J. Kael Weston’s The Mirror Test: America at War in Iraq and Afghanistan (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:45 am ET

“When we look into that mirror, let’s not turn away.”
-J. Kael Weston

Richard Holbrooke in The Longest War called John Kael Weston “a remarkable young Foreign Service officer after he established a direct dialogue with tribal leaders, university students, mullahs, madrassa students and even Taliban defectors in 2008.

Dexter Filkins, the author of The Forever War wrote that “As a front-line political officer for the State Department, Weston has perhaps seen more of Iraq and Afghanistan than any single American. But what makes this book special–what makes Weston special–is his ability to transcend his own experience and bring it all home, and force us, as Americans, to ask ourselves the larger questions that these wars demand. This is a necessary book, and one that will last.” 

Phil Klay, the author of Redeployment and winner of the 2014 National Book Award for Fiction  and the John Leonard First Book Prize wrote that the books is “a riveting, on-the-ground look at American policy and its aftermath” and “is essential reading for anyone seeking to come to terms with our endless wars.”

John Kael Weston joined the State Department in 2001. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan as the State Department representative in Anbar Province, Iraq, and Helmand and Khost Provinces in Afghanistan (http://www.jkweston.com). He has a twin brother Kyle Weston who works for a Utah-based outsourcing company and wrote about experiencing war through a twin.  Prior to serving in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, he served at USUN in 2003.  He is the recipient of the Secretary of State’’s Medal for Heroism.  He left government service in 2010.  Read an excerpt below courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

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click on image to read the excerpt

 

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FSO Matthew Palmer’s New Book — The Wolf of Sarajevo (Excerpt)

Posted: 12:08 am ET

 

In February 2015, we did an excerpt of Matthew Palmer’s book, The American Mission (see Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero). In June 2015, he came out with a new book Secrets of State and a new protagonist, former FSO Sam Trainor. This May, he is back with a new thriller featuring FSO Eric Petrofina, back at the American Embassy in Sarajevo after 20 years.

Matt Palmer was a desk officer for Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) through the end of the 1999 Kosovo conflict. He was  also posted twice to the American Embassy in Belgrade, initially as a first-tour officer at the height of the war in Bosnia and, later as the political counselor.  He speaks fluent Serbo-Croatian, and his many experiences in the region served as inspiration for The Wolf of Sarajevo.  We’re looking forward to reading his third book.  We’re pleased to share an excerpt below courtesy of Amazon Kindle.

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click on image to read the excerpt |recommends using the “full view” for easier navigation (see lower right hand side of screen after excerpt displays on screen)

 

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Matthew Palmer on MSNBC Talks About Diplomats and His New Book, Secrets of State

Posted: 12:08 am EDT

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Related posts:

FSO Matthew Palmer at Politics & Prose with new thriller — Secrets of State, June 1, 7pm

Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero

FSO Matthew Palmer at Politics & Prose with new thriller — Secrets of State, June 1, 7pm

Posted: 3:15 am EDT

 

In February, we did an excerpt of Matthew Palmer’s book, The American Mission (see Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero). He’s back with a new book Secrets of State and a new protagonist, former FSO Sam Trainor.

The new book is dedicated to Matthew’s late father, Michael Palmer, MD, the author of Miracle Cure, Critical Judgment, Silent Treatment, Natural Causes, Extreme Measures, Flashback, Side Effects, and The Sisterhood, to name a few. Michael Palmer’s books have been translated into thirty languages. The 1991 thriller Extreme Measures starring Hugh Grant, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Gene Hackman  is based on his novel of the same name.

Matt Palmer will be at Politics and Prose on Monday, June 1, 2015 at 7 pm. (5015 Connecticut Ave NW, Washington, DC 20008 | (202) 364-1919 • Hours and Directions). 

 

SECRETS OF STATE

(book cover by G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

SECRETS OF STATE

by Matthew Palmer
G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication date: May 26, 2015
Price: $26.95
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-399-165719
eBook ISBN: 978-1-101-626375

Here is a brief clip from his publishing house:

After many years, Sam Trainor has left his Foreign Service job, trading his place as a South Asia analyst for the U.S. government for the same desk at Argus Security, a Beltway Bandit consulting firm. The reason for the move is simple: bypassed for promotion, Trainor, brilliant but a bit unbridled, knew his government career was dead in the water. Though none to comfortable with the reality that consultants have taken over far too much power in the running of the government, he sees the writing on the wall. And why not do the same work for twice the pay?

