Thursday, June 21, 2012
Life outside the U.S. presents some unique challenges to the hapless traveler, in addition to the usual, more expected ones. Funky electric plugs, 220 volts rather than 110, PAL/SECAM TV systems rather than the good ol’ NTSC, don’t drink the water, bleach the veggies, cultivate geckos for nightstand neighbors and even give them names, U.S. websites streaming video refusing to do so on foreign soil, filing taxes late because of slow mail, no parsley or mushrooms in the markets year long, and left-side driving cars. You get used to it all. Or find workarounds.
This is what watching American TV shows looks like in Bangladesh:
1. Take your American flat screen and connect it to a power source using a massively large, ugly red power converter from 220V to 110V.
2. Then connect the TV to a NTSC to PAL/SECAM converter to be able to watch the local TV.
3. Then connect the Internet modem to a UPS unit to prevent it from shutting down during the 34 power outages at night.
4. Then connect the Wi-Fi converter to the modem.
5. Then connect to the Internet wirelessly from the living room.
6. Then connect to an IP address hiding software to pretend that your computer is in the US (hint: try "Hide My Ass")
7. Then connect your laptop to the TV with a cable – of you are lucky and you have new model laptop, you have HDMI outlet and can do the job with one cable. If not,
8. Connect your laptop to a speaker system so that you can actually hear what you watching on the big screen.
9. Go to Hulu.com and subscribe, then find your favorite show and realize the season finale has been a month ago and you have an entire season worth to watch.
10. Get yourself a glass of wine, settle on the lazy boy (supplied by the American government) and press play.
11. Feel smug that you are so damn smart and awesome to figure it all out within less than one and half hours.
12. Smell something funny. Once the screen goes blank, realize that you have fried most of the connected appliances since you have apparently overloaded the fragile local electrical system.
13. Sit and drink wine, staring grimly at the empty screen and the smoking wall socket.
14. Buy a multizone TV that runs both on 110 and 220V. Go to bed irritated. Wait for a month for the TV to get to you.
Other than that, life here has been peachy. Last week marked another eventful string of memorable parties. On Tuesday night, I went out to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Nepalese mission to Bangladesh. A tasteful soiree, it was made even more fun by the rather irreverent comments of the Maldives and Australian Deputy Chiefs of Mission. On Thursday, we had to actually decline a dinner invite – I was exhausted from work (I am transitioning from American Citizen Service to Nonimmigrant visas and doing both at the same time) plus I had to shop for the dinner party we were hosting the following night.
And then on Friday, I spent the better part of the morning in a small community hall occupied by a devoted Christian church. For the past month, I had worked with a couple of colleagues to organize a breast cancer awareness event for the church as requested by one of their constituents. I had invited a prominent doctor from a local hospital, who gave an outstanding presentation on the subject along with a rather revealing self-exam video that was stoically born by the male audience. The video was difficult to watch also for me, but only because it was from some time in the late 1980s and featured a British woman with a hideous 80s hairdo. Two of my Embassy colleagues, both breast cancer survivors, also spoke poignantly about their own experiences. I cried my eyes out and then spoke some decisive and wonderfully broken Bangla to the stunned audience. Overall, it was amazing and the community kept thanking us afterwards.
The experience left me incredibly emotionally drained, which was unfortunate since I had to dash back home and prepare 10 perfect filet mignons, 10 little cream cheese soufflés, a bunch of appetizers, salads and soups. But thanks to a fearless housekeeper who is an exquisite chopper and indefatigable dish washer, and a devoted Diplomat who took Son to a rowdy birthday party, all 5 courses were done with time to spare. The evening was spent among good friends with lots of humor, a variety of whiskies and plans for golf for the men. The next day, the Diplomat valiantly took Son to the American Club so that mama can sleep in and her home masseuse (oh yes, she comes home and she rocks!) can come and baby her for 3 hours. He was rewarded with a few hours on the driving range with a bunch of guys. Yes, this was one very good weekend for all indeed.We submit our bidlist next week. Brrr....
In other bad news, (a few) mosquitoes have come back. WTF?
Saturday, June 9, 2012
And so, the time has come for a new bid list – something we have been expecting with joy and no little amount of trepidation. We got the list last Friday and have been obsessing over it pretty much for the better part of each day, and a good chunk of each night as well. While the list has nice cushy European posts (over which we salivate), the Diplomat and I have had to face the tandem reality – we can only bid on places with at least 2 positions in them. One of which has to be management (the Diplomat is management-coned). And the country should have good afterschool care. And we wouldn’t need more than 34 weeks of training (obscure FSI rules). And the timing should work. Which certainly narrows it down. To about 3 positions, give or take. Sigh.
The bid list is a nerve racking, harrowing experience. Tandem or not, it causes intermittent and subtle irritation on the FS marriage front for weeks as one of you seems to think that Ouagadougou is just a wonderful career opportunity only to be stared down icily by the other one of you in disagreement. Apply this dynamic to 70% of the bid list and you get the idea of the atmosphere in the bidding home. Of course, both you and your dedicated spouse wholeheartedly agree that no matter what you end up doing in Paris, that is by large a rather pleasant post to serve in. Sadly, this opinion is shared by about 96% of the other bidders so you are painfully aware that your chances to go to that ONE available Paris position are pretty slim. And so it goes.
To add more stress to the moment, we are swiftly approaching the one-year anniversary of our arrival at post, which in the Foreign Service means one and only one unnecessarily unnerving thing – we are about to face our Employee Evaluation Report, infamously known as The EER. Each FSO gets evaluated annually by their direct supervisor and one who is above that supervisor. Each writes a page of informative narrative about your awesomeness (or not) during the past year, and then you add your own page about yourself in what is aptly termed “the suicide box” - the text literally goes into a text box on the page and has the potential to kill your career should you say something truly stupid in it (which people have apparently done). Once the masterpiece is done, it is off to the promotions boards and other decision-makers and people in the know who make all kinds of interesting decisions about you and your career. The whole thing lasts about a month. And then we do it again next year. Good times!
On a more positive note, our social life in Dhaka has reached new, impossible heights. On May 30, our Embassy hosted our annual July 4th party. Yes, I know the 4th of July is on July 4th, which was more than a month off at that point. But really, what is a month among friends, eh? The reality is that most people from the diplomatic corps and the Bangladesh government tend to leave the city in July, which would make for a very sparsely attended Independence Day party. And so we move it to accommodate our guests. The party was a hoot and a big success. One thing future eager FSOs should know – when you go to similar events at other Embassies, it’s a fabulous party to enjoy. When you are the host, it is a fabulous party where you work. Everyone gets assigned a task. I got the honor of saying goodbye to guests from 7.45 pm till 8.30 pm. So, I spent some quality time chatting up exhausted guests waiting for their limos in the 110 degree humidity. One thing was for sure – they all seemed to have had a great time!
Other parties in the last 2 weeks included an underground club with live music, a reception in honor of the new New Zealand ambassador, a Girls’ Night in, several goodbye parties (‘tis the transfer season), a rather happening Marines’ dance party, a birthday party for one of Son’s girlfriends (which I attended with just the tinsiest bit of a hangover following the previously mentioned Marines’ party), a fabulous rooftop expats party, and an exclusive dinner with two young and upcoming painters in a restaurant that was apparently open only for the four of us that night. My feet hurt.