Well that didn’t last… Visas, again.

You know how, when I left Mexico City, I was excited to be done with visas forever?  Yea, about that…

No, no, I’m not back on the line.  But I had some serious flashbacks to working in the Public Liaison Unit recently when some contacts needed help with last minute visas for something that came up in the U.S.  Never let it be said that doing a visa tour isn’t useful.  I can speak Consular now, and that is hugely helpful when navigating the “what information do we give, and how do we say it?” issue of being on the receiving end of requests for help.

Fact – we do not help get visas.

Fact – we help our contacts to understand the visa process.

These are, in a sense, the same thing.  But we have to be very careful to always avoid even the appearance of giving preferential treatment, so wording is important.  Because no, I’m never ever going to fill out a visa application for a contact, or call a Consular colleague and tell them “please issue that visa.”  BIG no no.  Duh.

But what I can do is use what I learned in Mexico City to draft some appropriate language with instructions about the process, 100% based off what is already online on the Consulate website, get it cleared by the right people, and then use that to respond to contacts requests for help. Our contacts get the information without having to Google, and we get brownie points.  Easy-peasy.  And it was kind of fun, in a nostalgic way, to be thinking about answering visa question emails again.  I do miss my PLU team.  They were the best.  :)

And the Darwin Award goes to…

Me!  I really wish I had taken a picture of this, but alas, you’ll just have to use your imagination.

A couple days ago I was in the elevator in my apartment building, heading home after work and working out.  I was juggling bags, lunch box, etc… and grabbed my keys out of my purse.  As the elevator door opened, you guessed it – I dropped my keys.  Into the little gap between elevator floor and apartment landing floor.  Cue heart dropping to the floor as well.  We live ten stories up.  You get the idea.

But no!  Somehow, by some miracle, the keys fell through the gap and then lodged themselves between the concrete walls in the elevator shaft!  And got fantastically stuck.  It was almost funny.

Five minutes later, I’m still on the floor of the elevator trying to unstick my keys so I give up and call the husband.  The keys are pretty darn stuck.  What fixes it when no amount of tugging and pushing does?  I hang onto the key ring and the husband jumps in the elevator a couple times.  Voila, keys are free!

You can be sure I felt like a first class moron.  But my keys did not fall down the elevator shaft, so I’m calling this one a win.

The Argument for Home Leave

It’s a month of paid vacation.  Seriously.  A month.

I like America. I mean seriously, my job is to represent America. It’d be hard to do if I didn’t like it. Sometimes I don’t like all the parts of it and I’m happy I live abroad, but I need time back at home to remind me of that!

And I miss America. I didn’t take home leave between Mexico and Rio in favor of not spending another month apart from the husband, but I wish I could have done home leave with him. It’s nice to go home. It’s home.

Congress mandates home leave for FSOs so we can reconnect with who we represent, and that’s really important. You have to remember why you’re doing this job.  Lots of folks find it a financial burden, which I get, because if you have a family of four it’s harder to descend on relatives for a month than it is for a single person or a couple.  But even I have to budget for home leave, and I do because I know it’s going to happen.

But America is soon to be in my future!  Vacation?  No.  I’ll be skulking DC doing interviews for my next assignment, and then I will take a management course at FSI.  Thank you, end of year funds.  See you soon, America!  Now, to start my Costco shopping list…

Gun Violence in America

Take a minute to read this New York Times editorial that is a response to the murders of two U.S. journalists on-air on Wednesday.  It will give you something to think about.  The most compeling arguement?

The lesson from the ongoing carnage is not that we need a modern prohibition (that would raise constitutional issues and be impossible politically), but that we should address gun deaths as a public health crisis. To protect the public, we regulate toys and mutual funds, ladders and swimming pools. Shouldn’t we regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys?

Lessons From the Murders of TV Journalists in the Virginia Shooting By 

Much More LWOP fun

I shall have to start tagging all my LWOP posts something fun and snarky, like “The Never Ending Saga.” Because it is. Never ending. Part of my trip to Brasilia last month included a stop by the Mission’s EFM coordinator’s office. Who is lovely, and sympathetic, and knows where to find Answers. And yes, I’m sucking up in case she reads my blog. But it is also true. We chatted about various HR things relating to my office, and I also asked a couple questions about my own situation. Security clearance and bidding – how does that work when I need to go back to DC and interview at HST but can’t get in because my badge has expired? What does the dual assignments SOP say about my leave accrual and other benefits? (Also, wish I’d had that SOP sooner. This is going on my list for my future LWOP made easy project. Sigh.)

