Travel advice: Dress for success

I do think the author can’t help but come off as a bit of an elitist twit but I don’t fault the concept behind this article. As crappy as one can get to feeling after a long slog through the airways, it helps to at least be dressed nicely. Nothing extravagant and don’t compromise your comfort of course, but I find it easier to relax when I don’t look as wrung out as I feel, if that makes any sense. Dressing up for air travel: In defense of looking nice on a flight or train..

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Was busy all last weekend, never enough time to do the relaxing stuff you want to do, had to say goodbye to more friends. Got more beer done, feeling good about that. Didn’t get the first two batches transferred to secondary but finally got to it today. The beers look a bit light in body and didn’t have much aroma, so we’ll see. It will probably only sit for a few days as I really want to bottle this weekend, but we shall see.

In the meantime, work is good. It’s frustrating to not be very good at it but I get good feedback on how to improve. Speaking of work, the State Department hosted an incredible media session where they laid out everything known about the attack that killed our Ambassador in Libya.

Fml October 12, 2012

So here I am at 4:00 in the morning, afraid to fall back asleep in case my alarm system goes berserk again. I don't remember if I wrote about it when it happened last time, but previously it was caused by an obvious short in a wire that we found after enduring a night filled with excitement from the alarm tripping again and again. That was fixed, but tonight I wake up and realize my alarm is going off again in the middle of the night. We have heavy security doors and I couldn't hear it going off, at least not loud enough to wake me up.

It's always a little freaky to wake up to blaring klaxon and you don't want to go barging out into a problem situation. I wasn't too worried as my building is one of the most secure we have. I can't imagine any breaking in here and I figured its just another system problem. I get up, turn off the alarm, and talk to the guards. Turns out the alarm has been going off for an hour. I feel terrible to my neighbors because the guards check on everyone in the building in these cases. 2 minutes after I shut down the noise, it goes off again unprovoked, which probably means it will continue to go off at random times for the rest of the night.

And THAT is why I'm afraid to fall back asleep. I don't want to sleep through it and put my neighbors through that again. I don't particularly want to get woken up like that anymore because you wake up in such a state of high alert. It's too late for phone calls back to the states but to early for calls to Japan so here i sit. Sheesh.

Monday, October 8

This three-day weekend wasn't as great as the last as I spent most of the time curled up in bed. Friday night was a good time playing Scrabble with a bunch of people from work; I'm terrible at Scrabble but enjoyed it nonetheless as you end up spending time with people you otherwise don't see outside of work very much. Finished the night with a cigar and nightcap with a couple of friends on the roof, just taking in the city and enjoying the night.

Went to bed expecting to get up and go get ice for another batch of beer but instead felt like the ice was poured in my bed. Aches throughout my body, busted guts, and I knew I wasn't going anywhere. I bailed on the workout and ended up sleeping until 3:30. My neighbors had invited everyone over for a rooftop social and I felt okay by that time. I'd committed to staying up and watching the Oregon/Washington game with a friend here who is a huge Ducks fan, but if I hadn't slept so long I probably would have cancelled on that too. As it was, I made some coffee after everyone left the rooftop and felt half-way decent. Got home after the game intending to get up after about 6 hours for band practice only to discover that I felt like hammered shit.

I spent all day Sunday in bed or curled up on the couch (I even put a sweatshirt on, I was so chilled, the first time I've worn one in Africa). I was looking forward to staying up all night watching football and had even invited people over for bbq steaks but cancelled all of that. I went to bed early and slept late again today, finally feeling halfway decent. Even though today is a holiday I had a meeting (Nigerians were working!) and then went to the office to get ready for the rest of the week.

I'm still lethargic and feel like I don't have much strength. The worst part was not being able to take advantage of the weekend to talk to my girls. The network was crap though so even if I was in good condition I don't think I could have talked to them. I'm in bed early(ish) now so hopefully tomorrow will be good. I don't want to miss tennis tomorrow, for sure.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

A bit tired today after my first crossfit in a while.  Feels good though.

