Sunday, October 24, 2010

A BEX test and a weekend in NYC

It has been a while, I know. My life has been a tad crazy, if I may say so.
Last weekend, the Diplomat and I dragged our poor child to the Shenandoah Valley, where we spent a weekend playing tennis, getting massages and drinking with a couple of good friends.
In our defense, Son had a blast playing among the fallen leaves around the rented house and experienced his first pumpkin carving, courtesy of our good friends. I attended two tennis classes. The name of the first one should have given me a good hint NOT to attend but hindsight is always 20/20, right? It was called "Sweaty Tennis: Drills" and a 23-year-old "tennis pro" made me and another 2 middle-aged women run around the court for our lives in the span of an hour. It could have made a very odd episode of "The Bachelor" where older women run around a tennis court to compete for um, a tennis ball from the young bachelor. The worst part was that he kept giving little yelps of encouragement to the other women, who in turn kept yelling back to him in utter delight. 20 mins into the session, I was ready to keel over and throw up, while the perky cougars kept running around screaming, "Yeah baby, give it to me baby," to the amused youth. I chose a different session the next day. I also went and got a massage. They gave me a masseur. His name was Randy. I think it is a very unfortunately chosen name for a masseur. I am just saying. Oh yeah, and the Diplomat lost his wallet. He does that often.

The week that followed was as crazy as ever. On Wednesday, I was told that my work project was over and I spent an entire evening dreaming with the Diplomat about my impending freedom. On Thursday morning, I was told that the client liked our work and I was asked to stay for another month. In a momentary lapse of reason, I accepted. I had a very serious conversation with myself after that. One part of me argued that the price of shoes has been rising and hence, additional income at the price of my sanity is key. My other side tersely retorted that sanity is, after all, very important and money is not. Shoes won.

On Thursday morning, I took a phone Russian test administered by the Foreign Service Institute, the notorious BEX oral test. Now, let's see if you think the test started auspiciously for me:
1) candidates are expressly asked NOT to call from a cell phone, but from a landline.
2) I call from home, my FSI-sponsored home with FSI-paid for phone line. Connection is terrible.
3) The assistant asks me to call back. I do. The connection is just as awful. She proceeds to connect me to the testers.
4) During the transfer, the connection drops. I call back frantically.
5) She connects me again. The testers are on speaker phone and the connection worsens considerably. I get nervous as I can only hear 35% of what they say.
6) I humbly beg to call from my cell phone, explaining that I can barely hear them. They concede.
7) I call back form my cell phone. The connection is fantastic and we proceed to discuss a variety of fascinating topics.

I am now waiting for the results, which are crucial for my place on the notorious omnipotent Register of diplomatic hopefuls. If I pass, I go on the top of the list and the moment the FBI completes my security clearance, I will get "the call" to join the Foreign Service. If I do not pass, I will not speak to myself for a very long time.

This past weekend, we drove up to NYC so that the Diplomat can get a new driving license. Son received a brand new haircut from a fancy children's salon, where he sat perched in a red racing car instead of a chair, watching Thomas the Train, while the hairdresser cut his locks. I took a very fuzzy picture with my phone camera, something I never do. If I ever figure out how to get it out of the phone, I will post it. It was overall a very good experience, and I highly recommend to any parent who dreads his child's haircut on a salon to go to a specialized place--it is a bit pricier than your local barber who looks like a very old Mafioso, but well worth it.

I am happy to say that in the span of three days, I managed to see a good deal of my good friends in the city. On Friday, we had drinks around 5 with Mr. U, then had over our fabulous neighbors for drinks and pizza, while discussing their marriage plans for this winter. On Saturday, we drove to Brooklyn to see A+F and had brunch at a slightly pretentious eatery (which did not have any regular sugar substitutes but only a suspicious and foul smelling green powder). On the way back from Brooklyn, around 1.30 pm, the Diplomat dropped me off on the Upper East side where I met my fabulous friend from law school who is also a great Fat Cat aficionado. We had one giant margarita each. At 3.30pm, after squeezing a manicure, I met the lovely S for a glass of wine on the Upper West side. Pleasantly tipsy, I went back to Riverdale, where at 6 pm, I met the Diplomat and we went to visit our Bulgarian neighbors for a round of beers. We finally made it home around 8, put Son hastily to bed, waited for the babysitter, and went out for a night on the town. We found a brand new restaurant on the UWS, Tolani, which served "favorite foods from around the world" and so we had the pleasure of drinking Austrian and Tasmanian wines, while eating a Thai salad, Belgian mussels, Greek appetizer and a goat curry to end. Around 11.30 pm, we were joined by the fabulous J for one last glass of wine. Utterly exhausted, we dragged our butts to bed at 1.30 am.
We spent most of Sunday afternoon in traffic on the way back to Washington, DC while Son insisted on watching a particular short video teaching kids to count cars 46 times in the back seat. Son is obsessed with counting. Apparently. He spent the rest of the drive peeing every 30 mins. which, of course, meant that we had to stop on the side of the highway every single time.