But working for Argus is different in ways that have nothing to do with salary. No longer sworn to uphold the constitution of the United States, Trainor now answers to corporate masters. So his options are less straightforward when he stumbles upon some Intel that points to a plan to upend the tenuous balance between India and Pakistan. Complicating things, one of the participants in the intercepted phone conversation is Vanalika Chandra, political counselor at the Indian Embassy in Washington—and, not incidentally, Trainor’s adulterous lover. For the veteran analyst, nothing about this sits right.

As Trainor and his team dig deeper for the source of this dangerous misinformation, it quickly becomes apparent that, left unchecked, it could lead to nuclear war. As the riveting plot unfolds—from the Beltway and the Pentagon to Mumbai and Lahore—Trainor will come to the troubling conclusion that his employer’s involvement—and motives—may not align with his own hard won view of the way the global politics should be conducted. And as the clock ticks, he must suss out a truth that will prevent the world from changing forever.

Matthew Palmer is a twenty-year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service, currently serving as the Director of Multilateral Affairs in the State Department’s Bureau of Asian and Pacific Affairs. A life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he has worked as a diplomat around the world. While on the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff, Palmer helped design and implement the Kimberley Process for certifying African diamonds as “conflict free,” expertise he drew on in writing his debut novel, The American Mission.

His third book already has a title —  The Wolf of Sarajevo.  It is set in the Balkans where he spent a good chunk of his Foreign Service career.

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Anything Can Be Sold Campaign: Try ‘Afghanistan, Always An Adventure’ — The Pomegranate Peace (Excerpt)

Posted: 1:32 am EDT

rashmeeRashmee Roshan Lall started with The Times of India newspaper in Delhi, made a brief foray into publishing as editor of Rupa and HarperCollins India, and then took up broadcasting with the BBC World Service in London. She presented ‘The World Today’, BBC World Service’s flagship news and current affairs program. She was subsequently The Times of India’s Foreign Editor based in London, reporting on Europe. Till June 2011, she was editor of The Sunday Times of India. A Foreign Service spouse, she previously spent a year in Kabul, Afghanistan, working for the US Embassy’s Public Affairs Section. She also spent six months in Washington, D.C., reporting on the 2012 American presidential election.  Visit her website at www.rashmee.com.

The Pomegranate Peace is a work of fiction.  The author of that dark dramedy on Iraq clearly see this book as art imitating life.  Five million dollars in U.S. taxpayer money, handed over to an Afghani-Canadian contractor resident in Vancouver to grow pomegranates instead of poppy? Check.  Peter Van Buren  writes that “one could retitle Pomegranate Peace as We Meant Well, Too and not be too far off the mark.”   And we have to agree.  The excerpt below is Chapter 11 of the book; we imagine this is how you brand a country — with a PR flak, lots of money and a small shot glass topped with magic and imagination.  Read more via Amazon, HuffPo, the Good Book Corner.  Thanks to Rashmee, Piers  and Arcadia Books for permission to share the following excerpt with our readers.

pomegranate peace cover

Reprinted from The Pomegranate Peace by Rashmee Roshan Lall by arrangement with Arcadia Books Limited. Copyright © 2013 Rashmee Roshan Lall. Available as an ebook from any ebook platform.

* * *

Mr Khayber Ahmad, veteran of regime change, was not the only one thinking ahead to yet another transition. Over at the embassy, we were obsessed with plans for departure. Our president had set a date, or at least the year: 2014. We had 700 days to shape up and ship out. I was on the Transition Planning Team (Small), otherwise known as TPTS, or Tippets if you wanted to run everything together because you had run out of time, or patience, or the desire to be accurate.

Tippets was born of Tipple, the Transition Planning Team (Large) or TPL. The smaller group had a hundred people; the large was twice as big. Tippets was supposed to think, plan, do (TPD). That is how ‘Campaign Afghanistan’ began. Out of two acronyms and a string of alphabets. I was there. I saw it come into existence. I watched it take shape and I was present when it was launched.