I did get a second batch of beer brewed last Monday.

Took delivery of my consumables yesterday.  Mostly liquids (gatorade!) and briquets.

Started tennis lessons yesterday.  Local coach, good guy.

Had Korean food today, but wasn’t so hungry immediately after the workout. Was expensive, especially the beer. Usually they cost between 300-500 naira but they raked me for 1800.  Crap.

Here’s an article about a new book on the Foreign Service for those who might be interested in what I do. America’s Other Army

Flight Fiasco

Last week I flew to Lagos a day before the rest of my colleagues so I could meet with people working in industries I cover, an initial face-to-face meeting with people that I'll be talking a lot to as part of the job. Everyone else was coming down for a weekend of meetings with our colleagues at the consulate, essentially the same purpose as I had with my industry contacts. We've got a number of new people in new jobs and it is an important opportunity for us to get to know the people that we constantly coordinate with via email.

Domestic air travel in Nigeria is notoriously unreliable (and expensive to boot), but I made it down with nary a hiccup. Thursday morning we got word that the first of our colleagues had arrived (he took the first flight of the day) and everyone else was planning to trickle in on the remaining flights throughout the day. But on my way to my first meeting, we got word that airport worker unions had occupied the terminal of the main carrier still operating (Air Nigeria collapsed a couple weeks ago under apparent mismanagement and Dana was grounded between June and September due to the crash of their plane. They've been reinstated to fly but haven't launched flights yet). Arik is by far the biggest remaining carrier (even before Air Nigeria went under) but now we discovered that all but 2 of us were not going to be able to fly down for the combined section meetings. Even though I got out, my return ticket was on Arik, so I was stuck in Lagos.

We tried getting seats on one of the smaller remaining carriers but the was a mob rush for seats during boarding on the last flight out of the capital. Apparently it was a free for all with both ticketed and unticketed passengers making it onto the planes. I didn't witness it, but I can imagine the chaos that would emerge from desperate Nigerians at the end of a long frustrating day.

In the end, I was able to get scheduled on a different carrier without too much hassle and made it back on Friday. Had I been stuck in Lagos, I was looking forward to helping out on the visa line but that was not to be, alas.

I returned to discover that the band is all in town and they want to have practice on Sunday. I've got a real dilemma developing on weekends as I want to watch football, do the band thing, go to workouts, and brew beer. Once I get the beer thing down, I'll be able to do a whole grain batch in under 8 hours I think, but that means either I start early on Sundays in order to watch football (but can't do the band then) or I skip the workouts to do it on Saturdays (or start it in the afternoon and brew until after dark). If only I could work 4 days a week!

I'm still having issues with the brewing process. I was highly motivated to take advantage of the Saturday opportunity now that I returned from Lagos earlier than planned. It's a bit more complicated in theory but the real challenge is that I'm using a non-self-priming pump that I'm just not sure how to use and there are more parts involved in the brewing itself. I'll be using a dual-burner process and thus have to rig a way to switch fuel from one burner to the other.

As I set up the equipment I realized that in spite of my best efforts, I'm STILL short a barbed hose adapter for the pump. I forced the tubing over a non-adapter piece and was going to brew no matter what but then ran into issues getting ice. I usually can get ice from the Marine's but there's been a bunch of turnover and I now only know 2 of them and only have 1 phone number. I think they had a Marine House party last night as well so they may have been sleeping late and even running low on ice. I didn't want to just roll over there without checking in but the guy I texted about it never got back to me. So I fell into a funk and spent the day in my pajamas, catching up on Daily Show and Louie episodes while playing Minecraft. The newest Survivor has started (I made an application video while I was home but couldn't submit it, even though the website said they were still taking applications). It was a sad day for beer and now I'm doubting whether I'll be able to get it down. I've heard of a second option for ice that i need to follow up. I ordered the final (I hope!) piece for the bigger setup, so if I can get good ice options, I'll be ready to rock.


