French navy in the Battle of Vuelta de Obligado. It ended up bringing them to the bargaining table that ended in a peace treaty.

This holiday is celebrated similarly to Memorial day in the US. Generally with spending time outdoors in the newly nice weather and grilling.

It's a conveniently timed holiday for the Americans at Post, as it turns the 4-day weekend of Thanksgiving into a 5 day weekend (with one day of leave for Friday). Can't argue with that. Interestingly, Argentina's holidays in general appear to compliment well with the American holidays, leading to many free 4 day weekends.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity

Technically this isn't an "extra holiday," since it coincides with Columbus day in the US, but it's worth talking about. Many countries in the Americas celebrate this holiday: the anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the new world. Originally celebrating the 'civilizing' of the Americas, the focus was changed due to the massive disrespect they showed to the native cultures, many of which were massacred by the conquistadores. Now the holiday is about education and cultural displays by the descendents of the various indigenous peoples in the Americas. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

Tenure!

Welp, I crossed another Foreign Service Milestone. I'm officially tenured. Tenure is a funny thing in the FS. Practically (but not) everyone gets it. You have 3 chances: at 2 years, 3 years, and 3.5 years for specialists. They say 99% of people get it by the third try. They say around 50% get it on the first try, so it's something of a (very) small bragging right. However, every IMS in my specialist class (go 132nd!) got tenure on their first try, which does dampen the feeling of exclusivity, but that's ok! So with the very flattering words below, I officially become a full-time, non-probationary, federal employee.

"The SPTB has completed its review of the files of candidates eligible for consideration for tenure by the 2016 Summer Session.  Below is the list of candidates recommended for tenure. The effective date of tenure is September 12, 2016."

Yeah, I got chills too. They do have a way with words. 


The picture may not be completely accurate, since the Foreign Service has an age-limit... but as a federal employee, we're generally fairly hard to fire anyway. More interestingly, as a 'career officer,' we do have the ability to be rehired to the Foreign Service if we quit, with relatively fewer hoops to jump through. I've met an officer who did this. He quit for several years to live near his children after getting divorce and then applied for reappointment when they were older. 


PS: Side bonus, you can also get a tenure certificate signed by the President...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

IMS Vacancy

To quote the Department of State...

 
 

U.S. Embassies Need IT Managers

 
 

Now Accepting Applications

 
 IRM Red Banner 
 
The U.S. Department of State’s Foreign Service isaccepting applications for Information Management Specialists. These are the technical managers who help the United States accomplish its foreign policy mission overseas. From July 13-26, those who are interested and have a formal education OR practical experience in Information Technology fields can apply for positions which allow you, your spouse, and your children to live and work throughout the world.

Our Information Management Specialists are the technical leads who function as part of a larger diplomatic team around the world. As a part of this public service opportunity, you’ll receive paid housing or a housing allowance and paid education for dependent children in K-12 when serving overseas, health and medical coverage, federal retirement benefits, student loan repayment opportunities, generous paid leave, and an unprecedented chance to experience different cultures. You will provide IT management services at any of our more than 270 posts overseas, in Washington, D.C., or elsewhere in the United States.

To see how we will evaluate your application, review the 12 Dimensions. If you have questions about the selection and hiring process, contactIMSVacancyInfo@state.gov. If you have questions about the work itself, contact ITJobs@state.gov. Finally, if you prefer to speak with someone directly, please contact the Diplomat in Residence in your region to make an appointment.

