Tales From a Small Planet: A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis, The Food Edition

Posted: 5:56 pm ET
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If you’ve ever searched for Real Post Reports or Real School Reports when planning your relocation overseas, you might be familiar with Tales From a Small Planet.   Tales from a Small Planet (www.talesmag.com) was created a while back by a group of U.S. Foreign Service community members who had previously collaborated on the “Spouses’ Underground Newsletter” (SUN).  Its candid, and anonymous “real post and school reports” span over 325 cities around the world.

A few months ago, a group supporting Tales  put together a book of essays about expats and their food adventures, A Cup of Culture and a Pinch of Crisis: Tales from a Small Planet: The Food.  The book was edited by Patricia Linderman (former AAFSW President and current Literary Editor at Talesmag),  Nicole Schaefer-McDaniel (AAFSW volunteer and Talesmag volunteer), Katie Jagelski (EFM), and Leah Evans(EFM). Contributors include Foreign Service family members, an FSO and other expats not associated with the Foreign Service.

Below is an excerpt courtesy of Amazon Kindle/Preview:

 

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Tales from a Small Planet Announces New Executive Director, Director of Social Media

Posted: 12:09 pm EDT
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Tales From a Small Planet
‘s chair of the Board of Directors, Francesca Kelly and its outgoing Executive Director, Victoria Hess announced the selection of Leslie M. Jensen as its new executive director and Ásgeir Sigfússon as Director of Social Media.

Tales from a Small Planet, a 501(c)(3) registered non-profit organization and premier expat resource website, has announced the selection of Leslie M. Jensen as its new executive director. Leslie will fill the vacancy created by Victoria H. Hess, long-time Executive Director and Board Member. The selection was made following a worldwide search and selection process, during which Leslie stood out for her extensive background in sales and enthusiasm for all things expat.

Leslie’s resume includes over 10 years of sales and business development in a wide range of sectors from banking to Internet technology, and she is currently a small business owner navigating the intermittently challenging task of operating a small business while living abroad.

Tales from a Small Planet is also thrilled to announce the addition of Ásgeir Sigfússon as Director of Social Media. Outside of volunteering with Tales, Ásgeir’s paying job is with the American Foreign Service Association, where he is the Director of New Media. He has many years of experience within the Foreign Service/expat world, and also brings a deep understanding of engaging audiences through social and other online media. Ásgeir is originally from Iceland, and definitely considers himself an expat.

Talesmag.com offers expats the unique opportunity to share information about experiences abroad, expat to expat. Our Real Post Reports and Real School reports offer a “one stop shop” for the information expat families need in order to make informed decisions when choosing the next adventure.

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 Related post:
Tales From a Small Planet Needs New Blood, Now Volunteers Needed!

‘Tales From a Small Planet’ Needs New Blood, Now Volunteers Needed!

Posted: 1:42 am EDT
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We’re passing along a note from Francesca Kelly, one of the founders of Tales from a Small Planet, the  unofficial bidding destination for members of the Foreign Service and the expat community members with relocation in their minds.  She writes, “I know that I’m nearing my expiration date as an effective leader simply because I’ve been around too long! … We need some new blood at Tales.”

I should also add that Francesca is a freelance writer and was the website’s editor-in-chief from 1999 to 2003. You might like to read one memorable piece she did,  The Eighteen Cups: A Foreign Service Fable.  Francesca has lived in Milan, Leningrad, Moscow, Belgrade, Vienna, Ankara and Rome. She is the spouse of Ambassador Ian C. Kelly, the ambassador-designate to Georgia. And hey! A few years ago, she was with  Alex Trebek on Jeopardy.

Tales from a Small Planet was created at the turn of the millennium by a group of U.S. Foreign Service spouses who had previously collaborated on the “Spouses’ Underground Newsletter” (SUN).

Volunteers Needed!

Tales from a Small Planet, the first comprehensive web resource for expats, is seeking new volunteers to take it the next step. Critical positions to be filled include Executive Director, Social Media Director, and several Board members.

When bidding season rolls around, Tales from a Small Planet, at www.talesmag.com, is the website people visit first to research potential assignments. Our Real Post Reports have helped thousands find answers to what it’s like to live in cities from Abuja to Zagreb.