Back in the saddle

No, I haven't shuttered this place. I have finished my summer R&R coupled with some training for my new position. I had hoped to continue to post updates about those adventures too but it didn't work out that way. I've got some good pictures of my time camping that I'll get up at some point. There is a video of the Eminent Child's piano recital and pictures of ballet on Facebook.

Now that I'm back I'm adjusting to the new pace of work in the Economic section. Consular work is busy but it is all immediate and not very deep. Economic work doesn't have that immediacy and requires better organization to keep track of the different projects and tasks. Consular work can mostly be done by yourself but Econ work requires more engagement with people, talking about what is happening locally or delivering information on behalf of the government. And the writing! There is so much more email and then of course cable writing. Organization is key to avoid losing track of something and having it fall through the cracks.

So I'm very busy but busy is good. I've been back for 2 weeks already but it barely feels like it. Thankfully time here seems to move faster than my time at home did. I'm getting back into our regular workouts. I'm committed to doing a ToughMudder with my brother and maybe some of out friends next fall. It's a long road for me from here to there and there isn't much time. But if I don't do it now, I never will.

I will be in Lagos this weekend for work meetings. I am a little nervous, I admit, about flying domestic airlines but it probably isn't any worse than traffic here and I'm in that all the time.

Tuesday, 10 July

I knew this would happen but am still surprised by it. Time is rushing up fast and I’ve got a lot of work still to do before I leave.

I haven’t been interviewing at work this week, trying to wrap up the bigger projects and organize my workflow to hand off to the officer following me. However, there is so much general churn going on every day, I’m barely able to even touch it. It really highlights how understaffed we are here. I really do wish I could stay on for another year as I know that the work I could get done would be so productive.

There were some distractions that impacted my ability to be productive as well. Last night the security alarm in my apartment decided to go off at random times throughout the night, starting just as I went to bed at 10:30. The oddest part was that I hadn’t armed it for the night when it first went off and I was perplexed why it was going off. It went off again around 4:00, only I didn’t realize it right away. I incorporated the sounds into a dream for a while, apologizing to the guests at my house about the noise. Suddenly it dawned on me that it was a REAL noise that had been going on for quite some time! I leapt from bed and immediately slammed face first into the door, banging my knee in the pitch black. I got it off, but it went off a few more times by the time the sun came up. I hadn’t slept very well as a result of all of that and called in late to catch a bit more sleep. The alarm continued to go off at random times, including three times in the amount of time it took me to get out of bed and out of the shower. I called the security team to come fix it and it went off 3 more times by the time they got here.

Now that it was daylight and I was coherent, I investigated and noticed that one of the cables near the door that had always been frayed had completely fallen apart. It turned out this was the panic button cable and it was shorting out, thus solving the mystery of why it was going off even when the alarm wasn’t armed. They replaced the cable and all was well.

Of course, once I got to work, there were troubles with my upcoming travel. Part of the paperwork was filled out incorrectly and suddenly someone realized that there was no money authorized to pay for my travel. That caused a bit of consternation and stress but we got that squared away. It ended up costing me a couple hundred dollars as part of a cost-contruct but that was to be expected. I’m just happy that it didn’t change my confirmed tickets because I’d already paid the little bit extra for the Economy Plus seats on the United legs of the trip.

I still have to bottle a batch of beer, drop off the Eminent Feline, and pack. Packing is a challenge because I’ve got at least 3 if not 4 destinations (Camping, home visits, training) that require completely different types of clothing. The biggest challenge will be in Washington. How many suits to bring? I sense that they’ll get pretty wasted in just a single day in the summer heat and I don’t look forward to paying hotel prices to get it cleaned overnight. Still don’t know what to do about the daily wear; hopefully I can find a coin laundry nearby or maybe convince a friend to let me use their facilities.

