Category Archives: Ciudad Juarez

Here and there

Well, true to form, I’ve been bad about updating my blog.  The last three months have been pretty busy and I’ve had a chance to do some traveling, too.  And, I had my first visitors!

October continued to be quite busy with official U.S. government visitors, primarily from DC, but also from Berlin.  In November, the consulate’s Marine Security Guards held their annual ball and I went to Brussels, Belgium for training.   December was a bit slower, as both U.S. and German contacts were on vacation for much of the time.

Christmas was really, really nice.  My mom came to visit for about 10 days and we made it to three different Christmas markets, did some sightseeing in and around Frankfurt, and also visited Munich for a couple of days.  My aunt also came for a couple of days.

And, on New Years’ weekend, a friend of mine from Ciudad Juarez, who is now posted in Berlin, came to visit and we did some sightseeing in and around Frankfurt.

So, it’s been a busy few months and I’m still very much enjoying my tour here in Frankfurt.

Without further ado, here are some pictures from the last couple of months.

Munich's Christmas Market

Munich’s Christmas Market

 

Frankfurt's Christmas Market

Frankfurt’s Christmas Market

 

Brussels City Hall

Brussels City Hall

 

USMC Birthday Ball

USMC Birthday Ball

 

Downtown Frankfurt at Night

Downtown Frankfurt at Night

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Filed under Belgium, Berlin, Brussels, Christmas, Ciudad Juarez, Family, Frankfurt, Friends, Germany, Holidays, Mexico, Moving, Munich, Pictures, Thanksgiving, Winter

5 Pros and Cons: Ottawa Edition

Ania over at The New Diplomat’s Wife started an FS Blog Roundup on the topic of five pros and cons about your post with her lovely review of being posted in Copenhagen.  FS bloggers did these a couple of years ago and I came up with five pros and cons of being posted in Ciudad Juarez last time around but never did one while I was in Ottawa.  Since a few people have already covered life here in the DC area, I decided to focus on Ottawa for this one, even though I’ve been gone for several months.  So, here goes.

Pros

1. People – Canadians are nice, friendly, and easy to meet.  It’s easy to get out and be involved in the community in Ottawa and I made some wonderful Canadian friends while I was posted there.  It’s easy to blend in in Ottawa and you don’t have to rely on the embassy community for your social life, which I enjoyed.

2. LQA – Ottawa is an LQA post, meaning that you get an allowance and find your own housing instead of being assigned housing from a housing pool like in most posts.  There are some cons to it that I’ll get to later, but after having safety and security frustrations with my house in Juarez and feeling like I had no power in the situation, it was so nice to pick out something that I liked.  I had a lovely apartment and very nice landlords, so overall had a pretty good experience with LQA.

3. Pet friendly – Ottawa is very pet friendly and it’s very easy to import pets to Canada from the United States.  I don’t know if it’s different for dogs, but all I needed for the Diplocat was a rabies certificate, and they weren’t at all interested in seeing it at the border when I entered with her.  Vet care in Ottawa is very good, though more expensive than in the States.

4. Safety – Ottawa is a very, very safe city.  Coming from Ciudad Juarez, it was sooooooooo nice to live somewhere safe, where I never felt like I had to look over my shoulder, worry about my safety, etc.  Maybe if you’re coming from the U.S. or are coming from somewhere else where it’s safe, this wouldn’t make quite as much of a difference in your quality of life as it did for me.  But after spending two years in Juarez weighing the security risks of simple decisions like going to the grocery stores, it was just such a breath of fresh air to be able to go about my business without safety concerns.

5. The summer and fall – Ottawa is BEAUTIFUL in the summer and fall.  The summers don’t get too hot and everything’s nice and green.  There are a lot of fun events in the summer and lots of great outdoor opportunities in area parks and lakes.  The fall is also beautiful, with changing leaves, crisp air, etc.  Again, lots of fun hiking opportunities with beautiful fall foliage.

Cons

1. Winters – There’s no way to beat around the bush.  The winters in Ottawa are really long and really cold.  It gets down to -20F with wind chills down to -40F.  And, the winters last from about November to April.  Maybe this is no big deal if you’re from Minnesota, but the winters were rough for this Texan who’s used to being able to wear flip flops throughout most of the winter.  And, after two years of being trapped in my house because of the violence, feeling trapped inside by the cold, snow, and ice was a bummer.

