Sunday, March 29, 2015

A Very Foreign Service Weekend

What a weekend! When some people think of being a diplomat, they think of swanky parties with high society and foreign policy makers. (Or maybe that's when they think of James Bond.) Either way, I never did. As a specialist, I've never expected to be rubbing elbows with big wigs... instead, I expected to be spending my time... well, much like I did this weekend.

Friday night started with a regular ol' uneventful Classified Pouch run. After grabbing a few hours of sleep, it was time to get ready for the next event. Saturday afternoon was dedicated to something I'd never heard of before: a "Progressive" or "Safari" dinner. This is a multi-course meal (in our case, 6!) with each course hosted by a different family, at a different house. The whole process took around 7 hours and was enormously entertaining. We had about 40 people shuffling between houses, chatting, eating, and generally having a good time. I very much hope we'll be able to organize these in the future, since it's a great way to spend a day and is very inclusive. The final event for the weekend was on Sunday morning, when I hosted a small class on baking bagels (and making cream cheese). Despite the bagel's unobtainable status in Chennai, they have yet to become a form of currency. They do however make coworkers very happy on Monday mornings. The class went well and also involved a lot of chatting while people mixed ingredients and kneaded dough. I'll probably try to host some more similar classes in the future, since I have a lot of random and useless (but interesting!) skills and enjoy hosting things.

Before I joined the Foreign Service, I anticipated events like these. Community building at post is a big deal, because we spend so little time in each place that it can be difficult to make local friends - they already have friends and know we'll be leaving. This probably leads us to making more and looser social bonds with each other. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Actually a Diplomat

Well, I guess it's time to come clean. I've now 'made it' into both the local newspaper and the Department of State's "State Magazine." I think it's time to admit that I'm no longer "Technically a Diplomat." 
To be fair, neither is for anything I specifically did... In fact, our invitation to the British High Commission's National Day event was actually due to my wife's position as the CLO Coordinator. I will, however, take the credit (or shame?) of being the only participant of Pie in Chennai to own a pie-bird

Friday, March 13, 2015

Around Chennai: Guindy National Park

Guindy National Park is located pretty much right down town in Chennai. It covers approximately 1 square mile, making it one of the smallest national parks in India (or the world?) and one of the very few national parks located inside a city. Unfortunately, public access is extremely limited, so each year the CLO organizes a guided hike through. Our trip started at 6:30 in the morning (to avoid the heat), but ended up getting delayed a bit, due to some confusion with the gate guard.


Spotted dear, bounding off to the left, just after seeing a couple jackals run to the right.

One of two "tamed" Spotted Dear stags that the park foresters feed.

The walk was quite pleasant, albeit a little warm by the end. Even in March, things are starting to heat up. As we walked around, the foresters (think park rangers) continually pulled our their camera to show us how much nicer the park was over the previous few months. They highly recommended coming between November and February next year, which I think will be the CLO's plan. When you're in Chennai, it's a nice place to check out. You're almost assured to see some of the fauna, as the park isn't very large and there are a lot of animals in it.

Our hike ended with a walk through the Guindy Children's Park, a smallish but much more accessible zoo attached to the National Park. As with zoos everywhere, it was neat to see the animals, but kind of depressing to see their cages.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Menninger's Morale Curve

Whatever happened to the frequency of my posts on this blog? [For those not reading this blog in real time, I've since back-posted several articles.] Well, let me tell you a story about cultural readjustment and morale overseas. As it turns out, I'm not actually the first person in the world to move overseas. (I know, right? I was shocked too!) The PeaceCorps and Foreign Service have been doing this for awhile and they (and others) have studied the effects on their people. Both have found that morale forms a W over the course of a two year tour. The transplantee starts the W with a peak of high expectations and excitement for being in a new place. Their mood slowly worsens as the honeymoon ends and they fall into their first valley, commonly called culture shock. Things start to recover as they accept their situation and adjust their expectations. This is where the Foreign Service diverts from the graph. Our middle peak comes right around when we're learning where our next post will be. The realization that we're leaving causes people to "check-out" from their current position and start fantasizing about the onward assignment. Finally the last peak begins the honeymoon period of your next post.

So... when I was starting to have motivation issues approximately six months after I arrived, my more veteran colleagues quickly pointed out that it was "just my time." It's kind of depressing how cookie-cutter my symptoms were from the link above. I love Chennai (and that's not the middle peak speaking), but I think any major life change has its challenges and we pretty much changed every part of our life when we took this job.

Anyway, since February I've gotten over my hump and things are smooth sailing again. I've thought of a bunch of potential blog posts, so things should pick back up. I'll be curious to see how this curve compares in the future when I'm more acclimated to this lifestyle and experience other posts with higher or lower hardship ratings.