Tomorrow, I have a day off work. It almost feels like cutting school in 10th grade! The Diplomat and I might even go see a movie while Son is in daycare!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bengali Immersion at the Mall

Bangla classes are starting to get more complicated and the Diplomat is trying to shine as much as he can by using Hindi words in his sentences, hoping that they will magically sound like Bangla. Sometimes that happens and he gets really happy. This past week he wrote a particularly complicated sentence on the blackboard, which was more or less correct, and beyond himself with pride, he actually yelled to the class, "Look at me!" Sadly, the effect of his language genius was lost on all of us since his penmanship is particularly lacking and his handwriting resembles the track pattern left by a herd of drunk alpacas rushing down the slopes of the Andes. The good side of this is that his irritating ease with Bangla thanks to him knowing Hindi is giving me an incentive to study even harder.

Today we took a field trip with the Bengali class in the Ballston Mall. As we descended upon Macy's and started wondering loudly in slow, badly-pronounced Bangla where we can find baby shoes, suddenly a female voice interrupted us and in crystal clear bengali told us that they do not carry baby shoes. Turns out, she was a sales rep there and was originally from Dhaka. Happily, we asked her all about her: where she was from, about her family, name, what was her favorite color and food (that is how far we have advanced for a month and a half of language training...). In a fit of brilliance, I managed to somehow ask her how many years she had lived here and even understood her answer. She was rather shaken by the fact that a group of (seemingly) crazy and loud Americans was speaking Bangla at the mall on a quiet Friday morning, and so we delightedly told her (in perfect Bangla) that we were kutnitibid (diplomats) who will go to live in Dhaka. She appeared rather perplexed and it took us a long time to explain what exactly that meant. I really don't think she was impressed though; I suspect she was convinced that we were all slightly insane. I am not saying she was wrong. We left her section and proceeded to the male shoes section, where we (again loudly) discussed shoe colors, at which point another, male, sales rep suddenly said something in bengali. Utterly delighted that we have met yet another live Bangladeshi, we enthusiastically asked him where he was from. He sullenly and with a thick accent said--Amerika. We asked again; he again irritably insisted, "American! Now I American!!" Visibly disappointed, we asked him where his family was--reluctantly, he admitted it was in Dhaka. Excited again, we started asking more inane questions but he finally drew the line at our bengali immersion when he refused to tell us his favorite color. We thought it prudent to leave at that point as people had started staring. I love Macy's--I ALWAYS find what I need there. Even a live Bangladeshi person.

Tonight we leave for a fun weekend in the Shenandoah Valley, where the Diplomat has signed us up for (guess what!) tennis camp. I am beyond myself from excitement although that might have something to do with the fact that I also booked an hour of massage at the spa for tomorrow.

It also has come to my attention that the Foreign Service apparently administers an English literacy test for spouses who want to take the 6-week General Consular class, which most FSOs take during their first round of training (often, spouses choose to take the class to be able to work at at post in the Consular section of the embassy or consulate in order to have a nice, little additional income). It does not matter how many university degrees the spouse has (or whether they maintain a highly eloquent blog); they still have to take the literacy test in order to be able to take the class. Apparently, the foreign service seems to think that FSO spouses are illiterate by default. Hm...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeverybody loves Costco! And possibly fondue.

This was a nice, pleasant weekend, in which I tried to cram as much errands as possible, while bonding fiercly with Son. So, I took him to Costco. One thing that struck me (pleasantly so) was the sheer amount of cars with diplomatic decals there. I recognized the cars of several Nordic countries (ever so thrifty, those Danes!), as well as some East and South Asian minivans filled with happy shoppers. Not surprisingly, I did not see a Greek diplomat shopping at Costco. Son was hugely entertained eating various samples, which constituted his lunch during my shopping spree--between three samples of soup, one salmon, two crackers with Brie, one M&M-encrusted granola bar sample, a dried peach, and a load of strawberries, I thought I provided a much needed nutritional meal for my child. No?

