No Japan :(

The bid list has a bunch of Japan posts on it but I won’t be able to bid on them because I speak Japanese.  The key point when bidding on the second tour is selecting available bids where the timing involved in taking home leave and additional training deposits you right at the start of the second tour.  There’s a few weeks of wiggle room but not a whole lot.  

All of the Japanese posts are designed for 9 months or more of Japanese language training, but because I speak Japanese, I can’t take the language training and thus I’m ready to work several months before the jobs are open and available.  Kind of a bitter irony that I can’t go to Japan on the next tour because I speak Japanese. I was expecting this but it still was disappointing.  

But there are many other great posts that I hope to get.  Should know in about 6 weeks or so, I think.

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Big holiday

We had a four day weekend due to the alignment of Memorial and Democracy Day. Beautiful weather on Sunday, phenomenally powerful thunderstorms at night. Nothing spectacular happened. I was going to go to Ghana but cancelled because I am taking care of my friends cat. The Eminent Feline and he have become great friends and I will miss him after his mom picks him up tonight. He meowed really loud sometimes though and I really recognized how silent the Eminent Feline is.

Bottled a dry-hopped IPA that tasted quite good going into the bottles. The dry hops made a mess in my bottle spigot and I ended up losing probably a 6 pack or so off beer as a result. Will have to experiment with muslin bags for dry hopping. Didn’t make another batch due to schedule conflicts and expected bad weather. Only a 3 day week this week though so perhaps this weekend. Need to start seriously shifting gears into all grain mode.

Although we are losing the visiting cat, we are getting a visiting dog for a few weeks. He’s a great German Shepherd and I’m really looking forward to having him even though the Eminent Feline is going to have some serious adjustments to do.

 

 

’twas the best, worst of times

Woke up quite excited today knowing that I was going to get the list of available positions for my second tour. This enthusiasm was dampened upon arriving at work to discover that the online system for publishing the list was offline for maintenance. Yes, this was the middle of the night in DC so it kind of made sense. I t eventually came back online but to my chagrin, the list was empty. We eventually figured out that this by design and the powers that be don’t release the list until later in the day.

I had plenty of work to do so I plugged away a cleaning out my inbox until about 5:00 pm. I was shutting down and getting ready to leave when I got email announcing the list! Nearly 500 available posts, so much to consider. I’m quite fortunate in that I’ve served my required consular tour and am off language probation, plus I’m serving in a hardship post. Basically this means I’ve got about as much freedom to choose among the available positions as is possible.

The only limitation or restriction is that I (as everyone else) can only bid on positions with the proper timing. We have to factor in our home leave and any language or professional training required for the position with our set departure and expected arrival dates. If they match up, we can put it on our final bid list; if not, we can’t

So it is quite ironic when I realized that the many Japan posts are designed for non-Japanese speakers and have arrivals dates between 10 and 13 months after I’m set to depart Abuja. Because I tested out of Japanese and already have the required language skill level, I don’t need (or get) training, which messes up the timing and moves the Japanese options outside the realm of the possible for me. It boils down to this: beause I speak Japanese at the level required today, I can’t bid on the position. We aren’t allowed to take additional training to fill the space.

I understand why they have the policies they do and wold probably institute similar policies myself if I was in charge. It still is frustrating though, but it is what it is, eh? There are plenty of other fascinating posts on the list. I’m sure we’ll get something that makes us happy

In other news, I has my first homebrew today. It wasnt very good, to be honest, but it’s only been in the bottle for 2 weeks and needs at lest another week to properly settle in. It started with a good head that disappeared quickly.

 

(Almost) The Worst Day Ever

Had my worst interview ever today, a young woman dying of cancer. The hard part was that she wasn’t qualified for a non-immigrant visa to the U.S., a fact that she’d already faced a few months ago when she first applied and one of my colleagues denied her. She was back, visibly sick, and under the impression that she’d overcome the aspects of her situation that had disqualified her before. Unfortunately, that was an incorrect assessment on her part.

I hated to have to deny her visa this time and I tried to express it in the most humanitarian and compassionate way possible. She broke down sobbing, pleading, begging for the visa, drawing attention to how much weight she’d lost and how her hair was falling out. It tore at my core and I don’t think anyone would really criticize me for issuing here in spite of the obvious ineligibilities because of it. This job is designed such that we don’t really have a whole lot of personal latitude in making decisions; we are mostly just arbiters of the law who seek to find out which cubbyhole applicants fit in based on various criteria.

The integrity of this job is similar to what I faced as a teacher. I was committed to being as consistent and transparent as possible and designed a grading system and mental philosophy/ approach to teaching that went as far as possible to ensure that personal biases, positive or negative, were removed from my assessments. It would have been so easy to issue the visa today but it would have violated the standards that I’ve spent the better part of a year developing and refining my mastery of. If I didn’t refuse that visa, there was no point in even having standards, at least when it came to cases like hers.