It took a little while for Campaign Afghanistan to become the new standard for management courses taught at American universities. But it happened because of Sam Starkowsky’s excellent and highly readable book, The Donkey in the Dark. The book became a bestseller and Little Sam was anointed the world’s favourite management guru. But at the time, no one could have imagined that Little Sam would turn the 30-million-dollar ‘Campaign’ into the American version of Rumi’s 700-year-old story ‘The Elephant in the Dark’. And a solid business theory to boot, one which is routinely cited as the essential philosophy of creative problem-solving.

Everyone now knows the way in which Professor Starkowsky reprised Rumi. The original had a group of men touching an elephant in a dark room and offering wildly differing reports on the creature. The one who touched the trunk said it had to be a hosepipe; the man who felt the beast’s ear thought it was surely a fan; the third ran his hand over the animal’s leg and pronounced it a pillar and the fourth caressed the elephant’s wide back and decided it was a throne. Just as Rumi used the story to illustrate the limits of individual perception, Little Sam’s modern fable about a dozen Americans and a donkey underlined the importance of seeing the whole, not just parts of a problem. I have to hand it to Little Sam. I never knew he had it in him. He seems to have been the only one at a Tippets meeting to see the big picture.

It seemed such a good idea at the start even though the memo that set it off was the usual bureaucratese:

Agenda for TPTS:

TPD for APA – Sustainability. Selling Afghanistan to tourists, businessmen, the world.

To decode, this meant that the Transition Planning Team (Small)’s Think, Plan, Do strategy for Afghanistan-Post-America was all about selling the country as a brand.

As a former journalist, I was on the Tippets Working Group, which was smaller – just 25 people. We spent a whole day talking ‘Afghanistan, the idea’. Much of the time we debated the images that come to mind when the name Afghanistan is said out loud. Mountains, brave men, weapons, war, beautiful but benighted women. What, if any of that, to sell? Could it be sold at all?

Opinion on the working group was mixed. Little Sam thought that anything could be sold. Anecdotally, even refrigerators to Eskimos.

‘And in the real world, plots of land on the moon are sold,’ he said gravely. ‘And what about the promise of hundreds of thousands of dollars if you send a check for a mere ten bucks to a certain address? Dreams can be sold,’ he added persuasively, ‘though sometimes they might be dud.’

 

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Move Over Jason Bourne! Meet Diplomat Alex Baines, Our New Favorite Fictional Hero

 

Matthew Palmer is a twenty-seven year veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service. He served as Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade from 2011-2014. Last year, he became the Director for Multilateral Affairs in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. The American Mission is his first novel. It is a thriller set in the Democratic Republic of Congo featuring American diplomat Alex Baines as the protagonist. The American Mission is the first in a series of novels focused on American diplomacy that will be published by Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Random House.  This is first-rate, can’t put down fiction.  Bought the book one day, and gobbled it up to the end in two days! The excerpt below selected by Putnam is the only section of the book that’s set in the consular section.  The rest of the story is about Africa, minerals and exploitation by big corporations (there goes your economic statecraft).  Oh, there is an ambassador, corrupted, and an OGA guy with tricks, and a love interest. All for a fictional run that would make into a fantastic movie.  Read the Goodreads review here, from Kirkus here, from Rhapsody in Books here and the rest of media reviews here.  Thanks to Matt, and Ashley (Putnam) for allowing us to share this excerpt with our readers!

Matt Palmer Author Photo Credit (C) Kathryn Banas

Matt Palmer Author Photo Credit (C) Kathryn BanasAMERICAN MISSION jacket

Reprinted from The American Mission by Matthew Palmer by arrangement with G. P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, Copyright © 2014 by Matthew Palmer.

 

JUNE 12, 2009
CONAKRY

Check this one out. Twenty—two years old. Absolutely stunning. Says she wants to go to Disney World, but she has a one—way ticket to New York. Why do they always say that they’re going to Disney World? You’d think they’d just won the Super Bowl or something.”

