Archive for July, 2012


Saturday, July 28th, 2012

After about 24 hours of traveling, Flavie and I were greeted at the Islamabad airport by John in the wee hours of Tuesday morning! The trip itself went fine – my friend Mesfin drove us to Dulles Airport Sunday night, and we got on the flight with no drama (they did check Flavie’s papers). After a short layover in Istanbul, we flew on to Islamabad.

Luckily the Embassy sent an expeditor to get me through immigration and customs quickly. The airport was very crowded, especially outside where a crush of men in traditional Pakistani dress were waiting. Even at 4AM, it was hot, hot, hot outside!

I slept most of the day Tuesday, then went to work on Wednesday. The Embassy compound is huge – I haven’t even seen it all yet. Luckily, my office is not far at all from John’s, and it’s next door to the Commissary, which is convenient. The folks in my office seem really nice. I have a month or so overlap with the outgoing NIV chief, which I think I will need to get up to speed on everything. The officers had a nice welcome lunch for me on Thursday.

The Embassy has happy hour at the American Club every Wednesday and Friday, so John and I went on Wednesday (my first day). Friday night, we stopped by for a drink, then went to our A100 friends Jim and Kellee’s for drinks and dinner on their rooftop. Another A100 friend, Rob, was there, along with a few other folks. Their rooftop was very pleasant, and has a gorgeous view of the Margala Hills, as well as a large mosque. The evening call to prayer made the setting seem even more exotic.

On regular work days, we take the shuttle to work – the Embassy runs a huge motorpool of armored vehicles to take us to and from work (and really anywhere else around town we want to go). On Saturday, though, John drove us to work in our new little Toyota – he did a great job navigating on the left side of the road!

The house is very nice – it’s large with high ceilings. We have a beautiful yard that the gardener Mr. Khan lovingly tends to daily – lots of zinnias and roses, plus tons of potted plants in front and on the second floor terrace. The housekeeper Saleem keeps the house three days a week. And we have two guards that rotate duties 24/7 – one or two Embassy guards live in the quarters behind our house. John has done a wonderful job getting the house ready for me.

As nice as the house is, it’s really hard to keep it cool in this heat! Each room has its own air conditioning unit, but unfortunately we can’t cool every room because we are on generator power much of the day (Islamabad struggles mightily with electricity and water shortages – there are rolling blackouts all day, which they call “load shedding”). So, we cool the room we are in and that’s it, which is fine. This morning I woke up at 4AM (still jetlagged) and thought I’d open the windows to let in some cooler air in some of the rooms – wrong! The air outside felt even hotter and more humid than inside. Oh well!

So! So far, so good! Flavie has settled in nicely. John got her a big ol’ cat tree with several levels on it and she loves it. She also loves to lie on the tile floors and on the staircase. She seems to be doing fine. I’m so happy to finally be here!


You say goodbye…I say hello!

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

Wow! The next time I blog, I’ll be doing it from Islamabad, assuming all goes according to plan! I’ve had an excellent six weeks in DC!

Friday night, Cathy and I met Jim and Dean at Circle Bistro for an excellent drinks and dinner. Jim was an A-100 classmate and is one of my very favorite people. Dean was the coordinator for our class, and besides being a fun and interesting fellow, he has 20+ years of State Department experience, so we love to pick his brain.

I also had a really fun evening with my good friend Pamela on Wednesday night. My class met at some of the consular offices downtown, so I walked up from Main State to meet Pam at her office – I got caught in an absolute downpour (“biblical,” as Pam put it). We had a great spot for drinks and dinner at the bar at Founding Farmers. They are known for their specialty cocktails, so I almost felt like we should have paid extra for the show our bartender put on all night – all kinds of wild and interesting drinks.

I think Cathy and I went out to dinner most of the other nights – I’m so glad that we were here in DC at the same time. And, it’s a small world! John and I used to go to Harry’s for dinner in the past, but alas! Harry’s closed! But, when Cathy and I went to Morton’s this week, my favorite Harry’s waiter, Ram, was the maitre d’! I was really happy to see him.

I put Cathy in her taxi Saturday morning on her way to Bengladesh! And, in another twist, our favorite shuttlebus driver from the Oakwood Falls Church (our old apartment complex) now has his taxi license, so we arranged for him to take her to the airport. Safe travels, Cathy!

I had a nice chat with my good friend Joan in San Antonio this week. She’s midway through her chemo treatment for breast cancer and is doing great – I’m so proud of her!

So…now it’s down to a waiting game for me, just waiting until my flight. Still nervous as a – well – nervous as a cat – and I won’t relax until Flavie and I are on our flight with no wrinkles. I did get her papers back from the USDA office this past week, so hopefully, all officials that we encounter en route will agree that her documentation is in order! Keep your fingers crossed for us!

Road trip!

