The Pouch giveth; the Pouch taketh away

Elated to get the first season of Boardwalk Empire on DVD today. xD

Disappointed to find that the first disc fell loose and is all scratched up. :/

The only constant…

Every new hire in the Foreign Service has to serve at least 1 year of their first two tours in a consular position, typically doing visas. Usually one of the first two (sometime both) 2-year tours is a consular assignment. Beyond the stereotypical (non-immigrant) visa (NIV) work, there is also work to be done in Immigrant Visas (think green card lottery winners, fiances, family members of US citizens) and American Citizen Services (ACS). ACS covers a range of services from passport renewal to registration of births/deaths abroad and emergency services for citizens who’ve gotten themselves in trouble. The Embassy doesn’t advocate on behalf of people who get themselves arrested but does ensure that they’re treated well and have access to legal counsel and family and friends back home.

Some tours are rotational, meaning that officers serve one year in a consular section and another in a different section, perhaps in a reporting role in the Econ or Political section or maybe even as a staff aide to the Ambassador. I was assigned a two year consular tour here in Abuja. When I arrived, we mapped out my two years with a rough expectation that I’d spend my first year focusing on visas (we don’t do Immigrant Visas here) and then working the ACS portfolio for the last half of my tour. Historically, ACS officers in Abuja also do NIV interviews but then focus on the ACS side the rest of the time. I was looking forward to learning a new skill set and getting the experiences of helping people out in times of trouble.

But then a few weeks ago, I got a call from the Econ section offering me a chance to change my two year consular tour into a Consular/Econ rotational tour. I’m “technically” a Political officer but Political and Economics officers do essentially the same thing, just from a different angle. Both are reporting positions where officers spend their time keeping abreast of the political or economic situation, delivering démarches on issues important to the US administration and policy, and writing cables back to Washington reporting on the prevailing winds. I was pretty stoked at this opportunity to work a reporting assignment and accepted, so now I’ll only be doing visa work until July. I’ll take an R&R this summer so probably won’t physically be present in the new section until late August or September though.

I consider myself pretty lucky. I’ve seen what change can bring in the Foreign Service and it isn’t always an improvement. It’s essential to stay flexible and take advantage of the good opportunities that happen to be within your reach but remain prepared for something you depend on to vanish into thin air. This element of this career is one of the main reasons the State Department seeks a certain type of person for this work. It can be pretty demoralizing at times when the system decides that it isn’t going work like you’d expect it to. The whole “make lemonade when life gives you lemons” approach goes a long way here.

Quote of the Day

Photo on 2012 01 22 at 21 40  2

“Guess all that shampoo you bought was a waste, eh?” -Eminent Child

Photos of Abuja

I finally finished sorting out most of the corrupted photos, ending up with about 20,000 good photos and 12,000 bad ones. Now that I’ve got the general photo archive usable, I’m working on getting some of the pictures I’ve taken up for you all. One problem here is that Nigeria in general is pretty phobic of pictures, especially if you’re just ambling about taking snapshots. With the security situation here, it’s important to have another person or two with you when you’re out in public, but I have yet to find someone who is interested in playing wingman while I look for photos and take time to meet people to warm them up for shots. I have found that once you make friends, they can be very friendly and eager for pictures, but you have to make that personal connection. I’ve got some shots of the Eminent Child at a craft village that demostrate this nicely.

But we start with just some general pictures of my neighborhood:

South to West to North:

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Northeast to Southeast:

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You can see the prominent Aso Rock in the background here.

Finally, due south, including my truck and some photogenic construction. Everything here is built with concrete blocks.

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My reading list 2011

I don’t know why I don’t care for the flurry of “Top 10” lists that saturate pop media at the end of every Gregorian calendar cycle and I suppose its a bit hypocritical, self-indulgent, and maybe even downright narcissistic to post my list of books read in 2011.

  1. Fool Moon (Dresden #2): Dresden files are a weird first person noir pulp fiction tale of magic and mystery. Oddly enjoyable.