Will you need a 4WD vehicle? Where do Americans live? Tales from a Small Planet gets more than 75,000 individual page views every month from people asking questions like these. And our Real School Reports provide even more detailed answers about schools at post.

In short, ever since Tales was founded as a non-profit 501(c)3 organization in 2001, we’ve helped a lot of people find information about life abroad.  Perhaps we’ve even helped you!

Now Tales needs your help. We’re looking for a few smart, thoughtful and action-oriented people to join our staff and our board in volunteer positions that add up to only a few hours a month. You may not get paid, but you do get a spiffy title to stick on your resume, some great experience, and the chance to help a worthwhile cause.  Please contact volunteer@talesmag.com for more information about the following open staff and board positions:

Staff Openings

Executive Director

Social Media Director

Board openings:

About a half-dozen positions open. Staff and board meetings take place online, through email discussions and occasional virtual chats.

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US Embassy Egypt: From the Real Post Reports – the New Cairo; Plus Western Embassy Targeted

Target: Western Embassy Cairo

Today, the BBC News reported the arrest of three al-Qaeda militants in Cairo.  The reported target is a western embassy. That probably means, the three militants who were in the final stages of their terror plot were targeting New Zealand or Uruguay, either would do as a western embassy.  Dear US Embassy Cairo – since the mob was there to just say hello to you last year, it’s not you, carry on.  Excerpt from the BBC:

Egyptian police have arrested three al-Qaeda militants planning a suicide attack on a Western embassy, the country’s interior minister says.

Mohammed Ibrahim did not specify which embassy had been targeted, but said a quantity of chemicals had been found.

Mr Ibrahim gave the names of three men and said they were planning attacks in both Cairo and Alexandria.
[…]
All three men, described as jihadists, had been in touch with an al-Qaeda militant in Pakistan as well as another in the Sinai peninsula, the minister said.

He also linked the men to a group arrested last October who were accused of setting up a cell in the Nasr City area of Cairo.

Knife Attack: Not Tied to Any Larger Conspiracy

Last Thursday, Christopher Stone, an American citizen and a fellow at the American Research Center in Egypt, was attacked outside the perimeter of the embassy. US Embassy Cairo quickly released a statement that says the ongoing investigation has established that the “incident was not tied to any larger conspiracy.”

“Police investigating yesterday’s knife attack on the Embassy perimeter reported that the perpetrator has admitted to the attack and claimed his motivation was to seek revenge over U.S policies in the Middle East. The perpetrator carried out the attack after establishing his victim to be a U.S. citizen. The U.S. citizen victim is reportedly recovering and should be released from the hospital in the next day or so. The investigation, while still ongoing, has established that the perpetrator acted alone, and the incident was not tied to any larger conspiracy.”

Of course, it’s not a conspiracy! What a silly thing to suggest!

US Embassy Cairo – The Real Post Reports

Post Reports if you’re not familiar with them are detailed reports of every diplomatic post in the U.S. foreign service that are intended to help personnel decide where they want to go next.  It is part of the official bidding resources (see this old one from 2004 still available online via ediplomat.com – Post Report on Egypt).

A while back, the State Department removed the Post Reports from the Internet. Updated reports are now available only via Diplopedia in the State Department’s Intranet website.

Since these are part of the bidding tools, one can easily tell that every post report’s goal is to look as attractive as possible to the prospective bidders. And that’s probably the main reason why the Real Post Report (RPR) was born.  The Real Post Reports is the brainchild of a few Foreign Service spouses and now resides in the privately-run Tales from a Small Planet.  The website, run by volunteers no longer requires registration, so we feel better linking to that from this blog.

There are RPRs going back years.  Sometimes, you’re lucky if you see an RPR once a year. Here are a few examples:

  • Sana’a Yemen  has RPRs submitted in 2006, 2007 (two) and 2011.
  • Kabul, Afghanistan has RPRs submitted in 2008, 2009, 2010 (three) and 2013.
  • Peshawar, Pakistan has one RPR submitted in 2009, and one in 2010.
  • Baghdad, Iraq has one RPR submitted so far in 2013.
  • Tunis, Tunisia has one RPR submitted in 2012.
  • Khartoum, Sudan has at least one RPR submitted every year from 2006 – 2011.
  • Tripoli, Libya has one RPR from January 8, 2007

The RPRs, of course, are done voluntarily and submitted primarily by members of the Foreign Service as well as members of the expat community.

