Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sick of Being Sick

Not that my last post was terribly cryptic, but that comment about the water has held double true for me. I can't seem to eat or drink much of anything without feeling terribly ill. I don't know if it's the water I'm using to wash dishes, rinse veggies/fruits, brush my teeth... or other items like the meat and poultry (the stuff at the supermarket is pretty sketchy), but I pretty much feel nauseous all of the time. And, no, I am most definitely not pregnant. Luckily, I seem to be the only one in the family thus affected by our new environment, so at least I don't have to deal with sick kids whilst feeling like crap. So there is that. You would think the one side benefit would be some weight loss, but I'm afraid that doesn't seem to be happening either thanks to the fact that all I do seem to be able to digest properly are pre-packaged crap foods that have been imported from other parts.

So in pursuit of healing my poor stomach, I have been researching the crap out of the burgeoning organic movement in the Philippines. There are some organic farmers who come to the Manila area to sell their goods at various farmers markets, as well as some that will even deliver to your door. There are also merchants for local, grass-fed beef and lamb, as well as, free-range poultry and organic eggs and dairy. So there are options out there. It's just a bummer because these products tend to come at more American prices, so saving money on food may not be something we get to do here :( But, I just can't take feeling like this anymore. I feel weak and tired all of the time because I'm not getting any good nutrition, so my workouts have really suffered, too* A girlfriend told me that this adjustment period happens to a lot of new arrivals, so maybe this is a phase that needs to be suffered through (Manila hazing).

*Still happily on the UY program, but I've already had to take off two days this week because I just felt so awful.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Don't Drink the Water

Seriously. They are not kidding.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ultimate Pu

No this is not a post about gastrointestinal issues.* This is post to proclaim to the world my undying love for the Ultimate Yogi program. I've had it for a few months now, but I just started the 108-day rotation about a week ago. To say this is the best yoga program I have ever come across would be an understatement. I love, love, love it! Even my crabby teenage daughter (who pretty much hates the world right now) doesn't mind working out with Travis :)

I was previously using these as add-ons or as rest day workouts, but I have recently come to the realization that my body is screaming for me to take a step back. Between the stress of moving across the world, starting a new job and new way of life, having the kids and Husband adjust to a new way of living, and all of the other things that go along with this new lifestyle of ours, well, my punishing daily workouts were not really helping. I have always used exercise partly for stress -relief, so I couldn't figure out why my stress seemed to be increasing instead of decreasing. To top it all off, I have put on about 10lb since I joined the State Dept a year ago. Now that might not seem like much, but when you're just a shade over 5'1...None of my clothes are fitting properly. Even worse, I feel bloated and uncomfortable with these extra pounds hanging around. That starts to take a toll on your self-esteem in addition to all of the extra stress in our lives right now. After carefully evaluating my standard prescription of upping the intensity of my workouts I've decided to take a different approach. Maybe I need to give my body a little break from the high-intensity workouts I love so much (and I already miss them!). So I've decided to commit the next 108-days to a full Ultimate Yogi rotation, combined only with some extra walking, in order to find the Ultimate Pu. Will I actually be able to do this? Er, I guess I'll find out in 108 days!

In fitness/wellness-related news, I thought I'd share with the new HBO series The Weight of the Nation, which you can watch online for free if you don't have HBO (obvs we don't here in Manila!). Even more interesting is Gary Taubes' (who wrote the fabulous Why We Get Fat and What to Do About It) counterpoint article. Really fascinating stuff!

*Although I am not shy about sharing about those either!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Some Cheese for that Whine

Okay, reading back through my last post, I think I sound a little whiny. I should clarify that it was written on very little sleep and profound confusion ;) While there are definitely things that can be improved with the FS (as with any organization), I am absolutely, utterly, and completely blown away with the incredible character, professionalism, and generosity of my fellow FSers. Our neighbors throughout the building have been so kind and welcoming, they've even gone so far as to offer us the use of their homes (so we can have C stream her online school instruction), cars, and personal drivers. It is astounding that someone you've literally only met days before would just hand over the keys to their home or car. People remember what it was like to be new and without transportation or a connection to the outside world. I know we will pass this generosity forward. In the meantime, I hope my neighbors like chocolate chip cookies because there isn't much else I can make right now with our meager provisions and cookware!

I started on the line today all by my widdle old self. I only conducted my interviews in Tagalog even though it was rusty and most of the applicants answered me in English anyway! I am determined to fight against losing it as much as I can even if it means I adjudicate a bit slower. I've realized that my teachers at FSI, whom I completely adore, probably took it a bit easy on us because I find that the rapid-fire Filipino that people use here in Manila is way, way faster and more slangy than anything I'm used to. It will take some getting used to and it's hard to get people to slow down when they just switch over to English when they see that you haven't gotten their meaning the 1st time around. 