Hamilton Scott, Alex’s partner on the visa line at the U.S. Embassy in Conakry, Guinea, leaned around the narrow partition that separated their interview booths, dangling an application for a tourist visa. The woman in the visa photo clipped to the upper corner bore a striking resemblance to the supermodel Naomi Campbell.

It was admittedly unprofessional, but Alex understood what Ham was doing. Visa—line work could be excruciatingly monotonous, and in a third—world hellhole like Conakry, the applicants would say or do just about anything to gain entrance to the United States. The vice consuls often resorted to black humor or informal games like Visa Applicant Bingo as a way to keep themselves sane.

“Do you think she’d sleep with me for a visa?” Ham asked with mock seriousness.

“Twenty—two? Isn’t she a little old for you, Ham?”

“Ordinarily, yes. But this girl’s exceptional. And there’s no way she qualifies as a tourist.”

“Qualify” was a kind of code word in visa work. The law said that anyone applying for a visa to the United States had to prove that he or she was not secretly intending to emigrate. The challenge for the applicants was demonstrating that they had strong and compelling reasons to come back after visiting the U.S. In practice, this meant money. Rich people were “qualified” for visas. Poor people struggled to overcome the supposition that they were economic migrants. In the euphemistic language of government, they were “unqualified.”

Ham turned back to the applicant and explained to Ms. Hadja Malabo that, sadly, she lacked the qualifications for an American visa and should consider reapplying when her “situation” had changed. Ham’s French was flawless, a consequence of four years at a boarding school in Switzerland. He was polite but, Alex thought, somewhat brusque in rejecting Ms. Malabo’s application.

Ham leaned back around the partition.

“I’m almost through my stack, only four or five left. How you doing?”

Alex looked at the pile of application packages still in front of him. There were at least twenty left. He and Ham were the only two interviewing officers at post, which meant about fifty nonimmigrant visa interviews a day for each of them. Ham made his decisions with a brutal efficiency. Alex took more time with each applicant. Most would come away empty—handed, but he wanted to give each person who came into his interview booth the sense that they had had a chance to make their case and that the consul had at least given them a fair shot. For most Guineans, their brief moment with a consular officer was as close as they were going to get to the United States.

“I still have a few to go,” Alex admitted.

“Give me some of yours.” Ham reached over and took nearly half of the stack out of Alex’s in—box. “If we can finish in less than an hour, we can grab a sandwich and a beer at Harry’s bar. My treat. Gotta meet with the Ambassador after lunch to talk over the report on human trafficking I did for him last week.” Ham paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, Alex,” he said carefully. “You know I don’t mean to rub that in.”

 

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Now Showing — Madam Ambassador: “I will buy my way if I have to!”

By Domani Spero

Now showing at the Capital Fringe Festivaltickets are still available for the July 20 and July 27 engagement of Madam Ambassador, a play by retired diplomat, historian and playwright Duke Ryan.  

Madam Ambassador, Capital Fringe

Image from Madam Ambassador, Capital Fringe

According to the preview of the play via DC Metro Theater Arts:

Madam Ambassador is different. It is a satire, which focuses on the bizarre way the United States chooses it top diplomats. The problem, of course, is that many Americans don’t even know that we have diplomats, much less have any idea what they do. Foreign affairs?–armed forces handle that, don’t they? Alas, they do, more and more, partially because of the ridiculous system lampooned in this play.

After a reading in England, a sophisticated Cambridge audience enjoyed it immensely, but, interestingly, they said again and again—do you actually pick ambassadors like that? The answer, of course, is yes– the ones in the nice posts anyway.

Carolyn Kelemen reviewing the play writes:

“Part Ann Richards, Madeline Albright, and, perhaps, Pamela Harriman – if they were Republican – Magno captures the feistiness of all three world leaders plus a little bit of Margaret Thatcher with her crisp English pronouncement, “I will buy my way if I have to!” Sound familiar?

As a retired diplomat and historian, Playwright Duke Ryan is savvy to the plots of international diplomacy, and his humor in dealing with these issues comes off clear and direct. “When you are in public service you have to think of money,” the appointed Danish ambassador proclaims to Buzz, about to stir up more trouble.

