Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Now this is kind of cool

For the last few weeks, all of my classmates have been getting their diplomatic passports.  It has gotten to the point where everyone I see on a daily basis has a black passport.  In fact, so many people have these things that it felt anti-climatic when I got my passport today.

But, then I realized how rare these things actually are.  There are only about 8,000 Foreign Service Officers in the State Department.  Throw in the specialists, all of the other agencies that have Foreign Service Officers, and dependents and the number is still probably under 100,000 diplo passports in circulation.

Put it this way.  A year ago today, I didn't know anyone who had one of these.  Now, I have one.  Back in the 18th Century, John Adams was sent to London as the US Ambassador.  He carried with him a letter which said he was on "a diplomatic assignment for the United States of America."  Today, I have a passport with the endorsement, "The bearer is abroad on a diplomatic assignment for the United States government."

That is freaking awesome.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Holy Crap

I think today is the first day it hit me how quickly I am leaving.  Now, I leave the States until June 1, so that seems an appropriate amount of time away.  I have well over a month to do all the things I need to do.  But, there is the small matter of my vacation between now and then.  I am headed out to celebrate my sister's 30th birthday in Las Vegas, then spending some time with my family in Phoenix, possibly stop in LA to visit my cousin Bob and his wife Shannon (before they have their baby), head to Omaha to see some extended family (including my new born second cousin), stop in Nebraska City for my friend Kris's wedding (before he has his baby), and then back to DC for consultations and finalizing everything before I leave for Belize)

The 'oh crap' part of all of this is the number of things I have to do and number of things I have to buy before I leave for vacation.  The State Dept. pays for my housing in DC while I am in training.  If I take vacation, I am responsible for my housing costs (which seems fair).  So, in order to not be hit with over a thousand dollars in rent, I will be moving out of my apartment before I leave for vacation.  That means I have to pack out (again), buy all the things I plan to bring with me, including a new car(!), and finish Consular training in the next 3 weeks.

That does not seem like very much time.  So, I need to take deep breaths and get to work.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Phone Card help?

When I live in Belize, I will have an IVG line in my home.  Essentially, this is a Washington DC (202) number.  That means I have free phone calls to DC or to 1-800 numbers.  I can’t however, call long distance in the US on this phone.  Most Embassy personnel, therefore, subscribe to a phone card to call long-distance in the US.
I have only been able to find pre-paid phone cards online.  I don’t want to use one of these because they have so many backdoor fees for maintenance or connect fees, etc.  Plus, I don’t want to buy two years worth of pre-paid phone before I leave. 
So, does anyone out there have any knowledge of phone cards, with access numbers and all, where I just get billed for what I use?  It does not need to have a good international plan or anything, just a simple US long-distance phone card.  If you have any info, please leave a comment below.
(Edit - Belize has actually blocked Skype and other services, so these are not an option).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Con Gen

So, I've been spending the past few weeks in Consular Training.  For the most part, the class is informative, fast-paced, and not boring.  Compared to A-100, it is a lot more useful and productive training.  Especially, since this is the work that I am actually going to be doing.

We spent the first week learning about passports and nationality.  While we may think it is easy to determine who is and who isn't an American citizen, but there can be a lot of complex issues.  Sure, if you have a child in the US, it is simple.  And if you spend most of your life in the US, but have a child overseas, it is simple.  But, there are hundreds of different permutations of how people end up not being citizens.  It will be my job to decide who does and does not qualify as a citizen.

This week we have been working on immigrant visas.  We've learned all the rules about who can immigrate (fewer people than you think) and what classifications they get.  We're learning the letters and numbers that define all these things.  We're learning about interviewing techniques.

After this, we move on to non-immigrant visas, fraud, and other American Citizen Services.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


For the last ten years or so, I have rarely celebrated Easter with my family.  It has always been too much of a hassle to get home on a holiday weekend that isn't a long weekend.  When I was in school, I'd always spend the weekend studying for upcoming finals.  So, in general, Easter has never been a happening holiday.

The two exceptions to this have both been in Italy.  In 2005, I was living in Rome for Easter.  This was the start of the most fascinating month I ever spent in Rome, as Pope John Paul II died just a few days later.  But that is a story for a different time.

My favorite Easter was in 1999.  While Easter Day is reserved for traditional family and religious celebrations, Easter night and the following day (known as Pasqueta) are more party than Papal. In 1999, I was living in Esenta di Lonato, a small town in northern Italy, as a high school exchange student.  The town had a population of only around 500 people and was surrounded by wooded hills.

The Pasqueta tradition in Esenta is for friends to go up and camp on the hills.  My friends invited me to go up with them.  We had all the traditional camping things, like a camp fire and booze (booze is traditional, right?).  We also had a guitar and they all sang Italian songs.  What I loved most about the night was that it was the first night my Italian started to click in.  I had been in Italy for a few months and combined with my inebriation, I really started to speak and understand for the first time.

The other fun thing were my feats of strength that night.  I brought some Budweiser with me, while most of the other beers were various European brands.  When I opened a Budweiser with my bare hands (it was a twist-off), everyone was flabbergasted.  So, I grabbed another one and did it again.  Then, I told my friend Play that he should try it - and I handed him a Heineken (not a twist-off).  He, obviously, couldn't twist it off.  So, I grabbed another Bud to show him how to do it again - and then he tried again on the Heineken.  I was able to keep up the ruse for over half an hour.

Pasqueta 1999

Thursday, April 1, 2010

April Fools

Yeah, that last post was a prank.  I actually thought it was too obvious for anyone to fall for, but based on a comment, I realize that it might have been taken seriously.  So, now I am not going to Luanda, Angola.  I am still headed for sunny Belize and leaving in May.

Bye, Bye, Belize

I got a call from my CDO this morning and I have been reassigned to Luanda, Angola.  They told us that this could happen in A-100, but I really never expected it to happen to me.  I'd finally wrapped my head around the idea of leaving for Belize in May and now I will be in DC for another 6 months to learn Portuguese.  The language is the main reason that I was selected to go - I had been really gung-ho about learning Portuguese.  However, I think I was excited about Portuguese because that meant I got to go to Mozambique or Brazil.

Anyway, I am sure I will have more to say about this once I wrap my head around it.