Friday, December 31, 2010

Safari X-mas

Here are just a few photos (from my trusty iPhone) from our Safari at Nazinga.  i cannot download all the really good ones yet (from a real camera), so will have to post those later. we had a fantastic time. saw tons of very large elephants (i guess African elephants are larger than their Asian relatives). also saw water buck, antelope - few different kinds, dik dik (miniature deer), wart hogs, baboons and other assorted monkeys, lots of birds. we had a great guide, did the whole trip in French. my French is still horrible, but progressing.
The drivers/guides have a healthy fear of the elephants. we generally went the opposite direction (and quickly) when we came up to them unexpectedly in the road.

 As if letting Otto pet and feed crocodiles wasnt enough...this is how he took in the Safari one morning. Better view from the roof.

 This was our bungalow at the safari park. very basic - had a toilet and shower, but no doors. good thing we are all dirt bag climbers at heart. The best part was we were all cold at night - it was refreshing.

This is our guide Timote - we taught him to play UNO. The people here are so great.

stay tuned, more (better) safari photos to come. hope everyone had as good of a christmas as we did.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Holiday Season to All

We are getting ready to go on our xmas safari tomorrow morning. We are going to a place called Ranch de Nazinga.  We should at least be able to see elephants, and then your routine variety of land animals in Africa and some birds. not so sure about lions or giraffe. It will be great to be out in the busy, 'camping' in a bungaloo and trying to get by on our limited French.

It doesnt feel much like xmas here, being in the high-90's every day, but we are making efforts. Here is our xmas tree.

Last night we went to a very nice holiday reception at the Ambassador's residence. Tons of people there and lots of good food. even Santa showed up - and i finally convinced Otto to let me take his photo (may have had something to do with the snickers bars Santa was handing out). I am lucky with the ex-pat community here. so many very nice and interesting people.

I was also given the book for this coming month's book club - so i am very excited to hook up with a book group again. The only problem is that it is centered in the main part of town, and once again, i wont have a way to get to the meetings.  I am thinking i may need to start my own Ouaga 2000 (the name of our neighborhood) book club, for those of us exiled out here.

Want to wish everyone a happy, restful, family filled holiday weekend. will hopefully have some good fotos to post next week of the Safari.  My love to all.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A weekend to remember

Finally we got out and about. Rented one of the embassy cars on Friday (we have a 1/2 day at work) and went to the 'Beach'. It was loads of fun - a place called Loumbila Beach.  The Beach is a little get away about 45 minutes from town that is on the edge of  huge reservoir. we took out a paddle boat and swam in the 'lake'. no sand...but no crocs or hippos either (thank goodness). One of the best parts for us was just the drive - we got to see some of Burkina Faso.

Yesterday (after significant pressure from moi), the Embassy let a large group of us newbies take the embassy bus on an adventure. We went to Bazoule - a sacred crocodile park. These crocs live side by side with the villagers - and do not eat them (the kids will even swim with them). The people believe they are sacred and brought water to the village long, long ago. when a croc dies, they give it a proper burial. there are just over a 100 in the area.  well, no matter how 'safe' the crocs are, i still wasnt getting as close as Otto did.

Otto also fed them a chicken (from the end of a stick) and the video of this will be on his blog - there is a link for it on this blog.

Here are a few girls that we encountered on our way to see the crocs, who were out gathering fruit.

And did i mention there were LOTS of crocodiles!!

After the crocodile park, we went into town for lunch at a very good Lebanese restaurant. after that were were all pretty exhausted, but we still had the bus for a while longer, so we went to the Artisinal Village. I'm sure we all slept well last night. It was also very nice to spend some time out of work with my colleagues and their families.

Today was grocery shopping day. It was a true adventure today because we went to one of the main fruit and vegetable stands - normally we cheat ourselves out of the African experience and go to a single gal at a side market and that way we dont get swarmed by tons of produce vendors.  I have to admit, it was fun to be in the midst of such high pressure sales. the great thing here is that people are honest and are not trying to rip you off (obscenely anyway, i am sure they make an extra 20-30 cents off of us). we also dont have to be overly worried about pick pockets and thieves.

We let Otto open his main xmas present from his father and I - we finally broke down and got him Lego Mindstorm. he is in heaven. we wanted him to have a chance to play with it while here with his dad and since he doesnt have school next week, they will need something to keep them occupied.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

What was I thinking!?!?!

