Category Archives: FS Blog Roundup

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

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

Bidding on the brain…and paperwork

More news about the bid list!  The bidding instructions and the list will be coming very soon and I’m both excited and a bit terrified.  I’ve thought a lot about what types of things I’d like to have in my next post, but it’s all theoretical until I get the list and can see what the options are.  There may be things on the list that don’t really match the things that I think I’d like in my next post, but would be great opportunities and end up high on my list.  So, we’ll have to see what actually turns up on the list.

The optional topic in this week’s blog roundup is paperwork.  I have a lot of it.  I have stuff from several years ago that I will probably never need and other stuff that’s more recent.  It seems like the paperwork has multiplied since I joined the Foreign Service.  There’s a lot of DOS paperwork and then there are the complications that come from living on the border and needing things like car insurance, identifications, cell phones, and a few other things for both the U.S. and Mexico.

I’ve gotten myself a scanner and got a shredder for Christmas to take care of some of it, but I have to admit that I haven’t been very diligent about taking care of it so most of it just continues to sit in boxes, where it probably continues to breed and multiply to create even more paperwork.  I want to get as much of it scanned, shredded, or filed before I move to my next post so it doesn’t have to be shipped again if it’s not really necessary, but it’s hard to get motivated to sit down and shred/scan/file.  I mean, there are other things that I’d rather do, like watch a movie, take a nap, or give the cat a bath for fun. 😉

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Filed under Bidding, FS Blog Roundup, Paperwork

Tucson

Sadie included me in the State Department blog round-up which brought a lot of new visitors to my site, so welcome to all of you!

I spent the long weekend in Tucson and met up with one of my friends from A-100 who is posted at a different consulate in Mexico.  We stayed at a nice hotel, ate some good food, shopped a lot, and drove up to Summerhaven on Mount Lemmon.

Mount Lemmon is a mountain in the Santa Catalina mountains outside of Tucson and Summerhaven is a small town near the top of the mountain.  It’s a beautiful drive up to Summerhaven and it was neat to see the landscape change from southwestern desert landscape to a landscape that looked a lot more like what you might see in Colorado.  There’s a cute little general store in Summerhaven that sells delicious fudge, so we had to get some.

The shopping was also fun.  I stopped at Trader Joe’s, the Apple Store, and a few other stores that I can’t find here in CDJ/ELP.

It was a nice, relaxing weekend and it was nice to get away and chill out a bit.  I’m now back in CDJ, doing laundry, putting away stuff from the trip and so on.  Hope all’s well in the blogosphere!

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Filed under Arizona, Ciudad Juarez, FS Blog Roundup, Mexico, Tucson, Vacation