But the frustrating part is that there just aren’t answers. The SOP says I should keep accruing leave at the rate based on prior federal service, so why did I bump back down? Do I qualify for TSP or not? I know I don’t get differential because it says so Right. There. (An Answer!  Yay!) The FSO on LWOP in and EFM job is still so new that there just aren’t regs on it. But there is A LOT of paperwork that I can’t keep straight. Much research is happening by all, but I’m still simply crossing my fingers that my next paycheck is correct. I like the government to owe me money, not the other way around!

Brilliant FS Hack: Catio!

Kelly over at Well That Was Different just posted the most brilliant FS hack – a Catio!  I realize this probably isn’t new, and I put up some cheap garden plastic fencing in Cambodia with zipties around my balcony, but I love that she found someone to do it for her!  Who would have thought?!

Makes me miss having a balcony.  We have these little flower box perches (I’m not sure what else to call them – flower box holders? flower box stands?) outside several of our windows, and when we open the windows she likes to sit on them and watch the birds.  We are ten stories up, and this freaks me out to no end.  Plus, have you ever heard a monkey scream?  It’s terrifying.  Especially since they’re super cute looking.

Mmmm so I just googled “catio” to see what came up.  This is a thing.  New life goal.  Wow.  My cat lady level just went up.

The Most Foreign Service Moment Ever

The husband and I went out to dinner recently at a churrascaria (think Brazilian BBQ like Fogo de Chao) place with a group of friends from the Consulate.  Yum.  All you can eat meat?  Yes please.  You can’t go more than once in a while, because in order to feel like you’ve gotten your monies worth (it’s not cheap – except for that one place I went to in Brasilia that was awesome…) you have to eat a ridiculous amount.  But it is fun, especially with other people who enjoy good food.  (Filet crusted in blue cheese was the winner on that particular night.)

Fun Fact: One of the best cuts of meat in Brazil is “picanha” or rump meet.  This is something I had never had in the U.S. before, because apparently American butchers don’t use it or cut it wrong or something.  To wit – Fogo de Chao uses work visas to bring in specially trained Brazilian chefs to butcher the meat properly.  And thank goodness they do – it is amazing.

But now, to get to the point.  The most Foreign Service moment ever.  Halfway through the meal, one of our friends stood up and proposed that everyone around the table must make a toast.  In another language.  Without repeating one that had already been used.  (The proposer was Russian – this is not surprising, because I’ve been told by friends who have served in that region that Russians LOVE their toasts.  It is an art.  They have an order and themes and everything.  Intense.)  And so – we went around the table, one by one, making toasts in other languages.  Belorussian, Cantonese, Spanish, Khmer (that was me, obviously. It’s still my party trick.)  Even pig-latin.  15 people, 15 languages.  It was pretty darn cool.  And we didn’t even have to use Portuguese.  Only in the Foreign Service…

Currency Complications

Reais Chart

This chart is now about two weeks old, but you get the idea.  Brazil’s currency is steadily falling in value and inflation is rising, which means being paid in dollars is increasingly a good thing.  When the husband arrived in January, the rate was 2.6 to 1 dollar.  Now it is almost 3.5 reais to the dollar.  I’ve heard estimates that say it could go as far as 5 to the dollar by the end of the year.  Wow.

I’ve never lived in a country with such a rapidly changing currency and economic situation, and while it is fascinating to watch and fun to buy cheap in-country plane tickets, the concern for the locals is huge.  For now, Brazil is still running a surplus on exports vs. imports, and the inflation is mostly on imported products.  But as the cost of the standard basket of goods continues to rise, our Brazilian colleagues are going to really feel it.  We’re one year out from the Olympics.  What happens when the construction and tourism boom is over?

Happy Anniversary!

Happy first wedding anniversary to the husband! My how time flies.

But seriously, it really, really does. Yesterday also marked two full months of living together! Don’t you love how backwards our relationship appears to be? Hey! Whatever works, right? :-)

The husband had Friday off and I took the day, so we, wait for it, worked on bidding from home! Because the bidlist came out Friday! Joy.

We also went to a concert at the Teatro Municipal, played beach volleyball with friends, and had a lovely dinner at the famous Copacabana Palace.

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For our anniversary “present”, we opened our Wedding Album together for the first time.  Reliving the memories is wonderful.  Happy Anniversary!