What did we all do before internet?  We finally got internet at home. very slow (no Stewart/Colbert for me), and VERY expensive, but at least i can check email and most of the time read the NY times.

Work is going fairly well. not exactly what i expected. i have a lot to do to get the health unit functioning (to the level i would like it to be at to conform to US standards). There are no systems in place (at least not any that increase efficiency and patient satisfaction). as it turns out, many of the US families are getting their health care needs taken care of outside the Embassy.  As i previously mentioned, i am the first US health care provider at this post. The availability of basic health care in town is quite good. Over the next year, i hope to increase confidence in the clinic and to turn this around.

My other big issue at the moment is our 'imprisonment in a palace'.  We live in this amazingly gorgeous house (picture below), but we are stuck out of town with no vehicle and we are not supposed to use any public transport.  The Embassy only provides rides to and from work and we get a ride to do shopping one day a week. it is a major drag and not that great for morale.  there are a couple of restaurants in the neighborhood, but the closest ones are a 20 min walk away.  all social activities happen in the town center (where many Embassy families live) - but at this time, we have no way to participate.   i have been reading a ton and we have watched a lot of mediocre movies.  but i figure a couple of months after my car arrives and i will have likely forgotten this part of my time here.

Some photos of our house. Did I mention we have 6 bathrooms (not counting the one extra for the guard outside).  Three large bedrooms. An outside laundry room (which i will also eventually use as my exercise room once the elliptical arrives).

Last weekend was the Holiday Fair at Otto's school.  Some of the students did a dance performance (Indian style, but it is an 'international' school).  There were arts and crafts and TONS of ex-pats. Even Santa showed up, but i couldnt get Otto to stand by him for a photo. Made me realize we are not so alone here in Burkina Faso.  There are many, many embassies, about 150 Peace Corp volunteers, lots of US and other aid agencies.  White people where ever you look.

and of course, i must add a few classic Africa pictures (so you dont think i am just hiding out in Las Vegas climbing at Red Rocks).  These were taken just down the street from my house and are a common sight (goats more than the cattle).

hope this will keep everyone interested for the time being. Otto's dad just arrived a couple of days ago and we have plans to rent a car (also very expensive) and see some of the sights out of town. that will be a welcome relief.

miss everyone, as well as our not so large and ornate house, good beer, a little cold weather, a well functioning clinic and good public transport.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Settling in

Hello All!!

sorry for the long delay - and no photos yet.  I dont have internet at home (hope to get it installed this week). then i can download photos and put them on the blog. We cannot download outside data on government computers, so although I have internet I am a bit restricted in its use.

Otto and I made it safely to Ouagadougou (via London). We are getting settled.  We have a lovely house. Great swimming pool - which Otto lives in. Work is BUSY.  Otto really likes his school. It is hot here, but pleasant.

We are a bit isolated where we live - close to the Embassy, but about 20 minutes from the center of town. Things will improve once we get our car - but that will be a few months.  Otto's dad is coming for a visit next week, and we will try to rent a car and get out of town.

Everyone has been great and very welcoming to us.  We have had lots of invites for dinner and events.  We had a very nice Thanksgiving with a family who lives just down the street from us.  We have neighbors across the street with 2 boys (5 and 6 yo, Otto said it is just like at home with our neighbors Rhys and Kai).

Pictures soon and Otto will update his blog as soon as we have home internet. And then we can start skyping as well.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Outta Here!!

We are spending our last couple of hours in our hotel room, waiting to go to the airport. in the end everything did fall into place.  except one of my colleagues who was supposed to fly with us tonight; didnt get his visa at the last minute (but then did, long story, true to our new life in the foreign service). And i havent had a good night sleep in days.

speaking of my colleagues.  we are now all going our separate way after an intense 8 weeks together. we are not sure how we will all survive without each other to help fill in the blanks. We were like a group of orphans put on an island together and we had to figure out how to survive and flourish.

These are some of my beloved colleagues. just as crazy as i would hope. much like many of my colleagues in the past. ;)

i am so happy to be heading out.  Otto arrived on Saturday and we had a nice weekend. not too busy except for some final packing. had time to catch a movie and see some of the historic sites.