2. Expensive – While I was there, Ottawa was a pretty expensive place to live.  The U.S. dollar has appreciated considerably against the Canadian dollar since I left, so I’m not sure if this is still the case, but it was expensive to grocery shop, go out to eat, etc. in Ottawa.

3. LQA – While being able to choose your own housing was liberating for me, there are also downsides.  You have to have a chunk of change ready to cover initial expenses.  There were several hiccups in my case that were not normal, but at one point I figured out that I was out over $10,000 in LQA and unreimbursed travel voucher expenses.  It’s also stressful to decide on a place to live when you first get to a new city or sight-unseen before arrival.  There’s also a lot of extra paperwork involved in getting the housing approved and reconciling the costs at the end of the year.  So, while there are a lot of good things about LQA, there are some down sides, too.

4. Internet connections – This may seem surprising since Canada’s very much a first world country, but while I was there, internet packages usually had a monthly GB cap and you could incur very high fees if you went over your monthly internet usage.  The speeds were also nothing to write home about.  That said, looking back at the website of the internet provider I used then, it looks like they do now offer unlimited internet traffic.  So, maybe that’s not as much of a con now as it used to be.

5. Deceptively similar to the USA – There are a lot of things about life in Canada that are similar to life in the United States.  You’ll see many of the same products on the shelves in stores in Canada as you would in the United States, there are even many of the same stores in Canada that you’d find Stateside, there aren’t language difficulties (usually), etc.  So, you can feel a lot like you’re in the United States, until you run up against one of the weird differences like the internet download limits, etc.  Then, because the difference came out of nowhere, it hits you that much harder.

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Filed under Bidding, Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Diplocat, FS Blog Roundup, FSI, LQA, Mexico, Moving, Ottawa, Snow, Texas, Texpat, Transfer, Washington DC

Sometimes, several days attack at once…

Well, this last week and a half has been a doozy.  It’s reminded me of a refrigerator magnet I once saw that said “I try to take one day at a time, but some times several days attack me at once.”

The promotion lists came out on Wednesday and unfortunately, I didn’t get promoted.  I can look around and see that I’m in some very good company with some excellent colleagues from my A-100 class and from Ciudad Juarez, and I think it’s likely in part due to the much lower promotion rates now than a few years ago due to the hiring surge.  It still stings, especially after taking one for the team and going to Ciudad Juarez at the height of the violence and doing good work there.  But, since I can look around and see that I’ve got a lot of good company and it was rough going for a lot of people, I feel a little less bummed.

That news came less than a week after I got another, and honestly much more serious, piece of bad news.  Last Thursday, I found out that my dad has pancreatic cancer.  Cancer is never good, but some are more treatable and less aggressive than others.  Pancreatic cancer, unfortunately, falls in the less treatable and more aggressive category.  From his scans, the tumor likely can be removed with surgery, but it’s a difficult operation involving multiple organs and a long recovery, and it’s still possible that they could find something that didn’t show up on the scans when they perform the surgery.  Even if things go as well as can be expected and they’re able to remove the entire tumor with surgery, the five-year survival rates for pancreatic cancer are still a lot lower than many other types of cancer.

So, it’s rough news.  I’m scared that he might not make it through the surgery and that he might not have much time left, even if everything goes very smoothly with the surgery.  It hurts to be so far away from my parents as they’re going through this.  I wish I could be closer to help with things and spend time with them.  But, I have a job that keeps me in DC.  At least I’m close enough that I’ll be able to go home for holidays, and will be able to make it home relatively quickly if the need arises.  Still, it does make me wish that I could live a little closer to home, at least for a while.

As a result of all of this, I’ve just wanted to hide under the covers and pretend that the last week and a half never happened.  Here’s hoping there’s no more bad news for awhile.

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Filed under Austin, Cancer, Ciudad Juarez, EER, Family, FS Life, FSI, Holidays, Home, Homesick, Mexico, Paperwork, Texas, Washington DC

Montreal

Last week, I had to be in Montreal for meetings and went up a couple of days early on my own dime to sightsee.  And, I have to say, that Montreal is awesome.  Montreal is a much larger city than Ottawa and it’s got a lot to see and do.  One of my friends from Juarez, whom I’ll call “J” on here, just got to Montreal for her next assignment and I met up with her and we spent a lot of time sightseeing, wandering, and exploring Montreal.  We went down to Old Montreal, out to the Botanical Gardens, and wandered around Montreal’s massive underground shopping areas.  Montreal has a great Metro system that makes it easy to get around and a lot of the downtown area and Old Montreal is pretty compact, so it’s easy to walk and wander around.

