Everything you always wanted to know about Burundi…

I thought it only fair to post a bit about Burundi, since it’s not exactly a household word. OK, fact is, even people you’d want on your team in Trivial Pursuit for their geography skills haven’t heard of it, and truth be told, neither had I. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • It’s in Africa. In fact, here’s a map, so you can see for yourself, although I admit it’s hard to find. It’s the tiny country, about the size of Maryland, just south of Rwanda (which everyone’s heard of thanks to Hollywood and Hotel Rwanda).

Political-map-of-Africa

Ok, if you can’t find it on that map, try this one:

African map showing burundi

And here’s one of just Burundi, which if you ask me, looks kind of like the arrowheads Randy and his grandmother used to find in Wyoming. I mean, if you use your imagination.

burundi map

  • It’s landlocked, although much of the southwestern border is adjacent to Lake Tanganyika, which by the way, is the second largest freshwater lake and the second deepest lake in the world (after only Lake Baikal in Siberia), and the world’s longest freshwater lake, and is infested with man-eating hippos. I kid you not.

Lake Tanganyika

Longest lake

  • It’s capital is Bujumbura. Now you have to admit that if you were going to move to some exotic place on the other side of the world, you’d want it to have some exotic name like Bujumbura. The only city I can think of with a cooler name is Ouagadougou (the capitol of Burkina Faso) and, as cool as that name is (right, Megan??), I’m glad I’m moving to Bujumbura. It’s a city of about a half a million people, small by African capital standards, and sits at about 2500′ elevation, which helps it to stay a little cooler than its sea-level equatorial neighbors.
  • It’s filled with the Hutu, the Tutsi, and the Twa, who have lived in Burundi for hundreds of years. These are the same Hutus and Tutsis involved in the famous Rwandan genocide, which BTW, happened 20 years ago next month. Burundi had its own genocide, (two, in fact) but much less publicized and much more prolonged than their neighbors in Rwanda. In fact, there is still much civil and political unrest, with reconstruction efforts still trying to take hold.
  • It’s official language is FRENCH! This in itself is a dream come true. (Those who knew me when may remember French was my first major in college.) They also speak Kirundi, their native dialect, and use Swahili in the streets to conduct business. Wouldn’t Brother Alfred be proud if I learned to conduct some business in Swahili?
  • It’s poor. In fact, depending on what criteria you use, or which resource you look up, it’s the second, third or fourth poorest country in the world. (It’s hanging out down there on the list with the DRC, Zimbabwe, Eritrea and Liberia.) Elections are coming up next year, and I’ve been told I’ll be called upon to monitor polling stations and report if any money changes hands. (This should be comfortable for me; I’m from Louisiana, which, it’s been said, has the best politicians money can buy.)
  • It’s small. The country is small. The embassy is small. The ex-pat community is small. But it’s also beautiful. The country is beautiful. The views of the mountains across the lake are beautiful. The embassy is brand new, and a beautiful, state of the art complex. Here’s a shot of it:

Burundi_Bujumbura_EXT1_944_1

  • It’s near some really awesome things. Most of you know climbing Mount Kilimanjaro has topped my bucket list for many years. It’s on the calendar during Adam’s visit in October and I couldn’t be more excited! It’s also very near the elusive mountain gorillas, which we’ll plan to see with my niece Missy when she visits next year. I know I won’t have loads of time away from work, so if I can accomplish those two things, I’ll be thrilled!
  • The people seem awesome. I’ve already been in touch with a number of people in the embassy there, and they all seem warm, welcoming and excited for our arrival. (Let’s just hope it’s not a matter of misery loves company. Ha ha.) No, seriously, we have all the reasons in the world to believe it will be a great post. Here’s a quote from someone who reached out to me: “I can get you linked into bible study home group, missionaries, etc.” God is good.

And that seems like a great quote on which to end this post. I wanted to include two more topics, but they’ll have to wait until next time:

  • my job–I want to record my impressions of what I think it will be like from what I’ve gathered so far, because it’ll be interesting to contrast that with my impressions of what it is actually like once I arrive, and
  • my hopes and dreams–I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I think it will be difficult and challenging to put it into words, but since when have you known me to shrink from a challenge?

So here’s to the next post, which will be a little more personal and introspective, for what it’s worth.

