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Posts tagged ‘bureaucracy’

ghost town

Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town?
We danced and sang, and the music played in a de boomtown
This town is coming like a ghost town.
The Specials, “Ghost Town”

A few days into our quarantine, we wrote about how it felt like the other shoe had just dropped: what had started out as a partial lockdown of Metro Manila had quickly escalated, with a curfew, the closure of most businesses and public places and, finally, the suspension of international travel. This beast, it turns out, has more than two feet, because the shoes keep on dropping. The latest restriction, imposed by our condominium board this evening, is a near total prohibition on exiting our residence compound. Read more

in it for the long haul

Saturday marks the one-week anniversary of our final pre-quarantine date night, which feels like a lifetime ago. It was a week of constant flux and uncertainty, as the Philippine government tightened its lockdown, the Embassy endeavored to keep up with the rapidly changing regulatory framework, and the State Department issued its now-or-never travel advisory. Some of our colleagues and friends from the international community departed before the lockdown went into effect; many others were on the fence and scrambled to make a decision while air travel from Manila was still possible.

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journey into the unknown

It is difficult to predict where one’s career in the Foreign Service might lead. Joining the State Department speaking Russian and Spanish, D hardly expected to spend two of his first three tours in Africa, for example. Similarly, S’s assignment to Manila was far from a no-brainer, as she had scant Asia experience before arriving in the Philippines last summer. It is entirely possible that the capricious nature of the bidding process may return us to Asia again, though given our languages and regional expertise in other parts of the world, we wouldn’t necessarily bet on it. At any rate, we’ve approached this tour as our one unique opportunity to see as much of the region as possible.

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last-second planning

A few years ago, the NY Times ran an op-ed encouraging travelers to plan less, ostensibly to reduce stress. It stuck with us, not because we found the advice helpful but rather because we thought the piece thoroughly infuriating and completely out of touch, a flippant acknowledgment that “for most travelers, particularly those with families, such an extreme lack of planning seems impossible, even inadvisable” notwithstanding. We traveled like this during our backpacking days, but that was before grad school, marriage, kids, and careers. Once adult responsibilities entered the picture, such travel became out of reach. During his recent visit to Nepal, D found an opportunity to practice what the article preached. Whether arriving in country with only half of his work itinerary booked led to less stress is debatable, but D did manage to turn a potential bureaucratic nightmare into an enjoyable adventure.

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chasing unicorns

After trying and failing to secure a position in Manila to align with S’s directed assignment to the Philippines, D moved on to Plan B – searching for a Washington-based job that he could perform remotely, known as a DETO in Foreign Service parlance. Just a couple of weeks into the search, it became abundantly clear that securing a DETO would be an uphill battle. After six months in which D spent about as much time and energy on the job search as on performing his actual job, he began to think of DETOs as the State Department’s unicorns – rumored to exist but impossible to find and pin down.

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somewhere in the between

Excitement tends to be the most common emotion people ascribe to us when they hear that we’re headed to the Philippines for our next Foreign Service assignment. Nervousness comes in at a distant second. “You’re moving to Manila? That’s so exciting!” “Are you excited? You must be so excited!” We fielded similar queries from friends, relatives, and total strangers prior to departing for our first tour in Kenya, and again ahead of the move to Moldova, and also in the run-up to our assignment in Rwanda.

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down to the wire (once more)

June is just around the corner, marking the end of D’s first Washington assignment and the beginning of S’s first tour as a Foreign Service Officer. The last eleven months represent the longest stretch of time we have spent Stateside since embarking on this whirlwind Foreign Service adventure eight years ago. It feels as if we have just settled into a good groove in the District, but this chapter is almost over, and the next adventure – in the Philippines – beckons.

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Southwest chill

Somewhere between the haphazard backpacking days of our youth and the meticulously planned vacations our parents favor lies the perfect balance of trip planning. Showing up in a new town without pre-arranged lodging or definite plans and only a vague timeline for departure still seems conceptually exciting but is no longer practical, especially when we travel with two little rugrats in tow. After years of travel we’ve learned to throw together a pretty good trip at the last minute with only minimal research — an approach that is not without drawbacks.

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top of Texas

A third of the way through our Southwest road trip, Christmas Eve found us in Artesia, NM – a small town that owes its name to a long ago depleted artesian aquifer and whose present existence is supported mainly by oil and gas refineries. A ghost town under ordinary circumstances, Artesia seemed doubly so as we navigated its deserted, halogen-lit streets. Even grocery stores were closed on account of the approaching holiday. The neon billboards of fast food restaurants, which remained stubbornly open, provided the only sign of life as night approached. We had stocked up on groceries before our arrival and hunkered down in our inn with a board game to while away the evening.

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hidden beauty

Hands down, the top highlight of our most recent trip to the Southwest was a visit to Chiricahua – a little-known national monument that is tucked away in the southeast corner of Arizona, near the border with New Mexico. The park receives between 50,000 and 60,000 visitors a year – less than one-tenth of the number of people who visit nearby Saguaro, where we had spent the previous day.

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