  2. Akira Vol 1: Extremely overrated, at least for $18 I paid for this first volume. Maybe the whole story comes together later on but I’ll read this at a library if at all.

  3. Y: Last Man. Deluxe Vol 1: I’d heard great things about this graphic novel but was underwhelmed. Again, perhaps something worth reading at a library or as a gift.

  4. Neuropath (Bakker) : This was recommended by a trusted friend. Sci-fi premise associated with neurologic implants but not far off from today. Disturbing story though. Recommended

  5. Traffic: This got a lot of media attention when published and turned out to be worth it. It might not seem to be the most exciting topic but it was enjoyable and interesting. I learned quite a bit about driving, what makes a good driver (and why we are all worse than we think), and how design affects traffic.

  6. Liar’s Poker: Michael Lewis’s tale of bond sales on Wall Street. Not only educational and informative, but entertaining as well

  7. The Big Short : Best book I’ve read on the collapse of the housing market. Same author as Liar’s Poker and also Entertaining, Educational, and Informative.

  8. Stranger in a strange land: I loved Starship Troopers and Moon is a Harsh Mistress but was disappointed in this one. I just couldn’t accommodate the all-powerful abilities of the protagonist.

  9. Tokyo Vice : Good book written by an American reporter for a Japanese newspaper on the crime beat. Looks at the redlight district and criminal underworld.

  10. Dancing on the Brink : Written by former ambassador to Nigeria, good look at the history and current state of politics in Nigeria

  11. The Village : Recommended by a Marine friend of mine. The story of a platoon of Marines in Vietnam who stayed in a village for a year or so. An aspect of Vietnam that isn’t well known. Good war memoir both in the accounts of the combat they had as well as the concept behind the tactic of stationing US forces in a village.

  12. Game of Thrones (Song of Fire and Ice #1) : I watched the first season on HBO before reading. Great adaptation of the book, but of course the book was more enjoyable. I went on to read books 2 and 3 almost immediately

  13. REAMDE : Neil Stephenson’s newest, more of a thriller than the dense historical fiction ala Crytonomicon and The Baroque Cycle. Takes place in Idaho in parts and incorporates a good bit of MMORPG. Loved it.

  14. Swampful of Dollars : Written by a brit, looks at the corruption associated with Nigeria’s oil industry.

  15. Methland : Good look at the methamphetamine epidemic that so many of us know in one way or another.

  16. Where Men Win Glory : Good biopic of Pat Tillman. The author clearly fell in love with his protagonist but did a good job writing about his life and death.

  17. The Tiger : My mom gave me this true story of a man eating Russian tiger. Good story that delves into the lives of people on the forgotten edge of civilization. I gave it to the guards on the compound as they don’t have much to do but listen to the radio, chat with each other, and read the Bible. Not that there’s anything wrong with those activities, but I wanted to give them something new. I don’t think they’d enjoy most of the non-fiction or fantasy that I read though.

  18. Clash of Kings (Song of Fire and Ice #2)

  19. Storm of Swords (Song of Fire and Ice #3): More about the collapse of the Seven Kingdoms. Very enjoyable.

Life at $8/gallon

Imagine if gasoline prices doubled overnight on New Year’s Eve. You’d probably be pretty upset, but that’s exactly what happened in Nigeria a few days ago. The government has long subsidized gasoline and until the end of 2011, it was about $1.60/gallon. After the subsidy was eliminated, prices now fluctuate and have more than doubled, going over $4/gallon. Considering that most Nigerians live on about $2/day, this is extremely burdensome, and they’re pretty upset about it.

There have been protests throughout the country and there are calls for a nationwide strike to begin on Monday. There is hope that discussion between the labor groups and the government will bear fruit and avoid such strikes, but if they happen, it could be crippling. Some people think they’d burn themselves out in a couple weeks but no one knows for sure.

This link has good background on the subsidy and situation.

I hope nothing breaks loose next week. One protestor has been killed by police already.