And so it goes

This post is a continuation of the last one, with a little bit of this and a little bit of that…

THE AGENCY

I feel very privileged that I was able to visit a very special place that not many people get to visit, once with my entire orientation class and once alone to meet with the MED people. Unfortunately, I can’t say much about it, but I wanted to share something that really surprised (and delighted) me. On the wall of the grand lobby, in huge letters engraved in stone, is John 8:32–“And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” How cool is that?

CONSUMABLES

So apparently if the State Department moves you to a location where it is deemed that you are either unable to obtain normal, regular things to eat, drink, clean and live with, or obtaining such things would set you back one and half pay checks (e.g., a box of Cheerios for $40–seriously), you are authorized what is known as a “consumables” shipment. All that really means is that you can ship an additional amount of weight that can be filled with things that are consumed, or used up. (Shampoo would qualify, as would toilet paper, but tires would not as they are worn out, not used up.) Sounds wonderful, right? Well, maybe. Or maybe not if you’re not much of a shopper or a planner like me. (Randy, on the other hand, is having a blast. He’s been going to Costco daily and orders from Amazon Prime all day and all night long.) It can be very stressful to think about A. all the things you might need in the next twenty-four months, and B. how much of those things you will need, and C. whether or not you really need them or could maybe do without. I mean, if you decide later you want some Cheetos or Oreos, it’s not like you can run out to the 24 Hour Kroger or King Soopers and grab some. And I mention those two products, because they are the poster children for things you crave when you can’t get them. I mean, I don’t even eat Oreos in America, but just wait until I can’t have any. And then there’s amounts! If you estimate that you use a tablespoon of shampoo a day, but then you take measuring spoons into the shower to verify that quantity (yes, I did that), you could be WAY OFF on your two-year calculations if, in fact, you use a teaspoon. Really. Do the math. I could be leaving BOTTLES of shampoo in Africa.

I’m mostly leaving the shopping to Randy, but in an effort to appear useful, I purchased the items below from a nearby Costco because they were on sale. Keep in mind, I don’t have a car. It was a sight to see me walking home carrying these goodies.

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Aside from a few toiletries and the above purchases, I think I’m going to fill up the rest of the 2500 allotted pounds with the main essentials you’d never want to be without: Herdez salsa, chips and toilet paper. That oughta keep me in good shape for a couple of years.

TMTALK

So I was all stressed out because I didn’t have my TMONE and there didn’t seem to be any real reason why they couldn’t just get that done, which I really needed done so I could get my TMTHREE from post so we could start getting ready to go and I could submit my TMTWO online so they would issue my TMFOUR so we could go.

Wait. You don’t know what a TMONE, TMTWO, TMTHREE AND TMFOUR are? Yea, well, neither did I. And all I know now is that 1. they don’t go in order (TMTHREE comes before TMTWO) and 2. they all have different names (TMTWO is AKA My Itinerary), and 3. you have to have all that in place before you can ship anything or get a plane ticket issued. But all of that seems to be in place (finally. It took me two weeks to figure out how to do the online TMTWO.) and it looks like we’re actually going to launch this adventure. Have I mentioned that there are some forms and paperwork involved in this bureaucracy?

SO WE’RE MOVING

I know. I know. That’s what this has been all about all along, but for awhile it seemed a long way off. But folks, IT’S HAPPENING! Today we booked tickets (which we changed four different times trying to accommodate Quandary). Unfortunately, we ended up deciding that the best connections forced us to spend a night in Brussels. Poor us. But who knew Brussels Airlines flies DIRECT to Bujumbura?!?!?! (Some of you may remember that Brussels became my new favorite city after visiting it a few years ago–what’s there not to like in a city whose most famous offerings include french fries, beer, mussels, chocolate and waffles? These are a few of my favorite things.) I will certainly enjoy that last little taste of western civilization on our way to this new adventure!