Good luck, and we are looking forward to hearing from you.
View IMS Employee Videos
Stella IMS
Stella, Information Management Specialist
Tony IMS FSS
Tony, Information Management Specialist
 
 

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: National Flag Day

Extra holiday number two this weekend, Día de la Bandera Naciona,l is a day to celebrate the Argentine flag and its creator Manuel Belgrano. Writing this (several months) late, I feel compelled to mention that I've since learned that they honor Belgrano in another fashion. Every city of any reasonable size we've been to in Argentina has a Belgrano street and/or bario. It is kind of a joke when we're travelling, because every time I asked my (navigating) wife where something was, the answer is inevitably: "Avenida Belgrano." He is a rather interesting man, who largely contributed to the independence of both Argentina and Paraguay.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: Martin Miguel De Guemes Day

Argentina (and Embassy Buenos Aires) have done an excellent job pairing up holidays to make 4- and 5-day weekends. Today's extra holiday is courtesy of Martin Miguel De Guemes, a war hero from the Argentine War of Independence. This seems like a particularly poignant rememberance, with this year being the bicentennial for Argentine Independence. 

The story gets a little fuzzy for me here, since Argentina celebrated the 200th anniversary of the May Revolution in 2010, but are now again celebrating the 200th anniversary of actually declaring independence. You can read more on De Guemes on wikipedia...

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Post Allowance

I've spoken before about the various ways we get paid while overseas in the Foreign Service. Today I'm going to focus on the Post Allowance portion of our pay. Here's a quote of what it's meant to cover.

"Post allowance is a cost-of-living allowance granted to full-time employees officially stationed at a post in a foreign area where the cost of living, exclusive of quarters costs, is substantially higher than in Washington, D.C."

When we arrived in Chennai, we were receiving a Post Allowance of 10% (which is a made-up number based on some weird charts the government publishes). HOWEVER, conveniently, the percents for my current pay and family size equate approximately to US dollars per day. So, when we arrive in Chennai we were receiving $10 per day. Now we're not ones to use name brand products and don't have any brand loyalty. In Chennai, the only expensive items were American branded versions of things, so we were, in essence, making out like bandits. Of course as the rupee inflated (or the dollar deflated) our post allowance eventually disappeared.
Fast forward two years and we arrive in Buenos Aires with a 42% Post Allowance. We kind of assumed it would be the same situation. Of course, 6 days after arriving the allowance was lowered to 30%, but hey, I can live with that. It stinks, but it's probably fair. However, I now understand why we get this allowance. Sure, we've noticed our food budget has quadrupled, but we expected that moving from India to Argentina. What really stunned us was when we were at a baby store, looking at strollers, when my son picked up a toy, and we noticed the price. I don't have a picture of the specific toy he picked up, but it was a plastic airplane that would run for $15 in the US. It was ARS750 or $53. That's when we started noticing that imported products in Argentina are insanely more expensive than in the US. That's why we hadn't really noticed with food items.
Long story short, we're very thankful for our Post Allowance (as well as our access to Amazon and other US mail). I don't envy people who are here with companies that don't provide similar allowances, as some purchases could get very expensive!

The toys shown are ARS 1500, 1000 and 855 ($106, $71, and $60), respectively!

PS: The irony that my last post got a 5% raise (increased hardship differential) my last pay period and my new post got a 12% PA reduction my first pay period, is not lost on me!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Useful Air Baggage (UAB Arrived!)

Huzzah! Exactly one month after arriving in Buenos Aires, we've received our Unaccompanied Air Baggage (UAB). Even better than that, this time we packed stuff we actually wanted! So no more "Useless Air Baggage!" Highlights include kitchen supplies, baby supplies, towels, pillows, sheets, and TOYS! Actually, we've pretty much completely packed ourselves away from needing the welcome kit (though... we're still using the welcome kit plates and bowls). It only took about 4 hours to unpack (and neatly fold the packing paper, for later use as art paper), not too shabby.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

BBQ Winner!

How do you make a name for yourself when you first arrive at Post? WIN THE BBQ COMPETITION at (and bring a teeny tiny baby to) the Hail/Farewell. This weekend we had a big party/pot luck/BBQ competition. I submitted a BBQ brisket and grilled mushrooms, and won both the Beef and Side categories. I'd be very proud of myself... except... I was the only competitor in the Beef category... and since the weather had been cold and rainy all week, I was the only person to use a smoker or grill. Either way, we had a good time and there was plenty of great food. Kudos to the CLO for a fun party.