Ultimately I’ve come to terms with this and I truly believe that I made the right decision within the expectations of the job. Part of the reason that there is such a rigorous selection process, perhaps, is to increase the probability that people who can make that hard call get the job. I know that others would criticize that, and they have valid moral points. The fact that she has alternatives to treatment in the US and even alternative paths to get to the US is secondary to the decision: I would have made the same decision regardless. But it does help soothe the pain a bit knowing that she could have sought treatment in a variety of other countries.

I’m not proud that I denied a visa to a dying woman who broke down sobbing and begged for a visa but I am proud that I could uphold the expectations of my job in the face of a very difficult decision. I wouldn’t criticize someone who made the opposite call and I hope they feel the same about me.

The only spot of good news that lead to this being (almost!) the worst day is that I got notice that I will begin bidding on my second post at the end of the week. It’s going to be a very exciting and anxious time. I think it will result in knowing where I’m going before I leave on my summer R&R in a couple months.

$200 oil change

I brought plenty of car equipment with me, as advised: air filters (engine, cabin), oil filters, belts, brake pads, windshield wipers. Abuja is a pretty small town and I don’t really put on too much mileage (which is good considering my 12mpg). I have only put about 4K miles on the car since being here, less than 500 miles a month and probably closer to 100 miles a week. But the time had come for an oil change, so I talked to some people and set it up

I knew that the oil itself would be expensive and the initial price was pretty shocking: about $150 for 6 liters of synthetic oil. I saw that I could get that for just over $50 on Amazon, but I understand that there is a premium on quality down here. I was assured that I’d get good oil (i.e. Valvoline or Mobil) and I made arrangements for my car to get picked up and serviced.

About 30 minutes before I’m expecting it to be ready, I get the following text: “Sir, I’ve finished servicing your vehicle. I used 6 liters of oil but still need 2 more.”

What the fuck is this, I wonder. There’s a contradiction in there, and it was worrisome. A few more text exchanges and a couple phone calls later and I identify the fault. My servicers thought my car needed 6 liters when in fact it uses 8 liters of oil. Of course, they drained the oil before realizing this, so I’m faced with the potential of my car not being drivable for the next 24 hours. Some determined phone conversations later, I receive assurance that they’ve located 2 more quarts and will not be mixing different qualities or makes. It’s going to cost me an additional $50 though; ain’t that great.

As shocking as all of this was, when I finally get my car back, I find that they’ve used Reilly or O’reilly synthetic oil. Now maybe I’m falling victim to premium branding and this kind of oil is just fine, but I was pretty upset to have been charged triple the price of a premium brand and then received a generic oil, not to mention the stress and worry associated with an partially filled engine.

I knew that my windshield wipers were wearing out and I was additionally chagrined to find that the swath of untouched window on the return swipe of the old blades persevered through a replacement set. I’m not convinced that the new blades go put on, to be honest. I need to have a heart-to-heart talk with my servicers tomorrow and make it clear that I’m not very pleased to have gotten shafted like this.

I should have expected it because nothing in Nigeria comes easy. Nothing works the way planned, nothing is reliable, there is always a twist, a game, a turn that always breaks against you. Someone is laughing their way to the bank right now from this oil change, which is unfortunate, especially for me!

At least with modern engines, low mileage, and synthetic oils, I will only need one more change before I leave here. It’s still one of those things that batters against a person and wears down the general positivity one brings to live. There’s a reason that people burn out and there’s a reason there are significant bonuses for people living here. It’s hard.

21 May 2012: Monday

I had heard a while back of a local band that was looking for a bassist but dismissed it for several reasons, the least of which was not the fact that in spite of the time I’ve spent on my guitar, I don’t really know how to play any songs. I just like to groove on it, more of a meditation than music. Then last weekend it dawned on me that I recognized a name and realized that several of my friends were associated with this group and I let myself get talked into giving it a go.

I’m actually quite excited about it even though I know I’m going to be putting myself under a lot of pressure to perform. Thankfully most of the music is pop type stuff that I should be able to get through without a lot of trouble, at least not as much trouble as if we were playing the music that I’d REALLY want to play. But its good music and it will be a lot of fun, for sure. Let’s just hope it works out, as the primary obstacle is the travel patterns. 5 or 6 expats in a diplomatic community means that odds are good that someone will be leaving here or there for some amount of time, if not permanently (hence the opening for a bassist).

 

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Today was a good day.

Got up and had a nice little conversation with the family.

Helped a friend put together some shelves. I like helping and I like building stuff, even if it just Ikea.

A friend had a brew kit of his own that he’s had for a long time, so he came over and I helped/showed him how to brew. His yeast was pretty old and I’m doubtful it will activate for fermentation, but I can repitch one of my packets if it doesn’t take off. Forgot to pull some beer in the beaker for measuring the initial gravity and it was too foamy to do it in the fermenter, but if I have to repitch, I can take a quick reading in a couple days.

While we were brewing, a few more friends stopped by. We hung out, made some beer, they fired up the grill and we had a nice BBQ feast with steak, ribs, kabobs, corn. A few people drove the XBox around for a bit. I enjoyed that because they are amateur racers, both with cars they built/are building for track racing. They not only appreciate a game like that more than more, they are pretty good at it too.