WaPo writes that this play is probably terribly funny to FS folks and that when the actors find their feet, maybe the non-FS audience may find it really funny, too:

“Madam Ambassador,” a satire about diplomats written by former diplomat Duke Ryan, is probably really funny to people who have worked in the foreign service. To the rest of us, it’s a slightly clunky story about a bored wealthy woman (Patsy Magno) who buys herself an ambassadorship to Copenhagen and then has to play some dirty politics in order to . . . well, it’s not entirely clear. 

The show drags because the actors often seem to have trouble remembering their lines, and in at least one case an actor is still surreptitiously on book. We see that script on your desk, masquerading as papers, Madam. Perhaps once the actors find their feet, the whole thing will be faster and lighter, and the diplomats in the audience won’t be the only ones guffawing.

A brief description of Madam Ambassador, the play from Duke Ryan via http://www.henrydukeryan.com:

The Corn Belt meets the Beltway when Valerie Butts makes up her mind to get back to the hub of power from which she was dumped abruptly when her powerful senator husband first lost his seat then died campaigning to get it back. That left her in Union, Illinois, far out where the prairie meets the horizon, or as she sees it, in the middle of Purgatory. She decides she wants to be an ambassador and believes she still has the connections to do it. Maybe she does, maybe she doesn’t. We watch her try.

Cast and Setting

Valerie Butts: She is middle-aged, conservatively well dressed, and well spoken. She grew up in Chicago’s fashionable North Shore suburbs and was educated in private Eastern schools. Shortly after college graduation she married an upward-bound politician who soon became a senator. She became used to living in high-powered Washington circles, but the senator’s defeat, then death, left her in a small prairie town.

Buzz Butts: He is Valerie’s second husband, and he, too, is middle-aged, but a good cut below her on the socio-economic scale. Except for a tour in the Marines and a cruise he took to get over a divorce, he spent all his life on Chicago’s West Side until he met Valerie. He has spent much of his life managing a gymnasium and was once an amateur boxer.

Gumpston: He is a small town activist and political party operative who is moving higher in non-elective politics. He is eager, almost over-eager, to gain recognition for his work.

Gretta: She is a maid in the home of the Danish Minister of Sport and Recreation. She is sometimes casual about what is hers and what is not and can be quite brazen about it.

Leon Strummer: He is a high-powered Washington lawyer, sometimes holding high office, sometimes acting behind the scenes, but always a major player in power circles. He is profane, arrogant, and abrasive.

Mr. Ryan’s real name is Henry Butterfield Ryan.  He joined the Foreign Service in 1961.  He served with the U.S. Information Agency for 25 years in Brazil, Norway, Australia, and Washington.   USIA sponsored him for an academic year at Harvard where he earned a Master’s degree in Public Administration (M.P.A.). Later, he went on leave without pay to get a Ph.D. in diplomatic history at Cambridge University. He returned to USIA afterwards and subsequently retired in 1986. He is the author of several books and plays.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baghdad Nights by Raymond Maxwell

✪ By Domani Spero

We have previously hosted Raymond Maxwell’s poem in this blog (see Raymond Maxwell: Former Deputy Asst Secretary Removed Over Benghazi Pens a Poem).  That was quite a riot.

What do you think about when you’re taking mortar rounds?

“Baghdad Nights” which originally appeared in FB and published here with Mr. Maxwell’s permission will not be quite so controversial but it stands out as a poem of stoic calm amidst the chaos of war.

We particularly like its auditory images which gives the poem a sense of place but also a sense of that specific moment in time.  A poem of faith or in a fatalistic sense of whatever will be, will be. A total acceptance of what is unknowable.  An inner freedom from fear in the face of a disorderly and dangerous external world.

According to his LinkdIn profile, Mr. Maxwell served in foreign service assignments in Guinea-Bissau, the U.K., Angola, Ghana, Egypt, Iraq and Syria.  In a previous 12-year career with the U.S. Navy, he “served division officer tours (auxiliary engineering and weapons systems) aboard the guided missile destroyer, USS Luce DDG-38 and enlisted engineering tours as a machinist’s mate on nuclear-powered submarines the USS Hammerhead SSN-663 and the USS Michigan SSBN-727 (B).”