PS: I totally forgot to get pictures before the food was all eaten... so here's a picture of my winnings!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

DPO vs Pouch

Everybody loves mail! Living overseas is like going to summer camp. There's no better feeling than finding out you have mail to pick up. It sounds silly, but it's really true. Besides that, having (US) mail is one of the most enviable benefits of living overseas on government orders. The other expats I've met are immediately jealous, as their options for buying American products are mostly limited to... well... having someone bring it to them.

That being said, when it comes to mail there are two types of Posts. In Chennai, all of our mail came through the Diplomatic Pouch. The benefit to this is that shippers 'think' they're shipping to the US. The down side is that we were generally looking at 7 days minimum shipping time AFTER it's delivered to the pouch facility. Having a Diplomatic Post Office (the State Department version of an Army Post Office or APO), as we do in Buenos Aires, has its own positives and negatives. On the positive side, our mail can arrive in as few as 3 days after arriving at the DPO facility. However, some retailers, e.g. Amazon, know that APO/DPOs aren't in the US, so their standard shipping timing is thrown out the window. It took one item we ordered 25 days to SHIP from Amazon, not to mention travel time to the DPO.

Of course, in Chennai we received our mail once per week, so you really looked forward to mail day. Here mail arrives almost daily, so perhaps some of the morale-boosting rush of receiving mail will wear off. Oh well, I'll just have to order some tissues to wipe away my tears of woe. :-D


Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Buenos Aires Holidays: Día de la Revolución de Mayo

New country, new set of host nation holidays to celebrate! Today's day off is courtesy of the Dia de la Revolucion de Mayo. This holiday is always on May 25th, regardless of the day of the week, and is the anniversary of the First Independent Government in Buenos Aires (1810).

Though they use the term "revolution," in reality it was just a sequence of socio-political events that led to the first government not designated by the Spanish Crown. There wasn't any violence attached to the change, but Argentine tradition calls it a revolution due to the definitive change in leadership from subservient to Spain, to independent. It did have the side effect of the Viceroy of Rio de la Plata (the area containing present-day Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Uruguay) being ousted from office.

It's winter here, so I don't think we'll be celebrating like the 4th of July in the US... but I appreciate the day off work none-the-less. It's conveniently on a Wednesday before the 3 day weekend of Memorial day. That means for two days of leave, I could have had a 6 day weekend! Maybe next year.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Consular Report of Birth Abroad

It's a boy! (ok ok, we've known that for months). We knew we'd be having the baby here and in fact we moved to Argentina the day before my wife's no-fly date. However, the baby was due in late June approximately a full month from now, but he decided to come (very) early. This was quite the surprise to us, as we'd packed all of our infant supplies in our UAB... which hasn't arrived yet (but should be here long before late June!) Fortunately, we got some loaners from another family who had a baby recently. Even more of a surprise was that my wife spent the last week hospitalized on bed rest. So... needless to say, we've had an interesting transition to living in Buenos Aires. This also partially explains my blog-silence. On the plus side, she did meet an OB that she liked several days before being hospitalized and the hospital is less than 2 blocks from our house.

Anyway, onward to the next big adventure in our lives. Buenos Aires didn't have a long run in terms of being our "current big adventure." We sure are glad to be living downtown though, where we can walk everywhere!

PS: Fun fact, when she leaves the hospital, my wife will have spent more than 50% of her time in this country... in that hospital room.

PPS: She does not have internet.

PPPS: Everyone speaks Spanish.

PPPPS: She does not speak Spanish.

PPPPPS: Everyone is healthy and happy!

PPPPPPS: Now comes the fun part of obtaining all the appropriate official documentation for our newest little American diplomat.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

We're Off! JUST KIDDING.