AND LASTLY, SOME BLOG NEWS

I have to give all the credit and many thanks to my incredible blog host, Jared King. He is absolutely amazing, talented, and most importantly, patient with my many requests and pleas for help. Among his many contributions are:

  • You can now sign up to get email notifications for new posts. As you can see, I don’t post often, so it’s not like it’ll be filling up your inbox. And this is especially good if you don’t check FB or are not on it. There’s a place you can subscribe on the right hand side or at the bottom. Thanks, Jared!
  • The map at the bottom of the blog is an interactive map that shows what countries I’ve visited. You can see the entire continent of Africa is empty. I’ll be working on coloring in a few more countries there in the next few years. Especially with all the “hook ups” I have now with my classmates! 🙂
  • The timer counts down to our arrival in Bujumbura, Burundi, our new home! Hooray!

STAY TUNED FOR MY NEXT POSTING WHICH WILL BE ENTITLED:

ALL ABOUT BURUNDI AND OUR NEW HOME, BUJUMBURA

I hope to include information about the country, the people, the city, our new home, my job and our hopes and dreams for the next two years. In the meantime, you can let your imagination run away with you as you imagine me doing my work in a setting like this:

 

ambulance 2

 

Or maybe this:

FD ambulance

 

OK. I’m kidding. Stay tuned for the real deal.

A Belated Recap

Unfortunately, I have once again failed to record things in a timely manner (remember this is first and foremost a record for myself), so I have a lot to recap. I’ll organize it via headings so you can skip those that seem of little interest. 🙂

FLAG DAY

I approached Flag Day with mixed emotions. Part (most) of me was quite relieved that I was avoiding that gut-wrenching suspense of waiting to find out the fate of the next two years of my life, and part of me was just a wee bit jealous of the anticipation and excitement of my classmates. Despite it not being a cliff-hanger for me, it was still very exciting to watch all of my new BFFs receive their flags. Those of you who know how much I like ‘the hook up’ (free places to stay), can imagine my excitement that I now have friends all over the world–over fifty different locations, including twenty on the same continent as me–inviting me to visit! And as promised, I feigned great surprise when they called my name; the orientation director awarded me an Oscar for my performance.

Here are a couple of us sporting our new flags with our orientation director.

IMG_3281

So appreciative of my niece Missy and her family’s support. Here I am with her husband, George, a Foreign Service Officer, while she and the kids were my cheering squad at Flag Day. (And yes, I’m holding the Flag Bingo card upside down. It was a kind of exciting day with lots of commotion.) But I am pointing to the Burundian flag. 🙂

photo (2)

ORIENTATION SURVIVAL AND SWEARING IN X 3

It’s done. We made it. The members of the 132nd Specialists Orientation class have completed orientation and were sworn in last Friday. Now, for me, that was my third time to take this ceremonial oath of office. I’m not sure if they were worried the first two didn’t take, or if they just wanted to really drill it in, or if they just like ceremonial happenings. But I did it proudly, so help me God.

As ceremonies go, this one was short and sweet with a couple of brief speeches by some higher ups. At this point, we class members appreciated the emphasis on brief. Then they called each of our names and our new locations, which was a lot of fun to hear once again. I have to admit, all the ceremonial-ness was quite exciting and it made us feel really special. That and the fact that over the course of the three weeks of orientation, when we were addressed by dozens of different speakers, we heard the words “best and brightest”, “best of the best” and “cream of the crop” in every speech and presentation. Excuse me while I go remind myself of my true ordinariness. One can get carried away and forget these things…

Here I am looking all official. Or dorky. Either way.

IMG_3298

THE VISIT

While I was swearing, I mean, swearing in, these fabulous people were flying in a plane to visit. Despite the misleading activity captured below, we had a wonderful time.

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And it was so fun to see love in all its glorious splendor!

(For those who don’t know, that’s my dear friends Lia and Grant, who were celebrating their very recent engagement with a trip to our nation’s capital.) There were loads of wonderful pictures taken, but alas! Not by me. Lia’s the photographer, so she absconded with most of the good ones.

I did manage to snap this beauty at Wheaton Metro Station. The station’s escalators are 230 feet long, the longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere. Grant timed it: it took 2 minutes and 50 seconds to ascend.

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And this beauty

IMG_3313

which my brother, Barry, was able to identify immediately when I texted it to him. (I was so impressed.) The man knows his DC sites: The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in the Western Hemisphere.

I guess we were going for Western Hemisphere superlatives.

I have a few more topics to recap, but I’m all blogged out for now, so the rest will have to wait for another post. Now how’s that for a tantalizing finish to keep you coming back for more?!?!