All in all, I’m very stoked about the upcoming trips. I’ve met my new boss who seems to be a great asset at work and someone that I think I’ll really enjoy working under. There will be a lot to learn but I can already tell that he is capable both of recognizing the learning curve I’ll be on as well as challenging me to move along it as fast as possible. Even though I said I kind of wish I could stay in the consular section, given the choice, I wouldn’t pass up this opportunity. It’s hard to walk away from work that I enjoy and I know I’m good at (and a section that needs me, if I can be so bold) but it would be even harder to turn down this opportunity.

Sunday, July 1: The week in review

It’s been a busier than usual week for me, primarily because my boss is out and I’ve had extra responsibilities around the office. In addition to that, I had my bidlist due on Monday, the gig on Tuesday, and then the Eminent Canine was due to return home on Wednesday. On top of all that, we had additional security restrictions on embassy employees due to the precarious situation here and the threat that the violence in the north would trickle down into the capitol. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

The gig turned out great. We had a good turnout of people and we played better than we’d ever played before. Something about being on stage got me both relaxed and focused and I was able to hit all the bits we’d practiced. Lots of great feedback from people who genuinely seemed to have fun. I know I did.

The Eminent Canine’s owners got delayed on Wednesday due to airplane mechanical issues stateside. I learned that they actually did an emergency aborted takeoff after the nose wheel had lifted off. Took them 4 more days to get here which was fine with me and I really enjoyed having him around. The house is emptier for sure now that he’s gone.

I was looking forward to Thursday under the impression that it was the Venezuelan National Day. Don’t know how I mistook June 28 for July 5. Next week!

Friday was a big 90s themed party hosted by a friend of mine. Huge expat turnout with everyone dressed in 90s themes. I dug out a pair of ragged jean shorts, hiking boots, and a flannel. I also took a bunch of pictures that turned out pretty good I thought. The new flash I got works great. I set up my tripod thinking to have “photo corner” but ended up just walking around with it. If I’m going to do a photo booth, I need to set it up better with signs and stuff. I’ve seen where people have set up automated scripts so that you can take the picture and have it print right there which would also be fun to do.

Saturday I had a couple friends over for some table-top gaming. I bought a few new games that have gotten rave reviews and now its a matter of finding people willing and interested in playing. We only played Dominion and I could tell that it was going to be a hard sell due to the abstract nature of the game (it’s a deck building game that doesn’t really sound like much fun based on the description alone). I’d played on my iPad a few times and had a sense of how it works, although I did have a few details wrong that we eventually figured out and it made the game a lot more fun. I made a couple pizzas and I think everyone enjoyed themselves but the real test will be seeing if they come back again.

Today was just an off-day where I just lounged about, caught up on some episodes of the Daily Show, read a couple magazines, started reading “Wicked”, and played a little Xbox. It was very relaxing and enjoyable. Went out to a local bar to watch the final of the Eurocup soccer tourney. Sorry, Italy, and Congrats to Spain!

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my last week of interviews. Bittersweet.


Monday, June 25, 2012

Today was our last band practice before my first gig. They’ve played together for quite a while but its been a race against time to get me up to speed. We could use another couple weeks of practice but I think we’ve got it close enough for people to have fun tomorrow night. We shall see….

I turned in my bidlist today. 30 positions involving a combination of jobs I really want and places the girls really want to go to. I will be happy with anything on the list but there’s definitely a few that I’d much rather have. Just need to temper expectations for a while. I hope I get a response sooner than later…..

I may have ruined my last batch of beer. I’m starting with too much water and last time, the fermenter was too full, leading to a slight explosion when the built up CO2 escaped. In the process of cleaning it up, I exposed it to the air and even lost a small rubber gasket into the wort. I also don’t know the effect of dumping out part of it. If airlock activity is anything to go by, fermentation significantly dropped off. Then again, it usually only vigorously active for a couple days anyway. I’m hoping it turns out okay but I can’t be surprised if not.