Tuesday, October 23, 2012

110v vs 220v: A Comprehensive Guide For Bidding on Overseas Positions

I've been a part of the Diplomatic Security family since the last century. Yes, I'm that old.

As such, I get a lot of emails from other DS spouses who want to know: what's your secret? How have you managed to stay overseas for almost the entire duration of your husband's career?

In DS, you see, there are more agents than overseas positions, so lots of people have trouble getting out and staying out. Bidding season is a mad scramble of folks trying to get something, anything, so they can stay overseas. But us? We're on our fifth overseas post.

So what is our secret?

I'll tell you. The secret, it's, well, and this is sort of embarrassing, but...

The secret is hairdryers.

That's right. It's hairdryers.

Now, maybe you're thinking that I've finally lost it. Maybe you assumed my husband was just really good at lobbying, or strategizing, or something. But no: it isn't him. It's all me. I'm the reason we've stayed overseas so long. Me and my hairdryer.

It all started back in Armenia, if I recall correctly. I was drying my hair one cold winter morning, half way through our tour, when my hairdryer died. It was a 110 volt model, bought in America and lugged overseas in our air freight. Whenever I needed to dry my hair, I had to plug it into a gigantic metal transformer, which enabled me to use it in our 220 volt house.

Now, those transformers are heavy, huge and ugly. But you need them, scattered strategically throughout the house, if you want to use your 110 volt appliances overseas. Anecdotal evidence suggests that they send appliances to early graves - our 110v gadgets can't always seem to handle them. I don't know if there is scientific evidence in support of this belief, but I can tell you that any spouse who has used 110v's overseas will swear up and down that her blenders and mixers and curling irons and bread makers and food processors always seem to die an early death.

Transformers: can't dry with 'em, can't dry without 'em.

So there I was, wet hair and no hair dryer. I contemplated my options. I could, of course, brave the Armenian markets in search of a 220v hair dryer, thus ridding me of the ugly bathroom transformer. But we were practically done with our tour! And if we went back to the States soon, that 220v appliance would be worthless. So I did what any lazy shopper would do. I called a relative and asked her to ship me a shiny new 110v hair dryer.

(Remember, my children, this was back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. You couldn't just fire up your newfangled high speed Internet and order a new dryer through amazon or Target. Also, it was right at the height of the anthrax scare, when the pouch was virtually shut down for approximately forever. Also, I had to walk uphill to the Embassy. In the snow. Both ways. With wet hair. But I digress.)

When my 110v hairdryer arrived in the mail, I plugged it in to the transformer and reveled in the ability to straighten my hair, an ability I would surely enjoy until our tour ended, and beyond, when we returned to the States and I was once again able to plug my hairdryer directly into a wall socket, as is my God-given right as an American.

Do you see where I'm going with this? Yes, well, after our posting in Armenia, we didn't return to DC. We moved to Kazakhstan. Where, once again, there was an ugly metal transformer living on the floor in our bathroom, because I had chosen to purchase a 110v hairdryer instead of a 220v version.

But we learn from our mistakes, as they say, and so, when my dryer died yet again, one year into our tour, I went to some overcrowded tin-roofed open-air market on the outskirts of Almaty and negotiated for a 220v hairdryer. I was free at last! No more stubbing my toes on transformers in my bathroom.

So. Clever readers amongst you might be able to guess what comes next.

Within days of my purchase, we flew back to the States to get baby Aidan baptized. While there, we discovered that he was terribly ill, and we were "retroactively medevaced." I never returned to Kazakhstan. Bart flew back to pack us out before returning to DC - his only extended tour in the States, ever. I never saw that 220-volter again. I went out and bought a brand new American 110v hairdryer once it became clear we weren't going back.

Three years passed before Aidan was medically cleared to return overseas, and off we flew to Beijing, China, where the dumplings are delicious and the electrical current is 220 volts. Midway through our tour, I dropped the glass blender in the sink and it shattered. Now, I can't live without a blender. I use it about 3 times a day, and that's before margarita hour even starts. So I drove down to Carrefour and bought an overpriced, cheapass plastic blender that wheezed and shook when I tried to puree frozen berries and flaxseeds. It was a 220 volter, and this time, you're thinking I know what happens next, but you don't. History doesn't always repeat itself.

It's possible that somewhere deep within my psyche I wanted to getthehelloutof China, and so bought the 220v machine hoping we'd get PNGed or otherwise reassigned to Hawaii. Because, let me tell you, while the dumplings are indeed delicious, the pollution is disgusting, and midway through our tour I was growing weary of riding my bike across the bridge over the swampy river near my house, the river that looked the color of antifreeze and smelled like whatever chemicals they dumped in there in the dark of night.