From here on out I hope things will get much more interesting. better pictures and better stories.  thanks for hanging in there during these dull 8 weeks of training.  Let the adventure begin...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Riding on the Sidewalk

I do love DC, but 8 weeks is about enough. The weather here rivals the good old PNW.  but i have to admit, there are a few things that make me a little nutty. so i thought I would share:

lots of people smoke - in public, where i am walking.

people bicycle on the side walks!! and dont wear helmuts!! this could be my next public health mission.

the traffic is like nothing i have seen before (1.5 hours to go about 12 miles the other evening)

the lines at the grocery stores are like nothing i have seen before.  at the Trader Joe's across the street sometimes the line is about 1/8 mile long, esp on Sundays. I am not joking, it snakes the entire store and out the door.  i tried to take a photo, but it didnt work.

People are way too fancy - coats, shoes, suits, hair, blah, blah, blah. less money to spend on gear.

no IPA on tap. i have to walk over a mile to get any decent beer  (but the Whole Foods does carry my fav Caldera IPA in cans).

I finally found a cafe that sells good coffee (stumptown, cafe intelligensia), only to end up paying $2.50 for a 12 oz americano and 14 bucks for 12 oz of beans. and I got a bit of attitude from the barista (dude, i live in PDX).

Portland food ROCKS. there are some want-to-be's here, but they are few and far between (and expensive).

bottom line.  Portland has it all and we are very lucky...those of us who live there.

having ranted a bit, this is my last weekend here and i will enjoy it to the fullest!!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Big Weekend - The Rally and Halloween

Otto and I did go to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear last weekend. The best parts were the hilarious signs and costumes.
This is a photo of us in the metro...which we did not take because it was so packed. I overheard someone  say this week that it was a record number of riders on the day of the Rally.

We couldn't see or hear anything, so it was a bit of a let down. Otto was bored. but for me the most amazing thing was being around that many people all at once. living in the PNW, i dont think we have that opportunity because there just aren't that many people.  i think it was good for Otto to experience an event  like this.
there are people in the trees!!
Hard to capture this on the iphone (my only camera), but 7th street was completely taken over by rally goers and the mass of people seemed to go on forever.

As for Halloween. Otto and I went to the kid-friendly neighborhood of a friend's. Otto got way too much candy (that is my opinion, certainly not his) with very little effort. he also got to give out candy by way of a chute from the top of the stairs at our friend's house, that then shot the candy out of the devil's tongue (see below).  very cool, the kids just went nuts over it.

The very scary and convincing Otto as Death. maybe not the best costume for such a family friendly neighborhood. he had to take of the hood a number of times to reassure small children dressed as princesses and super heroes.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Otto's visit

Otto got here a week ago and we have had a busy week.  The trip started with a milestone - Otto flew from Portland to Washington DC (with one stop in between) all by himself.  He did great and actually had a good time (they gave him a big bag of peanut M&M's - something his mom would never buy him).  This will be how he will travel a lot over the next couple of years once we move to Burkina Faso - so he can go back and visit his dad regularly while i stay at post and work.

 (Not a good photo, but i wanted documentation of this 'first')

We have visited our favorite museums (Natural History and Air & Space on the Mall). I was able to drag him to the portrait gallery for a viewing of some modern art and he even liked it (but we stayed less than 30 minutes which is generally the true decider of whether he likes something or not).  He has been a real trooper at work with me this week, sitting through some boring meetings.  He had his birthday while here and is TEN - how is that possible!?!  here are a few photos of his trip.

We got our diplomatic passports

Watched a film at the Natural History museum with a close relative

Carved some pumpkins


And today we are headed to the Mall to make history.  We are going to the Restore Sanity/Keep Fear Alive rally. Otto has never been to a rally, so it should be an interesting experience for him. He doesnt appreciate Stewart-Colbert humor as much as i do - so it may fall under the 30 minutes to boredom rule.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Happy Birthday (to me!!)

I had a great birthday.  here are some lovely flowers i got from my mom and Dave.  they brighten up my room which is otherwise typically hotel drab in color and decor.