 

Photo by US Embassy Baghdad

Baghdad Nights

© By Raymond Maxwell

Baghdad nights

It was a long-assed day.
We had dinner at the DFAC
and returned to the office.
Finally knocked off around 9pm.

The mandatory protective vest
weighs heavy on my already tired shoulders –
while the strap connecting the two sides
cuts into my waist as I try to balance
the weight on my already tired hips –

I lumber on to my tin-foil hootch
in Embassy Estates on the
the Republican Palace grounds…

It is late.  I take a shower and
turn on Fox News,
the only station that works.
“In California today, Senator Clinton says
President Johnson was more important
than Dr. King to getting the Civil Rights Bill
passed.”  Aw shit.  White House better stay white.

I fall asleep while reading “Certain to Win,”
one of those Army War College texts
from the Strategic Studies Masters program
I was falling further and further behind in
with each passing Baghdad day.

2am.  The witching hour.
Time for target practice.
I’m awakened by the sound
of the Duck and Cover alarm.
The concrete reinforced shelter is 100 meters
away from my tin-foil hootch –
100 meters as the crow flies…

Nope.  I’ll sit this one out – and pray –

Bong!  Bong!  Bong!  Bong! The alarm
sounds.  I hear people stumbling,
some drunkenly staggering –
to the safety of the shelter.

I shelter in place and
start my usual prayer
(I skip a lot of drills these days):

The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want.
He maketh me ….

SWOOOOOOSH!

A mortar round flies over
the tin foil roof
of my tin foil hootch –

….lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me
beside the Still Waters….–

THUMP.

The round hits the nearby ground.
Maybe it is another dud.
I continue my prayer:

….He restoreth my soul —

KABOOOOOM!

It was not a dud.
But I pinch myself and
I am not dead.

I finish my prayer:

And I will dwell in the House of the Lord,
forever.

Back to sleep.
Tomorrow is another Baghdad day.

🔥

Old Bugaboo of Packout Bothers You? Pick Up This Foreign Service Companion

— By Domani Spero 

*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If…

√  The sound of packing tape makes you cringe.

√  Every time you stay in a hotel, the kids ask if it is their new home.

√  You look at everything you want to buy with a view to: A., how much does it weigh and B., will it explode without a transformer.

√  When you return home, you have a nervous breakdown in Walmart because there are too many choices.

√  You come back to the States for home leave and your 3-year-old yells, “Look, Mama, they have McDonald’s in AMERICA, too!”

Miving Your Hosehold_AAFSW

Every day, somewhere in the world, one or more of the 13, 787 Foreign Service employees and unknown numbers of family members are in the process of moving.  The largest rotation often happens during the summer transfer season, typically after school is out.  This is one of the most stressful part of the Foreign Service, one that we don’t think ever gets easier with time.

If you want to know what moving is like every few years, pick up The Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind. This  is a 180-page book divided into five sections: The Big Picture;The Nitty-Gritty; Kids, Pets, and Moving; When Things Go Off-Script and Taking Care of Ourselves.

Eva Groening, a 30-year veteran of FS life with seven consumables posts writes that “moving begins, at least in your mind, the day you learn you will be leaving “here” and going “there.” Then this gem:

“Barter is a wonderful thing – some roach killer for a few tubes of toothpaste? A box of corn starch for a package of chocolate chips?  I treat expiration dates as mere suggestions, but bulging cans go in the trash immediately. 

Ana Gabriela Turner, a spouse who naturalized in 2012 writes about foreign born spouses: culture shock particularly for those moving to the United States, the naturalization process, to work or not to work and other challenges. She forgot to add obtaining a driver’s license as one of the necessities for foreign born spouses navigating their new lives in the United States.

Ed Dyer is part of a trailing household currently assigned to Harare, Zimbabwe writes about the Azimuth Check,  a bearing point or why you need that home leave.

Danielle Dumm, a traveling, writing, shutterbug mama currently in New Delhi, India writes that storing your household’s most important documents and most treasured media in digital form has never been easier and tells you How to Digitize Your Life.

FSO Janet Heg from US Embassy Kabul writes about Packing for an Unaccompanied Tour, what to put in your “Go Bag” and passes on an advice for “shoes that are not only comfortable but also allow you to run in an emergency.”

