Our Adventures in Sri Lanka

Safaris to spot leopards and elephants, swimming in the Indian Ocean, sipping tea in the mountains, and several more!

Our Nile Cruise

Starting in Cairo, we sailed to Luxor, Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Aswan.

Trouble at Sea: Our Red Sea Dive Trip in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

The Red Sea is one of the top diving destinations in the world, but Saudi Arabia is a very restrictive country to get into. That alone would have made the trip memorable...but then things went south and the Saudi Coast Guard and a hospital got involved.

Our Expedition to Jordan

Highlights included tracing the steps of Indiana Jones into Petra, following Lawrence of Arabia into Wadi Rum, and floating in the Dead Sea.

Discovering Turkey

We emersed ourselves in Istanbul, explored the white travertines of Pamukkale, and traced history through Laodikeia, Hierolopolis, and Cleopatra's Baths.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

International Phones and Devices: Spring 2015 Update (Samsung S6)

The Samsung Galaxy S6 release is the big thing this season, so as promised in my previous post about determining whether your international GSM world phone will get 4G LTE when you travel, I'm here to provide an update for some of the latest offerings on the market. Now, this post isn't about comparing the processor speed or other features between the devices, since there are plenty of those kind of sites out there (like this one from Business Insider). My focus is on "will my phone work in country X?" As I mentioned earlier, I have a very detailed post about determining whether your international GSM world phone will get 4G LTE, but I'll give you the abridged version here if you want to refresh your memory:
  • GSM vs CDMA (Modes) usage by country
  • Frequency Bands (850/900/1800/1900Hz) by country
  • LTE Bands (1-44) in use, and by which country
    • LTE-TDD (time-division duplexing) vs. LTE-FDD (frequency-division duplexing)
    • "While the majority of the global LTE market is based on FDD-LTE technology, TDD-LTE, the alternative LTE technology, is expected to see increased adoption in the US, China, Australia, Middle East, Northern and Eastern Europe, and Southwest Asia, and to gain a more pronounced position in the global LTE market,"
Since those links should help you determine what's at your destination, here are the technical specs the flagship handheld devices available in Spring 2015.
  • Apple iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, iPad Air 2 / iPad mini 3
  • Blackberry Z30
  • Google Nexus 6 and Nexus 9
  • Samsung: Galaxy S6, S6 Edge and Note 4
You might also want to read my related post about choosing the right adapter for international travel so you don't blow out your electronics, but I'll let you be decide if that's of interest to you.


So, without further delay, let's get down to whether your smartphone or device will work in the country you're planning to travel to.
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Monday, March 30, 2015

Making Tenure as a Foreign Service Specialist


Where were you when you made tenure in the US Foreign Service? I was in Saudi Arabia, just a few hours' drive north of the Yemen border and only a few days after the Kingdom launched airstrikes against Houthi rebels. Less dramatically, I was sitting in a meeting with the commissioning agent for our project reviewing the facility systems commissioning schedule when the Project Director glanced up from his white Blackberry and said "Congratulations, you just made tenure!"

The cable announcing the results of the 2014 Winter Session of the Specialist Tenuring Board came out today, announcing that many of the Foreign Service Specialists who joined the State Department with me have been recommended for tenure. Woo Hoo!

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So, what does it mean to get tenure?
The sole criterion for a positive tenuring decision will be the specialist candidate’s demonstrated ability to perform satisfactorily in the occupational category in which the candidate is serving and the potential, assuming normal growth and career development, to serve effectively in the Foreign Service at higher levels with greater responsibilities in the specialist’s occupational category. (3 FAM 2254.1)
By that defintion, I'm not really sure how you wouldn't get tenured, but it's hard to find someone who hasn't since the folks who don't get tenured within four years are separated from the Service. Okay, I guess technically I've been there, done that. But what are the perks?
  • We get a certificate with our name on it
  • We are now considered "Mid-Level Employees", so any requests to curtail or extend our current assignment have to be approved by both the entry level Career Development Officer (CDO) and the Mid-Level CDO.
  • We get to use the DS-5055, a slightly shorter form for our annual Employee Evaluation Report.
  • Specialist candidates recommended for tenure by the Tenuring Board will be given career appointments under section 303 of the Act, to take effect within one month of the Tenuring Board decision. Career appointments in the Foreign Service will make specialists subject to the time-in-service/time-inclass (TIS/TIC) mandatory retirement provisions.