Birthday story.  I had a massage that evening (not as a bday treat, but because my hip is acting up again from all the glorious running I am doing here). there was, what i hoped to be, a Portland-like restaurant a block away that i wanted to check out, Founding Farmers.  very hard to get a table or even bar space, and the bar was my only option. there was a single seat pushed as far out of the way as possible, at the very edge of the bar, and it had a couple's bags on it.  well, i really wanted to eat here, so i got up the nerve and kindly asked if i could sit there. they were gracious and didnt seem to mind me asking (phew), and they went out of their way to rearrange their seats to make room for me. I was sitting next to the lady and she was friendly, asking general questions.  well, long story short, she asked just the right questions and it turns out she and her husband are in the Foreign Service (had been all over the world in the past 20 years). they had just been to my flag day a few weeks ago because they are mentoring some of my class mates. that on top of some good food and finally a good beer (from California mind you) just made my evening.

This is a view from my hotel room. Quite nice being up high with a couple of big windows.  Tucked just to the bottom right of the picture is the Trader Joe's. Could life in DC be any better - YES, Otto is coming on Saturday!!!

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Arts

Have I mentioned how wonderful DC is.  Every evening - 365 days a year - the Kennedy Center of Performing Arts has a free show.  Wildly varied - classical music, kids programs, dance, bluegrass.

This is a picture of the stage.  The show I went to earlier this week was Hip Hop Dance Ambassadors. It is a program supported by none other than the State Dept and the Cultural Affairs offices in country. These are my new colleagues working on such wonderful outreach opportunities.

This performance featured dancers from Bolivia, Burma, Pakistan, India, Turkey, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Ecuador. They were all very good and what a great opportunity for them to come to the US and have a chance to meet their peers from different countries.  The thread throughout all their comments was that hip hop and dance is a universal language.

And it is all FREE, just like so many of the museums here.  I only wish other cities had the budget to offer the arts to people. It should be accessible to everyone.


It was a great week.  The highlight was a parasitology course at the Military University. It was exceptional, again another highly knowledgeable instructor who had traveled extensively and seen all sorts of unusual diseases. For a little taste...

WARNING, not for the faint of heart.

This is why i just love tropical medicine.  We got to learn about all sorts of nasty, hungry parasites, see lots of disgusting pictures and look at poop all afternoon.  I just wanted to share.

So, as i was previously saying, I hope every one of you will plan a visit to wonderful W Africa, so you can experience some of these joys in person ;)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

My very own government issue cubicle

Here it is...

I had to post the photo of my name plate, just so you know it is real.  Okay, no windows, pretty spartan, but mine all mine for the next 5 weeks.

MED training has been great.  I am learning the meat of what I will be doing.  Also learning the computer system and database stuff.  Meeting with the other team members and administrative staff here in Washington.  We have some great doctors/specialists who can help us in the field (cardiology, endocrine, neurology). that is a big relief to know we have the back up.  i have been so lucky in my career, working in academic settings, where we always have someone to go to for questions.

It is a good thing i am here now (thank you Bruin and Diane!!).  The next orientation isn't until March 2011 and the rumor is that there might not be any more MED positions at that time - whispers of funding cuts are out there. There has been a big push to hire more staff of late, so i may have come in just under the wire.  i feel very fortunate.

Next week i have a 2 day parasitology course - that will be a needed refresher. I am madly working to put all the final details in order - getting my car set up to make the trip to Burkina, last minute shopping, sorting out the phone thing (i have to buy an unlocked cell phone...whatever that is), scheduling immunizations (Stacy or Jenna, are you available to come give these to me?). I feel like i will never have enough time to get all of this together.  it looks like we will be leaving mid-Nov, right on schedule.  cant wait!!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Swearing in Ceremony

On Friday we were sworn in.  We say the same oath of office that Thomas Jefferson said over 200 years ago (raise the right hand and repeat after me sort of thing).  It was all very official.  The event took place in the Benjamin Franklin room of the State Dept. (photos below, gorgeous).  it is essentially a museum with a large deck and fantastic views. Was hoping to have Hilary, our boss, swear us in, but i suppose she had better things to do...

Even better than the swearing in, is that we had the afternoon to do administrative 'stuff'.  i have been feeling so overwhelmed with all the information, homework, arrangements to travel. i finally feel a bit on top of things.

Monday we have a security training back at the Foreign Service Institute and then will officially start Medical training on Wednesday. I am looking forward to that.  I feel like i am not using my brain with all this lack of medicine.  It also means 5 more weeks and i should be out of here and on to the real adventure.

The Swearing in room, colleagues and families wandering around

There is that person in the suit again, how does she keep getting into all of these photos?!?!?  Certainly i told everyone my $15 dollar jacket purchase story.  I even got another jacket here in DC at a second hand store for $10.  Some days i think the culture shock here in DC will be greater than any i experience in W Africa. I feel like a fish out of water here.