Michele Hopper, a mom of four who “lives by a well-stocked pantry” writes about Shopping for Consumables and advises readers that  “A full pantry of familiar foods eases even the most difficult day.”   True dat.  Also, how can one not enjoy having a grocery store in your very own home?

FSO Sadie Dworak writes about losing her faithful 10-year-old shih tzu, Hattie during her assignment to Saudi Arabia. A heart-wrenching experience at home but particularly overseas where so many things can go wrong.

Then there’s Public Diplomacy Officer Marlene Monfiletto Nice’s Packing Out is Hard to Do to the tune of Neil Sedaka’s “Breaking Up is Hard to Do.”

Don’t take my plates away from me, My pots and pans, my cutlery,
Got more entertaining to do,
And packing makes it hard to do.

Remember when we first arrived,
It took so long to get the house just right, Now I can’t wait to start anew,
But packing up is hard to do.

But our favorite contribution is hands down, The Slacker’s Guide to Moving by “Ima Spouse Oh”

An international move could be compared to a hurricane: You know it’s coming, you look at maps and worry, and you do the best you can to get ready, whether that means securing patio furniture or downing huge tropical drinks.

The list of things that you “should do” before a move can darken your mood faster than a chocolate shortage. For instance, the first chapter of the State Department’s Foreign Service Assignment Notebook fills 13 pages with preparation suggestions.

This Slacker is here to tell you that you can skip pretty much every- thing in that chapter and still arrive at your destination. In many cases, spending more hours on your move will not actually result in a better experience at post.

Somebody described this book like having folks over and chatting about packouts. If so, then we’d all be happy to have jugs of coffee with EFM, ‘Ima Spouse Oh’ and her pearls of wisdom.  Do you know that you can have things moved in “as-is” condition?  “Yes, the trusty toaster oven arrived complete with crumbs and blotches of melted cheese.”

We had a full laundry basket and a trash can moved in “as-in” condition. Both survived the transfer.

Looking for work before you get to post? Forgetaboutit. “All of the local work Ms. Spouse Oh eventually found was obtained once she started meeting people face-to-face. She decided to change from a job “hunter” to a job “gatherer”: The work is sitting there, she just has to show up in the right place and load it into her basket!”

Mrs. ‘Ima Spouse Oh’  is also huge on delegation, unless “it’s too much effort:”  “Ask the movers to unpack the boxes. Claim you have to work and let your spouse handle everything…. Go on vacation and let the Foreign Service officer in the family manage the move –that’s what would happen if he/she were single anyhow! Just promise not to complain about how things were done if you did not help do them.”

Hah!

The only thing missing in this book is when a spouse is ditched by the FSO overseas, and how that packout in the midst of a separation or a divorce can be extremely messy.

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) has put together this Foreign Service Companion Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind.   The book edited by Kelly Bembry Midura and Zoe Cabaniss Friloux.  Kelly blogs at wellthatwasdifferent.wordpress.com.  The editors and authors are volunteers. Your purchase will benefit the programs of the AAFSW.  We understand that this is part one of a series planned for publication, we look forward to the rest of the books in the series.

*You Might Be in the Foreign Service If… excerpted from the book.

(^_^)

Earth Embassy Ganymede – Administrative Notice #04-011300

Been working on a draft of a fictional story set at Earth Embassy Ganymede. It’ll be like any diplomatic mission complete with intrigues, gossip, romance, and all the deadly sins.  Anyway, this is part of the story where the embassy in Ganymede is suffering from some bad press and low morale. So the embassy’s senior management adviser released the following admin notice.

English: Image of Jupiter and Ganymede

English: Image of Jupiter and Ganymede (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Earth Embassy Ganymede
Administrative Notice #05-011300: Morale

It has come to management’s attention that there has been a lot of chatter and hyperspace email about morale and safety at this outpost.  This notice serves as a reminder to everyone under Ganymede outpost authority that discussion about morale is an unproductive use of work time. Morale is self-esteem in action; individuals who perceived that morale is lacking may need help in improving their self-esteem. Please make every effort to schedule an appointment to see the quadrant psychiatrist.