As of this writing, Cairo, Egypt has already six RPRs from January – March 2013 alone.  If that trend continues, we’ll have 24 RPRs by the end of the year. The reports were all written by volunteers affiliated with the US Government in Cairo with overseas experience ranging from a first tour to a seventh/multiple tours. (Note: The day after this post went online, two more RPRs were posted on Cairo here).

Here are excerpts from the Real Post Reports on Cairo culled from six eight reports:

Size of expat community

  • Large, but shrinking because of the political unrest.
  •  Dwindling.
  •  Not as large as before the revolution, but there are still a fair number of expats here.
  • The expat community in Cairo is very very large. Beyond the USG community (which is huge), there are substantial communities from the other embassies, a huge US military/contractor community, and a huge oil community. In addition, there are faculty at CAC and the American University in Cairo, along with other donor groups.
  •  Getting smaller by the day.

Morale among expats

  • Extremely low. Post management was too late in spotting and/or admitting that Cairo is getting worse, not better. Post management is highly unsympathetic to the plights of the little people, and they live a fairly sheltered life with teams of bodyguards and walled villas — while we hope we don’t get sexually assaulted or mugged on the way from our apartment to the Maadi House.
  •  At the moment it is pretty low because of the uncertainty. Crime is on the increase, and people are worried—not sure what is going to happen. The U.S. Embassy community is struggling because of our location right near all the activity of the last two plus years. But, having been here four years, I don’t regret it. I have enjoyed my time here and, if I had a choice, would have done it again. It’s been good for family. But I definitely see that many people are unhappy
  • Extremely low since the revolution – this place really is bad now. It seems that everyone you talk with is counting the days until they leave or they are contemplating curtailing.
  • Long gone. People are waiting for the end of their tours. The use of alcohol is increasing, and rumors about the deterioration of Egypt are circulating everywhere, including at school.
  • Among those I interact with it is very poor. Pessimism about the situation pervades life here. People don’t feel safe and don’t see any prospects that Egypt is going to improve in the near-term future. Even some long-time residents are packing up and heading elsewhere.
  •  Extremely poor. Everyone is trying to get out at the earliest opportunity. It has clearly not always been that way, but the country is going downhill fast.
  • Moral here is mixed. Really, it depends on who you spend time with! Many USG personnel prefer to spend their time only in the USG community. For many folks, it seems like Egypt is their first (and possibly only) developing world post – these folks often seem to be generally negative (i.e., it’s dirty, people are like home, etc.). It’s true that life in Cairo has its quirks, but It is a fascinating place. Egyptians are a generally nice people (who love kids), and life here is relatively easy in terms of amenities. That said, as in many places, the people who thrive here are those that can laugh at the quirks of the developing world and those who make sure to get away for breaks on a regular basis!
  •  Poor. Egypt has always been very dirty and frustrating, but for some people it used to be fun and exotic. Now, with the increasingly poor security, deteriorating infrastructure and criminality, and sense of entitlement of its population, most people—Egyptians included—are desperately trying to flee. Morale at the Embassy is poor, with people hoping for an evacuation.

Are there any special security concerns?