This weekend we also went out for a nice dinner with two other couples from the Diplomat's class. We chose a fondue place, and I freely admit that I had never been to one in the past, thus I was somewhat excited about the experience. In fact, I was so excited that I even put in my contacts (I do that only on special occasions). The place was really nice and cozy and we were just settling in nicely when the rather large and intimidating server showed up. She asked whether we had been there before, and when we all said NO, she started excitedly to yell "Virgins, yey, virgins!" to the rest of the people in the restaurant. We got some funny looks. Then she prattled out the way the menu works (which no one understood), told us to order everything on the menu, and scolded the Diplomat for holding the menu on the wrong page. Then she took the drink orders, after asking me specifically how I wanted my martini. I answered "vodka martini, straight up, no more than 2 olives," to which she quipped--"you don’t want a salad with your drink, huh?" Totally baffled (I had never heard of anyone having a salad for the sake of a martini), I retorted politely-"Oh, not yet." She gave me a hateful look and disappeared, which is also when it dawned upon me that she meant that I did not want MANY olives in the drink. Shortly thereafter, another server came and gave me a martini without ANY olives in it and with an offended expression asked me whether I wanted any. A tad exasperated, I asked for two. A minute later, the original waitress, visibly irritated and carrying back the unfortunate drink with 2 olives in it, came back and told me that the bartender would like me to be MORE specific about my olive choices in the future.

Our menu options included a pre-fix menu, which seemed to include an impossible amount of fish and meat and pasta on it. Our trusted waitress cheerfully assured us that it is a bit of everything and not to worry. Then she asked us to choose two types of broth (we were completely unsure why) and disappeared. The cheese and salads showed up shortly, and we all spent an hour happily dunking bread and apples in the bubbling cauldrons of melting cheese on the table, mentally calculating the calories per bite (well, ok, I was). Then our beloved food leader reappeared and proceeded to present each one of us with a nice plate filled with raw meats of all kinds. Turns out, we were about to cook our own food. So, here is the thing--next time someone tells me that I am about to spend $145 in order to cook my own food MORSEL BY MORSEL (since we each had only two pitchforks onto which we cooked our pieces of meat in the communal pot/cauldron of broth), I will suggest that they sit next to me and cook the meat for me. Thankfully, the company was great and fabulous time was had by all. Next time, we decided to go camping and cook our own meat there instead.

DC is experiencing some lovely warm weather, and Son has spent considerable amount of time outside this weekend. On Sunday, I decided to be nice to the Diplomat and let him play tennis, while Son and I headed to the park next to the tennis courts. As I was passing by the picnic area, I saw a large group of people, eating, talking and playing volleyball. Something in the diction of their speech, which I could not hear exactly, made me pause and inch in their direction. Lo and behold, it was an entire horde of Bulgarians! Turns out, it was a weekly outing for the kids and parents of the Saturday Bulgarian School in Washington, DC. I had a lovely time chatting with a bunch of them while Son was rediscovering his Bulgarian roots by staring down fiercely a nice little Bulgarian boy who wanted to play with him. I hope to reconnect with the group again!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What is a SuperMom?

This has been a delightful week in bengali class. We have learned exquisite words like "tiktiki" (lizard) and "jok" (leech), which I imagine will be key in my life in Bangladesh. We have also learned to construct complicated sentences like, "All the people in the world from , I the tallest am," or "I, of all my brothers and sisters, tastiest am." Apparently, "tasty" doubles as "witty" in bengali. Plus we count from 1-50 two times every day. You can just imagine our anticipation.

Forget the guilty pleasures of rote memorization, however. I have to say that my schedule of work and school is slowly starting to kill me. I have no time for anything outside of Bangla and work and the few times a week I try to come home earlier than 9 pm in order to see my poor child. Someone asked me to meet for drinks this week "after work" and I had to laugh sadly at the idea. I can only imagine that my project at work is nearing its end. My current employer has expressed an interest in keeping me for future work, but for that to happen we need to have a little talk about working hours because otherwise by the end of this whole adventure I might simply not be alive.
On a positive note, the Diplomat has truly stepped up to the plate and become a rather decent Mr. Mom. I think he might be taking the role a bit far however: yesterday afternoon he took Son to the house of our friends and hung out there with two other mommies and their children, sipping afternoon wine. Then, when I came home, he complained loudly to me that (1) going to school from 7.30am to 12.30 pm and then (2) going for a tea and cookies info meeting in downtown DC with one of the FSI dignitaries, followed by (3) the above mentioned wine-infused playdate, (4) reheating a rice dish (which I cooked the previous night at 11 pm AFTER coming home form work), (5) feeding Son (in front of the TV) and then (6) giving him a bath was all so very exhausting and he is tired all the time. I just looked at him with my tired, blood-shot eyes, having just ran home from work earlier in order to read Son a book before bed and before he forgets who I am, thought about how I needed to go back to the computer now and work for another 2 hours and THEN learn 34567 new bengali words, then go to bed at 12.30 and get up back at 6.30 am and decided not to say anything. I imagined that my wild look explained it all. I don't think it did though because when Son woke up and started screaming at 1 am from his room, Mr. Mom-tastic dreamily told me to "go check on him." The Diplomat is lucky he did not get strangled last night.