 

 

Death by Power Point

Every single day I make a “To Do” list. And every single day, on top of the list is “Blog Entry”. And every single evening I come home with no (as in none, nada, zero) brain cells still functioning. Members of the 132nd Specialist Orientation Class, as we are so proudly called, have come to refer to this pervasive phenomena as “Death by Power Point”.    You’d think it wouldn’t be that bad to sit in a desk for eight hours a day, listening to people present topics of varying interest to you. But trust me on this one: It’s. That. Bad.

The Good News is we’re two weeks down, and one to go. And the other Good News is that sometimes we get a break. Like last week when we had two inches (you read it correctly: two inches) of snow and we had a, you guessed it: Snow Day. (But it really wasn’t much of a break. It just meant that when we reconvened, the speakers talked faster to cram it all in.) And the day we had the security briefing and the presenter brought all manner of surveillance equipment, including belt buckle and ink pen cameras, and business cards with bugging devices. And Friday, when we rearranged our schedule to accommodate a guest speaker coming to the Foreign Service Institute. Kidding aside, getting to see and hear Colin Powell was definitely the highlight of our orientation thus far.

But the end is nigh! This Tuesday is the much anticipated Flag Day ceremony where we are all presented with the flags of our new home countries. Fortunately for me, I already know what mine looks like, but I promised to look surprised! Then Friday we have the final swearing in ceremony, signifying the formal end to this section of the process. Whew.

Following the swearing in, I’ll return to the MED building and resume my MED specific training, which includes classes like Weapons of Mass Destruction/Bioterrorism and two days of Parasitology, which I’m sure will prove to be interesting. (I had a short introduction to this topic already. While discussing all manner of disease-causing bugs, I asked the Infectious Disease doc about schistosomiasis, which I had heard is in the water in Lake Tanganyika. He said, and I quote: “Oh don’t worry about that. The hippos will get you before the schisto does.” Good to know.)

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Randy, having spent a week here in DC soaking up all the spousal orientation stuff he could take in, is frantically preparing for the move, which may end up coming sooner rather than later. His trip here was worthwhile, though, as he arrived as The Reluctant Spouse, slowly transformed into The Semi-Reluctant Spouse, and left officially as The Formally Reluctant Spouse. Progress, I’d say. 🙂

And now I must bid adieu, as sleep deprivation and eight hours of power point do not good bedfellows make, so to speak. Until next time…

 

Week One. Check

Week One. Check.

I’ve been checked in, sworn in, security briefed, fingerprinted, photographed, badged, and lost, but I’ve survived Week One. And survived it in heels, no less, although all that trying to impress people with professional dress is just about to come to a halt. I think I’ll have to resort to impressing them with jokes this week. 🙂

It was a bit of a weird week because most of the people I was scheduled to meet with were stuck in a snow storm in ATL, of all places. (In Denver, we usually call it Hotlanta.) So I fell through the cracks a little bit, which was fine by me as I spent the week trying to figure out the badge and all the secure entrances, the metro, the endless maze of hallways of just two of the State Department’s many buildings, and trying to shed the Deer in the Headlights persona. I think I’ve got Week One’s tasks under control. It also left a little time to beg IT for access to the intranet and an email, which I did manage to score on Friday, and to badger transportation to track down my UAB (my belongings shipped by air), which supposedly is coming tomorrow. Finally. Who knew it took ten days to ship a couple of boxes from Denver? Well, it was probably one day to ship the boxes and 9 days of paperwork, which is a great segue to my next topic…

The other Week One task was trying to figure out who in the government is in charge of what. And here’s what I found: the government has a lot of layers of people and positions and well, some waste. There, I said it. Whew. It feels good to get it off my chest…

[Now, no smart aleck comments from those of you who already knew that. You know who you are. Just shuddup, already. No dissing my employer.]

And two things before I close:

Kudos to the few people who responded with acknowledgement of the origins of my blog title, Where and Back Again : Steven Earhart, Alison Gentry Jaeger and Jordon Remke. Yes, it’s a little play on words from the alternate title of The Hobbit or There and Back Again. Clever, isn’t it? I thought so, too. It was a rare moment of great minds coming together. (Randy’s and mine.)