  • The security situation in Cairo is rapidly deteriorating. Egypt is seeing more jihadi extremism, constant protests/riots around the US Embassy, carjackings, and muggings. As tourism bottoms out, people are getting desperate and know that expats have money. Also, sexual assault and/or harassment is pretty much guaranteed to affect you or someone close to you.
  • Crime is on the increase since the revolution, but this is still a safe city.
  • Where to start? Daily power outages, sexual assaults on women, robbery by sudden snatching, theft, assault and battery, rape, getting shot at or attacked with rocks are now all common-place events since the revolution. Even the safe districts of Maadi have seen these issues, rise and the State Department thinks we are still the same 15% post we were pre-revolution. This is easily a 25% diff post now and the tours should only be for two years.
  • And how! Law enforcement, as noted earlier, is ineffective, and criminals have become more brazen—likely because they feel much more confident that they can get away with theft, robbery, sexual assault, etc. The security situation in North Africa and Sinai has created an Egypt in which there is no shortage of guns and other dangerous toys—and bad guys willing to use them. It isn’t at all clear whether a large-scale attack against Westerners hasn’t occurred because there is a lack of capability or a lack of will. Uncertainty about the security environment has created a tremendous amount of stress among expats and Egyptians alike.
  • Absolutely. This place is a war zone. The police are totally ineffective and will stand there and watch while you get robbed or are groped and molested. Carjackings are becoming a problem, with even a senior government minister falling victime to a random carjacking.
  • Since the revolution, security has become more of an issue. But Cairo was abnormally safe for a city of its size prior to the revolution and has now really just shifted to a security level one would expect for city of this size. The key factor is that the police force is relatively ineffective. So, when something does happen, there is little that can or will be done about it. In the expat areas (Maadi, Zamalak, and Dokki, primarily) there have been increases in issues such as purse snatchings, etc.
  • During Mubarak’s regime, Egypt was extremely safe. Now there are few police, and they are quite scared themselves to intervene. On a daily basis you see more and more disorder and chaos. Women are regularly accosted throughout Cairo, and crime has become a real problem.

Knowing what you now know, would you still go there?

  •  I would not wish this post on anyone.
  • Yes, I would do it again, but perhaps not four years. It’s never boring, and I can’t say that I love the place, or will ever come back, but I don’t regret the four years. And yes, I would do it again.
  •  NOOOO!
  • Yes. But we’d like to be recognized for the sacrifices we make. This would be as simple as seeing post management demonstrate that they care about our safety and security and recognize the very real hardships and dangers we face.
  • No. And when I leave, it will be with the intention of never returning. I had wanted to come to Egypt for quite some time, and it’s been a major disappointment.
  • Absolutely. It’s an experience that eveyone should have at least once in their lives—unless you have already lived in a war zone.
  • In a heartbeat! We have loved it, and would have no issues coming back here again, even with all the post-revolution changes—assuming, of course, that things don’t go downhill more than they have to date!
  • No way! Don’t come.

You may read the full Real Post Reports on Cairo here.

Meanwhile, on May 1st this year, Financial Times reported that homicides in Egypt tripled from 774 in 2010 to 2,144 last year; home invasions jumped from 7,368 in 2010 to 11,699 in 2012; kidnapping for ransom rose from 107 in 2010 to 412 in 2012.  The US Embassy published its Egypt 2012 OSAC Crime and Safety Report in February last year. It’s now May and we’re still looking for the 2013 report.


Quick Check – Is There An Abyss in “Abysmal Morale?”

Now, if you’ve been following this blog, you will noticed that we’ve been blogging about the goings on at the U.S.  Embassy in Cairo. No, not just because its Twitter team occasionally make a large splash but also because of a reported “abysmal morale” at post. See this blog post —  US Embassy Bangui: 15% Danger Post With Terrifically Bad Trimmings, It’s Not Alone –Wassup Cairo?

Can you imagine what happened then?

Apparently, following the blog post, the DCM (is it still Marc Seivers?) stormed into the security office demanding to know “who leaked the story to that damn blog…”  and not getting the answer he want, slammed the door on the way out.

Uh-oh!

But really, it’s okay, we’ve been called worse than “damn.”

So anyway, “that damn blog”  has learned that Embassy Cairo was recently host to high level visits presumably to see if there was an abyss in “abysmal morale.”

We understand that post visitors included Ambassador Hans Klemm, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Bureau of Human Resources (DGHR),  Elizabeth Dibble, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs (NEA), and Paul Reid, the Director for Entry Level Career Development and Assignments (DGHR/CDA).

We don’t know yet what they found at Embassy Cairo.  But we heard that there is one team heading that way to um ….  look around or something. Another team who’s trip had been previously postponed is also heading that way again …

What a relief that the Interior Minister did not specify which western embassy had been targeted.  It could have been Venezuela, you know.

— DS