Saturday, March 13, 2010

Flag Day

So, it all comes down to this.  I have been dreaming and speculating where I would be going with the Foreign Service for months, if not years.  For the last 3 weeks or so, the list had been narrowed down to a few dozen places.  Finally, yesterday I would find out my destination.

The day started off early.  We had to be at FSI by 730 for a field trip to the CIA.  You have to give them credit.  On the day where the coordinators know we will not be paying attention, they take us to the one place where we actually will pay attention because its cool.  And it was cool.  For at least 45 minutes I forgot that my life would be changing dramatically that afternoon.

The big rumor of the day was about a mysterious e-mail that people had received Thursday afternoon.  The e-mail was confirming people's enrollment in a training course called Pol/Econ, which all officers going to either a Political or Economic job have to take.  Well over half the jobs on our list was one of those courses.  So, when I got back, I checked my e-mail and I had nothing.  Uh-oh.  I looked at my bidlist.  Of my 16 high posts, 12 of them were Pol/Econ jobs.  I had four 'highs' left - Recife, Brazil; Sao Paulo, Brazil; Belmopan, Belize; and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.

Once we finally got started, the first thing they do is tell us all of the posts that they are NOT filling from our class.  The bid list has more posts than members of our class, so they had to 'boot' several jobs.  As they started on the boot list, I was okay.  Then, they took out Maputo (my dream location)... and then they just decimated Brazil taking out two of my highs.  Of my top 7 posts (in my mind), they booted 5 of them.

The flag day ceremony itself is fun, but nerve-racking.  We had a few games going on, including Bingo and a form of hot potato (a gift is passed around the room, moving person to person each time a post is called.  Whoever has the gift when the post written on the outside is called wins the gift).  We were all wearing Mardi Gras beads.  But, your life is changing within the hour and there is nothing you can do.

Three flags in is Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago - one of my two remaining high consular bids... someone else is called.  Uh, oh.  By this point, I figure it is either Belmopan or I am not getting a 'high' bid.  I start looking at the consular posts that I bid medium.  Posts in India, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Mongolia are jumping out at me.  Not that any of these are bad posts but I don't think I had prepared myself properly for going to one of those posts and I definitely had not prepared my parents for me going to one of those posts.

About ten minutes later, they announced Belmopan, Belize (pause) "Alfred..."  That's all I heard.  He probably butchered my last name but I didn't hear him.  I walked down the stairs, collected my flag, shook hands with the Ambassador Mentor and picked up my training folder.  My knees were shaking so bad that when I was climbing back up the stairs, my right leg gave out for a second and I stumbled into the wall.

I looked into my folder to see when I would be leaving and my training ends in Mid-May.  I have to admit that freaks me out just a bit.  I fully expected to in DC through the summer and into the fall for language training.  But, Belize is a (mostly) English speaking country, so I won't be learning a language this time around.    Instead of being here all summer, I am leaving before summer even starts.  I'm just glad I didn't go ahead and buy tickets to events that I will now not be able to go to (including a few concerts, baseball games, and football games).

To be perfectly honest, as I sat there I couldn't remember why I bid Belize high.  I didn't hate it by any means, but it was definitely one of my lower 'highs'.  I finally came out of my trance about 10 flags later and enjoyed the rest of the ceremony.  Two people on either side of me got European posts, three of my good friends are going to Hyderabad together (India doesn't know what's coming with those three).  There were many, many happy people and a few upset ones (though you couldn't really tell at the ceremony though).  The most dramatic moment was when the announcer called out the wrong name for a post.  Fortunately, it was corrected quickly and both people were much happier with the actual posts than the one he called out.

When I came home to change and call my parents, I started looking at my research and remembered why I bid Belmopan so high.  It is a 20% differential (hardship) pay, which is great.  It is also a 20% COLA (cost of living).  Moreover, it is a consular job working in the American Citizen Services section.  (In general consular officers do two things (1) process visa applications and (2) Help US citizens abroad.  I joined consular because I liked that aspect of the job.  But almost all entry-level consular jobs are visa jobs.)  I am very excited about that.  And, oh yeah, Belize has things that look like this

Some interesting things that I did not know about Belize or Belmopan until yesterday evening.
  • Belize is home to the second largest Barrier Reef in the world (behind only Australia's Great Barrier Reef) and thus has some of the best scuba diving in the world.  I definitely plan to learn how to SCUBA.
  • Belize is still apart of the British Commonwealth and has only been independent since 1981.
  • Belize City was twice destroyed by hurricanes within 30 years, so the country decided to move the capital to Belmopan, which is about 50 miles inland.
  • The people have not really followed the government as only about 15,000-20,000 live in the "city."
  • I have lived almost half my life in towns smaller than Belmopan, so I think I will be well suited for this post.
  • The US Embassy has only been in Belmopan since 2006 and only four embassies are located there.  All of the others remain in Belize City.
  • While English is the official language and spoken by most of the population (55% speak it well and 80% speak some), both Spanish and a form of Creole are also spoken.
  • Belize is a common place for wanted Americans to come hide out because it is English speaking.


  1. At my last post the A/RSO went on vacation to Belize and said it was fantastic. He did some kind of motorcycle trip through the countryside.

  2. Just found your blog. Very exciting! Enjoy your time stateside before Belize!

  3. Great recap, Al. An important fact you neglected to mention is that of the 95 in our class, I was called 83rd. Imagine me ticking all those "high" posts off for the first 4/5 of the event. Talk about nerve-wracking!

    Congrats on Belmopan! My reaction to Tijuana was the same. It was a lower-high originally, but the more I research it and learn about it, the more I think it's actually the perfect place for us. See you Monday.

  4. It's Friday, and that means that the Fifth Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up - and you're on it!

    Here is the link:

    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


  5. Congratulations on getting posted to Belize! Flag Day was exciting, but I'm glad that's not how every bidding will go. I'm glad I discovered your blog today! We're in the 150th group. Jess

  6. Al: Just discovered your blog today; I don't know how it took this long since I follow the weekly recaps from A Daring Adventure. Anyhow, we're all really looking forward to meeting you in Belmopan.

    I see Susanne (Dutch in Belize) found you already; she's very active in the local expat community so you'll meet her in person very quickly.