Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Foiled Robbery, Promotions and Third Tour Bidding

And just when I thought I might actually manage to leave Rio without having been robbed (it has now been 1.5 yrs here without an incident), it finally happened. You know, people warn you about it, it happens to all of your friends but just not to me. So I got careless. Blame it on Uber. Last week, while the Diplomat was in Sao Paulo for a week of work, I was standing outside the Consulate waiting irritably for my Uber taxi. Rather than the promised 7 minutes, the driver was taking over 25 to show up, lost in the tangle of streets behind. I was getting more and more impatient, standing stupidly clutching my android phone, tantalized by the movement of the taxi icon on the little screen. Suddenly, a passing dude saw a golden opportunity and decided to snatch it from my hand. That sad fella did not realize two unfortunate facts:
  •  He was trying to rob an Eastern European native
  • He was trying to rob her in front of the US Consulate, swarming with bored security guards

So this is how it all went down. The gangly, skinny teenager began pulling the phone with all of his might. So did I. You know, the Resident Security Officer always puts out these nice, wise notices saying that the safest things to do if you find yourself in a similar situation is to just let the demanded item go and not get yourself killed over it. Let me tell you something about people trying to take your stuff away. There is some primordial, animalistic instinct that hits you and you just don’t want to let your stuff go. It may be stupid stuff, but it YOUR stuff and why should anyone be taking it away. You don’t think about the RSO’s notice. You, frankly, don’t really think about anything much. You only think about your stuff. You want your stuff. It is YOUR stuff. You are willing to fight for your stuff. Or at least not let it go. So, that is exactly what I did. I just held back the phone and kept pulling it back. He kept pulling away. And at that moment (about 15 secs later), it dawned upon me that I am actually steps away from a bunch of hunky guards who somehow still had not seen the whole episode unfolding. So, I began screaming for help. Finally, I could see frantic movement but in the meantime, I lost control over the damned phone and the skinny kid managed to tear away from me and make a run for it. Happily (not for him), out of nowhere one of the local Consulate staff happened to be passing by and in a split second, jumped on top of the fleeing robber. The teenager had no chance. A second later, all guards fell upon him like a ton of bricks. Boy, did he regret ever meeting me that day let alone try to steal my phone. Soon, the police came and we all went to the police station for me to press charges. All in all, a very awesome night. Not really.

Many other exciting things have been happening to us lately. For example, both the Diplomat and I actually got promoted! That came somewhat unexpected and very, very much appreciated. So, now we are still on the bottom of the totem pole but feel more important about it. Also, we know where we are going next – Washington, DC, be scared, be very scared!

This assignment beckons a frank description of something called “third tour bidding.”  Now, when you enter the Foreign Service, you probably have visions of being given a choice of fascinating countries, from which you pick your childhood dream – Italy - and go serve there for 2 amazing years. You wish. Instead, you are given a list of about 200 posts around the world, which you then rank as high, medium and low, and give it over to your personal guru and master of your universe, also known as Career Development Officer, or CDO. There are usually several CDOs who then sit down for a few magical days and somehow assign people to those posts. You only sit and pray that you don’t get a post too low on your Low list. Usually, folks end up somewhere in their “mediums.” The same fun repeats itself for your second assignment again, except that if you have served in a particularly challenging place, you get to bid before the folks who served in, say, Thailand. So, in essence, for your first two tours, you have pretty much virtually no other control besides praying.
Now, arguably, you have a lot more control over your third tour. That is wonderful illusion, which your employer wishes you to have. Months before bidding season even opens, everyone due to bid enters into a frenzy and begins scouting potential available positions. There is this devious tool on our systems called “projected vacancies”  - it is a prediction of what positions are going to be available for bidding to help the hapless future bidders brace themselves for serving in the remote provinces of China or East Africa well in advance, and I can personally guarantee you that from the moment that list becomes available, everyone spends at least a third of their day pouring over it. Now, based on that preliminary list, we are all told to go and “lobby” for our next assignment – it is that nefarious process of timidly writing to your posts of choice, whether to the incumbent or their boss, “expressing your interest” while pointlessly trying not to sound too eager or desperate. 

Thus begins the terrifying and excruciatingly long dance of bidding. Posts write back to you to tell you that you appear very qualified but so do also the 59 other FSOs vying for the same job. You mobilize an army of former and current bosses, peers and various high level folks you know to “lobby” on your behalf. But it is all so very unofficial. Then, at some point, the real bid list comes out and you begin bidding with full ferocity. Lobbying intensifies, you interview with various people, you invent weaknesses that are not really weaknesses and which you have conquered and turned into strengths, you enumerate multiple personal achievements, which single-handedly have forwarded American interests abroad and changed the face of bilateral relations in your current post. You are, indeed, formidable. You should, in fact, be appointed as a Special Assistant to the Secretary immediately. Oddly, you are not. Slowly, offers begin to be hinted – since no offers can be made before the official deadline of bidding (for the summer bidders, bidding opens in August and ends in October), there are other cheeky tools to let people know who are the chosen ones. An official announcement that a job offer has been extended once bidding is over is called a “handshake.” Not an offer. A handshake. How very delightfully old-fashioned. Apart from a formal handshake, one can receive an unofficial “air kiss” in advance. Yup, it actually is called an air kiss. Bidding is fun.

So, since the management-coned Diplomat has not yet served in a management position (which is a problem going forward), he knew he had to get such position this time around, dead or alive. Preferably alive, it’s more fun that way. We began the bidding dance and were sniffing out a few desired posts overseas until a highly desirable domestic position opened up in the sexy European bureau, he interviewed for it and it was all his. A full one month before bidding was even over. Now you have to understand something about tandem bidding – it ain’t easy. In essence,  you need to dance a double bidding dance, 1. Ensuring that there are 2 positions suitable for each of you, and 2. The hiring folks for both positions like you and want to hire you over the other 45 qualified people for the job. It is actually even more complicated than that, but let’s say you get the general picture. So, when the Diplomat got an awesome offer in DC, he had to take it. Which meant I had to find a job in DC, something on which I hadn’t planned. Luckily, I ended up with an awesome gig as the speechwriter for Consular Affairs. Since I am not yet sure whether I should be ecstatic or extremely scared, I won’t say anything more about the job before I go into it next year.

We have been traveling as usual. In November, we finally made the pilgrimage to Disney – we own a vacation property there and after all of our guests said what a great time they have there, we decided to check it out ourselves. My God, Orlando is magical! I admit to preferring Universal to Disney and the Shamu, but still – they are all awesome. I have no reached the conclusion that I would like to live a resort life for the rest of my life. Apparently, though, no one pays you for that. Odd…

We also just came back from Uruguay, where we spent a week eating meat, drinking Tannat and playing golf. Yes, you heard me right – I have now begun gold lessons. You know, if you can’t beat them, join them. The problem was that I so badly wanted to impress the Diplomat just how well I am doing in golf, that once we got on the green, I managed to pull a back muscle while still on hole 3. For the rest of the trip, I could barely swing the club but kept on valiantly. As a net result, now I can’t even dress myself on my own. True story.

We are all eagerly looking forward to the holidays all to be spent peacefully in Rio. I cannot wait to finally see New Year’s Eve in Copacabana. Yey!!