Ganymede management fully believes, like the 34th American President Dwight Eisenhower, that the best morale exist when you never hear the word mentioned. In that sprit, management formally informs all departments and employees that morale is not/not an issue and is not/not a subject to be discussed in hypermail, text, video, radio, verbal or any alternate manner of communication within and outside the mission.  Anyone caught peddling these stories will be subject to disciplinary action, including but not limited to curtailment of current assignment or a lengthy TDY to the outermost prograde moon of Carpo.

In an effort to be responsive to all concerns, below are some FAQs that the section  had the pleasure of addressing the last 12 moons. We hope that the answers are useful to you and your families and help alleviate persistent concerns.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
EaEmbassy Ganymede

Is Ganymede a family-friendly post?

Absolutely. It is the most family-friendly assignment in the quadrant with excellent schools and some of the best apartments available in the sector. Living conditions are approximated to be similar to the home planet and the quality of life is super-excellent.  Consistent demand for assignments to this outpost has repeatedly resulted in a long wait list at every rotation cycle.

I’ve been thinking of asking for a transfer to Ganymede.  But I heard that life there is a big joke … I don’t get what’s the joke.

Life in Ganymede is not/not a big joke. Once you understand that Ganymede is too big to fail, you’ll find your groove. This is the place where you want to be.  No other outpost will afford you the challenges and opportunities to excel and earn a fast-tracked promotion.

How safe is Ganymede given that riots are breaking out in all parts of the hostplanet:

Safe. Very safe, if you’re careful.

Ganymedeans breached the outpost walls, they can do it again, should I worry?

There’s no reason to worry.  Ganymedeans are not/not anti-Earthlings, anti-humans or what have you.  They were blowing off steam. Period. Now that they have, things should return to normal. If you think things have not returned to normal, give it time; things should return to normal. Soon.

There are assaults reported daily, it sounds like traveling around the hostplanet has become extremely dangerous. Is that perception correct?

Ganymede is the largest moon in this sector. Like any large, densely inhabited city on Earth (e.g. New York City, New Delhi, Bogota, Buenos Aires), crime is ever present. This is not/not unique to this outpost.  Travel in pairs if needed, and bring your stun gun, if necessary.

The Manager for Planetary Services reportedly quit over extreme bureaucratic bullying, is this true?

Absolutely not. The manager quit because the official got too old for the job. Other employers in this sector throw old officials out the airlock. Fortunately, EaEmbassy Ganymede has a generous separation package specifically for older workers traveling back to the home planet.

There are rumors and allegations that some of the top Ganymede officials have, on several occasions, pushed and bossed around subordinates and threatened them with penalties. How accurate are these stories?

Have you ever heard of American poet, Robert Frost?  He said that the reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.  Isn’t that an excellent point?  Stop listening to rumors. Stop worrying. All our top Ganymede officials were handpicked and subjected to a battery of reviews and 360 feedbacks from friends, peers, and colleagues. All with spectacular results. They are all as lovable and huggable as Alaskan polar bears.

I used to have an open mind, then I got to Ganymede and my brains kept falling out. What am I doing wrong?

To keep an open mind, a person needs only two tools: WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn’t move and it should, use WD-40. If it moves and shouldn’t, use the tape. This works even in Ganymede.

I am terribly upset that my concerns have not been taken seriously.  How do I set a laser printer to stun?

The management office works hard to address all of your concerns and aims to make every assignment to Ganymede a satisfying one.   Unfortunately, all laser printer at post at this time do not have a stun setting.  However, the procurement section is exploring the possibility of adding a stun setting to all laser printers with end of year funding.

Note that this is from a work in progress.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

Morale is self-esteem in action,  is a quote by Avery Weisman; WD-40 and laser printer quips are found items around the net.

I was, by the way, thinking of writing a complete set of Space Affairs Manual (SAM) and Space Affairs Handbook (SAH) for my fictional diplomatic service, but that sounded crazy, even to me.   So I may stick with writing a collection of admin notices and cables that can be interspersed with the story. Hey, if I write a story using admin notices alone, would that fall under an epistolary novel category?

Ugh! Just saw that the Russians are interested on Ganymede, now.  Well, dammit, I am not changing my fictional embassy’s name again, so don’t write to complain about that.

— DS