Without further ado, here are some pictures from my trip:

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Montreal, Travel, Vacation

Amor por Juarez

The senseless violence that continues to plague Ciudad Juarez touched the U.S. Consulate General community last weekend.  Several gunmen barged in to a child’s birthday party and killed three men, including one of the consulate’s locally hired staff, who worked in the maintenance section.  To the best of my knowledge, he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, celebrating the birthday of one of his neighbor’s children and tried to calm the gunmen down to avoid any danger.  Instead, the gunmen shot and killed him in front of his wife, children, and other party guests.

What happened to this man, whose only crime was to attend a neighborhood birthday party, is entirely too common in Juarez.  Despite all the violence in Juarez, however, I was always impressed by how many Juarenses loved their town and were working hard to make it a better place, a place where you didn’t have to worry about this kind of violence.  I wish them all the success in the world, because the violence continues to take innocent people from this world and to hurt those left behind.  Juarenses deserve better, they deserve a life without the constant fear and grief that the violence inflicts on the city.

So please keep his wife, children, friends, the Consulate community, and those working to make Juarez a better place in your thoughts and prayers.  Sending lots of love and strength down to Juarez.  Maybe it will make a difference.  Certainly can’t hurt.

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Filed under Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Sacrifice

Happy Happy!

Sooooo, as you might have guessed from the title, this is a happy entry!  I just got back from a great long weekend in the DC-area.  Now, why was I there?  So see my excellent friends L & S get married!  L is a Foreign Service Officer and was posted in Ciudad Juarez with me and she met S while living there and one thing led to another and now they’ve gotten hitched before heading off to Morocco for L’s second post.

Since the wedding was actually about an hour outside of DC and I wanted to do a bunch of shopping while I was down there, including getting some liquids, I decided to drive instead of fly.  It’s about 10 hours of driving to get from Ottawa to DC, which is doable in one day.  However, Mother Nature decided to make the drive down a bit of a challenge.  First, Ottawa was forecast to get 5-8 inches of snow on Friday, the day I left.  So, I left at 0-dark-thirty to try to avoid it.  I succeeded in avoiding the snow, but managed to drive through about an hour of freezing rain.  By the time I crossed the border in to New York, my car was covered in ice.  Not only was it covered in ice, but when I stopped to get gas in the car there, the gas nozzle was covered in ice.  Have I mentioned that this is in APRIL?  Yes?  Ok, then.

After Ogdensburg, it changed to regular rain and rained on my for another 3-4 hours.  Then it cleared up for a bit, but I wasn’t in the clear yet.  In Pennsylvania, I ran in to bad fog, where I could only see about 100-200 feet in front of me.  That obviously slowed me down a bit.

Finally, it cleared up and I made the rest of the drive to Maryland.  When I finally got to the hotel, I stepped outside and just basked in the glorious 78F sunshine for a few minutes.  It felt sooooo good to stand outside in the nice, warm sun.

The wedding on Saturday was wonderful!  It was outside at a nice vineyard and the weather was beautiful.  The ceremony really reflected L & S and was super fun.  The reception at the vineyard was also really nice.  The company was especially wonderful.  I saw several other friends from Ciudad Juarez and it was wonderful to be reunited with them for a bit.  My time in Juarez was definitely tough, but I’m really lucky to have come away with some really good friends from my time there and spending time with them made me realize just how much I miss them.  There was much laughing, much fun, and even some dancing.   And, of course, L & S got married. 🙂

On Sunday, I ran a bunch of errands, returning things I’d ordered online, buying new things, and so on.  I got a lot done and then finally checked in to my hotel closer to DC.  I also met up with some of the same and some different Ciudad Juarez friends for a nice dinner.  Again, it was really fun to hang out with them for a few hours before we all had to go our separate ways.  Several of them are wrapping up language training before heading out to their second posts.  One was on R&R from her second post and I’d driven down from Canada.  While we used to see each other every day, we’ll now see each other less and less and will almost certainly never all serve at the same post again.  So, it was nice to be able to get together before everyone heads off to their new posts.

On Monday, I ran more errands, and finally finished stocking up on all the stuff I was after.  Between shopping in Ottawa and in New York, I can find almost everything I want, but there are a few things like Shiner Bock beer* and whatnot that I can’t find.  So, now I have all the peach salsa, pepper jelly, frozen enchiladas, and so on!  Nom, nom, nom.