All in all, I have to say that the Fledgling Diplomats live a rather pleasant life before their first posts--they have 5 hours of language training per day and the rest of the time they live life to the fullest At least I imagine they do. I cannot wait to be in that position one day.

Another piece of good news is that my security clearance is well under way. Hopefully, it doesn't take too long, so that I can get an invite to the FSI class in late March, which would put me in a perfect position to join the Diplomat in Dhaka as a full-fledged Mrs. Diplomat rather than just Wife. I also need to pass a telephone Russian test on October 21st, in order to boost my FSOA scores, which will help in getting an invite to join the Foreign Service sooner rather than later.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Celebrating Eid and catching some sleep

Welcome to another chapter of my circus life. Monday began with plenty of Indian/South Asian food and banghra dancing in the early am of the day as the SE Asian division of the Foreign Service Institute threw a party for the end of Ramadan and celebrated Eid. Most of the teachers, young, old, male, female, danced their butts off after the feast, dragging most of the timid, stuffed students to the dance floor. Now, it is possible that this wouldn't have been THAT awkward if all of us were wearing traditional clothes, but, except for the teachers, everyone else was wearing a variety of out of place clothing, including: (1) rain boots with all kinds of designs like frogs and flowers (it was raining outside), (2) long skirts, (3) short skirts, (4) suits, (5) 4-inch heels (ok, that was just me). So, all of those uncoordinated students, flailing their arms up in the air and stomping the floor with the rain boots/sneakers/high-heels, kept trying to keep up with the teachers who were coming up with all kinds of masterful moves on the dance floor (barefooted!). It was not pretty but fun was had by all.
After that auspicious start of the week, Son decided to get sick, which meant no Bangla classes for me on Thursday and Friday. He spent most of Thursday on the couch with fever, watching sullenly Sesame Street and dosing on and off , while adamantly refusing to take off his shoes. He refused to take them off even when he went to bed that night, and after I had sneaked in to remove them twice during the night, he woke up freaked out by their absence and insisted on putting them on again. He also spent portions of the day latching onto me for dear life, while I was trying to work remotely. in the afternoon, he resolutely refused to sit on the couch by himself, and instead chose to watch TV while sitting in my lap as I was typing on the computer. Every time I stood up to go to the bathroom, he would be inconsolable and insisted on coming inside to make sure I would not run away or disappear through the drain.
There were two positives from the whole story. First, I discovered that Son can count to 10 in English (courtesy of my wonderful father-in-law, who had the infinite patience to count his cars with him every day during his stay with us) and to 5 in Bulgarian (courtesy of my desperate attempts to teach him to count). I was so impressed that I made him count half of our belongings in the apartment. When we went to count my shoes, I got embarrassed and shoo-ed him out of the closet. Do YOU think 35 pairs is too much??? Second, I finally got some sleep. Typically, I have to be up by 6.30 am to make it to daycare and Bangla class, and I cannot seem to go to bed any earlier than 12. Now, I got to (sort of) sleep in till 9 am each morning while Son was awake and was playing around my bed, rolling his cars on top of my half-asleep head and tickling my feet. It was heaven.
Son's clinging to me has made me realize something--when we are sick, we all want our mommies. It is a comforting thing, even if mommies do not exactly contribute anything to our well being. Son could have perfectly happily watched Elmo on his own, or sitting NEXT to me on the couch, but he simply HAD to climb on top of me and watch it from my lap. I have gotten more hugs and kisses and "mama, mama"-s in the past two days than in the past 2 months combined. It's good to be needed by a little, blond, curly boy, who is usually so filled with energy that can barely stop to give momma a kiss.
And speaking of which, here is your bengali word of the day--"chonchal", meaning energetic or restless.