And the topic we’ve all been waiting for: THE ACTUAL LOCATION OF GODFORSAKESTAN. It looks like MED does things differently from the rest of the State Department, and I think I will find out where I’m posted sooner rather than later. So let’s have a little contest in the next few days, as I think I will be able to have my very own FLAG DAY CEREMONY and GEO REVEAL PARTY later THIS WEEK!!:

Contest rules:

Guess the location. Post it in a comment. The winner(s) get free lodging when they come to visit. 🙂 Only one entry per person. Everyone should enter; it’s free.

HINTS:

It’s probably someplace you’ve never heard of.

It’s probably on a very large continent that is the home of the largest subtropical desert on earth.

It’s probably not on your current Bucket List of Places to Visit, but you should probably add it. 🙂

Go.

First Impressions

First impressions are important (and nice to record). They can often set the tone for so much that is to come. Here are a few of mine, along with some observations and lessons learned after TWO WHOLE DAYS on the job:

  • I like my new job.  I’ve always loved fresh starts and this one is especially exciting for so many reasons. I feel very blessed and privileged to be able to embark on this journey at this point in my life, and appreciate the support of family and friends, even if they don’t quite “get it”.
  • My new job likes me. The Department of State Office of Medical Services has difficulty attracting candidates with the specific set of certifications, experience and qualifications for this position–as with many government jobs, one can make more $$ in the private sector–so the people in this office are SO HAPPY to have me on board. There are at least seven openings at present in Africa alone, so they are excited to get me to post. And let’s face it: everyone likes to be liked.
  • I like the people I’ve met so far in Med. These are my colleagues (although I may never see many of them again once I get to post), and I feel a common bond with them. From the beginning of this process, I’ve vacillated between feeling quite confident that I can do this job and feeling completely panicked that I don’t really know anything. Meeting my colleagues today nudged me in the former direction.
  • I like my new city. The buzz, the excitement, the monuments, the metro—I’m like a kid in a candy store. I mean, it’s our nation’s capital, guys. This is exciting.
  • “Fake it ‘til you make it” has never been more tangible. Most of the time, I am completely lost and can’t seem to figure out how to get my badge out of its holder to swipe it, or make the SmarTrip Metro fare card work (I think I’ve accidentally been riding the Metro for free these past two days), but I stand tall, walk confidently and look like I know what I’m doing. Someone in the Main State building today actually asked me a question, I looked so confident. (Thankfully, it was just a question about the weather, which I was able to answer since I had just been wandering around outside in it, lost. And that freed me up to reciprocate with a much-needed question: “Where is the cafeteria?”)
  • It’s nice to put some faces to names and a human face on this government job.  In short, I’m glad the email and phone call phase is over and I’m speaking to people in person. I couldn’t be a more excited and enthusiastic new hire. 🙂

I feel the need to be funny and entertaining at this point, but really, I got nothing. I’m just excited to be here and glad things are going well. Oh, and did I mention that the people in charge of my training have been out of the office until tomorrow, so I haven’t really done anything yet and have been told to go home early both days? Oh, yeah.  Tomorrow begins the drinking of the three cups of Kool-Aid: red, white and blue, from a fire hydrant.

 

Where and Back Again

OK, so here’s the deal:

I’m going to start a blog.

The goals are:

  1. To preserve, quite selfishly, a bit of a record, a memory, of happenings as well as our responses to them. There’s nothing like capturing the moment because memories change over time. I still say that I have a memory of my friend, John, skiing barefoot in 1972, but he says he never did. Whose memory is correct?!?! Had I kept a blog…
  2. To keep everyone updated in one consolidated place. Since what we’re about to embark on is kind of crazy on several levels, people seem interested in following our adventure. I realize that interest will wane–I’m no fool–but at least for now, this is The Place to come for periodic updates. I’ll try to keep them short and sweet, but brevity has never been my forte. Right, Randy?
  3. To strike a reasonable balance between recording mundane life (because, let’s face it, everyday life is mundane, even if you live in Godforsakastan and have to pluck your own chickens to make dinner) and being at least vaguely entertaining. If I fail on the latter part, I apologize, but you can always stop following. :-)

So there’s my long awaited introduction. I’m going to post another entry soon describing some of the background and lead up to The Adventure, just to sort of record that. It might not be even vaguely entertaining, but stay tuned and give me a few chances.

PS Points if you get the reference in the title

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