Finally, I drove home today.  The drive home was much less eventful than the drive down.  It was smooth sailing.  There was some rain, but not too much and it didn’t slow me down too much.  The Diplokitten was happy to see me and all the frozen stuff I got actually fit in my freezer here.

Tomorrow, I go back to work and will have to hit the ground running since this is a busy time.  Also, on top of the busy-ness, I now have to do an Employee Evaluation Report (EER) because I found out last Wednesday evening that I got TENURED!  Tenure in the Foreign Service is sort of like academic tenure.  It’s a decision to keep you around and it means that it’ll be harder to fire you. Mwahahaha! 😉  Kidding.  Still, it’s an important step and nice to have out of the way.

So, that’s been my last week or so.  A very happy one for a lot of reasons. 🙂

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Ottawa, Spring, Travel, Vacation, Washington DC, Weddings, Winter

FS Blog Roundup: Ciudad Juarez

Next week’s FS Blog Round Up optional talking point is to do a post on some of the pros and cons of your current post.  Since I’m in between posts, I chose to write about my previous post, Ciudad Juarez.  So, without further ado, 5 pros and 5 cons of a posting in Ciudad Juarez.

Pros

1. The people:  The FSOs, the locally hired staff, and even my neighbors in Juarez were really nice.  Juarenses are generally nice, open people and are willing to share a lot about their city.  I also met a lot of people who were doing really good work towards ending the violence and rebuilding the city which gives me hope about the future of Juarez.

2. Mail:  The consulate uses several addresses in El Paso to receive mail, so there are none of those pesky liquid, battery, or other restrictions that you might have with pouch or APO addresses.  There are some size restrictions, but they’re quite reasonable and GSO and the mail room can usually work with you on larger items.  So, order all the laptops, kindles, iPads, and jumbo bottles of liquids you want!  It’s close enough that you could even get your own P.O. box if you wanted to do that.

3. Proximity to the U.S.:  Juarez is right across from El Paso.  That means that you can go grocery shopping at U.S. stores, get U.S. standard medical care, travel home easier than you can from Nowhereistan, etc.

4. Cost of Living:  The cost of living in CDJ is very reasonable.  Groceries are less expensive than in the D.C. area and pretty much any U.S. product is available in Juarez or in El Paso, so no exorbitant costs for U.S. products.

5. Easy pet import: While technically you need a pet health certificate and whatnot to bring your pet in to Mexico, no one ever asked to see any paperwork for my cat any of the times I brought her in to Mexico.

Cons

1. Travel in Mexico is difficult:  Ciudad Juarez is pretty isolated geographically and Mission Mexico has a pretty strict travel policy where all trips have to be cleared ahead of time.  There aren’t too many great or cheap flight options out of Juarez, so travel in Mexico from Juarez is difficult and comparatively expensive to traveling within the United States.

2. Dealing with the border: While it’s nice that Juarez is so close to El Paso, getting back and forth is a hassle.  Imagine going through customs at the airport each time you want to go over to El Paso.  Now, imagine that the lines are much worse during certain times and that you might be waiting over an hour to get through customs, even with the trusted traveler express lane. The regular lanes can take over four hours during the holiday season.  Yeah.

3. Dust: Juarez is in the middle of the desert and it is a constant battle with the dust.  It gets in and on everything and you can dust one day and then it looks like you’ve never dusted the next day.  It’s worse during the dust storms but it’s a battle year round.

4. Visa work:  Some people love visa interviewing, but I am not one of those people.  Visa work in Juarez is high volume and many cases are really difficult. It’s very important work and I did learn a lot, but I’m glad to be done with it.

5. Violence: The violence in Juarez is the 800 pound gorilla in the room in any conversation about Juarez.  It was a tough two years due in large part to the violence.  It was really hard to have any kind of normal existence when you had to decide if it was worth it to go do something after hearing gunshots that were entirely too close for comfort, just hearing about a grisly multiple-murder along the route you need to take, or having seen something very scary on your trip home.

However, I will say that things improved quite a bit my last six months or so at post. I saw a lot more people out and about, the murder rate went down significantly, and it really seemed like the city was starting to come back to life.  So, I’m not sure that people going to Juarez now will have the same experience that I had.

That’s my contribution to the FS Blog Roundup.  I’m looking forward to seeing what other people have to post about their posts.

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Filed under Ciudad Juarez, FS Blog Roundup, Mexico

Aaaaaand done!

