Monday, September 7, 2015

Welcome Back to NOVA. Did You Bring Your Checkbook?

After living for two years in Jakarta, we got very familiar with insane traffic, the same weather every day, and an inshallah attitude to things that should have worked or been available but weren't. We have been on home leave for about a month in Texas and the Pacific Northwest, and have had a great time. But it's time to get back to work and for kids to go to school, so we just landed back in everyone's favorite childrens gulag, Oakwood Falls Church.

The public schools here still treat us as invaders, and thinking about how transient and high-maintenance we State people are, I can understand, though the attitude is a little hard to take sometimes. Both sides know we are one family-friendly post going on authorized departure from flooding their schools. Still, I think I was nicer at the visa window giving somebody a lifetime ineligibility to travel to the U.S. than some administrators have been in demanding papers from us. It's high stress for everybody involved, so maybe a little more kindness or courtesy from all sides would be welcome.

What I had forgotten (or maybe it really has gotten worse) is what I would call the friction or hassle of living here. Non-Virginia resident with out of state plates? You still have to register with the City for a parking permit or get fined. New since I was here last: an additional sticker to purchase for non-residents to travel down certain streets during rush hour. Not to park-to travel through the streets. This is revenue enhancement taken to a new level. There are also many "everybody knows, so why tell you?" aspects to living here. Lots of people get their touch on you just for moving to town, registering your kids for things, and trying to settle down.

When we were overseas, we followed events in Ferguson, MO and other places closely. What struck me as a former defense attorney the most was the Justice Dept. report that showed that, in an effort to keep taxes low and make things attractive for the middle and upper classes, the police and courts were treating the poor as a revenue source, issuing multiple tickets for a single stop, piling on court costs and additional fines when someone couldn't pay the first ticket, etc., and being complimented by the city government for doing so. In this scenario, police become not primarily law enforcement but revenue agents, because promotions and pay follow the amount of tickets the cop writes. Cops who complained about this in Ferguson were more or less told to shut up and write more tickets.

So when I came back to NOVA, I saw more roads with 25mph speed limits. These are four-lane boulevards that in many other states we visited during home leave had 35-45mph speed limits. Along most of these roads is an additional sign proclaiming the area to be a residential zone that adds $200.00 to any other fines and fees for speeding. Some of these "residential zones" have at least as many businesses as residences on them.

On Sunday morning, we were driving Route 7 to Tyson's Corner to visit an auto dealership. I saw two different people pulled over by the police for some traffic violation. At one point I turned off of Route 7 onto a side road. A city cop made a hard turn behind me and pulled up to my rear bumper so close I could not see his headlights. He followed us like this for over a mile. If I slowed down in fear, would I be ticketed for creating an obstruction? If I had pulled over, for illegally driving on the shoulder? If I tried to get more distance between us, surely it would have been a speeding ticket. So, I drove at 2 mph under the speed limit, slowed down to the recommended speed in the turns, etc. After that mile or so the cop crossed a double yellow line to pass me, and hooked a left at an intersection without slowing down for a stop sign.

The whole thing feels like the locals are aiming to prey upon us out-of-towners so that they can become the tick on the right.

And we haven't even started back at work where we will be fighting the email transfer and ID badge renewal process...

Saturday, July 18, 2015

First Post Reflections

We are only a few days until lift off. Reflecting back two years ago I can't believe how incredibly good our tour here has been. Rest assured, "incredibly good" does not mean super easy, low stress, or without it's frustrations. Not at all. I call it good because we have learned so much, seen and experienced many crazy awesome or interesting things. But alas- We have reached the end of our time here.

1. We have made good friends here! People we will keep in our hearts no matter where we are.

2. Indonesia is simply amazing! Jakarta's traffic is horrendous but other than that the physical land and sea of Indonesia is beautiful. The places we were able to visit were pretty much post card perfect.

3. Volcanoes are really cool!

4. I liked it more than I thought I would (our 11 yr old son).

5.. The world has plenty of self-serving turf mongers but life is more fun when you have friends.

6. The Triangle of Doom: Don't do it!  
Point A (your home) + Point B (your office) + Point C (favorite expat or western restaurant) = depression.

7.  Life happens at Post. You name it- it happens.

8. No matter where you are or what you doing- while at a foreign post you are representing the United States. The same is also true for your whole family.

9. Not everyone feels they "are where they are supposed to be". If you do have that assurance you are going to be happier in general.

10. Rules are strictly enforced for almost everyone but for a select few they don't apply at all.

11. If your spouse is the CLO- so are you.

12.  The typical reward for a good work is more work.

13. If you need things to be predictable and the same day after day you will need to find a different job.

14. Somedays you are giving speeches, some days you carrying someone else's luggage. Be prepared for both, and have the right attitude either way.

15. Vacations off of the usual tourist track are amazing, but never let yourself be too far from an SOS clinic.

16. Only you can control how happy you are (our 17 yr old son).

17. Having a canteen or a common lunch room inside an embassy is very important.

18. Watching people with really big feet (mens sized 13) trying on shoes in a store can draw a curious crowd.

19. How Americans treat and care for their dogs can be a source of entertainment for non-Americans.

20. Having trustworthy help around the house is really awesome. Pay and treat them well.

21. DEET is your friend. You DO NOT want dengue!

22. Diarrhea experiences are considered appropriate discussions inside the Foreign Service community.

23. The whole Diplomat thing - it might not be as cool as you think it will be (our 20 yr old daughter).

24. We had a good social sponsor and they made a big difference. 

25. Learn the language, it makes your whole experience come alive.

26. You are going to pay extra because you're American - just deal with it.

27. Know what to do and who to call in an emergency.

28. People are going to want to take pictures of you and with you. "Photo photo, mister?"

29. Choose your friends wisely. 

30. International schools are more fun and rich than regular schools (our 11 yr old son)

31. I'll pay way too much for good cheese!

32. I love and say prayers of thankfulness for the DPO and pouch.

33. If you are in Jakarta for long, you will feel inclined to adopt a scruffy cat with a bobbed tail.

34. Even if you would never in a million years consider riding a motorcycle in the US, you'll probably give it strong consideration in Jakarta.

35. Cones don't matter all that much in the end. Working smart and consistently do.

Friday, July 17, 2015

A very McKeating anniversary:

 Sean and I just celebrated 24 years as married people in typical McKeating tradition- we packed boxes and were knee-deep in "stuff". Ah, the romance of a transcontinental move! 

Take a look at heart thumping romance, McKeating Style!

At a less chaotic moment, I started calculating the times we've had a normal anniversary (like on tv) vs a more  utilitarian celebration (like sharing a role of tape). The answer: the utilitarian version, by a long shot. Truly, I think the month of July is rigged or something. We don't move every July, but when we do move it usually falls during the month of July, our anniversary month. Maybe that explains why we've never been the red roses and blue Tiffany's box kind of couple, though I wouldn't mind giving it a try (we did go to Vegas once). Instead we are usually hyper focused on getting some big out-the-ordinary project wrapped up, or maybe we are just starting one at that time. It could be because our big day is so close to a major holiday, too. In our case this year, it's all of the above. We are just wrapping up our first Foreign Service tour. It's been exciting, to say the least. We can both say this experience has far exceeded our expectations. We are also embarking on our next big adventure: Brasilia, 2016! Actually, Oakwood and FSI first, but that's where the adventure gains traction. 

I've claimed next year's anniversary for Buenos Aires, or maybe Lima - I only know that no boxes and no rolls of tape are allowed.