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

My class took a road trip this week. We flew from Washington to Boston, then drove up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to visit two facilities up there. On Thursday, we went to the National Passport Center – a huge operation. They basically process all of the passport applications that are sent in through the post offices around the country. It’s pretty amazing! I got to see an old friend, Charlie, who was our boss when John and I worked on the passport task force back in 2007.

Friday, we toured the National Visa Center – an even bigger operation. They process and store all of the immigrant visa petitions. All of them. It’s amazing – huge file rooms (I was really interested to see the file rooms devoted to Ciudad Juarez, my first post!).

Then we headed back to Boston, where we met with several Customs and Border Patrol officers at Logan Airport – great to trade information and ask them questions about how our visa work interfaces with their work at the border.

The class I’m taking is interesting, and is helping to prepare me for my new job in Pakistan. We spent some time at Main State last week, learning more about the folks we’ll be interacting with from the field. I’ve met a lot of people face-to-face who I have been emailing with for years, which is a lot of fun!

Last Sunday, I watched the Men’s Wimbledon Finals in the morning, then Metro’d over to Clarendon to do some shopping. Found Chris Bojalian’s new book, and got a book for the plane.

Cathy and I sure have been having fun, too. Last Tuesday, we had a happy hour at Liberty Tavern in Clarendon with some folks from our A-100 class. We’ve also gone out to dinner several times (John is encouraging me to enjoy good wine and steaks while I can!).

I picked up a rental car when I flew back to DC Friday night – Saturday morning I had to take Flavia to the vet to get her international health certificate. She has a great vet (Seven Corners) who is very familiar with transporting animals around the world. Getting Flavie ready to go is my biggest source of stress – plane reservations and needed documents make me crazy. It’s often difficult to get information, and you remain worried until the time you land at your destination. Seven Corners makes it somewhat easier, at least in terms of getting your papers together. Then you have to FedEx them to the USDA Vet Services office in Richmond to get everything stamped and made official. One thing that makes it so stressful is that you have to do everything with 10 days of leaving. So after the vet appointment, I put all of the originals in a FedEx envelope so they will arrive first thing Monday morning for the official stamps…then you just hold your breath until they return the packet to you.

In the early afternoon, I drove up to Gaithersburg, Maryland, to get a final Ouidad-certified haircut. Mike in Hot Springs does a great job on my hair, but I just needed one last trim before I leave – still trying to work out the bad cut I got in Israel last fall! (I’ve decided this week that the two hardest things about my job are transporting the cat and tending to curly hair in a foreign country!)

Speaking of going to the vet, click here for a short video of Henri, the French cat, and his thoughts on life and going to the vet.

So now I am truly in the countdown! A week from today, I’ll be off to Pakistan, inshallah!


Sunday, July 8th, 2012

Jim and Cathy

I had a bit of downtime this week – it was my week for consultations, which means I had a lot of appointments with folks in the State Department. I’ll be working with them on the phone and via email when I get to Pakistan, so it’s nice to be able to put a face with a name, and get their insights on the post. I got my appointments done on Monday and Tuesday, and spent Thursday at FSI doing administrative work.

I also had time for some fun!

Last Sunday evening, I went to dinner at Pam and Sam’s house. It was great to see their two kids – and really nice to have a home-cooked meal in a real home!

I celebrated the Fourth of July with Cathy and her friends Carson and Brent. They invited me to come to dinner at Margo and Matt’s apartment – always fun to meet new folks! The plan originally called for going to another friend’s apartment to watch the fireworks from the roof, but I was tired and it was still crazy hot even at 8:30 PM, so I passed and just came home to watch on TV instead. If my apartment were a few floors higher, I would have been able to watch from my balcony (I can see the Washington Monument from here) – but there are too many buildings blocking the view at this level.

Friday night Cathy and I had a nice dinner at Kora.

Last night, she and I met our good friend Jim at Smith and Wollensky’s for a steak. It was so great to see Jim – he’s one of my favorite folks!

With Jim


Hot, hot, hot

Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Summer is definitely here – the Northeast is having a heat wave, and lots of people don’t have power due to a big storm Friday night (I managed to sleep straight through it). That said, John is getting a taste of summer in Islamabad which has been in triple digits for a month or so now. Ouch! The folks back home in Arkansas are also in triple digits – seems like it’s just hot everywhere.

I had a good week of consular training this week, and really enjoyed the class and my classmates.

I met my friend Pam in Clarendon on Tuesday night for dinner – it was a beautiful night, so we sat outside (the heat didn’t kick in until later in the week).

Wednesday night, Cathy and I had dinner at Montana Ted’s, then Friday night, she and I went to Jaleo’s for dinner – a really good tapas bar.

Yesterday I braved the heat and went to the National Gallery of Art – saw three good exhibits: Miró paintings, a neat photography exhibit, and works by George Bellows (the Bellows exhibit had a large painting on loan from Crystal Bridges Museum in Arkansas!).

I watched some Wimbledon tennis this weekend, and got really interested in the men and women’s gymnastics competitions, gearing up for the Summer Olympics – fun!