We played poker to close out the night. Good friendly game that fortunately didn’t go too late.

Ended the night just having a nice conversation with a friend on the balcony, enjoying one last drink for the day.

Maybe the finishing touch was finding a little gecko in the shower and giving it to the Eminent Feline to play with.

Blogsy

Turns out that the problem with my keyboard was dead batteries. It took a long time to come to that realization because it would still turn on, the light would pulse, and the iPad recognized it, just wouldn’t connect. But it seems to be working now, so that’s good.

My elbows hurt today. I made it to another crossfit workout yesterday. Low weight and only half the full workout was more than enough to bring me to muscle failure.

It’s been a good weekend so far, especially since I finally got a hold of my family. They were just busy and missed my calls and it was great to hear the Eminent Child’s voice. We had a nice going away party for one of us. I set up my camera and remote on a tripod for people to take portraits of themselves. It was working out until the rains came. I had hopes that people would loosen up more (and they would have) but the rains drove us inside.

My flash fell off my camera a few months ago when the I idiotically didn’t latch it. It seemed fine but I realize now that the “zoom” function has been damaged. I don’t do much flash photography but its needed at parties. Now that I’ve figured out the basics (i.e. don’t use it in manual-full power mode), the pictures look quite good and I will be doing more of it. I ordered a replacement flash, a concession to my austerity measures and debt reduction policies implemented at home.

Finally, I’m using Blogsy to blog on the iPad. Looks to be a well designed piece of software.

All I want for Christmas…

Is an ApocalypsePak!

Steaming Pile Update: May 16, 2012

Since I got my internet working again, I’ve had problems with my keyboard on my iPad, where I do all my blogging now.  I also had that post destroyed by a WordPress app crash, so I’m working on a new workflow that would at least preserve my writing and avoid such stresses.  I’ve discovered that the WordPress app is notoriously unreliable. I’ve heard good things about Blogsy but need to set aside some time to learn how to use it.  That, of course, leads to more delays and fewer posts. Sorry.

Some quick updates:

* Goodbyes

I’ve said before and I’ll say it many many more times: one of the worst parts of this job is the departures of friends. We all serve 2 or sometimes 3 year tours and friends are coming and going. We spend a lot of time together here with real friendships. In the last week 4 of the people I spent most of my time with have gone with 3 more to go in the next month or so.  Almost my entire social circle will be gone by the time I leave for summer R&R. I know I’ll meet new great people but it is nevertheless a bit demoralizing to say goodbye to people that if you lived in the same city you’d be friends forever with but due to the nature of this job you likely will never meet again.

Just gotta be grateful for the time and memories we had.  I’ve been a little low energy and lethargic lately and I think this emotional toll is partly to blame.  Need to be more active. Did groove out on the bass a bit last night and recorded a track that was fun to do, which helped.

* Beer is bottled!

The first two batches, the American Pale Ale and the English Brown, are in bottles and mini-kegs.  The APA came out at least 5 points light in gravity which means its a lower alcohol content than designed. I’m not so concerned about the alcohol per se, but I’m bothered by questions about what went wrong. I think I may have had the temperature in the room a little low. The yeast may have been weak too, after spending so long on the shelf before I started brewing.

I didn’t measure the original gravity on the Brown so I don’t know where I’m at on it.  I did hit the prescribed final gravity. Both beers tasted thin, both in body and flavor, but there’s still a lot to come during carbonation.

I also tried using a Party Pig, a mini-keg system that uses a nifty chemical pouch system to maintain pressure inside the 2.5 gallon bottle. It sits on its side on a little stand with legs and really does look like a pig.  I have high expectations. 2 more weeks for both batches before we start drinking.

I have one batch that would be ready to bottle this weekend but I need to rack it to secondary and add more hops into the fermenter, a technique called “dry hopping”.  I was supposed to do it last weekend but was distracted by everything else.  I’ll make that transfer and brew another batch today.

I oddly seem to have misplaced a bag of bottle caps from my first kit.  Not a problem in any way but just infuriating because I try to be disciplined about keeping things organized and my house simply isn’t that convoluted: things should be easy to find.

* Dramacats

A friend of mine had to go back to the US for a few weeks for additional training and I’m watching her catwhile she is gone. The Eminent Cat wasn’t too fond of the Eminent Intruder at first and would hiss and run away.  The Intruder wasn’t too keen on being left alone in a strange place either and spent the first couple days hiding under the couch.  But over the last week, huge strides have been made. The Eminent Cat is still a bit of bully and will still hiss from time to time (especially if the Intruder is in the bedroom). She chases him around a bit and I’ve seen her bat at him, but never with claws and never any biting or outright fighting.  The chasing is more playful than aggressive (although I’m not sure that the Intruder sees it as playful as much as intimidation). He is a skittish cat by nature and doesn’t seem too intimidated by her though. She was sniffing his tail this morning and wasn’t hissing, so we may have passed a threshold. I’d like to think they’ll bond enough that when she goes to his house this summer when I’m on leave things go well.