Welp, nothing beats packing everything up: 6 suitcases, 3 carry on, stroller, car seat, cat, and the family, driving for two hours, checking in for your flight, and then being told by the counter representative that your flight is delayed and you can't make your connection. Fortunately, we have family in the area and a rental car (van) was only $40. Guess we're spending the night and trying again tomorrow! At least this "last day" in the US will be less full of frantic packing and attempting to cram stuff into carry on bags. Our cat is still pissed though.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Visas? We got 'em.

It's official! Argentina approved our visas. There's no stopping us now, you know, once we buy flights and get our cat's paperwork squared away... (Yes, I know this is a picture of passports... but the visas are... our passports... to entering the country. Besides, the actual visas are pretty plain looking.)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Trials and Tribulations of a Pet Owner

This isn't my cat, but I think mine would hate this just as much.
Just a quick reminder, if you've been thinking about getting a pet while in the Foreign Service. Go ahead and don't do that. We love our cat, but... she won't be replaced when she eventually passes. Transferring our cat between posts has been a challenge.

Vet in Chennai: $40
Quarantine office expediter in Chennai: $200
Pet in cabin fee for flight to US: $150
Vet in US for vaccine + health certificate (two visits): $150
Pet in cabin fee for flight to BA: $125

That's $665 to move the pet, which isn't so bad. The real pain came from the side consequences.

Since I was travelling with the cat, we didn't want to take Consultations at the beginning or end of home leave (cat-hotel-fees are often vary expensive and would be a hassle), so we agreed to cost construct our flights to take my consultation days in the middle of home leave. What we didn't realize (at the time) was that choise locked us in to flying to post from DC (or cost-constructing our flight based on that value). We've since learned that it costs half as much for the government to fly us from DC to Buenos Aires as it does from our home leave location in Florida. Cost construct flights would have cost us almost $550 extra per person, on top of the $55 fee for doing so. Looking at $1700 to split the fare from Florida to Buenos Aires... we decided to book our own flights. I mean heck, for $2000 we could fly direct on Areolineas Argentinas (which we couldn't do using government tickets, due to the Fly America Act). It sucks to shell out for our own flights, but maybe in some twisted way it'd be worth it to cut our flight time from 15 hours to 9.5. Or so we thought. Unfortunately, that airline (and almost every airline) doesn't allow pets in cabin to travel to Argentina. Cargo travel is notoriously bad for animals, so we're back to looking at 15 hour connecting flights. The only saving grace was that we were able to use credit card points to book our flights (90,000 Chase Sapphire points, transferred to United + $250 for taxes). That's slightly cheaper ($1150 dollar value, since the Sapphire points could have been redeemed for one cent each of cash).

Running total: $1800

Now, some of that cost is obviously due to my mistake and lack of understanding how my flights would work if I split my home leave... Still, it never would have come up, if I hadn't had the cat, because we would have scheduled our consultations at the end of our home leave, thus negating the problem all together. As I said, we love our cat... and although transferring and home leave have been stressful for all of us, she's the only one that has no understanding of what's happening or why. (Not that our three year old fully grasps the concept either.)

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Disasters in the Foreign Service

Floods, Earthquakes, and House Fires. Since joining the Foreign Service, I've known people who have had to deal with each of these disasters. It's an interesting thought, but "what types of disasters happen" may be as good a reason to bid or not bid on a post as any other. I mean, if you're terrified of Tornadoes (let's be honest, who isn't?), maybe living in Kansas isn't for you. The same applies for every other type of disaster, because... you name the disaster, there's a Post where that's the primary danger. I guess it makes sense why so many people in this job have insurance on their household goods (and others are sorry they don't, when something happens.)

This post is just my round-about (and much delayed) way of telling my friend, "I'm sorry your house burned down."  

Friday, April 1, 2016

Two Years in India, Week 92: Farewell Early.