I have officially finished my tour in Ciudad Juarez and am on home leave.  I’m spending most of it at home in central Texas, but also have some side trips planned to visit friends and family.  It’s nice to be home and see familiar faces and places.  It’s also nice to enjoy my parents’ extended cable and watch too much HGTV. 😉

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Filed under Austin, Ciudad Juarez, Home, Home Leave, Mexico, Texas, Vacation

Packed Out

As I get closer to leaving, it’s all getting a little bit more real.  Last week, a couple of strangers showed up and took all of my stuff.  I was thrilled!  The movers came and packed everything up and took it away so that it can meet me in Canada in August or September.  The house is now really empty and it seems so much more real that I’m leaving in just a few weeks.  The Diplocat was a bit confused for the first day or so and seemed to be wandering around, wondering where everything had gone.  She’s settled in now and doesn’t seem bothered by it any more.  We’ll have to see how things go when we drive home.

I have some other things to check off of the departure checklist, a few more meetings and such, and there are the visas to adjudicate but the only big project I have left is to finish my part of my EER (employee evaluation report) before I leave.  So, I’m trying to convince the tenure and promotion boards that I have walked on water in the desert while saving all the puppies and kittens in the greater Borderland area. We’ll see how it goes. 😉

That’s about all that’s new here.  Not much longer and I will be leaving Ciudad Juarez and heading to home leave, DC, and then Ottawa!

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Filed under Canada, Ciudad Juarez, Diplocat, Mexico, Moving, Ottawa, Transfer

Belgium!

I know that I haven’t updated for about 3 weeks now, but I have a good reason for once.  I just got back from a super-fun, 10-day trip to Belgium!  Once upon a time, I was an exchange student to the good country of Belgium, where I had an amazing year and met a lot of wonderful people.  I’ve gone back to Belgium several times to visit them and it had been a couple of years since I’d last been back, so I decided it was time for another trip.

So, after work on Friday, I went over to El Paso and stayed at a hotel near the airport since I had a super early flight and didn’t want to risk missing it or having any issues on my way from Juarez to El Paso.  Last time I had an early flight, I did not stay over in El Paso and met some lovely federal police officers at a checkpoint on a deserted street in the dark then finally made it to the border only to find no one at the booth and to have to wait awhile before someone realized I was there and finally came over. Since I didn’t think I could handle so much fun again, it just made sense to stay in a hotel.

Saturday morning, I got up on time, checked out of the hotel, made my way to the airport and got checked in and through security with no problems.  I had a 5-hour layover on the way over, then got on the airplane, we started to taxi to takeoff only to find that one of the planes behind us saw that our plane had a flat tire! Of course, this had to be checked out, two tires had to be changed, and 3 hours later, we were finally on our way.

Other than the delay, the flight to Brussels was fine and I finally arrived, exhausted but thrilled to be back in Belgium!  One of my host families met me at the airport and we proceeded to drive back to their home. After spending two years in the desert, and not getting out of the area in four months, I was dazzled by how absolutely green everything was!  Even though it was still winter and not everything had its leaves/flowers/etc, it was so much greener than life here in Ciudad Juarez that it was dazzling.

While I was there, I saw my other set of host parents, all of my host siblings and their children, members of the organization that facilitated my exchange, and generally had a great time catching up with people, seeing people I hadn’t seen for awhile, and trying to remember my Dutch.

I also went shopping several times and enjoyed just being able to walk around in (mostly) nice weather without worrying about my safety, shopping in a pedestrian-friendly area, and so on.  The first time I took the bus back to my host family’s house from shopping, I accidentally got off the bus too early and I decided to enjoy just sitting outside in nice weather and waiting an hour for the next bus rather than trying to walk back or find another way to their house.

It was also really nice to have a nice break from work and not worry about anything work-related or even have to talk about work that much.  In hardship postings, the line between work and personal life gets really blurry since you end up spending a lot of your free time with coworkers and while my coworkers are pretty awesome, it’s nice to have a break from them, socialize with other people, and not spend the whole time talking about work.

The trip back went really smoothly.  I didn’t have any delays on the way back, made it through customs in plenty of time to make my connecting flight, and had a smooth trip back to my house in Mexico. So, overall it was an amazing trip and I’m really glad that I got to go back to Belgium, see wonderful people that I’ve missed a lot, and really relax.

I now only have a little over a month left in Mexico.  My packout is in a couple of weeks and then I’ll need to do some final cleaning, wrap up a few work projects, and then I’ll be on my way to home leave!  Hard to believe it, but the end is almost in sight. 🙂

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Filed under Belgium, Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Travel, Vacation