The View from the deck.  This city is so different from any in the PNW. if you have never been to our fair capital, i highly recommend it.

Hope everyone is well. thanks to all who have checked out the blog. hang in there, photo's from Ouagadougou are just around the corner.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

did i forget to mention where i am going with all this excitement.

I have provided a simple map of the country and of Africa so you can brush up on your geography.  you can check it out on wikipedia; you get different information by typing in both 'burkina faso' and 'ouagadougou' separately.

i have to admit, i have the most interesting city name in all of the Foreign Service. it is very often referenced by speakers because it is fun to say and sounds so exotic.  "wah-ga-doo-goo"

Flag Day

        The hour has finally arrived

 These are all the countries we are being posted to, essentially every continent is represented. And as a true American I can say that I am not sure I have ever heard of a few of the countries where my colleagues are going.

you may wonder why i have added this picture of a random specialist getting their assignment.  but THAT IS a suit, shaking hands with an ambassador.  They have obviously done their job well teaching me to be a diplomat.

It was a great day for all. The vast majority of people were quite excited about their selected posts (and I am jealous of a few, S Africa, New Delhi, Rome, Thailand, Australia I could go on an on).  Many of us went out afterwards for happy hour and people were relaxed and having a great time.  It was nice to see because the past couple of weeks have been filled with post research, homework, and just plain old exhaustion from a full day of intense content.

This is such a big step finding out our first post - it all feels that much more real.  Of course getting to post is another thing. Some will go immediate. others (like us in MED) will spend some more weeks in training.  Others will spend months in training, mainly learning the country language. But tomorrow, we will all meet together once again back in the classroom.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Big Day

Tomorrow is Flag Day - a day we have all been anxiously awaiting during our training. by 'we' i mean our generalist and specialist classes - about 160 people in all.  it is the day we find out where we are going and are presented with the flag of our post country during the Flag Day Ceremony. Friends and family will be there to cheer us on.  This will be another beginning point for many of us.  (a side note here, those of us who are part of the medical team were told a week early where we would be going. this is because we do not bid on our post, our first post is directed. i guess that is the trade off..we don't get a choice, but we find out a little earlier).  even though i know where i am going, i am still excited for the official announcement.

Although i am not a classroom person, the past couple of weeks has been full of learning.  The speakers have been of the highest caliber - experts in many fields, preparing us to work in the Foreign Service.  that is certainly one advantage to being in this select group of people.  It has been interesting to get to know some of my specialist colleagues - we are a wide range of people from different backgrounds and different specialties.  but what brings us all together is the desire to travel and be a positive voice for our country.  I am also inspired by many of my new colleagues who have done amazing things in their life and bring a wealth of insight and experience with them to the FS.

i cannot wait to hear where everyone is going!!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The middle of the beginning

I think a blog is going to be the way for me to go.  i am still not so sure about the face book thing. this way you can see what i am up to and some photos and you can even tell me what you think. and the best part is that i will have it all recorded here on the blog for my grandchildren.

i feel like i am starting not so much at the beginning of this adventure, but as it is in progress. it has been a whirlwind getting me to my training in DC.  working full time, enjoying the last bits of summer with my son and preparing him as he started his 5th grade year.  all the sleepless nights worried about the pack out, where am i going, did i make the right decision?  only time will tell.

another reason i want to write this blog is to connect with other Foreign Service folks and those considering the FS. with the thought of maybe providing some information and insights into the process. i had a difficult time finding much information online about the life overseas of FS staff.

i feel like the most useful information may be what i have learned up to this point (related to getting ready for the big change in jobs). it is a huge leap to pack all of your belongings (HHE, UAB, long term storage... even the terms are all foreign), without knowing where you will be posted, quit your good job (in my case i had an excellent job), inform your family and friends of your decision to live a completely different life style. it was exhausting and overwhelming. for me not very exciting.  the excitement will come when i land at my post (more on that in a separate posting).

I did make it though and here i am in our lovely capital, Washington DC.  so much to do and see here, it is a great place to be for 8 weeks of training.  my days are full with class time and tons of very important information - from filling out my time sheet to cross cultural communication. i do miss patient care, but one of my new colleagues has needed some medical attention, so at least i feel useful.