Six hundred forty four days ago, my wife, son, two cats, and I landed in Chennai, in the middle of the night, after 20+ hours of travel, to begin a new chapter of our lives. Everything had changed, new house, new job, new country, heck, new hemisphere. We've had a wonderful time in India and are sorry to leave early. My tour was 24 months long and I originally thought I'd be pushing it to 25. However, my next Post needed me early, so I'm leaving after a mere 21 months. I can't help but feel like I'm "leaving the party early" since most of my friends have 6 or more months left in Chennai.

I've heard India described as "Incredible India" and as "(I)'ll (N)ever (D)o (I)t (A)gain." However, we've recently taken to saying, "India: it's different every time." We'll miss the endless source of entertainment that everyday events here offer through their seemingly random way of getting done. Most of all, we'll miss how friendly everyone has been. As a(n obvious) foreigner, the people in Chennai treated us as honored guests to their country, and we've felt truly welcomed.

Onward to home leave and Buenos Aires, may it be half as much fun as India was!

(PS: The picture isn't actually of me.)

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Ind-glish

I love language. I especially love listening to the different ways that other cultures use English. India has been an endless supply of quirky phrases that form a kind of code among those of us who have spent time here. I assume with time, we'll phase out our use of these phrases, but in the mean time, we'll continue to amuse ourselves by using them.

Here are a handful of common ones that we love.

The oil was very less in the pot.
I am here only. 
On Thursday itself. 
Do the needful.
I am knowing.
I have a doubt.
They are having a marriage.
"Kay-gees" for kilograms.
Playing pool, my opponent announced which "port" he would sink the 8 ball in.

In a similar vein, we've very much enjoyed listening to people speaking in Tamil... with random bits of English included. E.g. Tamil. Tamil, Tamil, Tamil, ask the driver, Tamil, Tamil, Tamil, cannot do it, Tamil, Tamil, informally only, Tamil...

Finally... As part of a team building exercise, we were instructed to walk to separate sides of the room, depending on our answers to various questions. When the question, "Would you rather never watch TV again or never listen to music again?" came up, one of my local employees leaned over to me and asked, "How can you listen to music without TV?" I was pretty confused, until I realized... all popular music in India is from movies. The culture doesn't support bands, just singing actors. So in his mind, if the TV industry disappeared... so would popular music.

PS: That sign sure was "a Quality..." 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Indian Sports

Quick note here... over a year ago, my boss was telling me about a bunch of games he used to play as a kid living in rural India. Some of these games would be just this side of terrifying for most parents. Below are brief descriptions of several that I can remember.

Gilli Danda (? or a local variant) is played with a long stick and a short stick. You balance the short stick on a rock like a see-saw, then hit the raised end to launch it into the air. Then you have to hit it with the long stick and call out the number of paces it went. If the other team agrees, you get that many points. If they disagree, you have to hop on one foot to the short stick. If your other foot touches, the other team will hit you until you're on one foot again. If you over-estimated the distance, you receive no points, if you underestimated, you get double points.

Kabaddi (or a local variant) is played by having one team send one player to the other team's side of the field. His goal is to touch as many players as possible while holding his breath and return to his side of the field. If he returns before inhaling again, his team gets one point for each opponent he touched. The other team, of course, tries to tackle, grab, or assault the player into exhaling...

Lagori/dikori is a game where a pile of stones are set up in a particular manner by one team. The other team attempts to hit the pile with another rock to known pieces down. Then the defending team tries to rebuild the pile, while the offensive team tries to hit the defenders with balls or rocks. Each defender that gets hit is out of the round.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Preparing (Mentally) to Leave

I wonder if everyone has the same sense of excitement when learning their onward assignment. Since finding out where I'm going next, I've definitely had a shift in my perceptions of work and life in Chennai. I'd like to think I never went completely "FIGMO" (Forget It, Got My Orders), since I see my departure more as a deadline, than an excuse. However, the fact that there's a coined term for that (in the Foreign Service) means that it must be something people regularly struggle with. For me it was a more subtle change. I was more exasperated by the quirks of my office and coworkers, but that happens near the end of most jobs.