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So, tangibly, it doesn't really seem to mean that much, but it is kind of fun to refer to myself as a "Tenured Member of the US Foreign Service." Also, it's pretty awesome to receive nearly instant congratulatory messages from my peers around the world, specifically Benin, Chad, England,  Kosovo, Mauritania,  Mexico,  New Zealand, Norway, Russia, and Swaziland. Move over Pitbull, I'm the new Mr Worldwide.
Attempting to "go local" in a dust storm.
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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Greek Independence Day

One of the best things about living abroad is that you have the opportunity to meet a lot of other expats from all over the world. If you're lucky, some of them will really know how to throw a party. An Irish woman we know enlisted the help of a truly international crew (Denmark, Serbia, Brazil, and Scotland are just a few of the nationalities that come to mind) to throw a Blue & White party under the auspices of celebrating Greek Independence Day. It felt like we were actually on the set of ABBA's Mamma Mia! The Movie .
The Greek "Island" of Santorini?
There were elaborate decorations, ranging from the floating cupola and lanterns (pictured above) to re-purposed pallets painted white and converted into bars and furniture (decorated with blue pillows, of course). And the food! There was lamb, souvlaki, and all sorts of other dishes filling a buffet that ran from one end of the pool to the other.

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Blue lights, white tablecloths, and golden lights
There were blue tables with white table cloths that sat beneath a string of lights that casually swayed in the breeze carrying the staccato sounds of traditional Greek music. We actually entered the area to the theme from Zorba the Greek, which is arguably one of the best songs to enter anywhere to.
As the night drifted along, the Greek music was slowly replaced by pop music, but I was getting tired. We could still hear the music through our window, and I lamented the fact that this was exactly the kind of music I wanted to hear at the party...only it came an hour too late. Everything here seems to run late. Which, based on our experiences in Greece, seems about right for a Greek themed party. But as far as I can remember, there weren't any Greeks at this party...does that qualify as a Greek tragedy?

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Saturday, March 07, 2015

Daylight Savings Time in Saudi Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the 161 countries that do not observe Daylight Saving Time. Why would it? There is so much daylight here, why bother saving it? It's an understatement to say that the available supply of sunshine in Saudi Arabia borders on the extreme. Also, considering that the local supply of oil makes gasoline cheaper than water here, it only stands to reason that sunlight would be equally undervalued. Of course, you can't really put sunshine in a bottle for export...but I digress.

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So, today, the Kingdom stays at UTC+3 while Washington D.C. goes from UTC-5 to UTC-4. It gets confusing, but there are several useful time zone converters/calculators that account for dates as well. In practical terms, this actually doubles the amount of time we have available for teleconferencing. Seriously. Doubles. But when you're talking about so few hours of overlap during the workweek, every minute matters. At least we're not in one of the countries that are 30 minutes off the nearest timezone (usually depicted with stripes on timezone maps).
Time Zone Infographic: Eastern Time (EST & EDT) vs Saudia Arabia (KSA)
If you didn't know, the work week in Saudi Arabia runs from Sunday to Thursday, so that already cuts the overlap with the rest of the Monday-to-Friday world down to a maximum four days a week. If your workday runs from 8am (0800) to 5pm (1700), when you account for an eight hour time difference, the only practical time (aka "the Golden Hour") for a teleconference that doesn't have barking dogs or screaming children in the background is 4-5pm local / 8-9am in D.C. With the U.S. "springing" forward an hour, we get a "bonus" hour and can now call between 3-5pm local / 8-10am in D.C. four days a week. Like I said, doubled. Well, that's about all I have to say about daylight saving time in Saudi Arabia. And I've still got an hour to spare.

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

UAB & HHE (aka HHG)

Our Household Effects (HHE) shipment was finally delivered last week after being packed out of DC in mid-December, thus completing our international, intercontinental move to Jeddah. As we take a break from trying to find a place to put all of our stuff, it seems like a good time to recap this particularly tortuous move.
Two crates per truck, so we had three trucks with 5.5 crates.
In case you're not up on your State Department acronyms, here are the ones I'll be using throughout this post:
  • UAB: Un-Accompanied Baggage. This is a size- and weight-restricted shipment that goes by air. The weight limits vary based on the number of people moving, anywhere from 250 lbs for a single person to 750 lbs for a family of four, and some In theory, this only takes a few weeks to go from door to door and is often expected to be waiting at the onward assignment.
  • HHE: HouseHold Effects, basically the bulk of your stuff.  The military calls it HHG for HouseHold Goods, but it's the same thing.
  • GSO: General Services Office, the logistics center of an embassy/consulate that deals with shipping, motorpool, customs clearance, government furniture, etc. Definitely folks you want as friends.
Timeline for shipping UAB and HHE:
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End Of Tour Summary: Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

We spent two and a half years in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State. As you migh...

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