My blog pal Shannon, famous across the blogosphere for her homemade ricotta cheese and bug-eating boys, has volunteered to host the RoundUp again. (And can I please get an expert opinion here? Is it "Roundup"? "Round Up"? Or maybe "Round-up"? I'm going with RoundUp for now, but I'm thinking Zoe's background as an editor might give her the authority to make our final decision.)
Anyhoo, Shannon has chosen current events for her theme. She wants us to talk about how current events might be affecting us at post. Connie already wrote about the crazy sonic-boom-thingies that we were hearing here in Amman. I'm pretty sure Amy's got the earthquake covered, and the Sherwoods have a lock on evacuation this week.
Here in Jordan, I'm hearing much talk about the proposed pay cut for Foreign Service Officers, so that's going to have to be my angle.
In a nutshell: our pay is on the line. Life After Jerusalem and several other bloggers covered the details, which amount to this: Foreign Service officers currently have to take a steep pay cut when they move from DC to their overseas posts, due to something called "locality pay." Several years ago, when the powers-that-be were convinced this was a problem (why should I move to Yemen, or Libya, or Beijing, or really anywhere, if I'm going to make 25 cents on the dollar more to stay in DC?), they moved to phase in overseas locality pay so that this disparity would disappear over time. But now, led by Mr. Reed, some of our politicians have decided to call this an "automatic pay raise," and they want to do away with it. Only for State Department employees, mind you: other agencies overseas get this locality pay, and no one's talking about touching it. LAJ, did I get my facts right here?
Now, all you FSOs out there, are you ready for this? Here's what I think: This is all your fault.
Seriously. Your. Fault.
And here's why.
Whenever Mr. or Ms. Important Politician decides to come to post, you all leap to help out. I've seen this happen at every single post where I've lived. You get a cable that Congressperson So-And-So is coming next week. It's probably a national holiday. Or a weekend. But they're coming. They're flying in business class, and when they arrive, you scramble to meet them. With a motorcade. You take them to meetings with other important people at your post. You sit at their fancy dinners at the Foreign Minister's palace so you can take notes. After you drop them off for the night at their fancy hotels downtown, you slog back to the Embassy to write your cables before making the long trek back to your home in the suburbs somewhere. You kiss your sleeping kids, argue with your spouse about why you couldn't come with her to her doctor's appointment (she doesn't speak the language well, but you do). Then you go to bed.
You wake up before dawn so you can get back to the Embassy and pull cables for the congressperson, who needs to be up on the news as she breakfasts in her hotel. And then you set off for another day in motorcades, running from meetings to lunches to parties to concerts, ignoring the calls from your kids' school, because you know your spouse has that covered and you don't even have time to eat.
While you're doing this, someone else at the Embassy is taking the congressperson's spouse shopping for pearls, and then maybe to a fancy lunch at a local hotspot. It could be the CLO; it could be your wife. But someone is out sightseeing with the congressperson's hangers-on. Maybe a quick visit to the Great Wall, or Petra, or the pyramids. This could be a weekday, or it could be a weekend. Either way, whoever is taking these folks out has cobbled together extra childcare and cancelled that dentist appointment in order to be available.
The visit is over, and the motorcade races to the airport, where Important Person waits in the VIP lounge. Even after Important Person takes that business class ticket and boards the plane, you still sit, and wait. You wait until wheels-up, because that's what you do.
You go home. You brush your teeth. If your kids are awake, you apologize for missing their school concert, or their teacher conference, or their birthday. You promise to do better. You eat a bowl of cereal over the sink and you think about all of the catching up you have to do back in the office tomorrow. You know you'll be late at work again, and you don't quite know how to make it up to your spouse. Your feet hurt from standing all day, and your ears hurt from being chewed out by some congressional aide who insisted on carrying classified information back to the hotel and didn't understand why you couldn't let him.
Meanwhile, Important Politician stretches out in his business class seat and listens to his wife talk about the pearls! And the silk scarves! And the amazing food! And IP thinks back to that Foreign Service Officer he just met. And he thinks: what a great life that guy has! He goes to parties at the President's mansion. He drinks fancy wine. He drives around in air conditioned motorcades, with people saluting him as he walks into government buildings. He goes hiking - in the middle of a work day, even! - on the Great Wall. What a cushy life he leads, thinks Important Politician.
So you see, all you Foreign Service Officers out there, it's your fault all of these congresspeople think you deserve a pay cut. They have no idea what work you put into that recent visit. They don't know what you just gave up in order to make sure their visit was a success. They don't understand that your life isn't all cocktail parties interspersed with awesome trips to exotic locations. They don't know that you live in a place where your every move is recorded. Or maybe you live in a place where the locals want you dead. Or you live in a place where your baby has nightmares from the malaria medication. Or your spouse isn't allowed to work because the host government forbids it. Or maybe you're black, and the locals don't like black people. Or maybe you're gay, and that's a punishable offense in your host country. Or you're a woman, so you have to cover up when you walk outside. Or the signs are all in Arabic, so every time you leave the house, you're lost, and you can't ask for directions. Or maybe you went permanently deaf in one ear while you were serving in a country without proper medical care. Important Politician didn't see any of this from the window of the Prime Minister's residence.
And the truth is, maybe you'd do all of this work even if they cut your pay in half, because it's important, and it's challenging, and you love what you do, despite the obstacles. If they had to tighten belts across the board, if they had to reduce everyone's pay, in every single agency, you'd probably accept that, because you want what's best for your country - heck, I think you've proven that already just by being here, in Country X.
But they don't get it, these Important People. They don't know just how hard you work for them, and for your country, because when they show up at your post for a long weekend in December, you work your asses off and not a one of you ever tells them you need to go to your daughter's Christmas pageant, or you need to help your spouse find wrapping paper, or you need to get your sick kid to the doctor. You don't even point out that you're working weekends for these people. You just do the work you're supposed to do, regardless of the weather, the date, the personal sacrifice.
And so they don't know, even when they should, and they just see an easy way to cut some money from the budget that won't impact their constituents. When they make these financial calculations, they don't even see your faces.
How can we change this?