Ooooh, we also got word today that our UAB is here! I'm so excited to have my new/old clothes back!! I wish that I would have packed it a bit better, though, since I'm not entirely sure what Husband was able to cram into the shipment (basically we set aside what we really wanted to go and then he added things after the movers told him we had more room). We sent mostly clothes and toys for the kids, a few kitchen things, and a lot of bathroom stuff (towels, shampoo, etc.). I wish we had packed blankets because even though it is a million degrees here, it is like 2 degrees in our apartment (the Embassy is even worse!) no matter how much I adjust the temperature. I wear sweats to bed every night because you really can't leave the windows open here since there are no screens and the bugs would just infiltrate. I also would have packed scissors (actually, I will pack that in our suitcase next time) because holy crap is it hard to open things without a pair of scissors and it's not like I can just zip over to a corner store to buy some (plus, I'm cheap and there are at least 7 pairs in our various shipments). I have a note to someday do a post on what you should pack when PCSing overseas because there are other necessary items to keep in mind (like beds!! Government-provided furniture is like torture for your neck and back!). In the meantime, I'm going to publish this post while I have a bit of a connection!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

1st Post From My 1st Post!

**Disclaimer: I actually wrote this post about a day after we arrived in Manila, but I am just now getting a sort of internet access. Due to our bizarre housing situation, we are unable to get our own internet until we move into our permanent housing. This means I am piggybacking off of one of fabulous FS colleagues who happens to live downstairs from us and was nice enough not to kick us out after we knocked on their door and said something to the effect of: "Hi, we're your new neighbors. So nice to meet you. Can we please steal some of your internet?" Anyway, access here is not what one might think considering that the Philippines is now #3 in the world for call center outsourcing from the US (meaning there are lots of companies here that need good, fast connections). We have very spotty access now, but at least we are able to get on sometimes. I'll post a more recent update when I'm able. I start work for realz, realz on Monday and Husband is set to start on the 21st. 

Welcome to the Foreign Service where our motto is “It Depends.” Someone once made the analogy of the Department of Defense to dogs: loyal, and organized pack animals. The Department of State is more like a bunch of cats: intelligent yet aloof loners. I cannot help but see the distinction in even more clarity as we begin to experience our first assignment.

The trip really wasn’t that bad considering the amount of stuff, people, and animals we were transporting to (literally) the other side of the world. The kids held up as well as can be expected, the animals made it all in one piece (I was very impressed with Delta as a pet carrier – they made sure to let me know on each flight that the animals were safely on board). The only thing we left behind was a bag full of groceries that would have served us well here, but what can you do? We arrived in Manila at about 10pm, earlier than expected, but had no trouble getting through customs and the airport thanks to the airport expediter and our sponsor. It was there that things started to veer off course. Apparently someone realized at about 3pm on the day we were to arrive that our original temp housing (a very nice long-term stay hotel) would not take large dogs. This started a scramble for them to figure out somewhere for us to live after our expected arrival in about 7 hours. They ended up sticking us in a townhouse on the Embassy Compound, still a good 15-20min drive from the Embassy, where we will be for about a week (I don’t actually know the details since I was unable to get a hold of the housing officer despite stopping by the office 2x yesterday and calling repeatedly). After that we are allegedly going to another temporary apartment in a different part of the city where we will live until our permanent quarters are ready on July 1 (this last part remains the same, and we will have a house with a yard at some point!).

The biggest issue right now is our inability to get television or internet for the next few months. When we were to stay in the long-term stay hotel all of that would have been taken care of by the hotel, as well as some of our other issues. For example, we didn’t ask our sponsors to pick us up essentials like, say, toilet paper or cleaning supplies or the all-important coffee, etc. because we were under the impression that the hotel would cover all of that. It’s now Saturday, which means we’ll have to wait until Monday to get a hold of GSO to try and figure out what is going on. I am very concerned about the prospect of not having internet access for two full months, particularly when we planned to have C home school online. Hopefully at some point in the near future we’ll also be able to figure out how to get cell phones so we can start communicating with the world again since it doesn’t look like we’ll have access to Skype for a while.

Anyway, after having this bombshell dropped on us and making our way to our new temp-temp living quarters, we made it to bed at about 1am local time. My work sponsor was not aware of the change of plans as of yet, so our plans to meet in the morning were obviously out the window.  My social sponsor walked me around the Compound briefly and showed me where the shuttle to the Embassy would pick me up. From there I guess he figured I could find my way to the Consular section and track down my work sponsor. Um, sure, since I’ve never been to an Embassy before and I’m currently working off of 24-hrs travel with three kids, two pets, and ten suitcases, I’m sure that will be just fine. Luckily my work sponsor was able to figure it out when he showed up at the original location and learned I wasn’t there, and he was able to adjust and come get me at the Embassy Compound. My first day was mostly spent in processing through HR. I was able to accomplish a few things, but a lot of things have to wait until certain paperwork gets processed and your Dip status is recognized. Also, it would have been really great to know that I should have brought certain paperwork along with me (for example, I didn’t bring the entire family’s passports because I was worried they might need them). So I wasn’t able to accomplish as much as I could since I didn’t have the paperwork I needed. After doing what I could and wandering around the Embassy like a zombie for a while, someone finally took pity on me and let it be known that I wasn’t expected to put in a full days work and could leave when I wished. So I made my way “home” after figuring out that there is a shuttle and where to pick it up.  

