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.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Beirut

Want to know why my job is so much fun? While I was in Dubai, taking some time off from my project in Jeddah, I got an email from D.C. asking me if I could go to Beirut the week after I got home. If it involves a new country for me to visit, you know I'll find a way to make it happen. But going into Beirut means facing some unique challenges. I also figured that this TDY is a good opportunity for me to present what sort of challenges FSCEs face practically every day on the job site.
This T-shirt is now in my collection.
To set the stage, I'm coming in from Jeddah (a 15% danger pay post) to Beirut (a 25% danger pay post), and the heightened security posture is obvious the minute you read the State Department travel warning. My favorite line: "U.S. government personnel in Lebanon have been prohibited from taking flights that pass through Syrian airspace." Well then, how do you find out your scheduled flight route? I used FlightAware.com because I couldn't get the map function to work on FlightRadar24.com, but both appear to be useful resources.

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I didn't know what to expect when I arrived, other than the typical "someone with a sign with your name on it". That guy took me straight through customs and out to a car that was waiting for me. I said hello to the driver, but I guess he didn't hear me. But it still felt like VIP service. The State Department warning also says to vary times and routes, so I got a bit of a sight-seeing tour as we drove away from the airport.

On our drive, we passed a cigar store called "Fidel" which I assume is a reference to Castro & Cuban cigars, but I think it also has a nice double entrendre if someone asked you where you got it: "In fidel!" We also ended up following a canary yellow Ferrari, but I couldn't get a good picture of it. Stuff like that kind of jumps out at you without trying, and I probably would have noticed it anywhere else I've been. But then there are the things that jump out at you as unusual because of training (and maybe a few too many action movies), like when a black motorcycle with a helmet box on the back pulled up on the driver's side of our car at a red light just before we were about to go under an overpass (ie, a "choke point"). I saw it, my driver saw it, and we subtly took the off ramp detour instead of putting ourselves into a possibly bad position. It was probably nothing to worry about, just a dude on his way to work, but this place gets a 25% danger pay differential for a reason. It wasn't until after we reached the Embassy that the driver turned around and , looking straight at me, said "Welcome to Beirut." Seriously, that's like something out of a movie script.

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Sunday, May 03, 2015

A Long Weekend in Dubai, UAE (with kids)

Got a few days in the Middle East/Gulf Region and want to go somewhere with your family? One of the most popular spots to see a fascinating mix of old & new is the international city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. With a long weekend, you can easily visit the Dubai Mall (and Burj Khalifa), the Mall of the Emirates (and Ski Dubai), and Old Dubai (and the Gold Souq).
Boat ride on the Dubai Creek
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Friday, May 01, 2015

Are Foreign Service Specialists Diplomats?

May 1, 2015 is Foreign Affairs Day, so this post will address one of the most frequently asked questions by applicants to the US Foreign Service: "Are Foreign Service Specialists considered diplomats?" Why? Well, there's all sorts of information out there and different ways to interpret it. Also, the term "diplomat" carries a certain cachet, so obviously there will be detractors and critics who become sticklers for the proper application of the term.
(Image Source)
What is the definition of a diplomat?
A diplomat is a person appointed by a state to conduct diplomacy with one or more other states or international organizations (Source: Google Search "Diplomat")
Which begs the question: What is diplomacy?
Diplomacy (from the Greek δίπλωμα, meaning making a deal with other countries) is the art and practice of conducting negotiations between representatives of states. (Source: Google Search "Diplomacy")
So, yeah, those definitions seem to be pretty broad, but did you notice that phrase "appointed" in the definition for diplomat? I'll come back to that part later in this post. But first, let's try to get a handle on who is in the running to be considered an American diplomat by answering these and other questions:
  • What is the US Foreign Service and who is in it?
  • Within the State Department, how are the people classified? (FSO, FSS, SFS)
  • What's the difference between diplomatic corps, diplomatic service, diplomatic status, diplomatic rank, and diplomatic title?
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Saudi Arabia: So Far, So Good?

We're over two years in to our second tour in the Foreign Service with the US Department of State in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It's hard...

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