But it was immediately apparent that the 220v blender was not going to survive my blending style. So I hedged my bets: I ordered a 110 volt top o' the line KitchenAid blender from amazon.

And all was right with the world. The 220-volter died before we could get reassigned to Washington, but the 110v KitchenAid lived on, blending soups and smoothies and sauces on a daily basis, all while plugged into the gigantic grey transformer that crowded my ash-green cracked formica countertop.

The 110v/220v crisis had been averted.

Or so I thought. Until the hairdryer died. Again.

(See what I mean? Transformers absolutely murder appliances, I don't care what your GSO tells you.)

At the time of my hairdryer's tragic demise, Bart was talking about hanging it up and returning to the mothership. Three years in China was enough for him, thankyouverymuch, and so once again, I crunched the numbers and decided to purchase another 110v hairdryer.

And that, my friends, explains why his blackberry dinged shortly thereafter with an email announcing "Congratulations! You're going to Amman!"

We've been in Amman for two years. I have a big ole transformer hiding under the cabinet in my bathroom - every few days I drag it out and plug in my trusty hairdryer. (Actually, no. I don't wash my hair every day. Get over it, people.)

This morning, the dryer sort of gasped and coughed when I plugged it in. By now, I am intimately familiar with the sound of hair dryer death throes. I know what's coming.

And so, once again, I face a momentous decision.

My husband has just turned in his bid list, with a healthy mix of overseas, AIP and DC assignments on it. He is currently writing the required emails to the people at his top-choice overseas posts. And get this - he's so cuuuute! - he actually thinks that those emails are going to matter somehow.

But I know better.

It's up to me now. Will I purchase a new 110v dryer through amazon, thus virtually guaranteeing that we get another overseas assignment? Or will I drive over to Cozmo and buy an overpriced 220v model, which will give him a chance to prove his worth to his bosses in Virginia?

I'm on the fence here. 110v? 220v? This one decision is going to determine our fate for the next 2-4 years.

Tell me: What should I do?


Leanne said... [Reply]

Donna, I so enjoy your posts. I found your blog while my husband was down in Glynco, GA, gettin' all trained up this summer. I'm glad you decided to stick around.

Connie said... [Reply]

Screw Murphy's law... get a dual voltage... (and next thing we know, you'll be blogging from the International Space Station where they use some 3rd type of power...)

Shannon said... [Reply]

I read this aloud to Dave, who is hoping to go to DC this time, and he asked the voltage of my hair dryer. 220v, it's in the bag. LOL!

Heather said... [Reply]

As someone who's TDY right this very moment to Amman and has had her fair share of conversion-related issues in NEA the past two weeks, I love everything about this blog entry.

Anne said... [Reply]

This reminds me of a little bit I saw on the news the other day about a squirrel who correctly predicted the results of the last presidential election by eating from a bowl of Obama nuts. We'll see if he's right again (he picked Romney nuts this time).

I am with you on the required emails. I almost think my husband should have prefaced his with a "you and I both know this email isn't going to make a difference, but since I have to..."

I'll be excited to see what you end up with! Good luck to you.

Love Connie's comment. Too funny!

Donna said... [Reply]

Between these comments and the ones on my Facebook page, you guys are cracking me up. And @Heather - if you're TDY in Amman, stop by my office and say hi sometime.

Popster said... [Reply]

The world is a whacked up mess. Buy a 220 and come on back.

Just US said... [Reply]

OH MY GOODNESS!!! Donna, you have single-handedly solved all my bidding woes. No wonder we can't seem to get an onward assignment! I don't even own a hair dryer! Amazon, here I come!

Daniela Swider said... [Reply]

You should by one of each just to confuse them... I have a myriad of both kinds of appliances between being posted to India now and my family living in Bulgaria, it's kind of a must but it sure is frustrating because storage is very limited overseas...

Taylor said... [Reply]

I am currently in the process of becoming a DS Special Agent. I came across your blog and am very grateful. I have a question for you regarding this post: why does everyone in DS seem to be so opposed to tours in the US? Is it simply the fact that people in DS are pre-disposed to want to be overseas ("that's why they signed up" -type thing) or is there some feature of being state-side that sucks. Please fill me in. Thanks!!!

Donna said... [Reply]

@Taylor- there's nothing wrong with being the States. But, generally speaking, if you join the Foreign Service, it's because you want to live overseas. So some DS agents find it frustrating that they join up and then can't get overseas because there aren't enough positions for all of them.

Congrats on joining! It's a great organization.

Please. Write your own stuff.