Now, I’m a big girl, and I can figure things out for myself. But why on earth would you not try to make it as easy as possible for someone coming in to a new situation, in a new and unfamiliar country, working off of terrible jet lag and exhaustion, particularly when this is their very first assignment? It just gave the impression that things are incredibly unorganized and it certainly made it very clear to me that the camaraderie I enjoyed so greatly in DoD is not an attribute that is highly valued in DoS. First impressions aren’t everything, but between the communication issues (or lack there of) with the CLO and other offices, and my experiences since arriving…well, I can’t say I’m impressed. Why, why, why would they make it this hard? This has been my question to just about everything involved with the Foreign Service so far. From figuring out how to get my step-kids added to my orders, to how to get a Post cleared for my special needs child, to simply what is expected of me for the next couple of days, it is all like pulling teeth. It is just mind-boggling.

Let me briefly compare this experience to when I PCSed to Japan with DoD. I arrived as a single parent with two animals and lots of luggage. I was whisked to my temporary living facility (TLF), which was well stocked with simple necessities, my sponsor brought a packet of information which welcomed me to the country and the unit and listed everything that was expected of me to check in and the timeline in which it was to be done along with where those check in tasks were located (office and bldg. numbers). The next day my sponsor picked me up and personally escorted me to get all of my badges, sign me up to take the drivers course to get my license, took me phone, food, and car shopping. The following few days were similar, as I wasn’t expected to go into work right away since, you know, I had just arrived in a new country with no childcare, transportation, or home. I was able to accomplish all of those necessary things and make my way to work within a week as a happy, productive, and prepared employee.  Right now, I have no internet, no phone, no childcare, no groceries or simple necessities except what we brought along in our suitcases (thank goodness for the tissue paper I brought) and no way to figure out how to get any of these things since we don’t really know what our living situation will be. I’m trying very, very hard to just let it all roll of my back since I’m sure it will all work out in the end, but for a Type-A planner like me, this is all extremely stressful. And that much more stressful since it really shouldn’t be, if that makes sense. If one agency is capable of making international moves go smoothly, why can’t that capability be duplicated?

I should temper my tone by stating that everyone has been super nice on a personal level, and I like everyone that I have met so far. My work sponsor is fantastic, and he has gone above and beyond to take me around and introduce me to different contacts *** UPDATE: I want to add in that, individually, people are absolutely amazing. We have been offered the use of people's personal drivers, rides to and from work, and all sorts of other random niceties to help us out along the way.  If this is indicative of what we have to look forward to in future assignments, I know we made the right career choice!***

The other big issue, of course, is the jet lag. We were up at 2am this morning and not able to fall back asleep. The kids have been up since about 3am. I’m writing this at about 5:30 while we kill time waiting for the rest of the world to start functioning. Our sponsors will be here at about 10am to take us grocery shopping, which is good since we have no toilet paper, and there is literally nothing on or within walking distance to the Compound. There is a 7-11 out the back gate, which is quite shady. We walked there with J alone (leaving C&A home) and experienced true Manila (between the dirt, smog, noise, and dodging traffic with no apparent order are the toothless old taxi drivers grabbing your arm to try and get you to take their cab, very small beggar children outside the store begging for change, and the wide-eyed stares of people who have never seen a small white child with red hair). I’ve seen worse, but this was a pretty overwhelming intro to our new city for Husband. However, we really needed toilet paper and something to eat for dinner (we went with ramen for all), so we didn’t have much choice.

Despite the frustration, we are still so excited to finally be here and starting our adventure. While Husband was a little overwhelmed by our sojourn outside yesterday, I found it exhilarating. I got a copy of our local newsletter from the CLO’s office and there are so many opportunities to volunteer and local organizations to join (I know my sis was heavily involved in local women’s groups in Amsterdam before my niece was born, and she really recommended getting involved as a way to quickly become a part of the community). It’s easy to see how Compound living can shelter you from the real community since you don’t have to experience it if you don’t want to (this was definitely true when I was in Japan, as well), but that’s not why I wanted to join the Foreign Service. I want to get involved and, as hokey as it sounds, I can’t wait to represent the US. I just wish it was a little more organized of an introduction ;) 

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Paalam, Ya'll

After a lovely stay in SF seeing my sis & her fam, and doing my consults with the various agencies here, we are ready to start the last leg of our journey today. That's a 12-hour plane ride to Japan, a 2-hour layover, then another 3-4 hour flight to our final destination. Hope I brought enough drugs toys to keep the kids occupied. See you in Manila, bitches!*

*Or something slightly more diplomatic