The biggest change I've noticed, at least in retrospect, was the lack of desire for Indian food. When we arrived in Chennai, I ate at the canteen (low end South Indian food) every day for two months. Following that, I ate my housekeepers cooking 4-5 nights per week. After R&R... we never really got back to eating Indian food. Sure, we still had Sangeetha Saturdays, but we noticed that we were eating out (at non-Indian restaurants) more often, and having our cook cook less frequently. It seems silly, but I think it was the end of my excitement peak for living in India. As my excitement waned (and my excitement for Buenos Aires waxed), I had less and less interest in integrating with my local environment. It's also a self-defense mechanism. The more I point out (to myself) the negatives of my current life, the easier it will be to uproot and leave.

HOME LEAVE NOTE: I wrote this post during home leave and post-dated it... I can now say that... during my last few months I focused on all the negatives, until I was pretty excited to be leaving. Literally as soon as I left, all I could think about was all the positives that I was now missing. Sorry for those that had to live through my last month in town. I'm sure I was a big ball of pessimism, but it was just the situation.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Heart-felt Statue

I'm not one to talk about political topics on this blog, so I won't. However, you can't spend two years in Chennai without commenting on the sheer number of billboards for the Chief Minister (Governor): Jayalalithaa. The attached image shows 4, but panning the camera would have revealed at least 6 more, for one intersection. I even read of a man who sculpted a bust in her honor, using his own frozen blood.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The South Indian Breakfast

The following was (shamelessly) ripped from the Community Liaison Office's newsletter (you know, with permission).

"The South Indian Breakfast

It’s not surprising that multicultural India has various culinary traditions. The differences are evident from the first meal of the day. South Indian breakfasts are considered to be one of the healthiest, as they provide a well-balanced diet full of nutrients giving us a good dose of carbs, proteins, and fats - despite being light on the stomach.

The preferred breakfast option in Chennai is the humble idli. Idlis — along with their mandatory side dish, Sambar — have won the place of pride as the healthiest of all the Indian breakfast menus. This is the finding of the “India breakfast habits study” sponsored by Kellogs. Steamed fermented lentil and rice flour batter, the idli is like the anti-hero in movies with the surrounding cast bringing in glamour like chutney, sambar, and what South Indians call “gunpowder” — pounded chilli powder floating in oil — but one cannot do without the main character. Somewhat bland by itself, the idli can be eaten by those in the pink of health as well as those recuperating; it can be had at any time of the day and night.

Dosa - a thin, crispy crêpe-like food made from the same fermented rice and lentil batter as idli. When served with spicy potato folded inside, it is known as masala dosa. Methu Vadai – this savory donut is made of lentil flour and spices. Venn Pongal – a savory lentil and rice pudding. Mandatory sweet rava kesari – dessert made out of semolina and sugar.

The ubiquitous Thaali – a Thaali is nothing but a sampling presented on a single plate: a great way to taste all that is on offer. All items in the thaali differ in the way they are cooked, apart from the ingredients used.

The perfect ending to a South Indian breakfast is a cup of steaming hot filter coffee! "



As a bonus, here is a picture of my son playing at a restaurant, shortly after filling up on mini-idli. He's quite the hit with the wait staff.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Trip Report New Delhi

The final stop on our whirlwind tour of the Golden Triangle (plus Amritsar) was New Delhi. We were all pretty sick at this point, so we didn't see as much as we would have liked, but that's how it goes sometimes!

We started our day off with an entertaining subway ride. It was the most packed I've ever experienced (beating out both Hong Kong and Japan, at least in my experience). I went between two stops with only one foot touching the ground... the rest of my weight being supported by the crowd. My son was so smooshed that he constantly was saying, "You're too close! I need more room!" which garnered quite a number of laughs from the surrounding passengers.  



Parliament Building
"The Mall"
Presidential Estate
Street food!




We were also fortunate enough to be in town during the one time of year that the Presidential Palace's Mughal Gardens are open to the public. Cameras are not allowed inside, but (apparently) phones don't count.