Saturday, August 12, 2017

Nine Days to Go

The countdown is on...nine days until we leave.  Most of our stuff has left, including our car, so now it's just Mark, Cosmo, and I and whatever we can carry with us (well, two checked bags, a carry one, and a personal item each - plus I think we'll have one extra bag for purchases we may make in Paris).  We have our housing assignment, social sponsor, and work sponsor; Cosmo's paperwork to travel to Paris and then Bamako is in process; we have our Malian visas; I've got hard copies of all relevant and important documents that will go in my carry-on luggage; and we've (hopefully) got our airline seats all worked out.

One last training course to go:  Foreign Affairs Counter Threat training - aka Crash & Bang.  Here'a a clip from CNN about it:

During July and early August we've had some DC-area fun.  We visited some Virginia wineries

We went shopping for consumables at Costco

Day trip to Annapolis, MD

David visited us

We took a tour of the U.S. Capitol Building - we went to the House of Representatives Gallery, too (but no pics allowed of that)

BTW - I follow Frederick Douglass's Twitter @FDouglass2020

The inventor of American Beer - right?

The Apotheosis of Washington on the Capital dome 

It was sunflower time in the DC area.  These were blooming at McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area in Poolesville, MD

We went to see the new Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Hirschorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

We went to Monticello in Charlottesville, VA (unfortunately, no pics allowed inside the house)

 This is the University of Virginia Rotunda, also designed by Thomas Jefferson

The Man himself - Thomas Jefferson

 One last bike ride on the Arlington Loop with one last shot from Gravelly Point

And finally, one last stop at our local wine bar, Bistro 360

I'm pretty sure the next update will be from Bamako, so stay tuned!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Testing, Shopping, and Celebrating

Well, it's been a busy few weeks.  Three main things have happened since my last update.  I tested in French; Mark and I went shopping at the mall; and we celebrated July 4th in Washington DC.

First, I took my interim language test at the Foreign Service Institute (FSI) in French.  My requirement for my next posting as FMO in Bamako, Mali is a Speaking 2 and Reading 2.  I'm happy to report that I achieved my 2/2!  Yay!  This means two things.  One is that I won't need to test again at the end of my French training since I've already reached my language requirement.  Which is good because while the test isn't necessarily difficult - it's anxiety-producing.  Who needs more anxiety in their lives - certainly not me!  It also means that I can take other training courses while I'm here at FSI.  That's nice because spending all day speaking French gets tiring.  Who knew?

Our next big adventure was to the mall - the shopping kind, not the National Mall (that's later).  We went to Tysons Corner Center.  I have to say that I haven't really been in a big, fancy mall for years.  Certainly not while I was in Charleston.  It must have been before I joined the Foreign Service.  At first I thought what a great opportunity to get in a little more good-old American consumerism before heading off to Africa.  That quickly wore out as we went from one store to another, each with a special July 4th sale going on.  How much does one need to dig through piles of - dare I say, Crap - with hundreds of others before one wears out?  I think we made it through four or five stores before we called it quits.  It was a bit of sensory overload.  I can only imagine how it will be after spending time in West Africa.  Will we enjoy it more - or less?  Mark did get a few new shirts, which was nice.

Finally, we got to spend July 4th - American Independence Day - in Washington DC.  Of all the holidays, I think July 4th is my favorite.  Other than Thanksgiving, it's our truly "American" holiday; it's in the summer; everyone is happy; and there are fireworks.  Mark and I went for a bike ride around the Mall.  We crossed from Arlington, VA into DC via the Memorial Bridge and there was security setup before we got to the bridge.  This meant that the bridge was closed to traffic - as was most of the Mall itself - which made it really fun to bike.  However, I think the security check points kept a lot of people away from the Mall during the day.  It was strangely empty, even during the July 4th parade.  For the fireworks, we went to Freedom Park in Rosslyn, which is a park created from an abandoned car overpass, which is a really nice touch in the condo canyon that is the Rosslyn neighborhood of Arlington.  All in all it was a fun day - even for a Tuesday.

Mark and I out on our bikes on the National Mall 

The Washington Monument and the reflecting pool from the Lincoln Memorial


Here is a snippet of the fireworks courtesy of WETA public television


And one more.

So now we have just about six weeks until we leave for Bamako, Mali.  There's a lot still to be done, but I think we're just about ready to go.  At FSI I've met some people also heading to Bamako, even including my soon-to-be boss and our HR officer.  I've also met a few first-tour officers who were/are also in French and are excited about going to Bamako.  It should make for a fun tour.  Of course, I'm already starting to think about the next tour - I'll start bidding for it around this time next year.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

French - Three weeks in

I've finished my Charleston assignment in the Comptroller and Global Financial Services Bureau.  Now I'm temporarily in the DC area and am at the Foreign Service Institute learning French.  Yes, my job for the next few months is to learn French.

Mark and Cosmo are here, too, and we're all nestled into our temporary apartment in Sedona-Slate in Rosslyn.  It's nice to be all back together after being apart for a year and a half.

French class going fairly well.  It's a very well organized system designed to get one to the necessary level of speaking and reading as efficiently as possible.  Since I had a bit of French coming into the course, I'm what they call a "parachuter".  That means that the first week I moved around different sections to find the one that corresponds to the level I'm at.  That first week was spent saying je m'appelle Michael a lot.  Right now I'm in a section of two people.  At the end of May I'll go through another assessment and be put into another section.  For now I'm scheduled to be in French until mid-August.  However, I have my first language text on June 30.  If I obtain my target of 2/2 (2 speaking and 2 reading), then other options may come up.

French at FSI has also been humbling.  This first video is how I felt, smugly, about my French ability.  After my first assessment during the first week, the second video is more how I feel.

Well, maybe not quite that bad, but close.

My advice to anyone coming to FSI to learn a language:  bring your patience, desire to learn, and humility.  It can be fun, but it's also a lot of work.

I'll check back in a few weeks from now when I'm in my next section.

Here are ten reasons to learn French.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Goodbye Charleston

My time in Charleston, SC has ended.  It's been a good assignment - rotating through different parts of financial administration for the State Department.  I've made lots of friends and colleagues and met a ton of people who will be super helpful throughout my foreign service career.

I'll miss Charleston and the friends I've made.  But I'll take with me the friendliness and gentility that I encountered on a daily basis.  I'm also taking with me about 10 extra pounds, but hopefully the DC bike trails can help take care of that.

My last rotation in CGFS was in Disbursing and my last task was a trip to the U.S. Embassy in Kigali, Rwanda to monitor and audit the cashier operations there.  I'm very happy to have had this experience to put training into action and to see how a U.S. Embassy runs.  It was a small preview of some of my duties as a financial management officer at post.

So now it's three months of French language training and then on to the next assignment:  Bamako, Mali.

Before Kigali, I spent two days in Amsterdam.  It was perfect tulip time (late April).  Also, take a boat ride with Those Dam Boat Guys.

Tulips at Keukenhof

A few pics from Kigali.  I definitely want to go back.